Storytelling and "Documentation"

One of the things we do to track outcomes at Starfire is to document the day in and day out. Just like a lot of places that serve people with disabilities do (and are required to do), we complete these logs as part of our job description. We are paid to do it. I’ve had to consider many aspects of documentation, as my role has been to report on effective outcomes. I’ve tried to design documentation forms that take into consideration staff time, how it aligns with our work, and perhaps most importantly: the value of these logs to the person they are being written about.

Documentation historically tells very little of the actual story, due to these considerations of convenience for staff and the need to just get it done. Typically, the most amount of writing you’ll see in logs is when something goes wrong. That’s when the full story comes into play. But on “good” days it might look as simple as this: “5pm: John sat on couch watching TV. 6pm: John got up to microwave dinner and took medication. 7pm: John sat on couch watching TV. 8pm: John took a bath. 9pm: John prepared for bed. He had a good day!”

I have to say that after months of reading logs like this at a previous job I had as a caregiver, nothing I read made me proud to work at the agency. Things began to feel flat, the exact opposite of why I got into this work to begin with. People’s lives aren’t supposed to be flat, and we work with people! Another unsettling part was how the person being written about never read their own logs, or contributed to the narrative in any way. For some people, staff were even instructed to wait until they were in bed or out of the room to write the logs (as it would upset them to see staff writing about them).

Harkening back to our March newsletter post, I’d like to share some of Starfire’s documentation. This was written as Megan’s journey to a life she imagined (the first story in the newsletter) began to unfold. Michelle, a staff person at Starfire wrote these (MR), and you can see her enthusiasm and support for Megan as she and Brenda (Megan’s “connector” or bridge in the community) work to find a food pantry near her home where she could volunteer, to find work with the elderly, and continue making friends at the Rec Center near her house where she takes Zumba classes.

Megan’s goals for November: Sort out Connector arrangements

  • Dec 9 Brenda has decided to be Megan’s connector! – MR

Megan’s December goals: Explore volunteer opportunities with Brenda

  • Dec 11 Spoke with Megan’s mom about her opportunity volunteering @ the community rec. center –MR

  • Dec 12 Megan showed me around her neighborhood. I saw her house & where the rec center is. She will be able to walk there once the weather warms up! – MR

January goals: Set up time and day for Megan to volunteer at the rec center. Make driving arrangements

  • Jan 8 ** New Connection: Judy at the neighborhood food pantry. ** Brenda, Megan, Becky & Matt explored Megan’s neighborhood and came across a small food pantry. The lady there showed much interest in Megan, saying she’d like to “pick her brain” on her experience working at CAIN! Megan is on board for working there every week if it can be worked out with her mother & her service facilitator. I see GREAT things coming her way. –MR

  • Jan 14 Megan will be volunteering at the community rec. center every other Tuesday assisting with chair Volleyball. Today was her first day. It went really well! Between the food pantry & the rec center, Megan has the opportunity to make some WONDERFUL connections, right in her own neighborhood. Excited to see everything unravel! – M

  • Jan 30 – It’s been arranged for Megan to do a three week trial of volunteer work @ the food pantry. A woman will be picking her up & dropping her off each week. If she enjoys it enough, she will no longer be in program at Starfire that day each week & will take on the volunteer position there! – MR

I love this part: “I see GREAT things coming her way,” and all the little steps taken as they do come her way. She is “getting out” of the day program Starfire has, and finding her place in community beyond her label of disability. Megan dreamt up this life. She told us the narrative, and we supported her in living it out. Things don’t always happen this fast, or go quite as smoothly, but the important piece is still there: we are supporting people in a story that is of value to them. There are lessons along the way, roadblocks, wrong turns. But it is valuable.

I should mention here too that around the same time as all of this was happening, Megan got engaged to her long time boyfriend. We can’t take any credit for that though. Congratulations, Megan!!

katie bachmeyer