On University Partnerships & Shark Tanks
Stories from the Inside
“What do sharks do on Monday mornings? They get up and start biting.” ~Gemma Collins
Mary Engle Burton is a short, efficient bureaucrat in a leadership role in Indiana’s sprawling mandated Child Welfare agency. She tells herself every day that she does the best she can, and the ease with which she carries herself let’s you know she believes it. But people who are watching have their doubts. She seems to be genuine, but she claims she lacks power in a power position. Is that effective? Then there’s this habit she has when the pressure is on—she turns into a social working shark.
Social work in general is like a giant shark tank. That’s where the shifty eyes come from. Social workers are supposed to help us through trying times, but they work with the same screwed up set of resources everybody else is working with, and they don’t have the best planning skills. They’ve got imaginary toolboxes instead. They’ve got powerful, well-developed persuasion skills and they will try to sell you a shit sandwich as the cure for what ails ya. It’s only later, when you’re doubled over in pain from eating shit, that you realize none of that was a good idea.
Anybody who makes it out alive is usually grateful, scared, and probably injured. It’s just what happens with sharks in tanks. It’s not personal. It’s just business.
Mary runs her own shark tank. She’s the Assistant Director of Indiana Child Welfare Education and Training Partnership. University Partnerships are all the rage in mandated Child Welfare systems. The reason for this is lack of trust in agency employees. They don’t trust their own employees to develop a rigorous training program, so they derive grants to “partner” with various Schools of Social Work around the country. Many prestigious honors are given to such programs, which are pretty much all shark tanks, full of powerful, fast sharks who have one thing on their minds: their next meal. These folks actually eat hearts for breakfast and then post some Brené Brown shit on LinkedIn for afterglow.
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