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Your Car Breaks Down in the Family’s Driveway…What Do You Do?

I was driving down a narrow back road on my way to a visit when my car simply died. There was no where to pull off the road so, where I stopped wasCar trouble where I stayed. I wasn’t too far from the family’s home so I turned on my emergency flashers and started walking. When I arrived at their home, I sheepishly confessed to why I walked there and asked to use their phone (I’d forgotten mine). I called roadside assistance and was told it would be a while. I was asked for a contact phone number and had no choice but to ask the mother if I could share hers. She easily said “yes” but I felt uncomfortable, knowing that I was supposed to protect her confidentiality. Once the arrangements were made, I decided to go ahead with our visit as normally as possible. At the end, the mother offered for me to wait there, but since my car was out of sight, I ended up walking back to wait with the car. After waiting for what felt like hours, my car was finally towed. In the end, it all felt rather awkward and more than a little embarrassing. I felt unusually vulnerable and questioned if I’d handled the situation correctly.

Ever found yourself in a similar situation? What did you do?

Car Trouble Happens to the Best of Us

Driving is a necessity in our field, and having car trouble is almost inevitable. Where your car decides to die is unpredictable, and how you handle the situation can simply depend on what resources you have available to you in the moment. Of course, doing a much better job of maintaining your car than I did certainly helps. It turned out that my car’s fuel injection system died because I’d driven on almost empty one too many times. Driving agency cars can be a better option when available because they are (hopefully) well-maintained. Even so, you could still find yourself in a break-down situation. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind if you find yourself stuck:

Consider your safety first – When your car breaks down, look around you to assess your safety. Determine if you need to move your car and if you do (or if you can), move it as far away from the road as possible if on a roadway. Park under a streetlight. Keep your doors locked and keep valuables out of sight. Wait somewhere safe – like in a local business office or even in the family’s home. This may feel awkward but your safety is most important.

Keep your mobile phone charged – Great rule of thumb when out in the field…of course for me, the first rule would have been to be sure you BRING your phone with you when out in the field. 🙂

Call your supervisor/your office first – Before you call your family or a friend for help, try to reach your supervisor or a colleague. Someone in the office should always know where you are, and maybe that “someone” can come out to wait with you for the tow truck or pick you up. It’s tempting to call your family or a friend for a ride or to come help, but in order to project the family’s confidentiality, it’s best to call someone in your program or agency first.

Manage offers of assistance from the child’s family carefully – If the child’s family offers assistance, use your best judgment. This can be uncomfortable because you probably aren’t used to accepting the family’s help; you are usually the help-giver, not the receiver. Again, consider your safety and follow your gut. If the parent has mechanical skills and offers to take a look, it’s probably okay but you have to be careful. If it’s a quick fix, then no harm done, but what if your car needs a new part and the parent offers to install it – can you accept it and how will you repay it? What if the parent makes the situation worse? This is a tricky situation and there probably isn’t one right answer. However, when in doubt, it’s okay to politely decline the assistance and find help elsewhere. Avoid accepting assistance that has a monetary value (like taking gas money or having the parent call her own roadside assistance for you). If the parent offers you a ride home, only accept it if you have no other choice because that crosses an important professional boundary. If you do need a ride, try your best to find a professional colleague to pick you up, or as a last resort, accept a ride from the family to a neutral place, like your office or a nearby restaurant where your family member can then pick you up.

Ask for permission before sharing family information and document any confidentiality concerns – If you need to call the tow truck and have to provide the family’s address, ask first. Remember to document the situation in detail in the child’s record when you do finally make it back to the office.

In many cases, the child’s family will want to help so just make the best decision you can at the time. You are likely to feel stressed, so take a moment to step back, consider these tips, and think about what impact your decisions might have in the long-run. Hopefully, car trouble will resolve easily and on your next visit, you’ll just have another thing to laugh about with the family.

Two final words of advice: always keep your phone with you and don’t drive with your gas tank on empty! 🙂

What other strategies would you recommend? If you’ve had car trouble on a visit, share how you handled it in the comments below!

 

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2 Comments to “Your Car Breaks Down in the Family’s Driveway…What Do You Do?”

  1. Great post Dana! I haven’t had car trouble, yet, but I have had tornado-like conditions spring up in the middle of the session! The first time, I did not want to stay there, with that particular family, but I thought I was safer there than in my car. The second time, the mom was so distracted by the weather that we made a judgement call to move into the laundry room until the storm had passed. It was bonding time that’s for sure! As you say, safety first!

    • Wow, Monica…that would be a great topic for a “What do you do?” post! 🙂 I remember being on a visit during a major storm and having the same thoughts while the lights were flickering and the TV behind me was warning people to stay away from windows…I was trying to work while questioning what I should do the whole time. It was definitely no tornado, though! I’m glad you made the decisions that kept you safe. EI is such an adventure, right?!

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