The Heart of Social Work

Reflecting on What Drives their Work
Jim Roberts, CEO

It goes without saying, Social Workers are one of the most unappreciated, undervalued, underpaid and unacknowledged group of workers in our society. And yet, as I have previously written, every one of our lives is better because of them. Health and Human Services organizations like the Family Care Network could not perform our public benefit activities or positively change lives without the dedication, skill and passion of Social Workers, and we are only one of the multiple disciplines dependent on them.

Let’s explore for a few moments the Heart of Social Work as a profession and the characteristics common to these invaluable champions of healing, positive change and wellbeing.

First, individuals don’t pursue Social Work for the money – there really isn’t much to be gained in this business! Folks become Social Workers because they care about others, they are passionate to help and they really want to make a difference in society.

Second, Social Workers value People and understand everyone is a unique and important member of the community. Their respect for others is not driven by what they do, but what they can become; believing everyone needs hope, encouragement and opportunities for success. Although there are conditions that some people face that cannot be changed, Social Workers help them adapt and make the most of those conditions. Social Workers take high-value in assisting others to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

Third, positive social change and social justice are woven into the fabric of Social Workers. Social Workers recognizes that the outcome of change activities conducted within the community must ultimately benefit individuals, and conversely, when individual lives are positively transformed, the community as a whole benefits. Social Workers, are committed to the belief that society has a responsibility to provide resources and services to help people avoid such problems as hunger, insufficient education, discrimination, illness without care and inadequate housing. Towards this end, Social Workers are committed to empowering individuals to exercise their voice and participate in the decision-making, problem-solving process; or to provide voice for them when they are unable.

Fourth, Social Workers understand that we all share basic human needs and desires, but, that each individual has their own set of needs, values, cultural characteristics, personal goals and aspirations. Consequently, Social Workers are able to work across a very diverse array of individual characteristics without imposing their own unique culture or values, or manipulating others to conform to a contrary belief system. Social Workers value a pluralistic society that can accommodate a range of beliefs, behaviors, languages and customs, and work to create harmonies, break down barriers and promote civility.

Fifth, Social Workers understand very well the balance between helping while not creating dependency; between transferring skills and knowledge and empowering others to take charge of their own lives. Social Workers are masters of identifying client strengths and assisting them to build on those strengths to solve problems in the immediate and in their future. Social Workers know how to help and assist as needed, along with energizing their clients towards self-sufficiency to the degree they are capable of. Social Workers know how to connect individuals to their natural or community-based services and supports.

Sixth, the protection of one’s confidentiality, unique challenges, weaknesses, shortcomings and personal information is a high-value to the Social Worker. The very nature of a helping relationship often requires that sensitive information must be shared between the person being helped and the helper. In each case, some information typically passes between client and worker that could potentially be emotionally or economically damaging if it is inappropriately revealed to other parties. Social Workers understand that Trust is a foundation stone to successful helping relationship and that adherence to the highest standards of confidentiality is embedded within that Trust relationship.

Seventh, Patience and Persistence are two other foundation stones in a successful Social Worker – client relationship. People require the services of a Social Worker for a reason – they have some type of very pronounced need, crisis or trauma for which they need intervention and assistance. Social Work can be very challenging, very frustrating and, at times, possibly seem hopeless. The process of change, healing and overcoming can be very slow; yet, the Social Worker understands these things and patiently endures until the task at hand is completed.

Finally, Social Workers are Professionals in every sense of the word. Their profession is shrouded in the highest standards of performance and ethics. Taking on the responsibility for another’s wellbeing is not taken lightly, but is instead embraced with a tremendous sense of professional pride, genuine compassion and an incredible sense of duty.

Social Workers are often confronted with heart-wrenching human tragedy which hands them the fractured pieces of broken lives needing to be reconstructed and healed. It is not for fame or fortune that they undertake their job; it is from a powerful, intrinsic concern and compassion for others which drives them forward, while providing personal satisfaction and reward that only they are privileged to experience.

As we celebrate National Social Worker Month this March, let’s remember the Heart of Social Work is their Heart for others!