“The happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others.” There is no better exemplification of this axiom than the Social Worker. Social workers are wired uniquely – they are more than caring, they are obsessed with it. They are kind, patient, flexible, adaptive and passionate. Our world, and most of our lives, are made better because of the work that Social Workers accomplish.
I count myself amongst the very fortunate because I have been able to spend a career working with Social Workers. Plus, I did plenty of social work in my younger years as well. There is nothing more joyful than to help someone else to heal, overcome a problem, conquer trauma, achieve the unachievable, and have hope. But it is not an easy task; it takes hard work and serious commitment.
Imagine for a moment what it is like to be awoken from a sound sleep, early in the morning because a child protective services worker needs you to place a child that has just been removed from their family by reason of abuse. Not only do you need to collect your thoughts, but you must kick it into high gear in order to act effectively, intelligently and professionally. People are depending on you!
The first thing you do is to query this worker extensively to ascertain every bit of information you can learn about the child so that you can responsibly find a safe home to meet this child’s needs. Next, it’s your turn to wake up others in order to find a family that will not just be a good match, but the best match for that child. Your mind is racing with so many questions. How serious was the trauma the child experienced? Are there medical concerns? Is it safe for this child to be around other children? Does this child have behavioral problems, et cetera? Add to these questions other concerns like what family has the room, who is best equipped to work with this age/gender of child, are they located near this child’s school, and so on. The Social Worker must get it right because mistakes can cause further trauma or damage to a child!
Once arrangements have been made, now you’re up and off to meet that child, introduce them to the family, get them settled in and take care of all of the necessary, required paperwork. You arrive, meet the protective worker and emergency shelter family, and discover the child is hysterical. Now it is time for you to put on your “clinical” hat, and do everything within your power to de-escalate the child, ameliorating their fears, anxiety and attempt to soothe their excruciating pain. This could take a few moments or this could take the rest of the evening! You can see, the Social Worker must possess multiple skills to address human complexity.
And now, the work really begins. This emergency placement triggers a substantial array of social work responsibilities. Where does this child go to school and how are they going to get there? Is it even in the child’s best interest at this moment to attend school? What personal belongings do they have or need? How long will they be in this temporary placement, is there family or relatives that can care for them? What about the court; will there need to be a temporary placement order? Does the child have any medical or physical needs? More importantly, what mental health services need to be provided to help the child overcome their trauma and prevent it from manifesting into negative behavior? You get the point. This list goes on and on and on, and includes every imaginable question that needs to be answered to properly care for this child.
Moving forward in this scenario, decisions will be made to move this child out of the foster care system to a permanent family as soon as possible. This could include family reunification, a relative placement, or even adoption. This requires the Social Worker to do extensive case planning, execution and monitoring. They are facilitating a team of individuals to support this child on their path to permanency, as well as supporting the foster family or relative in caring for this child. The Social Worker is responsible for making sure that every need of that child is met, be it family visitation, therapy, education, physical health, socialization. They are extensively involved with this young life; in essence, “losing themselves in service to them.” Social Workers by nature are selfless and driven by pursuing the wellbeing of others.
I used this simple illustration to create some sense of the immense responsibility and depth of knowledge required of Social Workers.
Within the Family Care Network alone there are so many different ways that Social Workers serve others. They help fractured families heal and become self-sufficient, free from dependency on the “system.” They connect families to others, help them create a support network, and help them find the resources they need within their community. They work to strengthen and guide parents struggling to manage a child suffering from mental illness or serious behavioral problems. Social workers help homeless families find and keep housing, and learn the skills needed to become successful and independent. They work with foster or former foster youth who do not have families of their own, and teach them critical life skills, help them to find a career path so that they can achieve their dreams, and serve as mentors and significant others to help anchor their future.
In our broader culture we have Social Workers in hospitals, providing hospice care, working with the developmentally disabled, working in schools, assisting individuals recovering from serious injuries or illnesses. Social Workers play a vital role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of our society.
March is National Social Worker Appreciation Month – and they so much deserve to be appreciated. As we pass the one year threshold of this pandemic, we have all grown to appreciate the amazing hard work of the medical profession. Unfortunately, the ongoing efforts of our Social Workers has gone somewhat unnoticed or unrecognized. But, I am absolutely certain that most of the 500,000 plus families that lost loved ones to Covid-19, received benefit, services and support from a Social Worker.
THANK YOU to every Social Worker who has “lost themselves in the service to others!” You have earned the right to be the happiest people as you make the world a better place, one person at a time.
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