There’s more to Social Work than just Child Protection!
Everyone has their reasons for going into Social Work, and most revolve around the notion of wanting “to help people”.
Everyone’s story is different, and no two Social Workers are the same because we all have had different pasts and have taken different paths to get to where we are today.
When I first decided I wanted to go into the field of Social Work, I had deferred the 3rd year of my business degree at my local University in Canada and went volunteering for a year.
I had something in my brain that was telling me that becoming an Accountant may not be what I was set out to do and volunteering opened my eyes to the plight of others in the world, helped me get out of my comfort zone in Canada, and gave my head a shake that not everything is as it seems with our rose-coloured glasses on. I had my thought of “I want to help people!”
That’s when I had my own thought that “I want to help people!”
I started my Social Work degree (after finishing my business degree) and a new life began to take shape for me.
I had a paradigm shift in all aspects of my life, and I went into it thinking that I am going to make a huge difference in the lives of the people I work with, and I was going to change the world with other like-minded professionals.
I built on this enthusiasm by increasing the amount of volunteering I did within my community. Nothing could stop me; nothing could get in my way; I was invincible!
Then reality came crashing down after I started to work.
Within my first month of working, I wrote an email to the Executive Director of the agency I worked for (in hindsight, not the best thing to do as a new member of staff), advocating for more services to help the parents of the children and adolescents I was working with who had mental health issues and needed their parents’ support.
I was reprimanded by my manager because I was “out of line”, “there is no funding”, and that I had to “go through the chain of command next time”
This was the first time I was knocked down, and I hadn’t even been a Social Worker for a month! I just saw an unmet need, and my education told me that if there was an unmet need, bring it up and see if it can be addressed or solved.
I know a lot of Social Workers are generalized by society as “baby snatchers” or only working in Child Welfare/Child Protective Services, but there are many more areas that we are in and that we are trying to make a difference in.
Throughout my career as a Social Worker, I have personally worked in outpatient child and adolescent mental health, long-term care (aka a nursing home), inpatient units at a hospital, outpatient mental health services, embedded in a nurse practitioner-led clinic, and now working in an outpatient clinic that serves individuals with chronic pain. Not once in my nine-year career have I worked in Child Welfare, and I know there are scores of other areas that Social Workers are working tirelessly to make positive changes.
In these past nine years, I always get the same questioning look when I say that I am a Social Worker; it is almost a foreign concept for people that not all of us work in Child Welfare.
Just in my career alone, I have offered individual counseling, family counseling, group therapy, skills groups, and psychoeducational groups- but society still thinks of us as “Child Welfare”. I know there are various agencies, professional colleges, and professional associations throughout the world trying to dispel the myth, but we should all be included in stories about Social Work because the field is so vast.
On top of the demands of our jobs with endless charting, documenting every interaction (“if there is no note, it didn’t happen”), inputting statistics so that we can keep the funding for the positions we are in and already swamped in, and constant meetings about meetings or committee work, we also have our lives outside of work.
When I have to say “I work in healthcare” rather than “I am a Social Worker” out of necessity so that the people I am volunteering with will actually return without fear that I will “snatch their children”, something needs to change
Maybe change will happen through the power of internet networking that will bring us all together as Social Workers where we can validate one another, support each other, and read articles knowing that there are others going through similar challenges.
We advocate and support our clients in getting a voice, but we also need to support ourselves and each other, so that we can continue being there for our clients, for the children, for their families, for everyone.
Mark Halabecki, MSW, RSW