Welcome to The New Social Worker's Blog

The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Help for the helper

IT'S OKAY THAT THIS IS HARD. Field practicum is many things. It's exciting. It's way different from what I've been doing for more than a decade. It's shocking, and troubling, and difficult.

I've decided that I am not going to do it alone. Yes, I have a field instructor, a field liaison and a field professor. I also have a loving husband and some really great friends. I have a safety net that I feel honored to call my own.

And I am going to talk to a therapist. Heck, yeah. I am going to be one in less time than it takes to have a baby, so I think I have faith in the healing practice called psychotherapy.

Today I sat with a LCSW who gets it. She knows all about tough love and being triggered. She went through the same MSW program that I did at the same school. She gets that graduate school and internships in the social work field are tough; she's done it!

I need support and I am not afraid or ashamed to admit it.

One of my readings for class ('What about Feelings?: A Study of Emotion and Tension in Social Work Field Education), explores the difficulties inherent in field practicum for students. It also speaks to the harsh reality that students often keep things inside and tough it out. You know, we do the exact opposite of what we want our clients to do!

Guess what, though? We are all made of the same stuff -- we human beings. We aren't "better than or less than" in this department. When we see stuff that is painful, hurtful and cruel, we will be affected by it. And, I believe that if I am I going to be a useful and effective social worker, I must stay centered and balanced. Or, I will not be helping anyone.

"In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves (Pema Chodron).

~Ms. T. J.

Multi-Tasking or Multi-Slacking?

My colleague and I are both social work PhD students in the same program here in Boston. In an effort to support each other and get some work done by holding each other accountable, we have gotten into the habit (PHEW!) of making time on Monday and Fridays to work on our schoolwork.

We're always chatting about how to be productive with our own to-do lists from hell. I use Remember the Milk to try and get organized and manage all the tasks that need to get done. Yet lately it seems there is always something to do and we both suffer from feelings of "how to get it ALL done?? and oh yeah, have a life...and exercise...and self-care...and...and..."

My friend has coined a new phrase for this mode called Multi-Slacking that I absolutely adore. Doesn't it just describe the feeling perfectly? And yet, how to get past it?

Readers, I'd love to get your feedback! Do you use technology to help manage or get things done? Or does information overload set in?

Friday, August 28, 2009

One class, a clean house and lots o' reading!

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL thing to have a class that meets every other week. On Fridays, I will alternate between having one and two classes, and I couldn't be happier about the arrangement.

So what did I do with my one-class day? I ran some errands, had a nice lunch, cleaned the house and got all my reading assignments finished.

Now I am going to shower and hit the bed. It's been a good school day.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Today was ...

I AM SEARCHING for the right adjectives and they all fall short.

Today was really hard, really sad. Because I saw evidence from abuse that is unfathomable. Malnourishment, bruises, marks, and scars from belt-buckles.

All I can think of are the lyrics from "What's the Matter Here," by Natalie Merchant (click here to see a performance by her) :

"Answer me and take your time,
what could be the awful crime
he could do at so young an age?

If I'm the only witness to your madness
offer me some words to balance out
what I see and what I hear.

All these cold, cold things that you do
I suppose you do
because he belongs to you

And instead of love and the feel of warmth
you've given him these cuts and sores
that don't heal with time or with age.

And I want to say, now,
want to say hey, hey,
'What's the Matter here?'

But I don't dare say,
'What's the Matter here?'

But I don't dare say it."

You are safe tonight, little angels.

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When people leave

LOT'S OF FOLKS ARE JUMPING SHIP at the child welfare agency where I have been placed for my field practicum. Is it the furloughs? The caseloads? The morale? All of the above?

It's hard to say as a second-week intern, and I am trying to see the silver lining. I also am not judging people for doing what they need to do. I just did the same thing; I left a job that, for a myriad of reasons, no longer fit my lifestyle. I get it.

I do worry about the service delivery for the clients, of course, but the agency is doing whatever it can to garner support. Workers are coming from other agencies throughout the state to help, and the people who are staying, are working hard.

I don't know enough about the process to know where I can ease the load, but I am at the ready and I have made it clear that I am willing to help. My sister interns look very busy as I pass them throughout the day, so I know we can make a difference in these tough times.

Godspeed to the workers who need to leave and God bless those who choose to stay.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

But for the grace of God...

THE DAY STARTED out pretty calmly. I met my field instructor and instantly liked her. She told me I'd be accompanying another worker to court this morning. I was excited. The case involved an autistic child who had sustained injuries while under his parent's care.

After the judge ruled that the child would be removed from his home, we headed back to the office. My companion got on her cell phone, and I tried to sort it out in my head. I thought about the days to come, and I am grateful we only get one day at a time.

Tonight when we got home, my husband and I went out for a sandwich. We were finishing our dinner when we were interrupted by a server's harsh voice as she yelled at, and then chased a man from the doorway. He was trying to get a light for his cigarette.

Startled by the server's reaction to the man, I observed him as he stood outside the glass windows of the restaurant. He stood unusually erect and his head jerked about like a nervous bird. My rule-out diagnosis? Schizophrenia.

A young man from the kitchen headed toward the front door with a book of matches, but a woman beat him to it as she emerged from the parking lot to light the man's smoke. The young man handed him the matches and returned to the kitchen. Wishing I'd had matches for the man, I said to the young man, "That was very kind of you."

I asked the server where the man was from and she snorted, "Around. He's ..." (she made circles with her pointer finger at the side of her head, signifying that she thought he was crazy). I wanted to say something to her, perhaps to enlighten her, but I didn't have it in me. And, it's probably best that I didn't.

As we left the restaurant, we walked past the man and wished him a nice evening. His face burst into a big smile.

But for the grace of God go I...

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Motivational Interviewing

ANOTHER DEDICATED HOMEWORK DAY, and this one was a bit more successful than the last. I will get my bearings; I need to be patient with myself.

I had a doctor's appointment. While all the babies were delightfully distracting with their gurgling and cooing, I was able to do some intermittent reading. I read about Motivational Interviewing. I think I get the gist of it. It's client-centered and directive. It's used often with the ambivalent client, and often with substance abusers and others who don't readily see the pain they are causing others with their behavior. I find it fascinating that it can be so successful in brief doses. It can be a precursor for other theory-based treatment, also. And, it can be used, replaced and used again, with the same client. I still have more to read about it, and I am diggin' it.

I took my book into the Mexican restaurant at lunchtime and spilled salsa on the page that held the definition for Motivational Interviewing! The stain may bring back a great memory one day.

Then I was off to the eyeglass store where I picked out a new pair that will hopefully help me to transition from computer to textbook and back again.

I got in a bunch of exercise, too, which is helping me to manage the stress of all the unfamiliar stuff I'm doing these days. Leaving the comfort zone (job) I was in for 10 years is harder than I thought. Don't get me wrong: I don't miss it and I don't want to go back. It was a routine and now it's gone. Time will move me into this new place.

Tomorrow (hopefully), I will meet my field instructor for the first time. I start my rotation training in Investigations. Over the weekend, at a dinner party, I met a new friend who is a police officer. He often is dispatched to homes where children are removed, and he meets the social worker(s) at the scene. We talked about our roles and I left with his business card. There's a good chance that I will see him on the job. It was a serendipitous evening and I love how life works out that way.

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reading goals

I LOVE TO READ. I enjoy reading the material in most of my required social work books. For the past year and a half I have not always have the luxury of time to read as much as I wanted to when it came to going the extra mile -- and sometimes it was a challenge to keep up.

Now that I've quit my job to do the student thing full-time, theoretically I should have more time to read. I just need to re-train my brain and do it!

I decided I would set some reading goals:
1. Each week I will look at the syllabus and organize my reading assignments so I will know exactly what I need to read.

2. I plan to have a book with me at all times. When I go to field practice, I'll take one with me for lunch break. When I go to an appointment where I may have to wait (doctor, etc.), I will take one with me.

3. I will read all the required assignments and then see if I have time to add suggested readings, too. If not, no sweat, but if I have some spare moments, I will do it.

I am psyched about theory right now, and there is an abundance of literature out there to partake of.

I want to be the best clinician possible, and reading is a way to get there.

~Ms. T. J.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pulling a late-nighter!

UGH! It's not even so much homework as it is a case of OCD that is keeping me up way past my bedtime! I finished my school work, and I feel like I have to get the house in order. I told myself in the beginning of this grad-school adventure that schoolwork trumps housework. I think I am doing some wacky self-talk like, "You've quit your job, so you have to do better with cleaning."

Time to let that go, huh? Sleep also trumps housework.

I gave my first presentation of the semester today. My classmates and I -- in sets of two -- presented power-point presentations about briefs that were based on Cornell University's Department of Sociology's initiatives and studies. My partner and I discussed CaRDI, a university program that partners with community leaders to strengthen NYS. I have to say everyone in the class did great work!


~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


TODAY WAS ONE OF MY DEDICATED homework days. It will usually be Sunday and Monday, but since I had Field orientation on Monday, I took today off.

What happened, though, was life kind of took over.

I spent a couple of hours at the eye doctor, an hour on campus, and an hour regarding a 401K rollover plan. By the time I settled in at the desk it was almost 3 p.m.

Once there, I collaborated with a classmate on our power point presentation for tomorrow morning. We plan to meet for about 30 minutes before class to go over our project one last time. We have been discussing it all week and I feel pretty good about it.

I still have a bit of reading to do for my second class, and I believe I will finish that between lights out tonight and breakfast clean-up tomorrow.

It looks like my eyeglasses prescription has changed and I am hoping the fix will make it easier for me to transition from computer to textbooks while working on papers. I would never have noticed this if I wasn't in school.

So, here it is, nigh past 11 p.m. and I am wrapping up. I hope the rest of you social work students are easing into your fall semesters!

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Strengths Perspective

THE COOLEST PART about today was when I witnessed my first Family Team Meeting. I was privileged to observe an effective team of social workers, a family's support system, and a single parent of six as they worked together to care for two special needs children.

It was the strengths perspective at work. It's a beautiful thing when I am able to see the stuff we are being taught in class as it applies to the real world.

Good night!

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do the deal

I AM EXHAUSTED. And I want to stay the "blog course," so I will post before I hit the sheets.

What happened today at field? My instructor is on vacation, so I am helping out wherever I am needed. I spent most of the day removing data from charts to either be shredded or placed in another file. The cases involved allegations of child abuse and I read some of the notes to prepare myself for my training in CPS/Investigation.

I want to be very mindful of confidentiality with this blog, and I also want to share my experience, so I will try always to give the general idea without revealing many details.

One of the charts involved a child who had been beaten by a parent with a belt (the buckle's harsh contact with the youngster's skin did the damage). While changing clothing for a field trip at school, a teacher had noticed the marks on the child's body. As a mandated reporter, the teacher made the report.

When the parent was interviewed, they put their head in their hands and stated they couldn't imagine who would call CPS. The child said their parent only hit them when they were "bad."

Another chart revealed the case of a parent leaving multiple children (all under the age of seven) alone for days in a home with rotted food, many kitchen knives scattered throughout the rooms, and filth from ceiling to floor. A frantic dog was tethered on a balcony that the children had access to.

These cases were from several years ago and have long been closed. What I know is that I am about to witness less worse -- and much worse. I will head out into the field next week when my instructor returns from a week of well-deserved rest and relaxation.

My hope is for the strength to accept whatever situation is presented to me in the days to come. I aim to be an instrument of peace and love. Each day I will ask to be guided in speech and deed. I fully intend to be led by my instructors ~ and the Highest Teacher of all.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Field (Feeled) Experience: Day I

SO MANY ADJECTIVES describe today. I started the day off with a room filled with friends and a big cup of coffee. I felt very calm and supported.

When I arrived at DFCS, I knew all my sister interns. I felt comfortable. Our leader is a really neat person. I felt even more comfortable.

Orientation was low stress and I felt familiar with all the information. My MSW sisters interned for DFCS during their undergrad years. I have worked in the field of journalism for 10 years. I felt a little behind the eight ball, AND I felt experienced in life.

I found out that I will begin my monthly training rotation in Investigation. I felt excited.

My husband took me to lunch. I felt loved and a part of something more.

We were fingerprinted and had our backgrounds checked. Some of my fingerprints are worn off. This is normal AND I felt older than my classmates. I am.

At the end of the day, our fearless leader gently touched my shoulder, thanked me for coming and said goodnight. I felt appreciated.

As I drove home, a wave of emotion brought tears to my eyes. I felt grateful for my years with the magazine.

I feel grateful for this new calling.

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Four classes: four assignments

NOTHING LIKE JUMPING RIGHT IN! After two days and four classes, my classmates and I headed back to our respective homes with four assignments. One is due via e-mail at midnight tonight (I just sent mine), and the other three are due on Friday and Saturday.

Dare I admit that I am enjoying it, lest I jinx myself? The assignments are low-stress at this juncture. I think it's a good thing to work steadily -- as opposed to having tons of stuff due at mid-term, for example. It's helpful for me to have to stay on top of it. Like anyone else, I will rest on the laurels of time (as in: "Oh, I can do that later!")

I am doing fairly well with the goals I set in my summer article. I'm exercising (two hours on the bicycle this morning), eating
healthy (I've dropped 4 pounds) and sleeping (I've been in the bed between 10-11 p.m. most nights this week).

Tomorrow is my field orientation. I am excited about it! Wish me luck. I'll be at DFCS at 8:30 a.m.

~Ms. T. J.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday night reflections

I'M SETTLING IN for the day after morning and afternoon classes. It feels good to reunite with my classmates and professors after summer break. I have to say it: Most people who choose social work as a career are pretty wonderful folks. For the most part, we are a caring and respectful lot who loves to laugh and have a good time while learning.

One of our profs talked about self-care today, and I wrote down almost every word he said. Not because it's anything new to me. And not because I don't know how important it will be. I wrote it down so that when those days come -- and they will -- when I have to choose between myself and another human being, I will pick me.

What I know, without a doubt, is that nobody will look out for us in the same way we will be looking out for our clients. Social workers will go to any length to care for, try to understand and advocate for, and find services for clients. We will be expected to do these things, and we will want to -- nine times out of ten.

And then the tenth time will come around. And we will have to choose. We will not want to drop our responsibilities, so we will make a Plan B regarding our client(s). We will choose to tend to our own lives because we know that we cannot help another human being if we do not first take care of ourselves.

This brings to mind the analogy of the oxygen masks used on airplanes. If we are ever instructed to put one on, before we can help an elderly or youthful passenger, we must first put on our own mask. It is only then, when we are breathing strongly, that we can reach out our hand to offer support to another human being.

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, August 14, 2009

First day of classes

WELL THE DAY HAS ARRIVED and there is no turning back! Summer break is officially over. My first class starts at 10:45 this morning and I am scheduled to finish my second class and leave campus at 4:15 p.m.

I am sure I will get right back in the school groove even if right now that seems like an unlikely statement.

My goals for the day?
1. Treadmill 35 minutes
2. Pack my book bag and a light lunch.
3. Head out the door at 10:20 a.m.
4. Maintain positive attitude.
5. Remind myself that I don't have to figure it all out on the first day.
6. Come home and make dinner with my husband (who is going to be on a local news program this morning at 10 a.m.!)
7. Watch the taped version of husband's interview.
8. Relax.
9. Get things together for tomorrow's classes.
10. Get to bed by 10 p.m.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gift from the sea

I SPENT TWO AMAZING DAYS at Hunting Island, S. C., in a beachside cabin where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited five decades ago.

A nearby retreat and strategic planning center, Penn Center, drew King Jr. to the area. It was at the Penn Center that members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gathered to plan for change.

During the 1960s, the cabin was owned by the Siceloff family, and according to a sister of the current owner, it was a safe place for blacks and whites to meet at that time. Elizabeth and Courtney Siceloff worked with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen and were assigned to Penn Center from 1950-1969. It was during this time that they built the cabin that now belongs to Constance Curry, a writer, activist and fellow at the Institute for Women's Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

As if its fascinating history isn't enough, Hunting Island is undergoing erosion problems and the southern portion of the state-owned cabin road has been washed away. On July 14, a resolution was passed by the Beaufort County Safety Committee for the evacuation of the remaining 10 cabins due to the peril of the ocean. The road will not be repaired and therefore the cabins cannot be reached by emergency vehicles or personnel.

While I had a beautiful time and a perfect pre-semester adventure, I am saddened by this inevitable end of an era.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Packing for the beach

MY DEAR FRIEND ANN invited me to join her for a night and day at her sister's beach house on a nearby island. Could there be a more perfect way to usher in the school year? I can't think of one.

I have to admit I am approaching this trip with a bit of melancholy. I don't want summer break to end. It has been the most time off from grad school that I've had since I began in the spring of 2008.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy school and I am passionate about the journey.

I'm tired. Plain and simple.

What I know is that everything is working out in just the way it needs to. I will relax into my new schedule just fine.

And once our toes step onto the sand, I will be grateful for the gift my friend is offering. I promise to stay in the moment.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On books, parking tickets and other on-campus adventures

IT'S NOT THAT I DREAD going on campus. In fact, I love walking the grounds of this beautiful university. Founded in 1890, the old buildings are blended in with the new, and 100-year-old oak trees draped with Spanish Moss provide a picturesque and shady backdrop for scholarly pursuits.

Going to the bookstore is a necessary function for most students, and while I order a great deal of my books online, I ultimately end up wandering through the stacks of textbooks, notebooks and other supplies each semester to pick up stuff I couldn't find on Amazon, Alibris, etc.

This year we have a new bookseller and so the bookstore looked a bit different in terms of organization. The student workers were very helpful and pleasant. It was the first day for sales, and everyone was fresh and optimistic.

I was the first Title IV-E grant recipient student to appear today so I helped them work out the bugs (my books are paid for via the grant, and the bookstore has a system for this). After three visits to the book store manager, the workers successfully rang up my nearly $600 worth!

I had been extremely lucky (or so I thought) when I snagged a nearby parking place. The spot sat directly in front of a signpost without a sign on it. As a commuter, all of my classes are taught at a satellite location, so I rarely go to campus. Call me naive, but I thought nothing of it as I grabbed my satchel and headed to the bookstore.

After I left the bookstore, I headed to my car. As I loaded my books into the front seat I noticed a ticket flapping in the summer breeze from the windshield wiper. What? Imagine my horror when I lifted it to read that I'd been cited for $75 for parking in a faculty parking place.

All I could think of was "I just quit my job! I can't afford this!" Not exactly "Law of Attraction" or positive thinking, eh?

I decided that I wasn't willing to argue or fight today so I drove around the traffic circle three times, and asked two different campus security officers where I could park to go pay my parking ticket (to avoid getting another ticket)!

Once inside the building that houses the Cashier's Office, I stood in line with lots of other students. I arrived at the window, and after fumbling around for the ticket (I'd absentmindedly stuck it into the pocket of my sundress), I said to the women behind the glass, "I guess I don't really want to pay for this ticket!"

Her face registered the same expression I'd had when I first saw the amount.

"Do you want to fight this?" she asked.

"How can I do that?" I asked.

"Go to the Campus Police Department," she answered.

"Do you think it will help?"

"It's worth a try," she said. "Seventy-five dollars is a lot of money. And, if you have to come back here, you won't have to stand in line."

I took the kind woman's advice and drove around the traffic circle three more times until I found a parking lot that allowed commuter parking. Once inside the campus police station, I was greeted by a man who, after hearing my tale of woe, wrote off the ticket and told me to be mindful as they might have towed my car from that spot.

I promised him that I would never park there again. And, I thanked him profusely. I'd have had a lot of explaining to do to my husband!

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


SINCE FINDING BALANCE is imperative this upcoming semester, I am determined to add exercise to the mix of school and field practice. Two of my favorite friends, April Joy and Guin, and me have dubbed ourselves "The Lollygaggers" and we head out on our bicycles on Sunday mornings. We generally ride 10-20 miles through the streets and parks of our beautiful Georgia city.

This morning we started from my house and rode past campus (I live close to my school). Then we pointed our handlebars toward our beautiful and somewhat famous cemetery. April Joy is a long-time resident of this city (unlike Guin and I who are transplants), and she has relatives buried in the picturesque place. As we rode up and down the dirt roads looking at elaborate statues and grave markers, I felt happy to be out and about on such a glorious summer morning.

I am grateful for the ability to quit my job and concentrate on school for the next two semesters. While I was able to cram everything in, I was starting to feel really overwhelmed. It's only in the last couple of weeks that I feel somewhat "normal" again, and I have been out of summer school since early July.

This week I plan to buy the rest of my books and prepare my desk for school. I also plan to take a day trip to a nearby island with a friend.

As for this afternoon? I think a long nap and some down time is in order!

~Ms. T. J.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

T. J. and Julia

MY HUSBAND, A FOOD AND WINE WRITER, and I, a writer, tag-along foodie, and social-worker-in-training, went to see "Julie and Julia" this afternoon.

In addition to enjoying the movie a lot, I was inspired. To cook, to bake, and to have more dinner parties.

And mostly to blog. Here. Regularly. Daily.

Now that I've quit my job (ironically my former editor was at the movie, too!), I will dedicate my time to all things social work-related. Now that I won't be writing and editing for a living, I will be freed up to write and edit on the side.

In a week I will begin my 2nd internship -- this one at the Department of Family and Children Services. This will be a brand-new life experience for me, and I want to share it with you, my fellow social work students and and professionals. Of course, I will honor the laws of confidentiality and concentrate on my experiences.

My hope, as always, is to share that I may help another. My other hope is that you, too, will share with me. Your experience. Your dreams. Your strengths. Your fears. Your joys.

I can't wait!

~Ms. T. J.

Tech-Savvy Social Work

This article appearing in July/August 2009 Social Work Today (vol. 9, #4, p. 12) provides a nice, broad overview of some of the workplace issues social workers may face with technology. From the article:

"Using technology is not new in social work. But the great speed at which new technologies are popping up has set off debate among human services professionals about what role technology should play in their work. A growing number of social service and behavioral health organizations are turning to technology to tackle tasks such as data management, client tracking, and outcomes measurement."

Hat tip to The Work of Social Technology for the article!

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