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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Keeping in Touch

How many of you are still in touch with your social work classmates? With social workers you no longer work with? Whom you’ve met at conferences, rallies, sit-ins, meetings, or CEU classes?

It seems like an odd conundrum to me, socializing with fellow social workers. On one hand, the work we do is often completely emotionally draining. We often give so much of ourselves that we either burn out or need to be taught skills to avoid burning out. Logically, why would we want to think or talk social work in our precious free time? On the other hand though, we are people who hear the world’s problems on a micro, mezzo, and macro level each day. We get sworn at and spit on. We fight City Hall. We struggle to pay our own bills so we can make donations to those in greater need. Who else could better understand why we do this than each other?

This past Tuesday, I had the incredible pleasure of spending the evening with two of the social workers I admire most of all. Collectively, we had almost 100 years of social work experience (admittedly, 97% of that didn’t come from me). Together, we dined and then saw the incredible Broadway show La Cage aux Folles, which is, in a sense, a very “social worky” show. (Based on the film, The Birdcage, the show involves a gay couple who own a transvestite nightclub and their son, who is marrying the daughter of a very conservative and homophobic politician. The story unfolds in how they each relate to each other and how those relationships impact the way they each see the world.)

Heading home from that evening, I got to thinking about the classmates I adored whom I’ve somewhat lost touch with, the former colleagues I’ve always meant to call, and the others I’ve met along the way. It’s tough, keeping in touch with everyone from every event, but perhaps, thanks to text messaging, facebook, skype, and other options, we ought to make more of an effort. After all, who else understands us better than we do?!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Body Art in the Workplace

As social workers, we're taught (and our Code of Ethics mandates) that we are to focus on the person, to overlook one's skin tone, gender, socioeconomic status, relationship history, drug use, and behaviors and to use strengths perspectives and goal orientation to assist our clients in reaching their goals, regardless of our personal opinions of their choices.

Do we do this with our coworkers, subordinates, and superiors?

I was just reading this article http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,223178,00.html about Body Art and Tattoos in the Workplace an discovered that "about half of people in their 20s have either a tattoo or a body piercing other than traditional earrings, according to a study published in June in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology." In the article, which was written in 2006, an interview subject suggests that we're "about 10 years away" from living in a world where bosses don't bat an eye at body modifications. Considering the publication date, this means we're only about 5 years away. Does this seem realistic to you?

What does that mean for social work? When you think honestly, would you hold a boss in different esteem if s/he had visible piercings or tattoos? Would you choose to hire someone who had them? Do YOU have them? If you do, are they intentionally covered during working hours? Should they be?

So many questions... I can't wait to read your thoughts!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frustration... Grrrr!

I must admit something to you all... I'm frustrated.

I'm frustrated by how many times I read news stories about children who are abused for years without a teacher/neighbor/friend reporting it, I'm frustrated by the lack of safety provided for social workers, I'm frustrated by the lack of chosen learning in uncomfortable or uncommon areas among social workers, and I'm frustrated that it sometimes appears that no one else cares.

Granted, I know the latter can't be true. I know that I'm among a professional group who have chosen this profession because we do care. I also know that much of the former may not be technically true either, or at least that it isn't so cut and dry. I know that agencies don't have more safety precautions because they simply cannot afford such, not because they don't care. I know that social workers may be uneducated or out of date on some topics because there are just too many topics to remain consistently updated on. I know that reports go unmade because people fear being wrong or they're afraid of the repercussions of filing a report.

I just feel like there has to be a better way. We live in a world where we can connect with each other through the click of a mouse, where we have access to communication with the leading experts on most everything! Rather than having to know about social work websites on our own, we can shoot a quick email to Susan Mankita or to Linda Grobman (the gurus of socialworkchat.org and The New Social Worker magazine, respectively). We don't need to know every detail about how to proceed with a client who has a transgender child, we can hit up Kim Pearson's facebook page (Executive Director of TYFA -TransYouth Family Allies). I don't know if a self-defense class could ever be counted for CEUs, but I'd venture to guess it'd be a great substitute for a gym workout for those who are working to stay fit.

My point here is this... let's all be more frustrated, let's get ridiculously frustrated even. Because we're social workers and by nature, by formal education, and by the way we work every day, frustration = results.

I encourage each of you to think about where your professional, personal, and safety knowledge is lacking and to get frustrated enough that you take a step or two to fill in those gaps.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Safety and Social Work

I just got finished watching an episode of the new show “Body of Proof,” a new show about a brain surgeon turned medical examiner and how she works with the police to figure out how her patients have died.

In this specific episode, one of her patients is a social worker. While I won’t reveal the ending, the episode considers how safe the victim was and whether any of the social work clients or coworkers may have caused the victim’s death. (to watch the episode for free, click here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/229614/body-of-proof-helping-hand#s-p1-so-i0 )

This episode is just another thing that has me thinking about social workers and our safety. On one hand, we know that we’ve chosen a career field that may put us in harm’s way. Some of us remove children from parents who have a history of abusing others, some work in crime-ridden areas in hopes of helping teens leave gangs, some work nights with violent sex offenders, and most of us work in areas that cause others to lock their doors when they drive through.

Sometimes, I think about the bouncers at the nightclub doors, the police officers who stand next to doormen at ritzy apartment buildings, and about the security guards in the shopping malls. I wonder whether social workers aren’t considered less important, less valuable than a club-goer, a rich Upper East Sider, or a pair of department store earrings. I wonder why we are required to pay small fortunes and take daunting tests to be permitted to work in our fields but there are no options (or even requirements) to complete self-defense training. I wonder why we learn how to protect our clients from their addictions, their abusers, their fears, and their relapses, but we’re not taught how to protect ourselves.

I freely admit that I don’t have the answers for these problems. I don’t know how to afford a police detail or even a trained security guard for agencies that are already barely making financial ends meet. I don’t know how to require documented ID from every senior citizen who wants to attend a center without the risk of losing the undocumented and the most private of seniors. I don’t know where the money would come from to double staff so that no social worker makes a home visit alone.

It just seems wrong to me that we simply accept things as they are. It seems wrong that we let our coworkers and ourselves continue on this path of crossing their fingers before each work day and of hoping that the system has created an intake form that will truly give us warning when a client is dangerous. There has to be more that we can do.

I hope you’ll share your ideas, tips, and solutions. Be safe, Everyone!