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, September 30, 2011

Is It Genetic?

Just about 18 months ago, I had the lucky fortune of being able to sit around a table with a handful of relatives, spanning 4 generations. As we flipped through handed-down photo albums and tried to identify the people in the yellowed photos, I was writing down the memories being shared about each person. I began to notice a pattern; this side of my family tree had a surprisingly large number of people involved in social work.

It's caused me to wonder whether there may be some predisposition to our field. I'm not thinking just about who has attended a collegiate program or who has a license, I'm also considering who was known around the family (or around town) for being the go-to problem-solver, the one to turn to with problems, the one who took in the orphans, etc.

Do any of you have other social workers or those who were known for being "helpers" in your families?

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Makes a Social Work Supervisor “Great?”

A new school year has begun and thus begins another round of interns for me. For the first time, I have social work interns, which I am really excited about, though I also have more nursing students and I am thrilled to improve upon the experience I gave to last year’s students. In NY, anyone supervising social work interns must complete a 2-semester course on supervision in field instruction (SIFI), which I attended the first session of last week, before the interns began.

Let me be very blunt… in the first SIFI class, I couldn’t figure out why I had to be there or what the teacher could teach me, considering that this class was meant for beginners. I have a teaching background, after all, and I’d mapped out an entire plan for my students months ago. I’d considered my personal experiences in internships, I’d chatted with former classmates about their internship experiences, I’d read articles about supervision, I’d made sure the internship binder I’d created was labeled and had proper tabs and was color-coded, I had their ID badges laminated and set out on my desk the day before their first day. I.Was.Set. …

Until the students arrived.

Suddenly, I found myself being asked logical questions for which I didn’t have all of the answers. I was given paperwork from the school that asked for information I didn’t have. The assignments in the binder didn’t match up as perfectly as I’d hoped to the clients’ choice to come to our agency at any given time. In short, I went from feeling on top of the world, Madame Preparation, to feeling like I was starting the race from 10 feet behind, Mrs. Oh… I Hadn’t Thought of That.
Well, we’re now a few internship days in and things are beginning to settle down. Anxiety levels are dropping for all involved and the students are beginning to ask questions and follow them up with ideas on how to make things better than the answer provided to them. Clients are becoming more familiar with new faces and are starting to open up. Those fancy binders I worked so hard on are now becoming living works, being altered and tweaked as life requires.

But no matter the ease we’re baby-stepping into, I remain humbled by the experience. So I write to you all this week with my mouth shut, ready to listen to what the genius SIFI professor has to teach me, ready to listen to what my quick-thinking interns teach me through their experiences and questions, and ready to listen to your thoughts on what makes a supervisor great.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What About Us?

Over the past decade or two, many companies have been playing around with the traditional 9-5 working hours to gain a feel for what makes sense both for the company's bottom line and for its employees. Flextime, self-regulated vacation time, and 4 10-hour day work weeks have become more common, and many are now considering having one or more of those options to be a necessity when seeking work.

Some companies have reported that such options create happier employees, which makes them more loyal and more productive, which is worth it to the company in the big picture.

Could such ever work in Social Work? To be honest, there's a huge part of me that likes the idea of working Monday-Thursday and having 3 day weekends, even if it meant 10 hour days for the other 4. There's an even bigger part of me that likes the idea of flextime allowing me to not start work until 10 or 11, even if it meant working until 6 or 7.

For me, this sounds awesome... but then, I say that as someone who doesn't have to pay for after-school care for children and as someone who is naturally a night owl.

What do you think? Would your personal life be improved or suffer if your company began such protocol? How do you think it would impact your clients?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Your Dream Job


I just finished reading this article, “How to find time to pursue your dream job while making money in order to support it” by Carolyn Kepcher, a major force in the business world and famous for being on “The Apprentice” as a judge with Donald Trump.

It has me thinking about us and about how much our jobs are what we want and how much is what we feel forced to settle for. It’s tough not to be realistic; the government pays us very very little for doing our jobs well, which will save them a ton a ton of money. Our budgets continue to get cut so jobs are tough to find and it’s tough not to just feel grateful to be offered a job at all in this economy. We’re told every day to do more with less and suddenly, working with a coworker you don’t absolutely hate or actually getting a 12 minute lunch break almost feels like a dream.

But what was your dream job before you took your first job? Before your first internship? Before you were snapped into the realities of this field? Did you hope to change your community? Did you want to become a supervisor? Maybe we can’t have every bit of what we wanted when we were too na├»ve to understand the realities of this profession, but maybe we can work together to find ways to help each other achieve at least some piece of that initial dream. Maybe it’s too broad a goal to change your community, but maybe you can schedule a volunteer time to help clean up the local park. Maybe politics or the economy or a million other things mean a rough road to becoming a supervisor in your company, but you can supervise interns from a nearby university. Maybe you can mentor a new social worker or supervise kids in an after-hours program at the nearby youth center.

Maybe there’s something you can do to help others find a way to incorporate a piece of their dream and somehow find a piece of yours in the process. The only way to know is to try!

Friday, September 2, 2011

How Would I Have Handled This Client?


I just finished reading this story, sent to me by the blogger. When I was in my first MSW elective course (Social Work and Women), I wrote a paper on endometriosis. This woman’s story has me thinking about it again.

How would a social worker have seen this person, had she been a client? Had she been thought of as the medical doctors first did, as an attention-seeking teen? Would she have been trusted as misdiagnosed or would she have been diagnosed with a mental disorder like Munchhausen? Later, would she have been counseled and cheered for her bravery or would she have been diagnosed as depressed, perhaps prescribed an anti-depressant?

Much like medical doctors, social workers often have over-sized client loads, and we’re taught to be on the lookout for certain red flags. We’re taught that, when we hear hooves and see a flowing mane to look for the common horses, not for the rare zebras. Kristi was a zebra… someone vibrant and wanting to live, someone craving activity and happiness and someone whose body didn’t allow it.

Cleveland Clinic estimates approximately 5.5 million women in the US have endometriosis. 30-40% are infertile. There is no cure. As I write this blog, I cannot help but wonder how often social workers and other mental health professionals have misinterpreted suffers literal and metaphoric cries for help.

Unlike cancer or addictions or grief, there is no chance of a cure and time doesn’t make the pain subside. Funding for this illness is small, so it may be a while, but I hope a cure is found and the endo sisters of the world may someday find peace… and I hope social workers are able to be part of their support system in the meantime.