“I’m a social worker.” “Isn’t that cute.”

23 09 2010

If your ear is to the ground of social worker gossip and controversy (and honestly, why wouldn’t it be?) you might be familiar with this story. Lee Baca is a sheriff in Southern California. I consider myself to be a bit of a Southern California sheriff buff, so it was natural that I would read up on him.

Baca seems like a good guy. Like an officer who is not just concerned with law enforcement, but also with prevention, the very thing that social workers are always going on about. He advocates for mentally ill prisoners, does outreach with homeless individuals, and is concerned about racism, sexism, homophobia…all those -isms and -ias that we social workers complain nobody cares about.

So why are so many social workers calling for blood disagreeing in a polite fashion? This quote:

“I’m not ‘sort of a’ social worker, I am a social worker. Helping people to be the best they can be keeps (the public) safe.”


I mean, the important thing is that the work is getting done, right?

Hmm. I’ve mentioned before that social workers are intensely insecure. We are constantly trying to prove the worth of our profession, that we are well trained and educated, and that not just anybody can do our job.

You might think, based on my wit, wisdom, and grace under pressure, that I am immune from such pettiness.

Think again. (Don’t you know anything?)

This bothers me. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I once heard a 19 year old volunteering in a nursing home call herself a social worker. Well, I helped my cousin yank out her loose tooth when I was 10. When my aunt packed her mouth with gauze and ice, as much to muffle her crying as to soothe her exposed gums, I did not look proudly at her and say, “I’m not like a dentist. I am a dentist.”

That’s not to say Sheriff Baca is doing anything wrong. I’m sure that he’s getting people help that they need, and not mangling anybody’s teeth in the process. The man is doing good work, but now I have to be annoyed with him for a) giving himself a title he doesn’t have and b) making me feel like an asshole for criticizing him.

I went to graduate school. I got my Master’s. For all I talk about insanity and high drama in close encounters of the social kind social work school, we worked hard. I sat for my licensing exam, spending two hours in front of the computer ticking off multiple choice answers. After weeks of memorizing the DSM-IV and the NASW Code of Ethics, I embarassed myself by doing what can only be described as a whooping victory dance when the computer screen flashed “Pass.”

Social work is a specific profession, with specific values, and specific education needed. Social workers are not just well-meaning people out there trying to help people. Can you imagine Sheriff Baca’s sentence with the term “social worker” replaced with “lawyer,” “pediatrician,” or “crossing guard?”

It doesn’t fly with any other profession. And it shouldn’t fly with ours.



6 responses

23 09 2010

I had a very similar ‘huff’ last year when one of our politicians said that as an MP, he was also a social worker because he helps the people who vote for him. Grrrrrrrrrr. And more grrrrrrr. The problem is that a lot of people don’t really have a clue what social workers do (apart from remove kids from abusive parents) or they think we are just generally fluffy and effectual people who ‘just want to help’. Wow, sometimes (and only sometimes) I wish it were my job. I do know if I were an MP, I’d be getting at least three times my current salary at least… and probably a lot more sociable working hours..

23 09 2010

I think not understanding what social workers do is a huge part of it. At least in NYC, people removing children are very rarely actually social workers. I’ve had more than one friendly debate about this! I like that people think that we do good things, bit sometimes it feels like people think that my job is akin to volunteer work.

24 09 2010

At the moment my job feels more like a glorified admin position. 😉 I fill in paperwork to get more paperwork to do!

There is a gross misunderstanding of what social workers do. In the UK it’s usually a social worker who will remove the child but not always, usually it’s with police backup too. I don’t work in child protection, never have and likely never will.

There is a lot of anti-social worker media around, usually social workers are doing something wrong. When I say I’m a social worker I just get a look of pity.

Ah well, we do what we can.

24 09 2010

I was recently told by a mother that I should take her teen daughter back to school shopping, because if the mom takes her they’ll fight. That was the first time I’ve been mistaken for a personal shopper!

It’s rare to see social workers portrayed positively in the media. I feel that we’re always shown making the wrong decision-leaving the child in an abusive home or removing the child from a good home. We are misunderstood, but at least we have each other 🙂

24 09 2010

I bet the good sherriff never even heard of “client self-determination” which, at its best is not all it’s cracked up to be. But we persevere. He throws the people in jail. Sorry, I’m very tired today, and not at my articulate best. However, I like you, worked d*mn hard for all my pieces of paper, especially the one that says I am a Registered Social Worker (I’m in Canada). So he can just hush about him being a social worker!

24 09 2010

Exactly! Fundamentals of social work, like self-determination, starting where the client is, all that crap, are crucial to the work we do, and what makes our work unique. Without it, it’s cool that you’re being a nice guy–social work, not so much.

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