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.