Social workers who need a social worker*

31 01 2011

 I recently came to a conclusion–I shouldn’t really talk about my job with the non social work public.

Yes, I realize that I am writing this on the internet. Decidedly public. But bear with me.

People enjoy the funny stories about wacky kids and sassy teenagers. They also like to hear the horror stories. About how rough the job is, how awful some people can be.

I don’t know, it’s like misery porn. Think of how many Oscars “Precious” was nominated for.

Quite often, I need to talk about it. I can’t take it all with me. There are times that I see things that make me angry, but more often they make me want to cry.

The other day, I stopped by to do a home visit with a family that I was having trouble seeing all month. When I rang the bell, I heard the dog yipping and the girls shrieking. I was so happy to have finally caught them at home.

Then things got a little strange.

I realized that it was the four year old asking me who was at the door. She knows me well enough at this point, and tried to open the door, yelling, “I can’t do the lock!”

I asked who was home with her. “My sister!”

Ah, the two year old. And to think, I had been worried.

She managed to get the door open. I confirmed that they were, in fact, home alone. The three of us stood together in the doorway, played dolls and sang ABCs (OK, that part was fun) and waited for the police.

Mom, the cops, and the babysitter with whom mom had left the kids all arrived at the same time.

So yes, mom made a mistake. She, clearly, did not choose the best person to leave her kids with. The babysitter, clearly, was an idiot.

But is this woman a bad mother? Does she deserve to lose her kids?

No. There’s no ambiguity, even. She’s a good mom. She was horrified that the girls were home alone, and her first priority was making sure that they were all right. She wasn’t upset that they police had been called. In fact, she was relieved that I had found her daughters.

I don’t even want to know what went down between her and that baby sitter after I left.

This was the end of my Friday. I dragged myself home, wanting to collapse into hot chocolate Glee marathon bed.

I also kind of wanted to talk about it. But I realized something pretty quickly.

Other people weren’t sad about it. They were pissed.

In a superficial, righteous kind of way.

“I wouldn’t leave my kids home alone until they were 12! What kind of an idiot does that?”
“What was so important that she was running out to do, huh? I can imagine…”
“I hope those kids get taken away.”

Yes, foster care will truly do them a world of good.

It made me think of all of the other comments I’ve gotten. I can categorize them at this point.

The person who doesn’t do anything, thanks to their heart of gold.
“Oh, I could never do what you do. It would just devastate me, I would care too much.”

The hard ass who makes the tough decisions you soft social workers can’t.
“I wouldn’t have let them leave until those kids were removed!”

The asshole willing to write off entire segments of society.
“Just admit, most of those people you work with shouldn’t even have kids.”

These people all have one thing in common: they’re not social workers. They don’t work with families. They don’t understand the nuances and complexities of family systems, of those relationships, of parenting. Even if they have families, and are parents. They don’t understand that, in most cases, removal wouldn’t fix things. That foster care is not a solution. It saves lives, it’s necessary, absolutely, but it also creates a whole new set of problems to be addressed.

I’ve never been a fan of, “You’re not (fill in the blank), you wouldn’t understand.” But I guess there are times that it applies. The fact of the matter is, the only people who knew what I was talking about were my fellow social workers.

The funny stories, the tragedies, and the inspiring victories have a universal appeal. But like I am always telling my clients–there are times that you just need a social worker.

*Dedicated with much love and gratitude to my tweeting social workers who got me through a mild breakdown 🙂



14 responses

31 01 2011
Jonathan Singer

Thank you for writing so clearly and honestly about your experience. This post could be used to teach social work practice in so many settings: an ethics seminar, a clinical practice class, or an administrative review session. The situation you described in this blog is more evidence that you are a social worker who really gets it. Life is not “either/or.” Even when there are obvious calls (e.g. calling the police), there are no easy answers.

I agree that social workers need let the steam out. Your blog is a great example of how to do that by finding humor in situations that to many people wouldn’t be funny. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.


31 01 2011

Thanks so much, that is really nice to hear! The more experience I get, the more “getting it” feels like being honest about the fact that you are, pretty much always, unsure.

I feel like there is an effort in social work school to prepare you for the tricky, complex situations we all find ourselves in, but there’s really no way to do that in a class. This blog has been an amazing experience, not only for getting all of this confusion, doubt, humor and joy out there, but in finding how many other social workers feel the same way.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

31 01 2011

So, so true. That thought goes through my mind so often, when I try to engage a non-social worker in an empathy-based conversation…”Never mind, you wouldn’t understand.” (Not that empathy is exclusive to social workers). Keep up the great work, friend 🙂

31 01 2011

Thanks, Lynn! Empathy is definitely not exclusive to social workers. In fact, there are some people in the field who I really don’t want to talk to after a bad day! But there is still that connection, based on the work, education, and core values of the profession that just makes it a little easier.

31 01 2011
Tweets that mention Social workers who need a social worker* « SocialJerk --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Singer, SocialJerk. SocialJerk said: SocialJerk update! "Social workers who need a social worker*" […]

31 01 2011

Although I agree with you on the fact that sometimes/most times speaking with people of your own kind/profession are the only ones who may truly understand, there are those of us who work with these types of families in a different way. It is now midway through my 5th year teaching kids with special needs, many of whom have had social workers working with their families, and it has just come with experience, compassion, and patience in order to begin understanding that things are not always how they seem, or as easy as one would like them to be. There is always another side.

Thank you for allowing me into your side of the story and developing my compassion even further…

31 01 2011

That is true. I’ve found teachers and public health nurses who really know what I’m talking about and deal with similar situations.

A lot of times, people will be empathetic but are not really familiar with the systems. In the situation I wrote about, some people asked if I would have had to remove the girls. I don’t work for ACS, so “removal” would have been “kidnapping.” (Like I said, they’re fun kids, but that wouldn’t have been the right move.) And then there’s the bureacracy you get from city agencies and funding sources–it can be hard to explain to someone who doesn’t work with it all the time. I experience being on the other side with my friends who are teachers–we can talk about the kids, but when they get into craziness at the DOE, there are just things I don’t get!

Thanks for reading. It’s great when all of us “helping professionals” can come together!

31 01 2011
bad mummy

Just last night I was at a monthly gathering of feminist mums and our discussion topic for the evening was activism. One ‘activist activity’ that I’d never thought about was ‘awareness raising through discussion’. I think it’s important to talk to non SW people about the trials and tribulations of your work because some awareness needs to be raised. Yes, it can be exhausting. Absolutely. But we talked a lot last night about the struggles of finding adequate and affordable childcare options. Finding a reliable (and affordable) babysitter is HARD. Those without a support system, adequate funds, etc don’t have the same options for a babysitting.

Thank you for sharing this. It is an important discussion. A friend in Brooklyn is involved in a solidarity circle for teachers, SWs, activists, organizers, advocates that allows for the sort of peer-support needed when you’re working at a job with a high burn-out rate.

1 02 2011

That’s an excellent point. Challenging people on their assumptions as to why people in these situations do the things they do, while 100% exhausting, can maybe change minds sometimes. That it’s not lack of caring, or laziness, but really just doing the best one can with what one has. It’s hard for people to question those assumptions, because a lot of the time, it means that they have to admit to some privilege–they have a good job, an involved partner, a good family willing to provide child care, or whatever.

Thank you for reading!

1 02 2011
Social over worker

This is so true. I just read this out loud to my boyfriend. He nodded in agreement because he has no choice.

1 02 2011

My boyfriend tends to listen and hand me a beer. This is good.

1 02 2011

Oh so very true… thank goodness I keep a few social workers in my inner circle.. and a lot of them in my twitter feed!!

1 02 2011

I wrote this Friday night, immediately after realizing the importance of social worker tweeting!

6 04 2013
Coolie 360

social is silliy

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