Arise and Seize the Day

28 01 2013

I am exhausted.

It’s just been one of those months. Suddenly almost all of my families are working (yay!) so I have I stay late to make sure I see everyone each week (boo!) Everything is due at once, lots of new cases are coming in, caseload maximums are rising, paperwork is multiplying, I’m working lots of hours I don’t get paid for, and I’m getting heartburn just typing this.

Really, I can’t complain. I mean, it’s what I signed on for. And everyone in the field is doing the same thing. So it’s ok. Just the way it is.

Right?

It was recently suggested to me that this isn’t the way it has to be. That maybe we could unite and agitate for change. Bizarre that this didn’t occur to me earlier. I mean, I helped found Students for Social Justice as an undergrad. And I watched Newsies at least 1054 times. That is a conservative estimate.

It’s ridiculous. We make shitty money for our education level, and it is not possible to get work done in the amount of time we are technically supposed to be in the office. Is it just that we’re not talking about it enough?

Note that I said “talking,” not “engaging in martyrdom.” It’s a fine line to draw, but we must make an effort.

Teachers have been talking about too little respect and money and too much work to do in a school day since the dawn of standardized testing time. Yes, they’re still getting a raw deal. But at least they have a union. And they get discounts at random bookstores, which makes me envy them terribly. They’ve done a good job of putting themselves out there as educated people doing an important job that they deserve to be compensated fairly for. We can argue over how much good it’s done, but at least it’s on people’s minds.

Most people don’t even know who should actually be called a social worker.

I think that’s the first step, actually. Title protection. We don’t have it in New York. I know it’s been implemented in Washington and Virginia, with some success. Of course, people can’t legally advertise that they’re an LCSW if they aren’t. But people can refer to themselves or their employees as social workers when they aren’t, and this happens all the time. It’s the first step to respect. Respect is the first step to sweet sweet cash proper compensation.

I’m quite open to suggestions here, as I have no idea how to make progress in this area in terms of law. I do think being open about this, and educating others about the fact there’s nothing wrong with being a caseworker with an Associate’s degree, but that doesn’t make one a social worker, is crucial and something we can all do. Not everyone who works in a social worky field is a social worker. Refer to a doctor as a nurse, and see what you get. People know to be careful about that. It would be pretty cool if they knew that about us as well.

We need to stop acting like self care is the answer. Let me put this in words social workers will understand–it’s kind of victim blaming. It’s not that there’s too much to be done, you just can’t be arsed to take care of yourself! Go to the gym! Oh wait, by the time you get out of work they’re about to close. Well, take a mental health day! But then you won’t get your contacts in, and you put the agency at risk of losing our contract with the city. Why are you so selfish?

Talking a brisk walk and listening to Mumford & Sons only goes so far. It helps you to deal with a shitty, overwhelming situation, before you’re able to change it.

Self care can help postpone burnout, but it doesn’t make it go away. Support from one another would help. When someone in the office says, “Hey, isn’t it kind of fucked that we’re twenty five percent over maximum caseload?” we should talk about ways to fight it in our agencies. We shouldn’t snort and say, “When I started here, we had nine million cases. Literally. More than the population on New York City, I know!”

To really address burnout, though, we need more fundamental changes.

This is where it gets complicated. The work we do and the programs that help us to do it are always the first to go when we realize the country is Texas with a dollar sign in debt. It puts us in survival mode. At my agency, we work incredibly hard to prove that we can do the most with the least. It’s not just because we were all unpopular in junior high and are seeking approval. It’s because we’re in constant competition for city contracts. When we get a new one, we’re momentarily validated. It’s working!

Contracts are the opiate of the social work masses. We don’t have time to fight for change when we’re treading water. Kind of like how we’d love for our clients to agitate for change to the public assistance system, but they don’t have time what with all their appointments for public assistance.

I know we all hate to hear “evidence based,” but like title protection, it’s an important step. We need to be able, in some way, to identify that what we’re doing is helping. Not just that we’re seeing people for a shorter period of time, but that they’re making measurable improvements and not returning for services a month later.

Social services and caring for society’s vulnerable needs to be a bigger priority. It needs to be recognized as something that needs funding. I realize that this statement is far from revolutionary. I realize that I offer nothing in the way of answers, only more questions. But maybe if we start talking about meaningful change that benefits us all, and therefore our clients, rather than exchanging war stories, we can make some of it happen?

I guess it can’t hurt.

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7 responses

4 02 2013
M

Bless this post.

4 02 2013
Clare

This post is very near to my heart. You are right, many states do not recognize/respect social workers and the work they do. Maryland has done a good job with developing policy protecting Social Work and its various licenses. The Maryland Board of Social Work is a wealth of info, and although tedious at times- it is worth it in the long run. I find lobbying state and local jurisdictions helps expose the profession to a group of people who have no idea about social work.

Another avenue that could help social workers is through unions. The power unions have to negotiate could help social workers get a higher status as well as better pay. The communication workers have organized social workers and counselors in the DC area.

I benefit from this because I know it has taken a long time to establish. But as social workers don’t we organize well? With all of our free time;)

4 02 2013
Jeni

I work at a job that is funded by a grant and I make sure to do my paperwork every day. I am actually lucky in that my paperwork actually informs and helps me do my job better as well as being evidence of progress in my students. Writing up reports everyday is a pain, but it also holds me acountable for what I do every day. I really do feel that, as a teacher, we need to be held accountable for our work so your point about “evidenced based” practices really hit home for me. I can see the difference in my students, but in order to make sure other people understand what I’m seeing I have to write my paperwork in terms they can understand and I need to be held accountable for what I do.

Also, I have worked with a few entrenched teachers that just coast on by without a care in the world because of the unions, so yes we have a union but it doesn’t always do right by all teachers.

4 02 2013
mjfrombuffalo

I think the NYS SW Licensing Law gave us title protection. As for the rest, YES, SWs in child welfare are overworked, underpaid, and doing an undoable job, and every year it becomes that much more so. 😦

4 02 2013
SweetOne

I feel your pain. Thank you for writing this post. (graduating with my MSW in NY in May…yikes!)

7 02 2013
Addison Cooper

Hey SJ – sorry — I commented on Twitter first, and saw your post second. You make great points. I think that there are some unionized county social workers in California, I worked alongside some of them while working at a private agency. They were making probably 35% more than private agency workers in similar positions… but their union also protected their work by refusing to allow them to get contractor help, which added to increased caseloads. The other (potential) downside of their higher pay was that employees were often transferred out & not replaced. This ultimately resulted in a large-ish County having an adoption division staffed by three social workers, 1/2 time supervisor, and an office administrator. For a whole county. This hurt cases – adoptions out of foster care were probably delayed 6 months just because there wasn’t anyone to do the paperwork. And of course, the social workers were super-stressed because they knew they were being perceived as the reason for the hold-up, when really it was something systematic.

I think you’re right a great first step would be — stepping away from war stories, not trying to “one up” someone else’s gripes … and instead, actually responding like a social worker, “Wow, Jackie. That does sound really unfair, unhealthy, and unsustainable.” Even acknowledging that something’s wrong is a step towards changing it.

Good good post.

Also, I wouldn’t mind more money 🙂

26 03 2013
Sheila

agency collaborations… we’re all “in it” for the same reasons… why not support each other..? I know – scary money thing… gggrrrrrrr monetary needs!… collaboration can fix that… may be?

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