by Hanna Cronic, current Florida State University MSW student
With a goal of helping the general public understand what kinds of services social workers provide, public service announcement videos from the NASW Foundation used multiple actors to tell real-life stories about how social workers help single parents, older adults and LGBTQ youth.
What I’ve learned as a social work student and beginning social work professional is that there is no typical day in the life of a social worker. A day that starts with case notes can easily end in crisis intervention. As social workers, we utilize a variety of skills in order to be as prepared as possible for whatever comes our way. We take classes that focus on special populations and commonly encounter problems addressing these individuals and their problems. We approach from a strengths-based outlook and through a social justice lens.
While our social work classes are divided into clinical social work and social leadership/administration, many of our jobs require us to understand both sets of concepts. We understand how abstract policies touch our clients’ daily lives. Within treatment teams, social workers are often the ones doing the comprehensive social assessments and helping connect the client to outside resources. Our minds see the networks of services around us instead of just the particular agencies in which we work. We see clients with clinical problems that are exacerbated by legislation and agency policies. It is our role to advocate for our clients at the individual, agency, and societal levels.
Social workers work with people that are often underserved and underrepresented. We act as a voice and a guide. We view these clients as individuals who are also parts of larger systems. We work hard at the macro level to remove systemic barriers so that our clients are better able to access the services they need. Finally, and most importantly, social workers and our stories matter because we care and we make a difference.
I recently had a conversation with a co-worker about what social workers actually do. This person's idea of social work education envisioned students sitting in a circle and crying to prepare for working for child welfare agencies. I talked about some of the populations and settings my classmates and I are interested in, and I explained that social workers often meet our clients during seasons of change in their lives. I told my co-worker some of the issues my clients in crisis intervention faced, including domestic violence, lack of mental health resources, homelessness, and trauma. I found myself defending the need for our profession throughout my conversation, which I'm sure many of us will do again and again throughout our careers. I tried to clarify the differences between clinical social workers and psychiatrists, and policy social workers and political scientists. While I'm not sure my co-worker completely understood what I was saying, I think I did help them to see that we do more than sit in circles and cry about taking children from their parents.
So, although we should always seek to guard our clients' privacy and safety, I encourage you to tell your own story and the story of the populations you serve in ways that are caring, compassionate, conscientious and bring to light the many tangible impacts social workers have on people’s daily lives. We can tell our personal stories in a multitude of ways and through many channels like conversations, social media, articles and research. Every story builds the tapestry that makes up the social work field and I am proud to be a part of it.