Social Workers Protesting in the Street? Where in the World…..and Why?

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Today, when one envisions the role of a Social Worker, let’s face it being a social activist is not one of them. The time when Social Workers’ primary role was being politically active appears to have been lost on the pages of history. There was a time when one desired to be politically active, social work was the chosen pathway to affect social change.

For instance, Social Worker Francis Perkins not only advised President Roosevelt in developing his New Deal Policies, she played a key role in writing New Deal legislation. Social Worker Whitney M. Young aided President Lyndon B. Johnson in developing legislation that created Medicaid and Medicare.

In 1939, Social Worker Abbott Grace helped draft the Social Security Act. Every fiber that weaves together today’s social safety net for our most vulnerable populations included Social Workers in the development of those historic legislative pieces.

Present day, when social issues are being discussed, Social Workers appear to be missing from the national conversation. This is not the case in Madrid, Spain were Social Workers are marching to protest cuts in social services. The General Council of Social Work is one out of its 900 member Social Summit that convened the march according to their website.

The General Council of Social Work also states on its website that the government has cut funding to social services by 42% in recent budgets resulting in the collapse of human services and resources for the poor.  The website further states that Social Workers can not stand by and watch the devastation caused by these cuts that are wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable populations. They argue that everyone suffers when basic human dignity is not given to all.

When I read about the plight of our Social Workers across the sea, it provided a foreshadow for what’s to come in America. If American Social Workers continue to operate with blinders on, the proposed Romney/Ryan budget will devastate our profession and those who we are charged to serve and protect. Do we really need to wait until after it happens to try and reverse the damage?

Also View:

African American Social Worker Pioneers Response to Need by Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey  
Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context

If Only Monsters Actually Looked Like Monsters….

After having a twitter conversation with a social carer in the UK, I was made aware of some breaking news that is taking the United Kingdom by storm. According to BBC News,  Sir Jimmy Savile (Knighted), whose fame rivals that of Sir Elton John here in the States, has been raping and abusing under-aged girls over the course of four decades. The police have at least eight recorded instances of allegations against him. Yet, Sir Jimmy Savile was granted the privilege of dying from natural causes at the age of 85 years old without ever answering for his monstrosities, and it appears his crimes were protected until one year posthumously. He was known as a celebrity, philanthropist, and charitable giver. Does this story sound familiar?

Does this story sound reminiscent of our own recently dishonored philanthropist, the Great Jerry Sandusky of Penn State University. For those who may not be familiar with this particular monster, Mr. Sandusky, under the guise of a honorable football coach of a highly esteemed educational institution, used a charitable organization to identify vulnerable children to rape over the course of decades.

As children, we are taught to fear the boogie man, the big fury monster with big teeth, and the red devil with horns and claws. We do ourselves and our children a disservice by failing to arm them with the knowledge to keep us all safer. More precisely….. Evil is beautiful, charismatic, and alluring while appearing to be kind, genuine, and caring.

Predators are attracted to and they embed themselves within charitable and public institutions tasked with serving the most vulnerable in order to have unchallenged access to their prey. This is further evidenced by the recent revelations on the tracking of pedophiles posing as Scout Masters within The Boy Scouts of America. Currently, there are no mechanisms in place to identify or screen these predators from employment such personality test or psych evaluation. If you have ever felt like you work in an evil environment or felt confused by a relationship, your instincts are your best ally in alerting yourself to possible dangers.

We ignore our instincts because our eyes deceives us, and we often are confused by predatory actions. When you feel confused about someone’s intentions or confused about their character, this is your proof to run. Listen! Listen! Listen! Don’t doubt or dismiss the feeling you have that something is not right. We are all built with spider senses to alert us of the pitfalls we should navigate away from. Quit trying to analyze the intentions and pay more attention to their actions.

Here are a few resources that I would like to leave you with:

  1. Psychopath: Mask of Sanity
  2. Peer Abuse and Adult Survivors of Abuse

For sources on  Jerry Sandusky and Jimmy Savile view these links.

If Social Workers are Intrinsic to Humanity, Why Should We Strive to Make the Profession Redundant?

As social workers, your use of ‘self’ is the most fundamental tool in your kit bag. This is why particularly when our profession faces huge challenges, we must be reflexive.  Globally, we are living through unprecedented times. A failure of the capitalist framework which scaffolds our lives has reduced the resources that we and our service users rely on. Our first instinct is to demand more from the hierarchical structures which govern us, voice our concerns and hope to be heard. We do this because that is the system that we are conditioned to, and it’s the way society works.

We question the system and critique it for being out of touch. Why do the powers that be choose what aspects of our concerns to highlight and minimise what we consider to be core issues? How can a system intended to empower people and improve lives, leave people feeling decimated?

These questions can be applied to our personal selves, our profession and on behalf of the individuals and families we support. But to answer them requires time to think about whether the individual answers for our personal self, our profession, and our service users harmonise or create conflict. There are no easy answers. In some cases as an individual and a social worker you may consider that both you and your service users will benefit from you having a reduced caseload to enable you to dedicate more time.

This is an important issue and the answer is one where you might consider the result is increased harmony which is deserving of more funding. But do all areas of public service require greater provision, more doctors, nurses, teachers, soldiers and police? Hey, she forgot to mention social workers! Sadly this omission was deliberate to make the point that an increase in the number of social workers is rarely voiced as a national issue.

Despite a lack of national prevalence, social workers are crucial to our country’s success.  This is because social workers stand committed to wanting to make a positive difference, to support and empower our service users to live safe and fulfilling lives. However, although social workers can be the human face of a bureaucratic policy, on occasions we also represent an impersonal faceless system.

Listen or read any criticism of the social work profession by service users and it is underpinned by a sense of dehumanisation. Somehow amidst carefully designed systems and well intentioned policies the interventions of social workers leave some people feeling despair, fear and hatred. This was never the intended outcome of the social work profession, whose ultimate goal is one of redundancy, of not being required by a well functioning society.

You may think this utopia is unrealistic and will never be achieved. I fully understand that position. It is natural to feel overwhelmed simply trying to survive the daily challenges that our personal and professional lives bring. We are only human, how can we meet the needs of humanity? When in truth the question should be: We are human, how can we not meet the needs of humanity?

This may feel like a heavy burden for social workers to carry, but I believe it is part of our DNA, an aspect of our self. Our personal lives led us to this profession and professional training supports our knowledge base and skills. We are taught to analyse and reflect on the needs of service users and our decision making processes as individual social workers.  We need to extend that reflexivity to our profession to be honest enough to own our mistakes and apply ourselves to fundamental change. We can only change ourselves not others, so let’s agree what we can do and not focus upon what others prevent us from doing.  We owe it to ourselves and humankind.

Letter to the Aspiring Social Worker

I don’t claim to know about all things social work, but I have learned some life lessons along the way that have shaped who I am, my faith, and my desire to help others. Do we choose this profession or does it choose us? I believe that everyone who enters the social work profession do so because of something in their background that enrages that desire to change injustices, speak up for those without a voice, and/or inject compassion into an otherwise heartless society.

As I reflect on my journey, there are several things I couldn’t have moved forward without, and there are several changes older me wish I had the insight to make. For the aspiring social worker and the new social worker, I will be sharing throughout this post several mantras that I have used to guide my path over the years. It’s when I ignored my compass that I found myself learning another life lesson. Here are a few of the most important ones.

Lesson One-“If you want to know where you are going, look at your friends”

No matter if you are 13 years old or 45 years old, this mantra should guide you for the rest of your life. This mantra is powerful because it will determine the most powerful influences and the direction of your life for the rest of your life. You can substitute friends for peers, coworkers, or membership groups. Who you choose to align yourself with will influence your belief system, your work ethics, your ideas, and your actions. It will affect your ability to collaborate, share ideas, and information especially when there is no personal benefit for yourself.

Lesson Two- “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”

Define the line that you won’t cross. Find your moral compass. Identify the part of you that draws you to this profession. What are you most passionate about? AND Who do you feel the most compassion for? DETERMINE: What are you willing to do to advance or get ahead? What are you willing to ignore or overlook? Who has value in this society according to your standards? Are those who are suffering and poor to blame for their own problems? No Social Worker is immune from having prejudices and biases against individuals or groups of people. The failure to acknowledge this human deficiency will determine whether you are an advocate or an oppressor.

Lesson Three-“When two or more stand together and agree”

Social Work is not like running track,  playing tennis, or riding equestrian. Social Work is not an individual sport. Whether you choose to go into private practice, Child Welfare, health care, or any other area of practice, you must remain connected to other like minded individuals working together and with others.  I believe the reason why so many social workers experience burnout is because it feels like a solo fight against a system that’s to big to change.  Our separation and isolation from other professions begin in college. When do you interact with education majors, sociology, public health, criminal justice and so forth. Guess what? You are going to have to interact with other professions in the workforce! Why not start now while you are in college? Start a community service project and invite the other student groups from different majors to participate.

Why should social work students take the lead? ANSWER: The Social Work profession is the only profession that is designed to help people improve the quality of their lives on a biological, social, and psychological perspective. Give this some thought…..Let that statement marinate.

In physics, pushing up against a wall that does not move fails to meet the definition of work. If the wall does not move, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend pushing because no distance can be measured.  Instead of spending our time pushing up against walls, let’s align ourselves with people who can work with us to take the wall down brick by brick or at least enough to go around it.

Also View:
Resources for Students Considering a Career in Social Work

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