Happy World Social Work Day 2014: A Profession To Be Proud Of

Celebrating Social Work may seem like a pointless exercise, or even more cynically, a desperate attempt to save Social Work’s failing reputation. However, what celebrations like this provide is a real opportunity to improve what is already a genuinely important profession. Today, social media is flooded with discussions about Social Work and talks are being held internationally about what we do and why we do it.

globeIt is important to remember, however, that Social Work is not about the Social Worker; it is about those we serve. Whilst Social Workers may currently be receiving a very negative press in Britain due to a number of high profile child deaths, we must not lose hope that we can make the necessary changes to create a Social Work that our Service Users and the public are proud of.

We must also remember that Social Work is so much more than Child Protection. Social Workers practise in schools, elderly homes, prisons, mental health settings and in charities, to name but a few places. Wherever there are people in need, there will most likely be a Social Worker trying to reach them.

We need to use social media and news platforms, like today, as a means of highlighting how our Service Users need Social Work as a profession to change and improve. We need to ascertain the wishes and feelings of those we help and support and encourage them to join in the discussion. Only through honest and open dialogue can we develop into a truly effective profession and one that is powerful in creating social change.

Social media is a fantastic arena in terms of gathering anybody and everybody’s opinions on a matter. It is not enough, to simply retweet or favourite only the positive remarks about our profession. We must acknowledge criticism where it is constructive and not become defensive when another’s experience of Social Work does not match our own.

Social Work is not perfect and all Social Workers know this. However, when we put those who we seek to help at the centre of what we do, we are on the right track to making world-wide positive change. After all, it is the people we work with who make what we do worthwhile.

Dan is a young man I have worked with since he was fourteen and I was nineteen. He’s now coming up to twenty and as I have watched him develop into an adult, he too has watched me develop from student Social Worker to qualified professional. We have both watched each other grow up and consequently have a great professional relationship with frequent honest talks about his offending behaviour.

The last time I saw him, we were sitting in a Court prison cell together, as he awaited trial for a potential fourth custodial sentence. Dan had been so insistent that he would not find himself in this position again and I had been clear that the thought of seeing him sent to prison for a fourth time was getting too much for me to deal with. The last time I watched the Judge sentence him to ten months, I burst into tears in the Court.

Dan, did not think I would turn up to the Court cell that day. He thought like everyone else, his parents, his siblings, his friends and his girlfriend, he would have upset and disappointed me too much to come. No one else attended that day. I will always remember walking into the cell and seeing Dan look up at me. “I don’t get why you do this job,” he said” “You could do  anything else. Something that doesn’t upset you”. I responded, “but then I wouldn’t be here sitting with you now, would I Dan?” We sat there for a few moments in silence. Dan eventually replied, “no, I guess not… Thanks for that. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Photo Credit: ifsw.org

Evidence Based #SWHelper Live Twitter Chats: Open Forum Wrap Up

Yesterday, Social Work Helper held its first inaugural live twitter chat after a long hiatus, and the first chat was used as an open forum/town hall with members of the social work community both domestically and abroad to discuss twitter uses in academia and practice.

The purpose was to identify topics and issues that resonate with students, practitioners, and academics in order to micro target future chats. Additionally, it occurred to me the best way to challenge existing norms of social media use within the profession is to prove Twitter’s practical applications for data collection, resource identification, evaluation, community organizing, live event engagement, and advocacy.

There was no surprise when familiar themes emerged such as lack of branding for the profession, lack of technology core competencies being taught in social work education, ethical use of social media, and using social media in the professional space. Social Work Academia and leaders within the profession are still asking the question of whether to use social media platforms instead of how do we teach ethical use of social media and leverage them to extract data for future implications.

With the data collected from Sunday’s chat and future chats over the next six weeks, I will use this data to create a study for publication to challenge existing perceptions in the field of social work on the practical applications of twitter as a resource tool. The post for next week’s chat is soon to follow, and you can view the full archive of the chat at here: http://sfy.co/dc1t

#SWHelper Live Twitter Chats are held on Sundays at 3PM EST, and here are the week’s best tweets!


Desired Goals and Outcomes

Challenges and Barriers



Burnout: Who’s Taking Care of the Care Takers?



Stressors are a given in the helping professions such as social work, teaching, and nursing which can often lead to burnout. These can include intense and long work hours, low salaries, mismanagement, lack of appreciation and support, lack of job autonomy and security, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, politics (both interagency and governmental), and even personal risk at times. As a result it’s highly important to establish and implement procedures that reduce and/or eliminate stressors in order to prevent burnout and ultimately employee turnover which negatively impacts the organization and those served. 

Burnout is preventable. However, helping professions haven’t typically focused on their employees in the same way they’ve focused on their clients. Reducing and eliminating the stressors that contribute to burnout would ultimately require a total revamping of society. Many of the standards set by organizations are established by outside sources that are often disconnected from the reality of service provision.

This can lead to organizations placing a greater priority on those standards rather than addressing and supporting the needs of their employees, which also directly affect the needs of those they are helping. In an attempt to meet particular standards, organizations often have limited resources to reach their objectives. This can manifest as low salaries as well as significant overtime due to limited staffing due to limited funding while occurring within a societal framework that often fails to provide sufficient vacation time, healthcare, or other programs to support well being.

Contemplating a complete overhaul of society is overwhelming and contributory factor in creating the circumstances for burnout. There are many protective factors helping organizations and employees as individuals can do to promote change. Many in the helping fields advocate for others as individuals and overall societal change, but often have difficulty advocating for themselves. Some of this is a result of societal traditions and some of it is a result of a lack of education on the issues that directly impact them. This is particularly evident in regards to pay.

Employees in the helping professions are often underpaid and since money equals value in our society this communicates how little our society values the services these individuals provide.  Of course most don’t go into their chosen field to make a ton of money. However, if one has a major financial burden due to the profession they chose, this can contribute to burnout. At a societal and organizational level, those in helping professions need to advocate not only for higher pay, but also shorter work hours and increased vacation time.

Research has demonstrated that working overtime has a direct correlation to decreased productivity while employing flexible hours has a direct correlation to increased productivity.  Such policies also promote overall well being in all aspects of life, therefore, they should be taken into consideration and ample time off should be provided to recuperate. This could also provide opportunities for more jobs in these fields thus decreasing the unemployment rate.

These changes alone could move the meter tremendously towards eradication of burnt out helping professionals. Additionally, there are smaller changes that can be made until organizations and society buys in to the value of taking care of its employees and citizens.  Since increased job autonomy and social support within organizations are directly linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, organizations should create an environment that promotes this. Supervisors need to be mindful of providing praise as well as allowing room for employees to create aspects of their job duties.

Many enter into their chosen field passionate about certain areas and when they aren’t allowed to be involved in their passions, lose enthusiasm for their job.  Encouraging employees to incorporate their passions can significantly improve job satisfaction and decrease burnout. As well, creating promotional opportunities along with salary increases adds to employees’ motivation to be productive and satisfied. Along with all of this, providing opportunities for professional development in areas of employees’ interests will promote growth that will benefit both the individual workers and the organization. Included in this should be stress management workshops because no matter how many of these changes are made, stress will still exist in the helping professions.

Employees and organizations need to constantly educate and empower themselves in order to most effectively advocate for those they help, their field, and of course, themselves. At first, it may appear selfish to advocate for oneself when many working in helping professions have been socialized to operate within society’s parameters. By instituting protective factors for helping professionals, it will not only benefit the employees and their fields, but society as a whole will also reap the benefits. It’s time to stand up for health and well being for all including those who traditionally provide such opportunities of empowerment.

Instigating Change: The Public Perception of Social Work

change 1Over 25 years as an Australian social worker, my experience is that a good proportion of the population relate “social worker” to someone who removes children or someone who butts their nose into other people’s business. Often, it’s perceived that we practice our “stuff” in a government department, hospital to find elderly people nursing homes, or in a child welfare setting to assess family functioning.

How well do we as social workers educate our target groups about the services we provide? What do the general public perceive a “social worker” to be, and whose responsibility is it to promote our profession? Making the choice to create a career out of being a social worker has its disadvantages. After graduation it really didn’t take me long to stop calling myself a social worker. I found it to be a great conversation stopper at social gatherings. “So what do you do?” “I’m a social worker”. Responses ranged from  “oh okay, so you work with dole bludgers” to “oh you’re one of those do-gooders” to “ oh that’s interesting, so what is it that you actually do?”

Social work is a profession. Yet as a profession, it is still battling recognition in both the allied health sector and in the public arena. Historically, we were the charity workers, literally the “do-gooders”, those who gave up their time to help the disadvantaged. Our work was viewed as practical, bandaid, prescriptive, and often linked to churches who traditionally established programs to assist the poor.

Thankfully by the time I attended university in the early eighties, some semblance of a professional identity had been established, albeit still vague to the masses. “Change Agent” was one of the most apt descriptions to me at the time, and one that I use frequently today when explaining what it is that social workers actually do. Also, I was taught the term “change agent” crosses the boundaries of the three distinct areas which consist of casework, group work. and community work.

No, I did not learn how to hand out a welfare cheque to a client. Casework meant one on one counselling intervention to help an individual or family function better. No, I did not learn how to ladle the soup into bowls, and tuck people in at the local homeless shelter. I learnt how to facilitate groups, empower participants, foster mutual goals and maintain enthusiasm. And finally no, I did not learn how to partake in the local Neighbourhood Watch meetings to ensure the safety of the local community. I learnt to focus on community assets as opposed to disadvantages, inspire community participation with action towards change, and advocate on behalf of groups whose disadvantages place obstacles in the way of being heard.

When social workers are viewed as “agents of change”, it does more than just clarify our role to the public. It actually places an obligation back to the profession to ensure positive change happens for our clients. It isn’t enough to sit in the geriatric ward of the local hospital and simply look after the practicalities of a nursing home booking without checking on coping skills. Or to hand someone a food voucher without exploring ways to improve their situation in the long term.  It doesn’t cut it to sit in the office at a community centre booking external hirers and stating boldly you’re achieving something for your community. It’s not enough to sit at the head of the table at a group session and be the perceived expert whilst using psychological jargon only another professional would understand. These methods simply maintain the status quo – they do not inspire change, nor do they empower people to carry out change in order to reach their full potential.

So perhaps we need to look at our own profession and ask ourselves, what is it that we as a group are doing to maximize our profession’s full potential? Why is it that the public perception of our role is still not accurate, let alone widely known?  How do we achieve a better “branding” of the words social work and social worker?

“The general public” are our clients. They’re our target group(s).  There are a whole team of professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, social scientists and welfare workers, who aim to empower them to lead more fulfilling lives.   Yet Mr and Mrs Public don’t understand the differences in our qualifications. Our “consumers” actually don’t understand the “service” they’re purchasing, nor the good, the bad and the relevant. They just want “help” or “therapy” or “representation” and more often than not, the term “psychologist” will come to their minds. How do we change this to ensure our clients will understand their choices?

It’s time to make change to the public perception of social work. Clarify our skills in simple, layman’s terms. What is our core business? How do you describe “social work” to your family and friends?  How would you make a visit to a social worker sound appealing or helpful if you had to make a poster to promote our profession?

Start the ball rolling, leave a suggestion below as to how YOU would educate the general public to increase understanding of our skills and start “branding” our profession!

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