March 16th marks World Social Work Day, like many people I was not familiar with what a Social Worker actually does.
While going to college full-time as a music major, I was starting to feel dissatisfied with my career choice and I was not feeling fulfilled. I just so happened to be working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at an assisted living facility at the time. I found out the manager of the memory care unit had a degree in social work. This was surprising to me because I thought all social workers worked with CPS. “Hey,” I thought, “I could probably run a memory care unit.” I had no understanding of what social work was, but decided one semester of classes couldn’t hurt. After finding an academic advisor in the social work program at my university I signed up. Little did I know at the time but that decision was a major turning point in my life.
That semester I took about 4 different social work classes. I can’t tell you the names of them or anything specific about what I learned. What I can tell you is that in one of the classes there was a professor who made me fall in love with social work.
She was a feisty, red-haired, lesbian woman in her mid-forties. She... was... Fabulous! This woman had so much experience working with people who had suffered some of the worst tragedies imaginable. A good portion of her career had been working as a mental health crisis worker at various hospitals. She shared stories of being called in to be with her clients when they were having the worst mental breakdowns; when they were reeling from an incredible loss; when they had reached the end of their ability to handle life. She would sit with them, sometimes cry with them, and give so much of her time to make them feel like they could pick themselves up and keep going. Her passion for making the world a better place was contagious. It spoke to my inner need to feel like I was also making a difference. I decided in that class that social work was where I needed to be, and I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work.
I am now six years into my social work career and it has already given me such a range of experience. I have worked in a program helping victims of relationship violence access orders of protection and legal services. I have worked as a medical social worker in a state mental hospital helping patients stabilize and pick the pieces of their lives back up before being released. I was even able to do a year of forensic social work with the defense teams for people who were indigent and charged with various criminal defenses. I’m currently working as a risk manager at a hospital, striving to work on programs and processes that can help my community stay safe.
I think most people have a very limited knowledge of what a social worker does or is supposed to do. The truth is we can do a lot of various things, but at its root social work is a very human based profession. I’m also sure most people don’t know that social workers live by a specific code of ethics. There are six broad ethical principles involved in that code of ethics: Service, Social Justice, Dignity and Worth of a Person, Importance of Human Relationships, Integrity, and Competence. These are the values we strive to live by, they were woven into our very character with every social work class we took and reinforced with every real world experience.
Being a social worker means learning how to put yourself in a place that tries to understand the why behind a person’s actions. Somehow you maintain empathy even when being exposed to some of the worst acts of humanity. Since you are often dealing with a struggling, hurting population, you are faced with an extensive amount of negative emotions. Self care is also heavily emphasized in school but somehow remains an elusive mystery. You feel this overwhelming need to change the world but often feel helpless as you watch your clients fall through all the cracks in a broken system. You are often the last person rooting for your clients and you keep supporting them over and over despite repetitive negative behavior because they are human and they are worth it.
You persist day after day because you truly believe in the dignity and worth of a person. You take the small victories and press on. You believe in serving the underserved populations. You see the need for social change and fight for it. You raise your voice for those who cannot raise their own. Your morals and integrity will not let you cut corners. You strive to maintain your competence no matter how overworked and underpaid you are. You are all about solutions and empowerment. You continue seeing the potential in people despite all the baggage and trauma that tends to get in their way because overall you value human relationships. You are a true humanitarian and the world needs more of you.
In celebration of World Social Work Day I would ask that everyone take a moment to thank and appreciate every social worker in their lives. To all the social workers out there: What you do is valuable. Be kind to yourself. Be proud of who you are.
- Rachelle Pryor, MSW
World Social Work Day is on the 16th March 2021. It is the key day in the year that social workers worldwide stand together to advance our common message globally. This year, the 2021 World Social Day highlights Ubuntu: I am Because We Are. This is the first theme of the 2020 to 2030 Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. Visit www.ifsw.org for more information.
I am Because We are – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness. Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’ is a concept and philosophy that resonates with the social work perspective of the interconnectedness of all peoples and their environments. It speaks to the need for global solidarity and also highlights indigenous knowledge and wisdom.