For Them, Caring is a Calling
“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is it that makes social workers tick? With March being National Social Work Month, we at SPRYTE thought what better time to delve into some of their motivations and inclinations?
For healthcare communicators, who are often tasked with showcasing the conscience of their organization – whether through corporate social responsibility programs, employee communications, or thought leadership initiatives – understanding how and why social workers do what they do can help shine a bright light on the path ahead.
For Episcopal Community Services’ Neibert Richards, MSW, LSW, it was always about caring and people.
“I originally went to school to major in nursing, but soon after I arrived, the school decided to phase out the major,” she recalls. After that, she was undecided as a major. That’s about the time she was introduced to the opportunity presented by social work.
“The biology and all the other classes just weren’t fitting with what I wanted to do,” says Richards. But the idea of helping others was clearly a guiding force.
A Caring Tradition
Those roots run deep. Her father was a minister. Her mother, a teacher. There were four children in all. The family moved to the U.S. from Guyana when she was eight.
“Family was always a huge factor for me,” Richards says. “I was always longing for connections, wanting to know who my cousins are. I was the one who always had an issue when someone couldn’t come to be with the family for the holidays.”
Soon after getting her Master’s in Social Welfare, she joined Episcopal Community Services (ECS), where she signed onto the foster care program. Today, 22 years later, she is Director of Permanent Housing at ECS.
Over the years, there have been many changes in the way social workers are viewed, she says.
“I think the career path is better organized. Social workers are viewed more as true professionals.” she says.
Hopefully, that view will supplant what Jeanne Morrison, MSW, Support Services Director for Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care in Philadelphia, says is probably the biggest misperception people have about social workers.
“Lots of times, people use the term ‘social worker’ for someone who is actually a caseworker,” explains Morrison. “Especially in child welfare situations, there is a belief that it’s the social worker who is there to take the child away. The reality is that the social worker’s goal is to keep families together whenever possible.”
Looking at Strengths
Morrison notes that social workers are trained to evaluate clients from a strength standpoint – whether it’s the family, an individual, or a group dynamic. The initial goal is to identify existing strengths that can be built upon to help address certain issues that the client is facing.
She says the effort is a true collaborative partnership between the social worker and the client.
To do that effectively, it’s important “to meet people where they are,” she says. “In order to identify their hopes and plans, you need to understand things from their standpoint. You can’t expect people to come to you. If you do, you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you can understand and meet them where they are, you can start identifying their hopes and dreams from that stanpoint.”
Next Generation of Social Workers
Emily Blumenthal is a student at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis currently working toward her degree in social work.
She says the holistic perspective that social workers are trained to utilize is one of the things that led her in this direction.
“As a social worker, you’re trained to look at the environment the individual is in – you need to pay attention to who they’re surrounded by, family, friends, whatever is going on. It’s important to get the whole perspective,” she says.
Blumenthal is currently in the midst of a practicum with Perinatal Behavioral Health Service working with pregnant women with mood disorders or depression, doing screenings and providing information in a clinical setting. Following this, she will move on to another practicum (focus to be determined) that will last about a year. The experience will provide her with a broader base of training and insights that will assist in a future career decision.
She says her ultimate goal is to go into counseling, perhaps working with young adults, couples, and young famiies. But she’s confident that her background and training in social work will enable her to choose from a number of options.
Remembering what’s Important
For ECS’ Neibert Richards, that diversity of opportunity is one of social work’s greatest strengths.
“Social workers are a lot of people who care about helping others, giving someone a helping hand to advance to the next stage of life so they can move in a positive direction,” she says.
“They’re the ones, walking the streets, counting the homeless every year for HUD,” Richards explains. “They’re the ones who have no problem going into a home that’s drug-infested, letting someone know that we have a bed here, the kids can come. They’re trying to get them to think beyond this life that they’re in. It isn’t easy for them. Social workers do it because they care.”
For healthcare communicators, when you’re telling your story, caring and people are usually good places to begin as well.