Why do you think that social workers are often called the Angels of the Earth? They are also sometimes called the voice for the voiceless. At almost every level of society, social workers are making a difference to people’s lives in often challenging environments. They are beavering away in many areas of public life and helping people who are challenged and neglected. Here are seven glimpses into the joys and sorrows of being a social worker. After you have read this, you will know why they are the unsung heroes in our society.
1. They help the elderly to cope
Did you know that the number of older Americans (65+) has increased by 25% in the last 10 years? A simpler figure to remember is that one in seven Americans is now over 65 because of improved medical care and increased longevity.
Who looks after the elderly with dementia and other diseases when they insist on living on their own? The geriatric social workers of course. They play a key role in helping to improve quality of life and optimal functioning within the familiar domestic environment. They help them with administrative work in deciding which services they can apply for.
They are also in the front line as they are trained to spot elder abuse and help co-ordinate medical care. If your elderly loved ones need the assistance of a geriatric social worker, you can find one in your area here (USA) or in the UK here. If you live in another country, the official social services will usually have a seniors’ welfare department.
2. They are our guardian angels
“Why am I a Social Worker?The answer is simple: to Be a Helper to the mentally, economically, and educationally impoverished humans on planet earth!” – Darlene Jack, University of South Carolina’s Master of Social Work Program.
It is a sobering fact that, at some point in our lives, we will face a crippling challenge such as financial loss, addiction, unemployment, or illness. This is when social workers will come to our rescue.
3. They are frustrated by bureaucracy
A social worker quickly learns that they can never act as a “rescuer” on impulse or when faced with an emergency late at night. They have to contact the agencies who are on duty and that makes them frustrated because they are not the ones in the frontline at the right time.
Many social workers are plagued by the fact that they need other experts to help them with their cases. These may be doctors, probation officers, teachers, or youth workers. They find it really difficult to liaise with them because they never return their calls. Another problem is that they have to “hot desk” as there may be shortage of office accommodation due to government cuts.
4. They are trained to deal with alcohol abuse
The consumption of alcohol in our society is so normal that its abuse is often ignored and even tolerated. There are many cases of people drinking themselves to death and yet no one will raise the alarm. In other cases, the intervention of a highly trained social worker and counsellor often saves that person from destroying their lives and those of their loved ones. They know that telling a person to stop drinking suddenly can be fatal. They follow the Stages of Change which helps alcoholics to understand the stages involved in contemplation of the problem and preparing for the changes they need to make.
5. They have to watch boundaries
The social worker may get very heavily involved in patients’ lives and, at times, may find it difficult to draw a boundary. A typical case was where a social worker was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral of a patient she had been helping. The patient’s parents held her in such esteem and admired her work so much that she seemed to be an obvious choice. But the social worker faced an ethical dilemma in that she did not want to break the privacy rules, while at the same time she did not want to offend the family. Sometimes, social workers find it difficult to draw the boundary lines because they care so much for their charges.
6. They help to mend broken families
The social worker is the go to person when families disintegrate under the weight of domestic violence, conflict and sibling rivalry. It is the social workers who are the heroes, as they are the ones who are prepared to listen with empathy and understanding. Above all, they know how to intervene effectively so that further tragedy can be avoided.
One social worker described how he had to deal with a 16-year-old boy who had attacked his mother with a knife. His family rejected him but the social worker knew that the boy would make contact after he was released from care. His work was to counsel both the boy and the mother for that eventuality. The boy and mother were reconciled after some sessions with the social worker. The boy went back to school and now works in social care himself. This is what makes the job so satisfying and why it is so gratifying.
7. They can help people get back on track
It is tragic to see society treat mental illness with disdain, intolerance, and indifference. The social worker is the heroine who shows that she cares and she knows the true worth of a person. She is the one who will be their advocate and will help them on the road towards empowerment.
I remember talking to one mental health worker who described how she helped a woman with severe depression. She had no job prospects, no social support network and was on social benefits to survive. The social worker counselled her and she is now confident about her future, has found a job and is pursuing a hobby. Through the hobby, she has made friends and she is back on track. It is cases like these that make the social worker’s life so rewarding.
It is their dedication, caring and love for their fellow human beings which make them the unsung heroes or heroines as we have seen from the examples above.
“If I was to give advice to social work students, I would say it’s really, really hard and it’s a lot of work. But it’s really rewarding too, so I think if you’re going to go into it then you have to do it whole-heartedly.” Gareth Benjamin, social worker student at Plymouth University (UK).
Featured photo credit: Social work/Army Medicine via flickr.com