A Social Worker’s Perspective on National Social Work Month

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For the past nine years, my job was a social work position in a school system. I worked with migrant families who had come to our area for work and needed assistance with the language barriers, information for school, resources for their family, support for a student in the classroom, and even at times investigations for a child’s safety.

From there, my position changed to our city’s highest-rated school for poverty, with 97 percent of the students receiving free or reduced lunch. The student population there also included immigrant families, African-American families, Caucasian families, Latino families, children with special needs, and families with endless hardships. Then, for six years I was a part of an elementary school in our city with the most diverse student and family population based on economic and social status. Working with families in a school setting allowed me to first make relationships with the students and learn how they needed assistance and what I could do about it.

My Bachelor’s degree was in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. I had learned in my college classroom setting all about the possibilities of how family situations and personal pains could affect a person in so many ways. I even learned Spanish so that, as a bilingual social worker, I could broaden my scope of families that I could help. But it wasn’t until I was in the thick of family strains and student needs that I actually learned the reality of being a social worker and all it entailed. The endless phone calls, most of which were left unanswered, continual home visits to a place way out in the country with no neighbors in sight or a motel in the worst section of town where a family of five resided were all reasons for exhaustion and worry but also reminders of the crucial task at hand.

My first year, 2010, when I worked as a social worker for a local school system and its migrant families, I was a full-time employee, received insurance benefits, and my starting salary was $18,800 plus mileage. For the next eight years as I continued working in the school system in a social work position, my salary did increase each year. However, for the 2018 school year, I still did not meet the average salary for a social worker in the United States which, according to Salary.com, was around $56,000 at the start of 2019.

Most social workers will have a scheduled 40-hour work week, but many will put in extra hours in the evenings or on the weekends and bring work home with them to provide more accessibility to the families they are serving. (Some adoption social workers are available to their clients 24/7). And even though most social workers find their jobs fulfilling based on the services they can provide for their community, they also face a staggering turnover and high burnout rates in their profession from the extra hours and great expectations required to accomplish their tasks successfully.

Most people who are outside the realm of a social work career do not fully understand what a job description for their position entails or how those job duties change and evolve on a daily basis. Outsiders also do not comprehend what all a social worker faces in the midst of some of a family’s or birth mother’s hardest days and the responsibility of providing answers and resources to aid in bettering their situation. A social worker will not usually meet a family in the best circumstances or without requiring support.

However, even with all the lows that a social worker faces, the highs are so rewarding for all the work done. Realizing your job enriched a child’s life, provided for a family’s needs, supported birth parents during some difficult times, or improved relationships within a household will truly cause your heart to overflow and lessen the memory of the long hours and emotional work you put into this outcome.

If you have worked with a social worker during your adoption (or in any other circumstances), know that they are probably exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. They know and see so much more than you could imagine and have to stay private about the details. A social worker will struggle many days to see an inch of progress and will celebrate over the smallest victories.

During our adoption journey, my husband and I have worked with our adoption social worker very closely. Adoption in and of itself is a process that requires support on so many levels, and we are continually grateful for the role our adoption social worker plays in our family’s adoption. From the endless questions we presented as we began this new venture to knowing each step to take, from the anxiety of waiting to the emotions of a failed adoption and then putting the pieces back together, our social worker offered advice, affirmation, prayers, and the knowledge of her own experiences that comforted us and taught us so much as we continue to pursue adoption. Without her commitment to face our adoption alongside us, we would be lost and without direction like a ship without a sail.

Say thank you. Acknowledge the contributions they make to families and your community. Offer support when they need encouragement or just a reminder that they are making a difference. Advocate for their work with families and even say a prayer for their safety while they are hard at work. It is easier to focus on the benefits that a social worker provides during a month that is identified as National Social Work Month, when their profession is spotlighted to see it in all its glory. However, keep these heroes in the front of your mind not just in March, but throughout the year as they are tirelessly working for children and families. You may not realize, but most people have been affected in some way by a social worker in their life. Whether they helped you or your family directly, assisted a student in your child’s class so that he/she would better manage their stress or be in a safer environment, or you’re currently working with a social worker for an adoption or foster care situation, you have benefited from their work.

Let’s take time to celebrate all that a social worker does, the compassion they give, the hard truths they disclose, and the sacrifices they make to make your community a better place to live.

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Jill is a 32-year-old wife and mom. She has been married to her husband, Brannon, for eight years and has 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters. Jill and her husband are currently in the adoption process to bring another baby into their home. Jill lives in a small community in Kentucky. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish and obtained her Master’s degree in Christian Ministries. Jill’s passions are her faith, her family, writing, playing sports, and eating good food.

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