National Social Work Month: The Work That We Do
For the past 12 years, I have been a social worker. I started out working in North Philly at an alternative school for students who were expelled from public schools. It remains one of the best jobs I have had since graduating. I truly loved working with the students, who were difficult but very special. Many of them either were killed or ended up in prison; at least 6 students on my former caseload are incarcerated for murder. Knowing that outcome is a very difficult aspect of my past work with this population. Looking back on my time at the alternative school, I also remember every single girl on my caseload was pregnant. During those four years, I bought many new baby gifts. For those students and their families, who I enjoyed working with immensely, just being there was really important to them. Most of them lived in the badlands – some of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. They were used to nobody caring about them. While doing home visits, I remember always being taken aback because everyone knew who’s therapist I was. There was no confidentiality, because they just saw someone “from the outside” who really cared and wasn’t afraid to come into the neighborhood.
This past summer, I received a call from one of those families whose son is currently in jail for murder; they wanted to see me. They had been searching for me because they just wanted to tell me how much of a difference I had made, not only in their son’s life, but in their family’s life as well. They simply wanted to thank me for all that I had done for their family. I had not worked with this boy or his family in six years; I had felt so much guilt that I had not been able to prevent their son’s current situation. Their words shocked me; they said, “You will never know how much you helped our son and us as a family. We could really tell how much you loved and cared about us and that really did help us change our lives, which has allowed us to be in our son’s life and not continue on our destructive path.” Wow – such a powerful feeling to know you have made a positive impact.
Professional social workers understand the joy and frustrations that come with the work that we do. Our mission is to help alleviate many of society’s most pressing issues, including poverty, homelessness, and high incarceration rates, while also giving a voice to those whose voices are often ignored and left unheard. As we celebrate National Social Work Month, I’d like to thank all the social workers who go out into the world with the hope of making someone else’s life just a little bit better.