Being a “good” social worker

First of all, I would like to say that I really appreciate reading the blog posts from my fellow Children’s Corps members. I know how difficult it can be to write or even think about work after a day of child welfare, but it’s great to read the posts and remember that other people I know are working in this challenging field.

Last week marked my third month of employment, which means that I have passed my probationary period and now have health insurance. More specifically, that means that I can make that dentist appointment that my mom has been bugging me about for months now.

The past few weeks have been surprisingly fun at the office, as I get to know my co-workers more and feel more comfortable in my position. It also seems to help when I bring in homemade baked goods in the mornings.. Then, last Thursday, two of my co-workers announced that they are leaving, and the office environment has been a bit more somber. Once they leave, my caseload will likely go up, but I’m trying not to think about that for now.

My supervisor and I make the commute to and from work together sometimes when we happen to catch the same ferry, and it has been great to have that time as a sort of informal supervision when we can have a bit of discussion about my cases as well as more systemic issues that relate to the work. She has been working in child welfare for 30+ years, and despite sometimes lapsing into cynicism, she remains committed to the families and children. Even though she probably works around fifty hours each week, she is less burned out than some of the one- or two-year employees. When I start feeling bad for myself for having to work late one night, I try to remember how hard some of the other caseworkers and supervisors work, and balance out my schedule so I can get some more free time on a different day.

Lately I have been thinking about how difficult it is to work with my families in both helping to prevent crises and reacting to them once they have already happened. Currently, all of my cases are at least one year old, and each of my families has had at least three other workers. The other day, during a family visit, a teenager told his mother in front of me: It’s okay mom, she’s one of the good social workers. I’d like to think that is true, but honestly, the bar to measure what is “good” seems to be low. I do my best to make time to talk to children individually, to give parents the benefit of the doubt when other workers would have given up (they even encourage me to do so), and to approach each family in a unique way, but I do not always have the time for it. When I have a FASP or PH report due, I usually have to prioritize that, and when a crisis comes up, I put preventative measures, like visiting a child’s school when things are going fairly well, on the back burner. That being said, my caseload is totally manageable. I have less cases than almost all other caseworkers in my department, and I still struggle to have time to go the extra mile for families. I am sure that this is true for many other jobs, but it can be difficult to maintain high standards for myself when I know that I can get by with the bare minimum. Do I return that mother’s phone call before I leave work even though I know she will talk my ear off for half an hour about a concern she has for her son, or do I leave work on time and call her back later? Do I keep trying to maintain a real positive relationship with that foster mother or do I really confront her about her parenting techniques?

I know this is going to sound cliche, but I truly think that being a part of Children’s Corps helps me hold myself at a higher standard than what is generally expected of me. Each of these families deserves something better than what the system generally provides, so I just need to remember this, and take care of myself in the process. Easier said than done, of course. A few weeks ago I worked three consecutive days that were 13.5, 13, and14 hours long (including my commute), and I thought I would go crazy. I know that I cannot continue to do that if I am going to remain sane and reasonably happy at work, so I have been putting my time management skills to the test. I also told myself that even though I am behind on entering progress notes, I will not spend another Saturday afternoon working on them, because I need my weekends for myself. To sum it up, my lofty goal is to maintain high standards for work and continuous self-care. Three more months on the job, and I can take a vacation!


Filed under Members

2 responses to “Being a “good” social worker

  1. Rachel (summer intern)

    Martha: for every positive comment you hear about your work, there are dozens more clients have thought but haven’t said aloud. Through celebrating the triumphs and recognizing the challenges, you are doing a fantastic job! Look forward to hearing more from you.

  2. Considering the high standard you have set for yourself and your demonstrated wish to spend more time on your cases, I would bet that you are going the extra mile for your families and you don’t even know it.

    Definitely, practice more self care whenever you can. Perhaps on those long commutes home you can: meditate, read a funny book, knit a sweater, organize your favorite recipes….or……sleep!

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