A warm breeze blew around my face as I walked into work today. It pushed a heavy strand of dark hair out of place from behind my unusually small ear. The air carried the smell of a grassy field of wildflowers. It must have gusted and rolled along for many miles through the dirty city to reach my finely attuned nostrils. As I pushed through the silver doors, I imagined I was barefoot and swinging on the front porch. Higher and higher, the wooden bench creaked and the springs squeaked. Only briefly did I worry about going to high when it felt like the sky was the limit.
What is good social work?
Let me start by explaining what is NOT good social work.
Good social work is not finding problems and reporting the information back to an insurance company for research purposes. It’s not giving people resources that are tapped out or difficult to access. It’s not black and white with clear solutions and easy answers. Most of all, good social work is not business, it’s life.
Clients are real people with real problems that were there before the involvement of a social worker and likely will still exist long afterwards . The problems associated with poverty may appear to be easy to overcome on paper. They can be next to impossible to overcome in the real world, where the rubber meets the road, so to say.
Take for example a family who has no income and are living exclusively on food bought with SNAP (food stamps) or obtained from food pantries and soup kitchens. The kids in this fictional family get targeted at school for whatever reason and a referral is made to a social worker to get some eyes on the situation. The obvious solution for the adult(s) of the family is… do I even need to write it? Get a job, right?
Not so fast. What if there is only one parent involved and she doesn’t have her GED? She doesn’t have transportation to get to the library to finish the courses or the money to pay for the test. She doesn’t have any marketable skills or she has a disability. She doesn’t have the confidence required to apply because she’s never had a job or known anyone to hold one for an extended amount of time. There are a million reasons for her to get a job and a million and one barriers to her doing so.
It would be easy to refer this woman to a job search assistance program or GED classes to take at home and call it a day. Check the box that the assessment was completed, referrals given, and follow up with be done in a week or two. Realistically, what would happen? Maybe she would follow up on one of the referrals, find that it was a dead end, and continue trying to survive with her children in a mean world.
What is really needed to stop the cycle of poverty, to end the violence, struggles with addiction, and sense of hopelessness that keep people trapped and spinning in place?
I clearly don’t have any of the answers. I don’t even know what is good social work compared with successful meddling and good report writing. What I do know is that the problems of the poor don’t need more bad social work.
I’ll figure the rest out from there.
There’s a story that I want to share- but it isn’t mine to tell.
It’s about the most raucous fight between two demented residents of a nursing home over a box of cookies.
I want to go into the gory details of the residents springing up out of their wheelchairs to attack one another, much to the surprise of their aides.
Its killing me not to be able to describe the fight scene in which the normally sterile and lame setting of a nursing home transformed into a place much like the Wild West, sub out the tumble weeds for catheter bags and fast women in bodices for aides in scrubs and crocs.
Each resident was out for himself in the great cookie quarrel of July.
The story even has a tragic ending with the eviction of two residents to the unfriendly streets of the city.
Perhaps the worst part about not being able to share this story is that no one will ever learn what became of the box of gourmet cookies.
“Listen carefully to what country people call mother wit. In those homely sayings are couched the collective wisdom of generations.” – Maya Angelou
Thanks, Maya. Now I’m really listening.
Sharing a hotel room with another couple
Can be a challenge
Especially if one person
Has gastrointestinal difficulties
And the other one snores