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.