My social work education began on April 22, 1985 when I was born to [my dad], social work major in the class of 1978, and [my mom], social work major in the class of 1979. Now I don’t consider myself a believer in the ideas of fate or destiny. However, if ever a girl was raised for a particular profession, my parents – perhaps unwittingly – raised me for social work.
One of my earliest memories is of my brother and my bedtime ritual. It included being tucked in, hugged and kissed, and then either my brother – who slept down the hall – or I would ask my dad, “Who got victimized today, Dad?” My dad would then sit down halfway between our rooms and tell us about the people he had helped that day at work.
I can’t remember clearly now any of the stories he told us. But I do remember many times – even as a child – being very moved by what my dad would say. A person who had finally found the courage to leave an abuser, but had no where safe to go… he would find that person shelter. A sister whose brother was killed… she wouldn’t have to face the murderer alone.
There was also my mother, a social worker at [MMH] by the time I was born. I couldn’t have been but 8 years old before I knew my way around that place like the back of my hand. My mother always took my brother and I too visit one particular elderly man. I have no doubt, that my mother chose that particular man, because she knew despite it being a place where people receive wonderful care, a good nurse can’t heal the soul of a lonely widower. But she cared and knew that children have a way of lifting spirits.
These were stories of helping people in times of need, walking with people through grief and pain, offering tangible evidences of caring. And not because it was a job… but because…
This is one of the single most important things I learned from my parents and a central reason why I chose to major in social work….
All people matter.
Several years later, I met with DB at freshmen orientation about being in the social work program. He gave me a list of all the social work classes I would take as that major.
Introduction to Social Work
Social Work Practice I
Social Work Practice II
Social Work Practice III
My altruistic bubble was succinctly burst by the thought of having to sit through what looked to be the most boring list of classes I’d ever seen.
So, I quickly switched my major to Music. I was two classes shy of finishing that major when I decided to give Social Work another look. And it was then that – at least career-wise – the apple finally landed not far from the tree.
My first Social Work class was with JH who taught me in that class and the many that followed, how to marry the values I’d be taught by my parents with the concrete knowledge it takes to help people move toward more satisfying lives.
DB became another important pillar in my social work education. In some circles social workers have a reputation for being “bleeding hearts.” But it takes a far greater deal than the ability to empathize, to help day-in and day-out with people who, for a variety of reasons, may be struggling just to get from day to day. In addition to teaching me how to write a measureable and manageable treatment plan, Professor DB gave me the knowledge and role-modeled the emotional availability and stability it takes to do the work without burning out.
I was also fortunate enough to be under the supervision of HK during her last year as the director of the We Care Crisis Center. The spring semester of my senior year, I spend every day at the crisis center getting hands on experience and being under the tutelage of not only a master clinician, but also a successful supervisor and macro social worker.
When I graduated I decided to head straight into a Master’s program, and after graduating one year later, began applying for my first real social work job.
I was hired as an intensive in-home counselor for the [Virginia area], where I had chosen to move to be closer to my brother and his wife. The counseling I was doing was within a program designed specifically for kids ages 4 to 18, who were on the brink of an out-of-home placement to places such as a hospital, a residential treatment facility, treatment foster care, or a juvenile detention center.
Only a few months after beginning work there, a little over a year ago, I was over at my brother’s one evening playing games with he and his wife when I got an unexpected phone call. It was from a frantic mother of one of my clients. We were in the midst of a snow storm, she was stuck at work, and her 15 year old son – my client – had in a fit of rage, pulled a butcher knife on her husband.
I’m not sure if I knew exactly what I signed up for when I went into social work, but I found out fairly quickly.
I worked hard at what I was doing and a year ago was asked to become a supervisor of our Therapeutic Day Treatment program, a Medicaid-funded program of counselors who work in several public schools. This program, similar to what I had been doing as an Intensive In-home Counselor, was to assist kids on the verge of expulsion or placement in an alternative education setting. Our counselors work in the schools all day, every day, with a caseload of six kids all of who have significant behavioral and emotional challenges.
We work closely with each child, their teachers and school administration to identify the specific areas of need and then help our clients create a treatment plan that they are motivated to work on, is measurable, and manageable. We also develop good relationships with the parents of all our students and make home visits to make sure the parents know what we’re working on in school, how it’s going, and to do family counseling.
Thus far it has proved to be a remarkably effective counseling program, our outcome measures showing by and large that schools, clients, and parents report decreased disciplinary action from schools and improved emotional and familial health.
Back to my 15 year old client who pulled the knife… We survived that night without any major injures. It’s been over a year now since then and after 2 emergency hospitalizations, numerous fights with even more numerous suspensions, and getting kicked out of school two years in a row, he is doing much better. Now he is in our Therapeutic Day Treatment program, is stable in school, has only received one suspension since beginning in our program, and three weeks ago got in an intense argument with his brother and did NOT hit him. That I believe, is what Professor DB, would call measurable progress.
I owe a great deal to all those who invested in my education here…. JH, DB, HK, and many others who aren’t even in the social work program,… LN, PB, RK, and many more.
I would like to extend a sincere thanks to them for preparing me to be a compassionate, curious, and competent social worker.
And thanks also to you for being here today.