What do social workers do?

When I became a social worker, social work had a very bad reputation.  They were the people who took kids away, or didn’t do enough and people were hurt or died.  What I have come to understand is that social work includes so many things.  Social workers have their hands in so many areas, from policy to direct service.  They make things happen that others can’t, and are trained to think outside the box.  I am often in awe of my peers and what they are able to accomplish, and often feel unworthy to hold the label of social worker.

Over the years, I have heard of my peers starting organizations to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and even arrange things that are outside their scope of practice because it was the right thing to do.  I remember weddings planned from a hospital bed, and taking care of a pet because the person in need of help didn’t have any other support.  I remember hearing about social workers going above and beyond to provide services to people, that helped connect that person to something they needed.  I myself have made phone calls to local agencies to try to find services for someone in need, and found a resource that knew someone who could help.  It is amazing how many good things are going on in communities around the country that no one really knows about, but social workers can find.

As I think about how social work was viewed when I went to school, so long ago, I see how things have changed and evolved.  People worked in days past to create programs to help the homeless, make changes in policy, fight for women’s rights, and protect people from abuse and neglect. They focused on people’s strengths, instead of their faults, and over time that support lead to improvement in the quality of life that people had.  The goal has been to link people to natural supports, and not make people reliant on a system that changes.   The profession has been focused on honesty and integrity, which remains a part of the NASW creed.  Those values have been important to the profession for so long, and remain important.

Recently, I started to really understand how my profession has served others and continues to serve.  In hospitals, social service agencies, federal government facilities, and school systems across the nations, social workers effect change and fight for people who struggle to fight for themselves.  They drive great distances because it’s the right thing to do.  They protest poor practices and work for change.  I have always said that I wish I could work myself out of a job, but I don’t believe that will ever happen.  It’s a goal though, to no longer have vulnerable people in this world, and to give everyone a voice to stand up for what they need.

Social work has been a target in the past for negative publicity and hate, but it endures to keep fighting the fights that need to be fought.  It continues to be staffed by so many strong leaders, seen and unseen, pushing for change.   I tip my hat to my profession, and to so many social workers that continue earn the respect of those around them for their courage and fortitude.  They continue to fight for our right to be happy, and healthy, and safe.  You make us proud, and we thank you!