March is Social Work Month!

Hey there, friends! Did you know that March is Social Work Month? I know I know, it’s also Women’s History Month (yayyy for women!), but I figure since I celebrate women every day, I could be justified in focusing on the part of me that is almost as fundamental to how I move through the world as my gender.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Stereotypes

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you read the words “social worker”? Surely the first image is not of me – a business consultant, nonprofit volunteer, city planning commissioner, or any of the other things you may catch me running around the streets of my town getting involved with.

The vast majority of people I encounter for the first time are truly perplexed when I introduce myself as a social worker. The image in their minds is of the social worker stereotype that most folks know from watching just about any crime drama there has ever been (cue Law & Order SVU music). You know what I’m talking about: the child welfare worker, senior protective services worker, or other such agent of the state who comes in and saves the day (or fails miserably to save the day) when someone is in crisis.

Without going off on a rant about the media’s portrayal of my beloved profession, I will simply say that the stereotypes dramatically underrepresent who social workers are and the vast array of things they do in and for our communities.

A Quick Trip in the Way-Back Machine

My original goal for earning a social work degree was indeed to serve in the child and family services system. I thought I wanted to do my part by helping individual children and families in crisis. I am so grateful for the required practicums (internships) that were part of my Bachelor’s studies, because these experiences quickly showed me that I had no business working with individuals and that my true calling was at the macro level.

Every family I encountered during this period had significant challenges that preceded the crises that brought them into the system. Many of these challenges were due, in part, to a lack of family or community resources, and the very difficult choices that these families had to make as a result. Instead of focusing on the individuals within the family and helping them understand the need to make different choices, all I could think about were the systemic and/or policy-based issues that were so obvious to me, but that I was constantly told were not mine to worry about.

Thankfully, my experience earning my Master’s degree, plus my 20+ years working in the nonprofit sector, have helped me understand the social work field more deeply and fully embrace the plethora of skills that these professionals possess. Once I understood that working on a broader scale, focused on organizational, community, and policy issues was where I belonged, I jumped in headfirst and have never turned back. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been involved with as a proud macro-level social worker. I have: 

  • worked with legal teams, bringing a person-centered perspective to complex legal cases.
  • conducted research on juvenile justice interventions and advocated for positive change based on results.
  • advocated at the state level for (and against) policies that would help (or harm) the most vulnerable among us.
  • created and implemented programs to restore voting rights to people with prior felony convictions.
  • evaluated human service programs and enhanced them with best practices.
  • been actively involved with expanding affordable housing options at the city and regional levels. 

Phew! I could go on, but I know you get my point.

Proud Social Worker, Every Day and in Every Way!

Those who know me as a nonprofit professional and consultant will surely recognize the micro-level social work skills used to engage, build trust, actively listen, connect, facilitate, and so on. Every time I engage with a nonprofit client, a donor, a community leader or politician…every time I facilitate a difficult conversation with an organization’s board…every time I broker connections to solve a pressing need in my community…every time I dive into a policy discussion and ask the human-centered questions that many others don’t….and every time I run towards people who others say I should run away from…that’s my social worker coming out. 

And she cannot be contained.

Fact is, there’s more of us social workers out here than you know. But if you pay attention, you’ll find us. So, the next time you notice the “BSW”, “MSW”, or “LCSW” behind someone’s last name, or the next time someone like me introduces themselves to you as a social worker, try not to be confused. Instead, pull up a chair and ask them what type of social work they do. I promise, you won’t likely hear the same story twice!

Happy Social Work Month, friends!