In approaching this blog and this celebration of Social Work Month I found myself facing a dichotomy; a chasm or divide between two opposing positions. Honestly, I find myself facing one often. Some are imposed by life. Some self-imposed. Dichotomies nevertheless. This month I found myself at the nexus of a familiar one.
As a social worker, I often reflect on the necessity of that job. The social worker serves their community across any strata of socioeconomic status, locale, or culture. I find that it is often a thankless job. One takes this job knowing they will be doing the work that is necessary and needed for low pay and low thanks. We rarely have moments to celebrate let alone to be celebrated so we tend to relish those moments. Usually, we are supporting and celebrating each other amongst the cubicles, cubbies, and mounds of paperwork. We show up at the same places as the police with no baton or badge. Or the counselors with no office. Even the chicken noodle soup for the soul without being either a clergy person or a chef!
Before you know it we are a team in the least and an extension of our family at best. Making space for each other in the best, soul-filling way. I am still blessed with the friendships and family members gained from my time as a social worker! Social Work month intentionally leans into that celebration, widening that space where OUR acknowledgments, our sacrifices, and our impacts on our community. While the late nights and missing our children’s games are not made up by semi-deep discounts or free ice cream, the appreciation fuels our commitment just a bit more.
Fellow social workers, I salute you!
Across the street at this intersection is the foster child in me. I hold the painfully beautiful privilege of wearing both hats.
The foster child in me is decidedly more apathetic this month. I can see her standing there stoic. Not because I have complete ought or anger against social workers on the whole but because it almost feels like we are celebrating the failures of social work, dismissive of the outcomes of the failures. The failures she is having to live out. The failures she is watching her compatriots endure…seemingly without urgency or consideration of those celebrating this month. The duality is never lost on me. Not one day. Not with any child death. Not with any staggering statistic.
Never lost. It makes me wonder how we contend with a system broken by those who rarely feel the impact of its brokenness.
How do we celebrate social work month while Ohio is in the bottom 10% of foster children graduating with their GED or high school diploma? How do we celebrate when homelessness is almost a sure thing for those aging out of care? Hell of a balancing act.
There is a piece of me that is pierced with the reality of these things. Every time. I am envious of those who have aged out of or have touched the system but don’t feel that piercing. Granted, I’ve never met them but I assume there are some.
Sitting here now as a social worker/aged-out youth I have an offer and it is this.
Acknowledge it all.
Let this month drive us to not become numb to another child death, persistent homelessness for aging out youth, poor outcomes for foster youth, not including them in decision-making regarding the rules that govern them, and barriers to their successes… without intentional action.
As a social worker, I want you to take recognition this month as you are pouring out your cup that another’s may fractionally and temporarily be filled. I pray more benefits and blessings are headed your way. I lobby for workers every chance I get regarding pay, workloads, and resources. Truly. I also bear the burden of a promise I made a LONG time ago.
I will fight for survivors of foster care and abuse just as hard. As someone who aged out of foster care, we are just that - survivors. I will NOT be silent so that our experiences are eclipsed by process, policy, or practice.
The contusions of child welfare combat must be the context for consideration and conversation. As a person with lived experience, I have resolved that my perspective will never be buried without bearing fruit.
The dichotomy of advocates with lived experience is the context for this month. I pray that as we acknowledge that context, we can begin to contend with the celebration due to social workers without losing the context of those carrying the weight of its misses. As you read this I pray you bless a social worker you know and advocate for a child you may not know but needs your support, encouragement, or advocacy.
Social workers, we celebrate you.