As a long time social worker, I am writing this article because I do believe my profession needs a complete 180-degree overhaul. We need a change.
The purpose of these articles is to explain the rationale for such a change and then provide three solutions to bring about a platform for discussion.
When I went into social work in 1990, the following social problems existed: generational welfare, Medicare and Medicaid fraud, juvenile delinquency, teen age pregnancy, STD transmission, high recidivism rates in corrections, soaring health care costs, poverty, rape, molestation, alcoholism, drug addiction, family violence, divorce, truancy, murder, theft, hate crimes.
One would speculate that the profession of social work is supposed to be decreasing the aforementioned social problems. That is what social work is all about: helping people, working to end social and economic injustice, working to enhance the quality of life for the populations with whom we work.
But something is going terribly wrong. The statistics are showing minimal change in these areas. Children are still being raped, beaten, neglected, starved, and murdered. Young girls are still having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. Abortion is still a method of contraception. Middle school children are still getting HIV, HPV, and herpes. Parents are still divorcing. Alcoholism and drug addiction is still out there.
All those original problems are still there and with the internet, social workers now get to add more problems to our plate, including internet pornography and gambling addition, cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, and identify theft.
Now that I have pointed out all the problems that social workers are striving to end, I must pose the questions: Have made any progress at all? The answer is, Yes. We have made progress and we are making progress, but much too slowly. For every one step forward, society pushes us two steps backwards.
The reason for the slow progress is that social work is a fluid, intangible profession. We work with people, not numbers. We work with emotions, feelings, goals, desires, weaknesses, strengths, morals; constructs that are changing daily, if not hourly.
The environment within social workers are expected to successfully complete our job is ever changing, ever shifting. But this is not an excuse for poor social work performance. This is a fact that helps shed light on our “unproductivity.” So let’s accept that our environment is intangible, ever shifting, and ever changing. Let’s try another approach to becoming more productive in the workplace. Instead of becoming reactive, we must become proactive.
And being proactive takes more energy and fortitude than just reacting. Reacting is easy. Being proactive means keeping the problem from happening to begin with. So how do we as social workers realistically stop the aforementioned social problems from even happening? First we need to stop talking and talking about being professional and develop our own identities.
For over 20 years, I have been to conference after conference focusing on how professional we are, how great a job we are doing, how incredible we are with all the lives that we are touching. We can say over and over and over again that we are professionals. But if we aren’t completing the assignments we are being given, then we aren’t being productive and therefore we are not being professional.
So we need to focus on completing our assignments successfully and expeditiously. Second, understand that certain people want and need help and help those. Let those who do not want help, won’t look for work, won’t complete volunteer community service hours to receive government assistance, fall between the cracks.
Stop all this madness. Just stop it. The public should know that welfare was never intended to support generations of families, decades after decades, after decades. The welfare system was never supposed to become a way of life.
Social work needs to help stop enabling generational welfare and teenage pregnancy. So the question is “how do we stop the enabling and focus on feasible and realistic ideas for incentivizing healthier, more productive families?
In my next blog I will describe three ideas, created with the help of my own students, on how to do exactly that.
Dr. Marian Swindell is a professor of social work at the Meridian campus of Mississippi State University
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