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The Spleen of Society - Social Workers

Social workers are kind of like the spleen – you know it's there, you don't really know how it works or what it does, but you do know it's important and does … important stuff. Social work is often an unseen profession, with social workers behind the scenes advocating for others, solving problems, and putting out fires. And, just like how we must have a spleen to keep our bodies working, we need social workers to keep society working together. Who knew that spleens and social workers have so much in common? March is Social Worker Month, and March 19th is National Social Worker's Day, so what better time to shine a light on social workers and what they do?

National Social Worker's Day recognizes the contributions of social workers, as well as bringing awareness to challenges facing the field and what we can do to support social workers. The National Association of Social Workers has set this year's theme as "Empowering Social Workers." Restoring Hope has a number of social workers who make up the Restoring Hope family – our Program Managers. We don't know the actual number, though, because social workers are notoriously bad at math (that's a bad social worker joke, but I can say it because I'm a social worker). Restoring Hope has a wonderful and hardworking group of Program Managers with diverse backgrounds who bring their own unique sets of skills and insights to their work, and – they are great at math, which is a bonus. Restoring Hope also works with a variety of social workers from other agencies, who create a team of people who work to improve the lives of our individuals.

So, how can we empower social workers? It is an interesting question because social workers' main goal is to empower others. One great place to start is to learn about social work, listen to social workers and what they need to be better supported, and learn about and support their causes and efforts.

PM - Hillary Dullaban with Brenda Raetz, Host Home.

What is Social Work?

As I mentioned earlier, with my great spleen metaphor, many probably do not fully know what social workers actually do – which makes total sense because it is a very broad field that requires a lot of different hats to wear. The National Association of Social Workers defines social work as "The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty." Social work focuses on not just the person but the person and their environment. Social work tackles the challenges facing the individual both internally and externally – which can be a lot to take on, but also an opportunity to make a positive impact. Social workers are often at the core of what they do, making connections and fostering communication between others, even when that communication might be difficult – all for the sake of helping an individual.

Many enter this field because of a drive to help, advocate for others, and be an active part of the changes that they want to see in the world. Restoring Hope Program Managers Hannah Newton and Scott Stricklin talk about some of the reasons that they pursued a career in social work, its challenges, and some things that they have learned along the way. Scott has been a social worker for a little over 20 years, and Hannah has worked in the field for nine years.

1. What led you to the social work field?

Hannah: "I wanted to help people, especially those who have barriers they need to overcome."

Scott: "I started work in the social work field to help people, specifically young adults and children. I felt that young adults and children do not truly control their circumstances, and having a positive influence on young lives could possibly have a lasting impact. I pursued the Missouri Division of Youth Services, which works with adjudicated youth, so I could combine my love of the outdoors with my goal of impacting young lives in a therapeutic setting. "

2. What's the most rewarding part of being a social worker? What has been challenging?

Hannah: "Getting to build relationships and see clients reach goals and overcome barriers. Getting too attached and seeing clients not use the tools given to help grow and achieve their goals has been the most challenging."

Scott: "Seeing change is the most rewarding part of being a social worker. With Restoring Hope, I've witnessed life-changing growth in individuals I work with! I've also witnessed this with DYS, not only when I worked with the youth within the DYS programs, but I've seen young men come back to our facilities to talk with us about what their life is like now and how DYS was the catalyst for change. It's always challenging when you want the best for someone, but they are unwilling or unable to accept help at the current time. Yet, I've found that by planting seeds of thought, opportunity, etc., the possibility of growth is always possible."

3. What advice would you give someone considering becoming a social worker or new to the field?

Hannah: "Try to set time to relax and really embrace self-care. Watch for signs of burnout and secondary trauma. If you see the signs, talk to other social workers and take time to disconnect from work and clients to refresh your own mental health."

Scott: "… Don't look at someone else's struggles as your failures ... Know that growth is slow and change is hard, even small interactions can have weighty impacts...Consistency is key..."

As Hannah and Scott mentioned, there are some challenges that come with social work that are important for everyone—not just social workers—to be aware of so that we can better support each other and ourselves. So, if you are a social worker, how do you look out for yourself while also looking out for others?

1. Avoid Burn Out – Burnout is common in social work, so it's important to recognize the signs and not forget to advocate for yourself. Burnout is mental and physical exhaustion that impacts one's daily life. If you start feeling like you are easily triggered, find yourself checking your emails as soon as you wake up, are having tension headaches, or feel numb about work – it might be a good time to slow down and take some time for yourself. Take a mental health day, get some exercise, and take time to remind yourself about "why" you are doing what you are doing and refocus yourself.

2. Know the Signs of Compassion FatigueCommon in healing professions, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma are compounded stress that occurs from experiencing indirect trauma from others' traumatic experiences. Secondary trauma, if left untreated, may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, so it's extremely important for social workers to recognize the signs and act. Some signs are feeling on edge, sleeping difficulties, disconnecting from colleagues, apathy and isolation, and impaired judgement or behavior. Just like with burnout, if you notice yourself experiencing some of these signs, it's time to take some time away from work, as well as reach out to coworkers for support.

3. Practice Self-Care Social workers often encourage others to incorporate self-care into their lives but are sometimes not as great at practicing that themselves (myself included). It's easy to push your own needs aside when you are busy or hyper-focused on your goals and tasks, but neglecting your own needs and well-being can lead to issues that will hinder you from reaching goals and being present at work and in your personal life. Establishing boundaries, healthy eating and sleeping habits, maintaining work/life balance, and taking time to do things you enjoy are just a few ways to ensure you are taking time for yourself. These aren't always that easy to do, but making an effort to check in with yourself and recognize when it's time to reevaluate your schedule or needs is vital in the social work field.

A great and simple way to empower social workers – ask them about what they do and why they do it – they will probably all have some great insights and stories about the paths that lead them to their careers in social work. It is also a great way to let them know that you see them and the mystery work that they do. Also, shout out to the spleen.

If you're looking for a fulfilling career with Restoring Hope, and if social work is your calling - check out our available (Program Management) position(s)!

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