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Posted Friday, March 11, 2016 by Tiffany Himmelreich

What Is the Most Challenging Thing About Social Work?

As part of our Marketing duties, my teammate Mae Wells-Kress and I travel the country talking to caseworkers and social workers. In those travels, we’ve asked dozens of people the same four questions about what it means to be in social work.

  1. Why did you go into social work?
  2. What is the most challenging thing about social work?
  3. What stereotype about social work would you clear up?
  4. What is the best thing about social work?

In honor of Social Work Month 2016, we’re sharing a snapshot of the answers we’ve received each Friday in March. Read the quotes or watch the quick videos below to hear the heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking responses to the second question:

What is the most challenging thing about social work?

We discovered a few themes, namely paperwork overload, the emotional toll of the job, and the desire just to help. The responses are divided into these groups.

We’d love to hear from you too. Tell us the most challenging thing about being a social worker in the comments section below.

Overwhelming Paperwork and Clerical Work


"I think the paperwork is actually the most challenging part of my job. And just making sure that that's done and it's completed. Because if you miss one form or you fill out one form incorrectly, they don't have a license. And so, you know, its child care and adult foster care that can have pretty big implications for their business. And for child foster care that could mean a child not having a safe place to be."

- Jenny Losinski, Case Aide, Winona County Community Services, Minnesota

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"I feel like I don't really get to work with families in the capacity that I would like because it's a little bit more paperwork than what I thought it was."

- Raasheena Lovingood, Investigation and Assessment Social Worker, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"The paperwork. That is the most challenging. All the paperwork."

 - Cheryl Hollifield, Child Protective Services Supervisor, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"I would say all the paperwork. Just trying to keep everything in order and everything flowing, meeting deadlines, which has gotten a lot better since Northwoods came into our life."

- Kristen Hamilton, Adult Services Social Worker, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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Emotional Toll of Social Work


"The most challenging thing for me is managing the emotional strain and toll in addition to the tight time frames that are placed on caseworkers to get your notes done, to make contact, to see each child. It can be a lot and very stressful."

- Morgan Harvey, Senior Caseworker, Chemung County Department of Social Services, New York

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"You know I think that it's high burnout. I've done child protection for 32 years, which is really pretty crazy in our world. Usually people don't last that long."

- Cindy Johnson, Child Protection Social Worker, Crow Wing County Community Services, Minnesota

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"Seeing people struggle is hard. Knowing that there's such a great need out there and you're not always able to help when you want to, that's what's hard for me. You wouldn't think that it affects you, but it does. It breaks your heart to see people struggle and not have what they need."

- Jamie Huffman, Income Maintenance Caseworker, Burke County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"Sometimes it can get depressing in the fact that we will hear on a regular basis 'Can I just sign my rights away?' Things like that. Or mom will call and be in tears because there's no child support there and the child needs something."

- Nonna Crowder, Child Support Enforcement Agent, Burke County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"We started falling behind, and falling behind by weeks. That kept me up at night because people were calling and not getting their benefits and not being able to feed their families. Those are the kinds of things... seeing the workers so tired and just defeated."

- Tracey Kincaid, Economic Services and Child Support Administrator,
Burke County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"On a daily basis there's certain things that have to be turned in and sometimes, while those things are really important, they sometimes hinder and get in the way of what we really want to do: working with families."

- Jacob Meetze, Investigation and Assessment Social Worker,
Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"I do my job, I think, the best that I can do it and sometimes people don't think that that's good enough, so that's hard."

- Kristen Sternquist, Child Advocacy Center Caseworker, Chemung County Department of Social Services, New York

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"To continually see some of the ugliest things in people that you can't even imagine and to see it over and over, you know all the time. I think that's probably the hardest part of it."

- Kathy Delaney, Family Preservation Social Worker, Crow Wing County Community Services, Minnesota

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"The most challenging thing for me is seeing the stress of the workers and not being able to do the work for them, honestly. Seeing how they might be running around or how a case has affected them and not being able to say 'I'll go handle this case, take the home visit for you.'"

- Jennifer Yannette, Child Protection Services Administrator,
Chemung County Department of Social Services, New York

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Social Workers Want to Help


"In social work I think the hardest thing is trying to figure out resources for families when they don't exist. You know, trying to find a family housing when housing is a struggle or mental health services when they don't have insurance. Those are frustrating. When we know this is what this family is going to need to be able to move them forward or be safe with their children and accessing that type of support is difficult to find for whatever reasons."

- Lisa Hankes, Child Protective Services Ongoing Supervisor,
Dane County Department of Human Services, Wisconsin

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"When you come across a family that you want to help but you can't or that you have used up all the resources that you know of and you just, you may know that family really needs Food and Nutrition Services, but they're just a few dollars over the income level."

- Amy Alligood, Income Maintenance Supervisor, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"Anybody in adult services would probably tell you the same thing. The ones that we can't help because they won't let us. So, that's probably the most challenging thing."

- Lori Leggett, Adult and Aging Services Supervisor, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"Mental health is just so profound and it really impacts people's ability to take care of their children. And you just wish that you had this wand that would just make it go away. Because you know if they didn't have it, they would be like this awesome parent. And you work with parents that have bipolar, depression, substance abuse, that you'll have glimpses of when they're stable or glimpses of when they're clean and you see how awesome they are, but you just can't... it's hard to do that every day."

- Lisa Gibbs-Lee, Children's Services Supervisor, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"There's two roads you can take and trying to help kids see that, that's always been a struggle. Especially when you can see the potential in either parents or children and they don't see it or take it."

- Kellie Lowman, Director of Services, Chemung County Department of Social Services, New York

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"I think the most challenging thing is when children aren't able to go home and you have situations where you may have to do a termination of parental rights or, just finding another home for that child and just helping the parents get through that and helping the children themselves get through that."

- Angel Roberts, Foster Care and Treatment Social Worker,
Beaufort County Department of Social Services, North Carolina

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"I make them go through hoops to keep kids at home. I think that families are the best place to raise kids even if they have some struggles. And that's the hardest part for me is when I have to... when I can't accomplish that for a family. And it's not that I own that as my own issue, but when we can't work together to keep a kid at home, it's really hard for me."

- Lisa Martin, Child Protective Services Initial Assessment Supervisor,
Dane County Department of Human Services, Wisconsin

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Tiffany Himmelreich Tiffany Himmelreich is the Director of Marketing for Northwoods. Her favorite part of her job is visiting Northwoods customers and talking to social workers because their job is tough and amazing and terrifying and she loves helping tell their stories.
 

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