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Posted Tuesday, July 26, 2016 by Rich Bowlen

Debunking Common Child Welfare Social Work Myths and Misperceptions

Social workers do too much. Social workers don’t do enough. Social workers make decisions on a whim. Social workers tear families apart.

If someone doesn’t understand the intricacies of working with families involved in a child welfare case, or realize the roller coaster of emotions felt when making decisions that affect a child’s life, it’s easy to make assumptions and judgments about what social workers do.

Remove the child, and it’s too much. Don’t remove the child, and it’s not enough.

Everything is black and white, right? Wrong.

Spending time with clients and caseworkers in the field, we’ve heard a lot about the numerous misperceptions surrounding social work, specifically child welfare. We’ve summarized – and debunked – some of the most commonly heard myths.

Myth: Social workers are “baby snatchers.”

Ask child welfare social workers and they’ll tell you: their ultimate goal is to strengthen families so they can remain safely together. Workers are always going to try to help parents or guardians become the best parents or guardians they can be. They’ll identify what programs and resources are available to create an environment that’s safe for children to be in – not just go in and take them away.

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Myth: Social workers do the bare minimum to get their jobs done.

Social work is a mission-driven field, and workers will do whatever it takes to keep children safe. Often, that means putting in far more hours, time, and attention than what is recognized by the families and communities served.

When social workers get emergency calls in the middle of the night, they can’t just ignore them until the workday starts. Whether it’s nights, weekends or on-call hours, very few realize the number of hours that social workers typically donate to serving a case – or that it’s far beyond what they’re paid for.

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Myth: Social workers act too quickly, without considering all of their options first.

Social workers are truly experts on the families they serve. Before making any decisions in a case, they spend an incredible amount of time with the children, parents, or guardians involved, as well as observe their support systems. This process takes at least a few weeks, and often even several months.

Key, sometimes difficult decisions are deeply debated among many professionals associated with the family – not just by an individual worker. All options, and potential outcomes, are considered. Additionally, many decisions are greatly influenced by the local court, as well as state policy and law.

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Myth: Social workers are doomed to fail.

Social workers, especially those working in child welfare, take a very humble approach to their work and their role with families. They’re very sensitive to what children and families go through during a case, so they don’t often go around shouting their success stories to the masses.

Additionally, people are hardwired to seek out more bad news than good – a fact that’s no secret to the media. Sadly, that means good stories and positive outcomes aren’t shared as often as the bad, which paints the industry in a bad light.

Put these together and it becomes clear that social workers aren’t doomed to fail. Their success stories just aren’t very likely to get told.

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Myth: Social workers are resistant to change.

While no human being embraces change on every level, social workers are some of the most flexible, open-minded representatives of the human services industry.

When there’s a connectedness to how a new approach, business process, or mindset will help and/or promote a service to the family they’re sitting in front of, they’re very quick to adapt.

Think about it this way: a social worker’s job often requires him or her to help children and families who have had their entire world flipped upside down make changes to improve their situation. If workers spend so much time encouraging others to be open to change, it’s hard not to be open to it themselves.

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Myth: Social workers move on as soon as they close a case.

Often, when a family is transferred to a new social worker to receive additional services, their initial worker will continue assisting the family to make the transition as smooth as possible.

It’s not uncommon to see a thank you card, a senior picture, or a graduation party invitation posted on a social worker’s wall months or years after working with a family. Even if social workers no longer see the children they’ve helped, they think about them often. The bonds they create are lifelong.

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Myth: Social workers have no emotion.

Too many people believe that social workers have a “quota” of kids to take, and that it’s easier for them to remove children from their families if they check their emotions at the door. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.

The emotional toll of removing a child – or finding a child in a terrible situation at home – is often greatly underestimated and undervalued. In fact, the turnover rate in child welfare is significantly higher than other areas because it’s so difficult to work at such a high level of physical and emotional stress commonly referred to as secondary trauma.

Have you encountered any other social work myths or misperceptions? Please let us know in the comments so we can work together to debunk them!

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Rich Bowlen Rich Bowlen is Director, Protective Services at Northwoods, where he is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers. Rich has 25 years serving in child protective services and is known for his passion for improving the lives of children.
 

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