Posted Tuesday, November 13, 2012 by Gary Heinze

Being a Social Worker for a Day

Imagine driving far into the country to a mobile home deep in the woods. The first thing you see is an elderly man with oxygen tubes in his nose and a three-month-old baby on his lap. Across the room an elderly woman is trying to keep up with a 4-year-old boy. These 80-year-old guardians are the boys’ great, great grandparents, but astonishingly are the only available guardians in the family. Both parents and all four grandparents are incapable of caring for the boys because they are addicted to drugs or in jail.

Now, imagine being the child welfare worker who has to tell these loving, but aging, guardians that they are the best option to take permanent custody of the boys. Then envision encountering a similar bleak situation several more times today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

This is a real scenario I encountered earlier this year when I went on a series of home visits with child welfare and adult protective services workers in a county agency in Ohio. Our Chief Technology Officer, Rich Diers, and I went on these ride-alongs to see firsthand what child welfare workers really do because Northwoods was developing our new mobile software for handheld tablet computers. We wanted to confirm the new product’s features met the needs of social workers in the field.

We certainly learned a lot about the workers’ day-to-day tasks and workload that impacted how we developed the product, Compass CoPilot.

The knowledge was incredibly valuable. It shaped how we developed our mobile solution to maximize social workers’ ability to save time and work more efficiently in the field. That’s great. Productivity is what our entire software suite is built on. But what I learned about these workers’ compassion and dedication to keep children safe will stay with me forever.

I was moved by what I experienced. Social workers are going into homes that are rundown or unsafe. Often times they are giving parents the unpleasant news that their children may be removed from the home.

Before the ride-alongs, I understood that social workers have very demanding jobs and immense responsibility. But seeing them interact with the families gave me an entirely new perspective on how much strength and perseverance is required to deal with such difficult situations.

Sometimes you might wonder, why would someone do this job? It’s dangerous. It’s not a high-paying career. It can be emotionally draining.

I believe I now understand a little bit better. Social workers are selfless. I saw workers who are deeply committed to protecting children. They work in child welfare because they truly care. They want to do anything and everything they can to protect children.

It was impossible not to be touched when I was out there with workers on home visits and saw the living conditions and understood the lives that these children experience. I couldn’t help but want to protect the children too. It gives me great pride that the Northwoods team is part of that mission.