Posted Tuesday, March 6, 2012 by Team Northwoods

My Week in the Field Showed Me Why Social Work Matters

Social work is intense. I didn’t realize how intense until I spent a week at a social services agency as part of my job. I still only have a glimpse into the challenges case workers, supervisors, and front desk workers face on a day-to-day basis. In honor of National Professional Social Work Month, which kicked off March 1, I honor everyone in the field of social work with this meager, but heartfelt, tribute.

First, let me back up. Every employee at Northwoods spends at least one week in the field each year with a customer that is in the final stages of implementing our Compass software. Northwoods does this for several reasons. First of all, it is reassuring for agency workers to have additional Northwoods employees available to answer questions. While that is certainly important, Northwoods’ fundamental reason is to invest in employees’ education and increase our appreciation of our customers. Knowing how our software works in an agency and understanding challenges that agency workers face helps all Northwoods employees better serve our customers.

The social workers I met in the field serve families in need of food, women in need of health care for their unborn babies, and single parents in need of child support to raise a healthy family. To help their clients, social workers face an unimaginable amount of obstacles. Many clients don’t speak any English. Some are immigrants and don’t have a social security number. Certain clients have multiple aliases so keeping track of their proper identification is nearly impossible. Those are just small things that make workers’ day-to-day jobs more difficult.

What are some of the real issues? Some clients are violent. They can carry weapons. Clients can be physically sick. Some are mentally ill. Certain social workers visit clients’ homes to see their living conditions, which can be unsanitary and dangerous. There is no guarantee of safety when social workers are dealing with violent individuals or walking into a hostile living environment. People who dedicate their lives to social work put themselves into harm’s way every day.

Then there are the inherent realities of a social worker’s job. The people they are serving face significant challenges in their lives, which leave many of those clients angry, depressed, and frustrated. All of the stress in their lives is all too often laid at the feet of the social workers. Every social worker’s job is just so difficult, and so important.

Many of us, myself included, have a basic understand of social work so none of these challenges should be great revelations. And yet, they are. Not because the challenges facing social workers are surprising, but because many of us just never take the time to think about them.

The theme of this year’s National Professional Social Work Month is “Social Work Matters.” It certainly does. Your dedication and hard work is literally changing people’s lives for the better.

To the social workers at human services agencies, in hospitals or in any setting across the globe, I thank you. My hope is that you get the gratitude and recognition you deserve, not just during Professional Social Work Month, but every minute of every day.

Tiffany Himmelreich, Senior Digital Marketing Strategist, Northwoods.