Posted Thursday, March 6, 2014 by Team Northwoods

10 Things Social Workers Wish Their Clients Knew

At Northwoods, we have the privilege of working with social workers every day. Some are on our team, and thousands more are end users of our products. One thing we all agree on is that social workers are extraordinary people doing highly demanding work. They meet each day with a strong, singular purpose: to help their clients.

Since social workers aren’t the type to voice complaints, we thought we’d give a few the opportunity to tell us what they wish their clients knew. Following is a list of 10 such things, based on input from social workers on our staff and our collective time in the field. We present it in the spirit of helping social workers inform the rest of us. 

Please let us know what you think, or add your own “wish they knew” items below.

1. You, and all my clients, are always on my mind.

I may not let on, but you and my other clients are always on my mind. Social work is a 24-hour a day job. Some days, despite efforts to divert myself after work, thoughts of my caseload dance in my brain… Is there anything else I can do for that client? …I hope we hear back soon so that we can move forward with the case plan…. I hope that child is going to be okay tonight…. Thoughts like this run through my head whether I’m in the office, walking my dog around the block, or in a movie theater trying to enjoy a night out. Please remember this the next time you feel like you’re not getting enough time from me. Just because I’m not with you face-to-face, doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about your case.

2. There’s a reason I have to ask you all these questions.

It must be hard when I come to your house and ask you many questions about your situation, your kids, your job, your family and friends. I don’t ask them in order to judge you, or because I think you are doing something wrong. I ask them because it’s my job to ask, and because I care. If I don’t ask these questions, I can’t get a clear picture of your situation. And if I don’t have a full and accurate picture of what you’re going through, I won’t be very effective in helping you.

3. I do this because I want to help.

Over the years, I’ve been asked more than once why I got into social work. Sometimes the inquisitor follows up with something akin to: I mean, why would you choose a job that requires so much training and long work hours, and the pay isn’t all that great? I tell them that social work is a vocation, not a job; and that I do it because I enjoy helping people. It makes me feel good when I can help kids and families who are at their most vulnerable. It’s never easy; sometimes clients don’t want my help. But it can be deeply rewarding, especially when you know you’ve made a difference in a client’s life.

4. I have several bosses.

The structure of the protective services system dictates that I have several “bosses” to whom I’m accountable. As a social worker, I’m responsible to my clients, supervisor, agency administrators, caseworkers I collaborate with, and individuals at other agencies and in other parts of the system. With so many bosses, I need to constantly reprioritize my workload. So, if I have 10 minutes between appointments to return a call, and I have a message pending from you, one from my supervisor, and another from a judge, it may take me longer to get back to you than I’d like…but I will get back to you!

5. I have many, many clients.

You and your case are very important to me, and I’m doing my very best to give you the time and attention you deserve. The challenge is that I have many other clients who also need my time and attention. This isn’t an excuse; it’s a reality for all social workers today. For most of us, our caseloads exceed recommended levels, sometimes by two to three times. It can be frustrating to us and to our clients, but we keep plugging away and doing the best that we can.

6. As a social worker, I need to respect boundaries.

Social workers abide by a strict rule of conduct. These rules help us create and maintain a healthy worker-client relationship, which gives us the greatest chance of helping you. One of the rules I need to follow is not to interact with clients socially. This protects you and your privacy, as well as my ability to help you. If we become friends outside of work, I can no longer serve you objectively – and when I can’t do that, you’ll suffer as my client. So if you see me in public and I don’t approach you to say “hello,” please don’t be offended. I care about you too much to put you or your case at risk.

7. I have to do a lot of things the old-fashioned way.

You may wonder why in this age of high-tech devices that I still use a pen and paper everywhere I go. Or why I lug so much paperwork around and still don’t always have all the files and forms I need. The challenge for me and my colleagues is that our agency hasn’t invested in technology for social workers yet. Yes, there are social workers from some agencies who carry wireless tablets with them, which make life in the field easier. They can record interviews, and grab the files and forms they need quickly and easily. But until my agency is able to make a change, my colleagues and I will be stuck doing things the old-fashioned way, so please be patient with us.

8. I put in a lot of unpaid overtime for my clients.

Like many of my dedicated colleagues, I take work home several nights a week, and I often work weekends—all without pay. This is because 40 hours a week simply isn’t enough time to get done what I need to get done for my clients. I’m not saying this to get sympathy. Nor am I looking for praise or recognition. I just want you to know that I am fully dedicated to helping you and that I go the extra mile a lot—even when you’re not aware of it.

9. Many outside factors influence decisions about your case.

As frustrating as it is sometimes, there are many things about a case that I cannot control. For example, I can’t control involvement by other agencies, or whom at those agencies you or I will be working with. I can’t control which judge reviews your case, or how long your case may remain open in court. Unfortunately, I don’t have the authority to determine when court orders should be placed or lifted from a case. Nor the ability to control transportation to get you or my other clients to their appointments. While these things and more are out of my control, rest assured that I will do my best with all things regarding your case that are within my control.

10. As a social worker, I want to keep families together.

It’s a sad misperception by some in society that social workers want to break families up and take kids away from parents. This couldn’t be further from the truth! As a social worker, I believe vehemently in the family unit. Living together as a family is the basis for stability and well-being for all family members, especially children. It’s only when the health and welfare of a family member is at risk that a social worker needs to get involved. Then it’s our job to advocate for the client and seek out other family members who can help. Family reunification is our ultimate goal. Placing a child into the foster care system happens only when we’ve exhausted all possibilities for a placement with family.