A few days ago I shared an article on social media about the ways the social work is failing. While it was very thought provoking, the author also talked about ways to remedy the problem. As someone who has worked in the field for almost 7 years, the looks on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a social worker can be quite comical. Unfortunately there’s still a prevalent belief that all social workers do is take kids away from their parents. Social work is one of the only professions I know where you can have a masters degree, two years of supervised experience, a clinical license AND make $17 an hour. That number isn’t arbitrary. It’s actually what I made when I first relocated to my original state of residence. The fact is that we are often overworked and not fairly compensated for our services. Burnout rates are at an all time high because we can’t even afford to take time off and it’s sometimes a struggle to pay bills and make student loan payments out of the pittance we’re given. Don’t get me wrong, you can make a decent living as a social worker but it will probably entail working more than one job, working in an administrative capacity, or being an entrepreneur of sorts. With mental illness continuing to be a growing concern, I wish that the growing demand for mental health providers like social workers translated into an increase in compensation—like it has for nurses. Something definitely needs to change and maybe the change that is needed is that of a union. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe that this topic deserves more discussion and also subsequent advocacy.
One thing about my new role is that I have the opportunity to be present for people while they do through hard times. My dissertation topic focuses on married black women and work life balance. So naturally I’m especially intrigued by clients who match the population that I’m studying in my academic life. Black women have higher rates of depression and anxiety than their White counterparts but are also less likely to seek treatment. Week after week I hear black women tell me that this is their first time in therapy or the first time they’ve opened up to anyone. Many tell stories of being discouraged from going to therapy by their families who say that they just need to have faith or pray more. Others speak of being judged by their faith leaders because they feel like they need to talk to someone and just reading the Bible is not enough. It’s ok to need help and it’s ok to get help. The commonality in many stories is that they are all expected to be strong and hold the family together through anything. They feel guilty crying or expressing emotions because they need to keep a straight face and move on. So many have been just existing in survival mode for so long that they’ve lost sight of their own dreams and aspirations. We have to stop discouraging people from getting help. Stop expecting your friend to be ok because she appears “strong.” There’s usually more going on than meets the eye and we have to stop assuming that things are fine. Because sometimes they aren’t.
I ran into this article and found the title eye catching. You can read the article here. The term “mentally strong people” isn’t something that I’ve heard commonly used in any circles. The article had some great points and I liked number two the best, “They don’t give away their power.” Power is something that a lot of people have but never realize it or use it. Thus, they give their power away without knowing it. There’s books you can read about it (i.e. 48 Laws of Power). One way that I’ve seen people give up their power is by losing their cool in a situation that they don’t like. Stressful situations are never enjoyable but they get worse when people totally flip out over something that they can’t change in the moment. It’s at that point that you’ve lost control and it’s in those situations that people sometimes have to intervene and make choices for you. Coming from a background in mental health, that choice often meant putting someone in the hospital involuntarily. Needless to say, the article has some great points and I think that they all are true. But by the same token, it’s ok to not be mentally strong all the time and to seek assistance when you need it. Ignoring something doesn’t mean it goes away. Even if you are “mentally strong.”
A few days ago I took some time to watch the movie Losing Isaiah. There was a certain sense of urgency as Netflix was about to take it off in order to make room for more movies. I first saw the movie at my grandparents house in Michigan. I remember renting it with my very own library card when I was 9 or 10 and watching it in the living room sprawled out on the very comfortable carpet. I remember being happy in the end that the baby was returned to his biological mother. However, this time I watched the movie with a different perspective. One that’s been informed by several years of being a social worker and working with families and kids. The movie brings up some interesting questions that are still relevant today. A mother abandons her baby in a trash can. The baby is born addicted to drugs because she used substance while pregnant. A kind social worker at the hospital he is transported to adopts him. She and her family raise him as her own. Meanwhile, the baby’s mother gets her life together after finally becoming sober and decides that she wants him back because he’s her child and she never received notice that her parental rights were being terminated. So there’s a lengthy court battle where bio-mother’s lawyer insists that black babies need to be with their black mothers. However, there is a marked difference between the income of biological mother versus that of the family that has adopted the child. The life that he lives with his adopted family is vastly different than the one that his bio-mother can finance. The movie ends with full custody being given to the bio-mother who soon realizes that she needs additional support so she reaches a hesitant agreement with her son’s adoptive mother. There are certain situations where I don’t think people should be allowed to have a do over. I don’t think that any child should be denied access to their family of origin but primary custody should have remained with the adoptive parents until the child was old enough to make a decision. I’ve met a good amount of parents who have adopted kids and then decided that they were too hard as a result decided to relinquish custody back to the state. I’ve worked with parents who have voluntarily given up custody of their children because they felt powerless and felt that their lives or the lives of the other children in the home were at risk. It’s a hard decision to make. My whole point is that kids shouldn’t be taken out of a loving, stable, and safe environment because their bio-parent decides that it’s for the best. There were other options that would have allowed Isaiah to stay where he was happy. Yes, children can be resilient and they can recover but there’s no need to inflict that trauma on a child and mess up his primary attachment so that he can be with a black parent. No reason. It’s cruel and unnecessary.
Recently there was a video making its rounds on social media that showed a father and son. The father starts off very calm explaining that his son had been acting up in school and that he felt some punishment was necessary while also teaching his son to defend himself. Then the video starts and I have to admit that I fast forwarded to the end as soon as I saw how bloody it was because (at times) I’m a sensitive soul and I always hate seeing people get hurt. The video showed the father boxing with his son. I use “boxing” loosely because it looked like someone of superior height, weight, and experience beating up on someone. The father didn’t hold back and landed multiple punches to his son’s face. The end of the video showed the father questioning the son while the son was obviously still bleeding pretty badly asking him if he would act up again in school. I ran across a follow up article on the video today and you can read it here . Basically, the father was arrested and the son was removed from the home as a result of the video. Let me say first and foremost that what the father did is pretty much the definition of physical abuse if you want to get technical. When a child discloses something like that to me I’m mandated to report it because of my profession and license–whether I agree with it or not. I’ve reported child abuse on multiple occasions as it’s been a regular part of the jobs that I’ve had. In no way am I endorsing the father’s method of parenting but I have also witnessed the opposite where parents stay up all night in shifts because they are terrified that their child will kill them in the middle of the night. I can assure you that being scared of your child and what they are capable of is terrifying. Neither option is ideal by any means. However, in addition to beating up his son who was clearly unable to defend himself, the father took it a step further and posted it on social media so the whole world could see (literally). He mentioned the son’s classmates and teachers as well in the video. That’s pretty humiliating and public shaming as a form of discipline is a horrible decision. But we also have to be honest. A startling number of kids these days do not have any respect for authority figures of any sort. There are too many horrible situations where there has been a conflict that involved an authority figure (law enforcement officer) that turned deadly for no reason at all. Also, by the same token there are also situations where someone was compliant and still ended up “mysteriously” dead. I guess my point is that you can’t really win these days. I think that the father had good intentions. He was trying to teach his (almost) adult son about making better choices and respecting authority and he ended up in jail himself with his child being removed from his care. I don’t have a solution to the problem but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve posting a video of a child being hit in the head until he’s bleeding profusely. There has to be another way.
I ran across this blog and wanted to repost it. March is Social Work month and while I don’t work in direct care as much, I have a lot of respect for those that do. When I was in school, I had grand dreams about the exciting life of a social worker and it definitely is. But there are ups and downs like any other profession but there’s always an opportunity to make a positive difference despite the many obstacles. It’s a thankless job at times but someone has to do it.
I’ve been neglecting this blog in a big way recently. Some days, it’s really hard for me to get the motivation to write. But I’m trying to get back to updating regularly. I’m trying to find my way back to my passion that has gotten lost in the day-to-day shuffle of life. This month is […]
One of the things that I appreciate about social work is that there is an abundance of things to do. You aren’t required to stay doing the same thing for decades at a time. There’s room to try something different and learn a completely new set of skills while still working in the field. One thing I’ve noticed is that while people are all different, they share a lot of commonalities as well. There’s a video that went viral recently where a lady was recounting her experience at a popular store. She observed a customer being nasty to a cashier that appeared flustered and to be having a bad day. After confronting the customer, the cashier shared that he had had a very recent tragic loss and was struggling to pay rent. The lesson from the story is that you never know what someone is going through so be kind to everyone. The holidays can bring up so many emotions for people as they remember loved ones they miss and re-hash old wounds with family members. It’s a time that many people are especially fragile and as someone who has worked in mental health, I’ve noticed there’s a increase in suicide attempts after major holidays. This isn’t an appeal for world peace (as much as we need it). Just a reminder to try to be a bit more patient and kind as you interact with people. You don’t know their stories.