I used to become disheartened whenever I watched the reactions of those who learned my proclaimed major and greatest passion.
As a freshman in college, few people expected me to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; they imagined my life to be centered around frat parties and the freedom of leaving home, but I knew throughout high school which career path I would be following: I am going to be a social worker.
The first reaction I usually receive after proclaiming my exciting news involves a scowl or an eye-roll. I used to encounter the “Oh, so you want to take children away from their families, huh?” type of people who were convinced that social workers only tore families apart. Many times I encountered the “Well, I hope you don’t want to make a lot of money!” response from people who expected me to end up burnt-out, destroyed by humanity and extremely broke.
I very rarely receive positive feedback.
For a long time it surprised me. How could a social worker, a person concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being, be thought of so poorly? All the social workers I worked with were more concerned with helping others than helping themselves. I saw these people as selfless heroes dedicated to improving the lives of everyone else around them.
How could social work, a profession which focuses on human rights, social justice and fighting social problems bring about such negative emotions? I never encountered a social worker who worked with anything less than their heart and soul.
Because I have officially started my program and will be pursuing my passion and my career for the next two years, I don’t want to continue chasing my dream while hearing the negative whispers coming from behind. Especially when the whispers are based off assumptions and false information. I want people to know the real deal about social workers.
To address the first stereotype: No, social workers are not employed to simply take away your children and destroy families. As a social worker, removing children is the very last option and the last resort. Social workers are trained to work with families to better living situations and family life. If immediate danger is suspected, a child may be removed so lives are not lost and the danger does not worsen. However, social workers are more concerned with creating a safe, healthy, harmonious family. They do not purposely act to turn a child’s life upside down.
Surprisingly, many social workers never deal with children or families. Social work embodies every part of society, which means that children and families only make up a small portion of this career. Social workers focus on all members of society including those living in poverty, in shelters or living on the streets. They work with the stressed mother who is unsure of how to get a job or where to get a job to support her children. Social workers can be found in hospitals comforting those who have lost someone close to them. They are often found in schools, offering counseling sessions to those bullied on the playground or handing a tissue to the high school senior who just realized the hard part is only just beginning.
Social workers, unlike politicians or Wall Street workers who focus on bettering only themselves, focus on bettering everyone and anyone else around them. These people are the most selfless and the most kind-hearted humans, and they work specifically with those who cannot pursue happiness on their own.
They work tirelessly with the broken, the hurt, the confused and the lost. They ask for nothing while they give to those who have nothing to give back in return. They stand up for injustice and inequality and fight back through advocacy and social awareness. When a person’s life is falling apart, a social worker is there to help them find the pieces to put everything back together.
So no, a social worker is not around to steal away children and condemn parents. A social worker is there to protect, to fight and to secure happiness, justice and equality. They are there to soften the fall, to prevent the fall, or to help you right back up when you’ve encountered the fall. They are the ones to wipe the tears and find solutions while never judging or blaming or misunderstanding.
They may not have a job as glamorous or thrilling as Batman, but if anyone deserves a cape, it would be a social worker. Their invisible, non-stop compassion may go unseen and may be misunderstood, but the work they do and the changes they inspire are worth more than what any stereotype may ever say about them.