Through the Eyes of a Social Worker
March 21, 2018
“Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
March is National Social Work Month. What a wonderful and diverse profession! What comes to mind when you think of a social worker? Someone who works in social services? Maybe you think of a ChildSavers clinician?
Social workers play vital roles in many systems that you might not think about. This includes corrections, hospitals, nursing homes, health departments, schools, fertility counseling, and even as lawyers. In addition, social workers are hired by many corporations to support staff. Also, they work in the teams of many lawmakers. For example, social workers were present after 9/11 at Ground Zero and in the recent Parkland, Florida shooting. They arrived to help people put back the pieces of their lives and step forward from pain.
How Social Workers Practice Their Profession
Social work is a profession with basic tenants. Firstly, training and philosophy of seeing a person-in-environment distinguishes social workers from other helping professions. Meaning, a social worker looks at the individual, as well as the system or context of the individual. Social workers do this for all types of situations and for many different clients. Including, connecting a client with support through social services, providing psychotherapy to an inmate, or helping a family in a hospital with their premature newborn. This holistic perspective helps anticipate potential roadblocks. It also allows opportunities to address them. More importantly, this perspective sees existing assets.
Secondly, this leads to another social worker characteristic: a strength-based perspective when looking at the challenges of life.
Strength-based perspective is optimistic. It helps social workers, like my colleagues at ChildSavers, share hope with our clients and see new ways of overcoming problems. The opposing view is a deficit focus. A deficit focus is inherent in a traditional medical model. It identifies problems and then seeks solutions. A strength-based approach identifies and celebrates client strengths from the beginning. A strength-based approach works to maximize strengths for client success.
Finally, our social work training teaches us about social justice and the need to stand up for those with less opportunity and advantage.
The Call to Social Work
This month I attended the annual conference of the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The diversity of the individuals was profound. However, the similarities of philosophy and values were just as profound. It was an invigorating experience to be around like-minded people. But that is not where we are called to do our work as social workers. We are called to go outside of ourselves and work with others.
During social work month, I think back to my own development in the profession. I recently had the opportunity to attend my 25th high school reunion. While walking the campus, I reminisced with friends realizing that even in high school I was a social worker.
In my commencement address, I challenged my peers to take a stand on issues and cultivate community and relationships. Within two months of my freshman year of college, I got a job working overnight shifts in a group home for people living and dying of AIDS. I did this work for three years. I also volunteered as a literacy counselor in a local prison and worked with youth in residential care.
For eight years I worked in group homes for kids, lived with over 50 kids in foster care, worked with adults with chronic mental illness, and with children whose innocence had been taken away. Today, I work with first responders following the tragedy of the lives they could not save. I work as an advocate. I champion organizational and community policy for our state and federal legislature to promote success for all.
My tale is not unique. Every social worker has a story like this. Find a social worker and ask. A social worker has a hunger for justice and equity, a thirst for helping and healing, and a spirit that knows that within relationships we are all made stronger.
“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
Jackson Brown, Jr.
By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education
John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity.
His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.