Wrapping up Yet Another Chapter as a Social Work Student

I am about to conclude another semester as a Social Work major.  This blog has thus far been a journey of self-discovery and to explore the multiple systems in my life, both within me and outside of me, allowing myself to finally include being adopted in that overall life equation, my Social Work experience included.  Part of finding myself was finding a career.  It wasn't until I was in my early-mid twenties that I began to recognize the talents that I had that I could transform into a fulfilling career that fulfilled an important value of mine: helping others.

I interned at an Information and Referral (I & R) agency, that also provides direct and basic needs assistance, this entire semester.  I learned a lot.  I saw a lot.  I was not only able to recognize the various systems at play in the lives of my clients and the intersectionality of various elements of diversity that either presented strengths or challenges for them (or sometimes both) but I also learned first hand that some situations simply involve ambiguity. You help the best way that you can, knowing that few solutions are the perfect or ideal answer but hope to make an improvement in the life of someone with emergent or chronic poverty anyway.  


 I have one more, long, internship after this one is done.  This concludes one more year of my Social Work education.  Next year, I will be doing an internship in hospice Social Work throughout what will be the senior year of my BSW and foundational year of my MSW.  All of the caseworkers, the Executive Director, and my field supervisor will receive a thank you and parting gift from me, which you can see in the pictures above, as a thank you for their part and participation in this journey.  

The gifts feature a theme that has particular meaning for me: the Starfish Story.  As an adoptee, it has become important to me to view this story in a way that is respectful and not marginalizing to others.  It is important to recognize that people (adoptees included) are not charity projects.  Social Work, to me, is not about me sitting down with a client and telling them "this is what's wrong with you." This is what is sometimes referred to as the "medical model" where people are the problems that need fixing rather than the problems, systems, and environment at work in the persons life instead.

It's not about telling people what all their problems are, telling them what their solutions will be, and giving them homework to do to fix it.  It is about empowering the individual client to see all of the variables at play and determine how they can make sustainable and effective changes in their life.  Helping a starfish back into the sea is about helping them use their strength and resiliency to overcome societal problems, problematic systems, and disenfranchising variables that they face.

I tend to take the value of individual work for granted because I have an admitted bias for macro-practice (larger advocacy, policy work, state or federal-level changes).  Despite the fact that macro work entails a lot of failures (failures are never really failures if we learn and grow the entire time) where bills don't pass year after year or societal problems and stigmas persist despite efforts to educate, and can be incredibly draining, it's a way to make effective change for a lot of people at once.  I am incensed by unjust policies and practices that disenfranchise large and small groups of people; it bothers me to my core that policies sit for decades while people visibly suffer but change is slow.

After you work in social services for a while, you start to get the knack of trying to do the most amount of good for the most amount of people with limited resources which is why I think I've always favored macro practice.  It's easy to grow weary when you did not stretch your resources as far as you wanted to but I find strength in bringing myself back to look at the individuals I did help because that makes it worth it.  I may not have been able to convince my state legislators to increase welfare benefits, to stop the voter disenfranchisement bill that would leave many of my clients unable to vote, or reinstate medical and mental health care assistance that was cut but I did give food to clients to make it by another month.  I helped people obtain resources to heat their homes.  I sat and talked with people until they felt better about something that was bothering them.  I helped people with resources experience happiness by providing to them an outlet to give.

I was reminded this semester to remind myself: it mattered to that one.