I remember the day I switched my major. I had just finished my sophomore year of college and was trapped in an abusive relationship with my boyfriend at the time. I remember sitting with an advisor, not really understanding what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I wanted to help people… in a strange way, I think switching to social work was my first attempt at helping myself, my first attempt to seek help from my abusive relationship.
Nearly two years later and I still remember how proud I felt, like I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. I’ll never forget the first time someone asked me, “Why would you ever switch from neuroscience to social work?” Or, “You know you’re not going to make any money as a social worker, right?” And how could I forget, “Wait, so you want to like take people’s children away from them for a living?” I remember the middle-aged man who sneered at me when he asked what my major was and then inserted his unsolicited “You should switch to business, you’d be better off with a business degree” opinion on me.
Over the past two years I have learned that many people truly do not understand what a social worker is, let alone what they do every single day. If I am being honest with myself, I truly didn’t know what all it entailed when I first began either. I didn’t know that social work would ultimately help me leave and heal from my abusive relationship. I didn’t know that social work would change the way I interact with and relate to human beings. I didn’t know that choosing to study social work would allow me to meet some of the most resilient and incredible kids.
For a little over two years now I have been working with at-risk youth in a variety of settings. I have worked with kids suffering from mental illnesses, kids who have experienced horrific and unimaginable childhood trauma, kids with severe behavioral and emotional disturbances, kids who have been in and out of the foster care system, kids who have watched a parent go to jail, kids who have witnessed domestic violence, kids who live in extreme poverty, kids who have watched their parents abuse drugs and alcohol, kids who have had to take care of themselves and their younger siblings, kids who are labeled “bad” by their schools, and kids who are afraid to go home each day.
Over the past two years I have…
Sat with a child in the freezing cold for an hour as he screamed and sobbed about his childhood trauma.
Asked children if they were suicidal or if they felt safe with themselves.
Worked with a family so impoverished they could not afford a $2 bus ticket.
Listened to a child talk about being physically abused by a parent… and still loving that parent, desperately wanting a “normal” relationship with them.
Cried with a child while he shouted that “The world isn’t supposed to be like this!! The world isn’t supposed to be so f***ed up!”
Been threatened and charged at by a child in crisis, a child who I love dearly.
Witnessed and separated physical fights between kids.
Sat with a child while she cried for 30 minutes, too upset to speak.
Had a child crawl onto my lap during a group therapy session and dissociate while I held him for 20 minutes; he was completely unresponsive. Witnessing his trauma response was heartbreaking.
Held back tears as a child asked me, “Miss Ellen will you please adopt me and be my new mommy? Would you please?”
Called Child Protective Services to report suspected abuse and neglect.
Had countless difficult conversations with children, parents/guardians, and other social workers.
Lost sleep worrying if my children are safe and being cared for.
Worked with many “bad kids.” Kids that teachers and adults “didn’t want to” or “didn’t know how to” work with.
Heard a child talk to other children about witnessing her dad beat her mom repeatedly.
Worked with kids so hurt and broken from trauma… so desperate for love.
Over the past two years I have also…
Provided literacy resources for a father and his daughter. A father who was so invested in his daughter’s education. A father that “didn’t want his daughter to make the same mistakes in school” that he did.
Worked with elementary, middle school, and high school youth.
Set goals with children. I have watched those same children reach their goals.
Had many positive conversations about a child with parents/guardians, teachers, and other social workers.
Told “bad kids” that they are good, special, hardworking, funny, bright, and loved.
Successfully worked with kids that others “didn’t want to” or “didn’t know how to” work with.
Advocated for children.
Hugged many children.
Held hands with children while they were scared.
Smiled with, laughed with, played games and sports with, walked with, and raced with children.
Listened to parents and guardians just as I have listened to their children.
Comforted parents and guardians just as I have comforted their children.
Watched the kids with the most hurt in their hearts be the most kind to others.
Loved the children I work with as if they were my own.
Marched, protested, lobbied, and advocated for populations of human beings who do not have a voice.
Educated myself and others about issues in our country that desperately need to be fixed.
Apologized to children.
Been thanked by children, parents/guardians, and other social workers.
Planned, prepped, and facilitated activities for children.
Most importantly, over the past two years I have believed in children. I have never given up on a child.
Social workers do many of the same things that I have done depending on who they work with. Social workers are everywhere. They work in schools, communities, hospitals, non-profits, homeless shelters, court systems, domestic violence shelters, mental health agencies, jails and prisons, nursing homes, and universities (just to name a few). We work with addicts, victims/survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, homeless individuals, mandated clients, LGBTQ individuals, children, families, immigrants and refugees, individuals who have committed crimes, suicidal individuals, and individuals of all races, religions, socioeconomic statues, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and educational backgrounds.
Social workers provide resources to individuals and families in need. Social workers listen and comfort human beings. Social workers meet people right where they are and help them figure out where they want to be. Social workers give voices to the voiceless. Social workers advocate for change and social justice. Social workers provide hope to the hopeless. Social workers carry the pain and the weight in their hearts of the people they serve. Most importantly, social workers provide human connection- often to the individuals who need it the most.
The work they do is so incredibly important and difficult. The profession is often looked down upon and misunderstood by others. However, I am proud to be a student studying social work. I am proud to learn from and work alongside of social workers. I am proud of the children I work with. I am happy to be studying a profession that I am passionate about. I am delighted to be in a major that challenges me and makes me question myself and the world around me. I am proud through the heartbreaking moments with children and through the most rewarding moments with those same children.
The best part about working with kids is meeting kids who are carrying unimaginable adversity and trauma within their hearts… then being a part of this unbelievable growth within them and ultimately witnessing them thrive, regardless of everything going against them.
I get to wake up every single day and work with incredibly resilient children, and there is absolutely nothing more rewarding or more important to me than that.