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Social workers: The other unsung heroes

| March 2, 2021 1:00 AM

Nurses and other health care workers have gotten a lot of well-deserved attention since last spring. A nurse’s job — essential to everyone at some point in life — can be exhausting, risky, and thankless at times.

There’s another help profession out there, a hero largely unsung and whose personal risk has skyrocketed since COVID-19. Almost never thanked and despite an often self-sacrificial job description, many are spit on, avoided and misunderstood. Underpaid, overworked, and absolutely essential to the most vulnerable in society.

March is National Social Work Month. These obstacle-mounters and voices for the voiceless typically go about it quietly and unnoticed.

Full disclosure: Our daughter-in-law is a social worker. As much as she worked already, her hours, workload, and responsibilities have increased since the pandemic began. Until very recently, she hadn’t been vaccinated despite being in people’s homes daily. With a toddler at home, that’s been a family worry.

Worse, as stressful as the pandemic has been on all of us, stress tends to be higher in at-risk households. More domestic violence, more substance abuse, more health and income worries — these have accumulated into a higher and more challenging case load. Weekends, emergencies, and night calls are par for the course.

Lives in crisis are a social worker’s daily bread and butter.

She copes extremely well. With an even-tempered, competent style she maintains compassion and worry for her charges without letting the stress spill over on her own family. How she absorbs all the pain she encounters, yet can still laugh and love so readily, is a wonder.

It can be hard, she says, but also extremely rewarding when she sees help take hold, and lives improve. She loves her job.

Not all social workers go into homes and courtrooms like our Hannah, who’s employed by a public agency. Others work in hospitals and schools or counsel in private practice. They help people cope with all sorts of problems, including major illness, divorce, unemployment, and grief. While certain professions do the same, social workers are trained to respond to crisis situations, and are especially adept at connecting people with practical resources from food stamps to parenting class and health care.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth outlook for this profession is 13 percent before 2030, “much faster than average.” A bachelor’s degree (BSW) is required; some have a master’s degree (MSW) and become licensed clinical social workers (CSW or LCSW), which qualifies them to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

Social work is a profession for people with big hearts. To learn more about the career click “professions” at Humanservicesedu.org.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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