Are you the type of person who cares about the well being of others and you automatically defend the disadvantaged and disenfranchised? Is your personal belief system the kind that knows all people should be treated as equal?
Whether youíre a teenager trying to decide on a college major or a mid-life career changer, social work could be a good path. Itís true, social work will never make you rich.† The salary scale is at the low end of professions requiring a masters degree. But as a social worker, the wealth you will realize is intangible. Itís the satisfaction you feel when you know youíve made a positive difference in the life of a stranger. Itís the rush you get when you successfully advocate for a fellow human being going through life altering changes that are outside of his or her control. Itís the thrill you experience when your efforts have directly changed laws and societal attitudes about those born into poverty. And the relief you feel when rescuing a child from abuse.
March is National Social Work Month and this yearís theme is ďAll People Matter.Ē It’s a concept that portrays one of the basic tenets of the Care2 community. Social work isnít for everyone, but if you have a desire to explore it, you owe it to yourself to investigate.
Social Work Through the Ages
For centuries, churches and other religious organizations had taken up the cause of helping the less fortunate through alms houses, orphanages, burials and caring for the sick. Historically, the defined profession of social work is relatively new. In the United States, it began during the late nineteenth century. Large numbers of immigrants coming to this country ended up living in tenement housing in large cities. Their lives were desperate and often in danger.
The industrial revolution radically changed the population landscape. Prior generations of immigrants often took to farming. That changed by the late 1890s as the manufacturing of goods became a larger financial influence on society. Each wave of ethnic groups that immigrated were given the lowest paying and most physically strenuous jobs. I had a great-grandfather who came from Ireland and worked his entire life as a hod carrier Ė someone who carried wet cement on his back at construction sites, often up flights of stairs.
Barely able to make a living allowing them to feed and clothe their families, the newly arrived suffered in filthy living conditions at dangerous tenement buildings. Entire large families lived in an apartment with as little as two or three rooms and without heat or running water. Those were the physical hardships they faced. Then there was the discrimination heaped upon them because the were viewed as taking jobs away from ďrealĒ Americans. Itís never easy being the low man on the totem pole.
Important Social Workers of the Past
Jane Addams is considered the founder of modern social work in the United States. She pioneered the Settlement Movement in social work where middle class women volunteers would live in newly created settlement houses with the poor to share knowledge and culture with those who had little education or opportunity. The† goal was to teach people how to better themselves by giving them the dignity to achieve independence through their own efforts. Educational opportunities were a large part of this effort. In 1931, Jane Addams was the first U.S. woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Many may forget Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest serving First Lady, blazed a social work trail for the working poor. She advocated her entire life for the socially disadvantaged. After the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, she fought for years to establish a minimum wage, a 40 hour work week and to abolish child labor. It culminated in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which set a 40 cent per hour minimum wage, the 40 hour work week and no hiring of children under the age of 16. She also fought tirelessly for racial equality at a time when her views were not welcomed by the majority of citizens.
Alice Paul counted a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania as one of her six college degrees. Paul is well known on the forefront of the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century, culminating in 1920 with the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. She authored the Equal Rights Amendment which today, sadly, has yet to be ratified.
Social Work Today
From those humble beginnings,†social work evolved into a multi-disciplinary profession that† integrates theory from education, economics, sociology, psychology, medicine, law, philosophy, politics and anthropology.
Today, social workers provide services to adolescent health, behavioral health, aging, end of life care, children and families, health care, diversity and equality and peace and social justice, to name a few. Licensure is required in all 50 states. Depending on the particular state, both a bachelor level (BSW) and masters level (MSW) are required in order to be licensed as a social worker.
To be eligible for licensure, the candidate must have graduated from an approved CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) institution and pass the exam provided through the Association of Social Work Boards.
Why Does Social Work Have a Bad Rap?
I used to joke that the fastest way to extricate myself from a conversation at a cocktail party is to tell people I was a social worker.† The erroneous image so many people have of social workers is that we are all bleeding-heart liberals who just want to give the hard-working tax payerís money to the ďundeservingĒ among us. They forget, or maybe never understood, that the working poor pay taxes, too. That at any time, with little if any warning, and through no fault of their own, they could also find themselves among the unemployed, homeless and destitute.
I am proud to say I earned my MSW from Rutgers University. I worked as a medical social worker and still have fond memories to recall when I question my purpose in life.† So many people have told me they donít understand how I could have worked in Hospice. I always responded ďdeath is a journey we are all going to make, and itís a privilege to help someone through it.Ē† Now, as an animal advocate, my social work experience has been invaluable in pointing me in the right direction when speaking up for those who do not speak human.
The numerous thank you letters Iíve received from patients and families who I helped during a crisis in their lives means more to me than my bank account. I keep them all in a memory box that I can access at any time. Money is just money; it cannot buy happiness, contentment, good health or any of the other intangibles that make us who we really are.
So, do you think you want to become a social worker? If you’re interested, you can check out a School of Social Work near you, talk to those currently employed in the field and contact organizations like the National Association of Social Workers to see if helping others to help themselves is your career choice. And if you happen to cross paths with a social worker this month, tell her or him you appreciate what they do. It will make their day!