Blog #4 Are you doing social work?
Are you doing social work?
I have met a lot of social workers around the country over the last year. A lot of social workers, in a lot of different roles, working for a variety of organisations tell me that they are not really doing social work. An awful lot of the time social workers are involved with very clunky, time consuming, administrative or straight out data entry work. They are frustrated and bored. They have spent 4 years completing a professional qualification and have ended up doing basic administration work that takes them away from their social work.
Other social workers tell me they are often doing work that is not social work – work that could be / should be done by other staff, that is not using their social work skills and education. They spend a lot of time seeing people to “see if social work input is needed”!! What!!! We don’t ask other professionals to see someone to see if they need input! Doctors don’t have to go and knock on people’s doors and say “excuse me, I just want to do an assessment and work out if you need medical treatment”.
Spending time doing administration that is not social work related and assessing people to see if they need social work input means that many social workers don’t have time to do “real” social work. They don’t get to do real, in-depth, complex work because all of their time is taken up with other work. And because they don’t get time to do complex or in-depth work, they don’t get asked to do it next time – it either gets left undone, or someone else tries to pick it up. And then no one sees what we can and should be doing.
Is there a place for social work assistants in either of these scenarios? How would it be if you had someone to do all your data entry? How about if you had someone who would transport clients to WINZ, appointments, home etc – which are often activities social workers are asked to do. What about working with a client who needs help completing their benefit application forms – is that a social work activity or could it be carried out by an assistant? Or completing a biopsychosocial assessment with a client when there is no indication that social work input is required, or when your plan or assessment will not effect the care plan or outcome for the client?
Most people don’t mind sitting down and talking about what has happened to bring them to where they are today. Simply talking with an accepting and receptive person can be beneficial. Where do you draw the line though? How do you decide what to spend time doing? Do you do the straightforward assessments and write up the notes, which means you can see lots of people; or do you ask for referrals which truly need the input of someone who has knowledge of the legislation involved in the work, understands the skills required to build relationships with clients and whānau and which will result in greater autonomy for the client and whānau?
Our clients often need help, support or advice the first time they do something: filling and reviewing an application form, planning how to get to an appointment or the supermarket, what to say when they are asking for more information or to advocate for themselves. Are we doing good social work if we have to provide the same service to the same client time after time? Our first ethic is “Promote independence for clients”.
If we have had a client referred to us, and there is a clear need for social work input, spending the time to complete a biopsychosocial assessment can be part of the process of developing a relationship which will lead to positive change for the person we are working with. It is the foundation for what comes next. If there is not reason for the referral, what do you do then? I can’t count the number of times I’ve had referrals which have read “please see for social work input”. I’ve pushed back (often) and go into trouble for it (just about every time I pushed back!!) – but I’d like a little more information please!!!
There is also the issue that if we continue to provide services which could be provided by anyone, other professionals don’t see the need for a social worker with a 4 year university education to do the work. We need to be very careful that we do not de-professionalise ourselves and the work that we do.
On the other hand, do you see people who are not social workers doing social work? Do you speak up? If you do, what happens?
What about a non-social worker, who is managing a team of social workers who is telling those social workers what social workers do, what their roles are, the support they should give? What do we do about this?
Speaking up in these examples is part of us claiming our professional identity. Agreeing to do social work, asking for clear referrals which show why the person has been referred to a social worker, and sometimes even turning inappropriate referrals away, is about claiming our social work identity. The more we speak up about it, the more we do social work rather than make-work, the more social work will be recognised. It can be a hard, tough, difficult, emotionally draining job. We all recognise that. We need to be clear to our non-social worker colleagues and the other professionals we work with that social work needs to be done by social workers – with all our training, skills and support. Let’s keep social work a highly respected profession.