Every year across the country people take time out to commemorate Social Work Month a national awareness campaign highlighting the many contributions social workers and social services professionals achieve in order to improve the social conditions, and quality of life for those they serve.
It was no different at Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) as our graduate practicum students from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) took the time to recognize agency social workers for their commitment to their life’s mission of assisting the most vulnerable reach their highest potential.
The practicum students worked around the idea of “Social Work Paves the Way for Change” which was designated as this year’s theme by the National Association of Social Workers. In particular, the practicum students wanted to concentrate on the idea that paving the way for any change starts at an agency level by getting more social workers to recognize the importance of what self-care is all about. The idea here is that social workers need to learn to and be okay with prioritizing their own health and stress levels. This ensures that they will continue to have the strength to be the change agents they by default tend to be.
“In our two-year rotation at this agency the social work students saw that self-care is somewhat of an issue for Crittenton employees. As a group the students saw how hard staff works due to their intense passion of helping the children and families placed in Crittenton’s care. It is very noble and inspiring to see this kind of commitment from the ranks, but sometimes we felt that the employees needed a little reminder that all social workers need a little breather or downtime once in awhile. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day,” said Gabriela Valencia, MSW Intern, CSUF.
At a fundamental level social workers believe that all people have dignity that deserves respect. The profession’s values are ones in which social workers believe that it is a priority to improve the relationships within a family unit; making social support systems work more effectively for those in need of assistance; and being at the forefront of building stronger communities is a must.
So, naturally the type of people attracted to this career path tend to be those that at their very core believe in public service; they gravitate towards the concept of restorative justice; or they too have experienced great turmoil in their lives, or as the child welfare profession dubs them the “wounded healers”, that they want to make sure that others experiencing trauma get the resources they need by helping to advocate for changes in order to fix what is wrong with the “system”.
As passionate as the mental health and social work profession is it also tends to have the highest levels of burnout within the “helping industries” alongside the teaching and nursing professions. Due to the intensity of job duties and the nature of these industries it’s expected that employees serving in these professions work odd hours or even on a 24/7, 365-work schedule.
Some studies on mental health professionals have recorded anywhere from a 21 percent up to a 67 percent burnout rate on all study participants being interviewed.
As a gesture of appreciation and the knowledge of burnout rates in social work this year’s practicum students decided to create a Social Work Month project that would have Crittenton know that not only is someone acknowledging the hard work but that someone also cares about our health and well being.
“It was a pleasure to acknowledge agency staff. Sometimes in this line of work there is never enough “time” to stop and reflect on the day, or remember to take time to acknowledge great work. It has been in the students experience that when you do get complimented you immediately get a sense of good feeling. Why wouldn’t we want Crittenton staff to get to hear a “thank you” and experience the same sense of acknowledgement,” said Kimberly Thai, MSW Intern, CSUF.
Twelve graduate students from CSUF’s Social Work Program pooled their resources together in order to give 300 Crittenton staff a small gift and a helpful reminder of self-care activities to help blow the stress away.
Social workers –more than any other profession- recognize that more must be done to address persistent social problems such as poverty, lack of education or gender-based violence. However, with that same knowledge of a need for continued advocacy it will be vitally important for child welfare professionals to take the time to look out for their own health.
You can’t help anyone else recover from trauma when you yourself are in the middle of secondary trauma or compassion fatigue recovery.
Positive social change (whether external or internal) is never complete. It’s always a work in progress. And we thank the CSUF School of Social Work students for reminding Crittenton of this.
- What I Wish I Had Known: Burnout and Self-Care in Our Social Work Profession, The New Social Worker
- How to Flourish in Social Work Self-Care Starter Kit, University of Buffalo, the State University of New York
Crittenton Services for Children and Families of Southern California (CSCF) is a non-profit social services agency whose mission is to heal the wounds of abuse and neglect; strengthen families; and help troubled adolescents reach their full potential. Established and incorporated in 1966 Crittenton has a highly trained workforce operating 24 hours a day / 7 days a week providing comprehensive counseling, medical, and other support services to the clients in our care. We provide a full array of residential, in-home, community based, wraparound, mental health, foster care, adoption services, and transitional aged youth services with a service planning area throughout Southern California that covers Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego Counties.