Professional Social Worker Interview

This paper was written to introduce me to a licensed social worker and get firsthand insight into the duties of a social work job. The social worker, I interviewed was Jessica Smith, I was referred to her by a close friend of mine who used to be a co-worker with Jessica. After a couple of phone calls to set up a suitable time, we schedule the interview on her day off, and we conducted it using Facebook messenger video chat. The meeting had a duration of approximately forty minutes. I obtain consent to record the conversation to make it easier to narrate the content and the recording will be deleted upon completion of the paper. Jessica’s dedication and openness in answering my questions helped to paint a bigger picture into the pros and cons of working in this profession.

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Jessica has dual job titles as a shift lead and case manager, and she is employed at the Covenant House, which is a youth homeless shelter. She has been working at this place for three years and has been working in the field of social work for six years to include her internship time. “Covenant House is a private non-profit organization that for more than four decades, has helped transform and save the lives of more than a million homeless, runaway and trafficked young people. They offer housing and support services to young people in need – reaching 80,000 boys and girls every year”. Jessica explained that a private nonprofit raises funds from the local community and does not have to follow strict guidelines on expenditures as with government-funded grants.

The population served by the Covenant House are youth between the ages of thirteen to twenty-four. Homeless youth aged up to twenty can check in and be housed in the crisis center. Whereas older youth twenty-one to twenty-four cannot stay in the center but are welcomed to outreach services, services include food, clothing, computers access, counseling and job search support. Jessica’s primary duty as a case manager is to conduct client intake, provides services to youth including, but not limited to connections to resources, supportive counseling, crisis intervention, mentoring, parent education and conduct assessments consistent with program requirements. Jessica also mentioned that she has a legal obligation to report cases of abuse to child protection services.

Jessica is not required to make home visits; she strictly works at the crisis center. Those who work as permanency navigators conduct home visits to youth who are under the program of rapid rehousing. Safety concerns do exist when conducting home visits but, they do not allow that to become an obstacle. Most social workers have built enough rapport with the youth they visit and have been working with them for extended amount of time. Some of safety concerns raised during home visits are youth being under the influence of substance abuse and how some teenagers get aggressive when under the influence of meth, heroin or alcohol. The same risks are present in the crisis center and she mentioned a case where a teenager physically assaulted staff members. She gave the example of teenagers who are coming down from Methamphetamines and during that stage, they can be hyper-aggressive towards any shelter rules being enforced by the staff.

A degree in social work is not required to work at Covenant House shelters but, they do ask for degrees and experience to be in a related work field, i.e., psychology, sociology, human services, and social work. The facility employs five social workers distributed in different shifts as the center operates 24/7. Not all social workers are licensed, as the organization does not mandate a license. Most licensed social worker acquired their license from previous jobs and are maintaining their license by working there. Jessica direct supervisor is not a social worker; she has a background in Psychology and Counseling.

A common trend I keep hearing across all fields of social work is the heavy workloads caused by understaffing. The workload at the Covenant House is spread out between three case managers in charge of twenty teenagers each for a total of sixty youth, which is the maximum center capacity. Jessica expressed her concern and dissatisfaction with the caseload and believed that twenty youth cases per social worker could be overwhelming and at times, unmanageable. I politely agreed with Jessica, but my view is that any business or organization will always seek high expectation from their employees to maximize profits or in this case results and services rendered. A simple solution would be to ask for more case managers, but I’m sure the duty assignments and expectations would also increase in other areas.

According to Jessica, her job can become stressful at times for reasons of workload mentioned before. She said her additional duty as a direct supervisor to other staff in the facility takes time away from her primary case manager job. The shelter has requirements for caseworkers to meet daily with the youth and record certain information therefore time management is vital to accomplish all tasks. Stress can build up for reasons that are out her direct control, but fall under her responsibility. Jessica’s preferred method to manage stress is to do self-care. Her version of self-care is to travel during vacations and to decompress from the work week by taking time for herself. Leisure time seemed to be a way of self-care that worked best for Jessica. More importantly, she mentioned that in situations of high stress after assisting with a case of abuse or sexual trauma, the facility allows for time off even during work hours to decompress and return fit for duty. Time can range from a 15-minute break to leaving the center for the day.

Personal referrals do not apply to Jessica, in her position, once a youth intake to the center; they are assigned a case manager. People get referred to the agency by different avenues either by a community member who knows about the Covenant House, school district, or local police department. One interesting fact, she mentioned was that teenager also refer the center to other teenagers in need that they met on the streets. She referred to homeless teenagers as a vulnerable population, but also as the invisible homeless. Homeless teenagers are hard to identify because they go to great extremes to hide their situation. Most homeless youth will not ask for spare change on the streets or live out of a shopping cart. Most manage to stay well-groomed and wear name brand clothing; their housing arrangement can consist of couch surfing with friends or extended family members. Confidentially within the youth homeless population is protected for privacy and safety concerns. Within the facility, there are policies and youth client must sign a waiver that prohibits disclosure of who receives housing services in the facility, no recording allowed or even making personal Facetime calls.

Jessica explained that interactions with youth are dynamic, and she is available to make time for someone that wants to talk. One on one counseling sessions can take as little as 30 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the youth’s willingness to open up. The job of a social worker can something go unnoticed or underappreciated by both clients and supervisors. She also disclosed that the most troubled youth generally tend to lash out at staff and verbally assault them. Social worker understands this and must set their pride aside to help people in need. Jessica illustrated some examples of feeling valued and feeling satisfaction for her efforts. Some examples include youth coming back to thank her and telling her that her advice worked. When youth get hired some show their appreciation and go back to the center and thank her for helping them with their resume and mock job interviews. Throughout the agency, she feels that most staff members do not feel valued for their work, but the agency seems to be making an effort.

To conclude, I felt that the questions assigned were enough to get a firsthand perspective of the day to day work a social worker does. The most valuable insight I received from this interview was how homeless youth could be invisible, but at the same time, the most vulnerable and at-risk population. Some of Jessica’s answers helped validate the standard rumors of this profession, such as overworked and low salary. Overall none of the negative sides of social work deter me from continuing to pursue this career path. People handle stress differently not all of us need to be continually praised for doing our jobs or helping people in need.

References

  • Covenant House. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.covenanthouse.org/homeless-charity
  • Smith.J. LMSW. (2019, July 2). Facebook Messenger Voice Chat, personal Interview.
07 July 2022

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