To the editor:
I was struck to see two articles in The Salem News recently that referred to social workers in the midst of their work.
I took pleasant notice because social workers are not often mentioned in the media unless the reference is a negative one. Our culture typically associates social workers with the forced removal of children from their homes — a stereotype that the media tends to perpetuate.
While some social workers do work specifically in child welfare and are involved in making such difficult decisions regarding the safety of children, and all social workers are legally mandated to report concerns regarding child abuse or neglect, such a limited understanding of the field of social work is unfortunate.
March is Social Work Month and an opportune time to educate the public regarding the breadth and depth of who social workers are and what they do.
We are highly trained (mostly master's level) clinicians, community organizers and researchers who work in a wide spectrum of places, from schools to prisons, hospitals to shelters, mental health agencies to private practices. We are involved in the minute details of people's lives, and in the policies and politics that shape them. We are trained to see "the bigger picture" — to consider a person, family and community in the context of all the other systems they function within and among, knowing that an individual or a world cannot be considered as existing in isolation.
Social workers assume a holistic, strengths-based perspective, assessing not merely the needs and stressors, but the strengths in our clients' lives. We function from a position of social justice, taking a stance for those who are disempowered and disenfranchised, those that a society has ignored or tossed aside, those who suffer on the fringes.
We seek to empower those who do not know their rights, and to restore, create or uphold rights where rights should be. We have the humbling privilege of being invited into people's stories as communicators, advocates, mediators, brokers and peacemakers.
We are crisis managers, counselors and resource allocators. We are navigators, teachers, shepherds, artists, toolboxes, glue, girders and bridges. We operate with the guides of clinical expertise, a cohesive code of ethics, imagination and under the premise that all human beings are worthy of dignity.
We practice and offer compassion and hope when our culture tells us it makes no logical sense to do so; for we know that as humans, life is more complex and worthy of respect and attention than what is often perceived on the surface.
Your life has been influenced by this amazing profession in ways you perhaps are not even aware of. Honor a social worker this month with your thanks!
Christine Monterio, MSW, LICSW, MA