Yesterday I read with interest another article from someone working in the field of Social Services who was addressing the issues of both not receiving enough financial consideration, and the sacrifice of reduced family time due to the position she was in working in the field. Now to be clear, these are two issues and should be treated differently.
I remember when my wife and I were newlyweds we had a casual conversation one day that I have remembered ever since, and it was prompted because of her chosen line of work; child care. I said to her at the time (and this would be back around 1983), “You love what you’re doing and you do it well, so we both know we’ll never be rich, but that’s okay.” It went something like that. Child Care, like Social Services, doesn’t hold a reputation for high salaries. However, the people in these two professions deserve to be fairly paid for the work they do; work that is often undervalued and yet critical to a compassionate society.
Now within the field of Social Services, there are front-line positions that require people to have their Masters degrees, Bachelor degrees, Social Services Worker diplomas etc. Family Counsellors working for my employer must not only have their Masters degrees, but a minimum of 5 years work in the field as well. In other words, these people have acquired educational credentials that make them credible and incredible. Oh I know they voluntarily chose to pay for their education and pursue occupations that are emotionally draining. So why would they do it in the first place?
The simplistic answer of course is that there is some generally accepted motivation to help others, give of themselves in order to improve the lives of others and they derive satisfaction from seeing people’s lot in life improve because of their influence. Ironically, these are the same people who will often deflect praise for helping others actually make those very same achievements! “No, no, you deserve all the credit, I just listened”, or “No, no, I may have helped a little, but you made the decision to help yourself and took action to make things happen”.
But that’s the kind of people who get attracted to, and thrive in this field. So whether you are considering a career in social services, working currently in the field, or know someone who is, you should understand and probably do, that these people are the Caregivers, the Listeners, the Activists and Advocates, and Helpers. The very best have hearts with a large capacity to care for others, to nurture, to assist and to reach out. The only time they look down on people is when they are extending a hand to lift them up.
So when a person working in the field expresses doubts about being able to continue working in the field because of financial concerns, the field is in danger of losing not only a person, but a person who brings compassion, care, skills and expertise. And it isn’t only the field that suffers, it’s the many people who benefit from that one person.
Perhaps it’s a case of someone living above their means in the first place you say; having an overly large family, owning a second property, taking vacations, wanting money in the bank. Are these things really for someone in certain occupations? Let’s hope not. As stated, no one goes into Social Services for the lucrative salary and benefits, but a good quality of life should be possible and common.
Now as for not achieving that work/family balance, that’s going to differ for the people in the field as in any other. Some folks want the 8-4 or 9-5 life, and that’s possible in some but not all jobs in the field of Social Services. Those who work in group homes, residential treatment centres, who work on behalf of the homeless and youth on the streets will put in irregular hours to be sure. So maybe the answer lies not in choosing another field altogether but in a different capacity but still in the field.
What this boils down to is one’s priorities, values and decisions. It’s hard when your 18 or 20 to choose a career that you imagine will be a life-long decision. However, the field is broad, and if you keep learning and adapting, your diverse skills can take you to careers and positions you never even knew existed. And to be honest, there are positions still evolving, being thought about, and not on the radar screen yet, but they are coming nonetheless.
Social Work is a noble profession best carried out by those who are supportive, concerned, caring and giving. A strong desire to assist others motivates professionals in this field. Fair compensation for both these people is not just a good idea, it would seem essential if we want the very best people in the field when we go to access it for ourselves, our family members and friends.
Don’t we often seek out the very best care in a medical emergency? Why would it be any different in the field of Social Services? If you know someone in the field, consider supporting them when you hear about them requesting fair compensation, and at the very least, a wee bit of gratitude is what they need from time to time. (But they’ll tell you it isn’t necessary!)