Thanks For The Social Services Caseworker

If you’re fortunate to live in a community that provides financial and social assistance to its most vulnerable citizens, then you’ve also got a number of people tasked with providing that same service. These people may have varying titles, but for the purposes of identification, let’s call them Caseworkers. More about that name later, but for now, Caseworkers it is.

It may well be that your own upbringing never brought you into contact with any Social Service organization; you may have no personal contact with or real understanding of the role these people play. This would mean you’ve been raised in a self-supporting family and never required the support the social services safety net provides. From an economic point of view, the fewer people who turn to these supports the better; the resources are more readily available for those who truly need them, for those unable to financially support themselves.

Administering these benefits are the Caseworkers; working within and under the legislative guidelines set out by governments. But if you leave it at that, you’ve got a very limited view of what a Caseworker does. Caseworkers you see, are in the people business. This is a role of privilege and responsibility; one that most Caseworkers carry out with gratitude for the opportunity. It may not have occurred to you should you outside the field, but the people who work in these roles are a special bunch.

You see as much as we know the role is a privilege, it’s disheartening to hear that same word used in a derogatory way when people say, “Oh those government workers are a privileged bunch!” A government worker is a public servant, and serve we do.

The Caseworker is tasked with ensuring that people initially meet the established standards in qualifying for financial help, and then ensuring each month that they continue to do so. While the number of people and families served by any one person varies, it would not be atypical for a Caseworker to have 175 files representing some 325 people at any given time. That’s a lot of people to serve on a monthly basis! Given each day the Caseworker might see 3 or 4 in-person for an update, talk on the phone to 15 – 20, respond to letters and faxes and the odd person who drops in unannounced, there’s a need to be highly organized, efficient and time-management conscious. Now add in some ongoing training, team meetings, breaks and a lunch and suddenly you get an idea of how their day goes. You might understand how frustrating it is then to have people then complain to the Caseworker, “You never pick up the phone when I call. What are you doing all day?”

The job also comes with expectations from top down too. There are Supervisors monitoring caseload management, doing random file reviews, following up on client contact with Caseworkers, reports that tell how on top of things a Caseworker is, the various benefits each Caseworker has issued, where they might have some updates overdue. Then the legislation that dictates how the job is done changes periodically, and more training is scheduled. Every so often the technology itself is overhauled and like it or not, there’s another entire computer software system to learn.

And you know what? Caseworkers didn’t choose to get into the job to do any of the above. What they did sign up for when they went to University or College was to help people. What they envisioned was sitting down, listening to people express their challenges and then providing support and encouragement; helping people help themselves. With this job there’s an unexpected emotional toll too. The Caseworker hears and feels the worse in human nature; rape, abuse, drug and alcohol addictions, zero financial literacy, loss of self-esteem, growing anxieties and depression, shame, guilt and yes despair. Caseworkers have to both steel themselves against taking on the suffering heard yet empathizing enough to fully appreciate the hardships of those served. It’s a fine balance.

Yet, for all the troubles and challenges, administration and tight timelines, the Caseworkers are a positive bunch; some of the most caring and wonderful people you could hope to meet. They are often the first people who come to mind by those on their caseload when there’s trouble; this is the privilege. Caseworkers see the breakthroughs, the changing attitudes, hear the joy of landing job interviews and announcing new jobs! We congratulate those moving to financially supporting themselves because we know just what it’s taken for many to make it.

Like any field, sure there will be some employees who are better at the job than others. You may hear someone complain about their own Caseworker but that doesn’t mean you’re getting the objective story. Besides, go ahead and name any job where every single person who holds it is identically excellent in every way. You can’t, and Casework is no different.

A big thank you to Caseworkers everywhere; be they anywhere on this planet of ours. While you may not expect or ask to be thanked by those you serve, may you who hold it always be blessed with some who express their sincere and heartfelt thanks for what you do. It might only be a handshake and a nod or maybe you’ll get a personal note to be treasured expressing words of thanks.

Keep up the good work, for even we only get a glimpse of what life is really like for those we serve.

Thank You My Peers; This One’s For You

I want to pass on my sincere thank you to you, my colleagues who work on a daily basis advocating for those who are on social assistance. This article is specifically directed to you; as it’s all about you and the great work you do. If you like what you read, share it –not necessarily on the net; maybe with your co-workers who might miss it otherwise. Share it with your family if they wonder what it is you really do all day; your kids if you suspect they don’t have a clue about the impact you have and the tremendously important work you do.

What this isn’t is a self-serving post slapping us on the back broadcasting, “How great we are!” for anybody to hear. You know as well as I do however in the value of receiving encouragement and acknowledgement.  We dole that out all day long! So allow me to extend my 900 words of thanks and for a few moments this day, allow yourself to just read and be acknowledged.

Don’t you love those ‘light bulb’ scenarios where you see that exact moment on the face of someone you are working with who suddenly grasps what it is you’re sharing? Of course you do! It is precisely because of your intervention that they suddenly ‘get it’; ‘it’ being something that helps them move forward. Because of you, they not only know something intellectually, they understand it and own it when that moment happens; learning just transferred from you to them. Well done!

These are pretty great people we work with and for aren’t they? They have the survival skills to get by on what amounts to less than minimum wage in many jurisdictions. While many people in the general population wouldn’t remotely consider working for less than half the minimum wage; you and I know that the people we serve have no choice but to accept less than half those wages. Not only do some in society begrudge them this meagre amount to live on, those same people expect social assistance recipients to smile, be in good health, get around and look for work, get an education – but not if they can get off assistance without it of course – and keep themselves dressed and groomed smartly. Best they are thankful and don’t have a poor attitude or show discouragement either.

We however are the sensitive ones; the compassionate ones. We aren’t just bleeding hearts. We are wise enough to know holding other people in judgement for how they live their lives and the choices they make is wrong. We’ve come to understand that these social assistance recipients are… well… people. We know how intrinsically essential we become in their lives because they tell us don’t they? Not all of them of course, but many do express their gratitude and thanks. They know we are in positions of power and can help move them forward or make things more difficult. The best of us, – you of course – take that responsibility on each day with each person you interact with and sometimes we do it so naturally we think it’s no big thing. It’s huge!

We are their role models; we may be the sole person in their lives who treats them with respect and dignity. We may be the lone person who actually sees something of value in them and most importantly believes in them. I don’t exaggerate. We know how fragile some of these people are, growing up in broken homes and enduring abusive relationships. We have to walk that fine line between caring enough to be helpful and not over-caring to the point where we suffer compassion fatigue and burn out.

How many decisions do you make in a day? Now how many of those decisions impact directly on someone whose situation is so fragile that holding their assistance or releasing it means the difference between being housed or on the street? We know only a fraction of how stressful it must surely be to constantly live fraught with the worry of whether or not the cheque will arrive in time to pay the rent.

You do tremendously important work and are in a noble profession. You are simultaneously a source of finance, a figure of authority, role model, teacher, mentor, advisor, guide and helper. And sometimes – in the moments when you’ve got a pile of work on your desk and numerous phone calls to return, there you are just listening on your end of the phone to someone who just needs your ear. Frustrating at times? Absolutely when there’s so much to do and a computer system that demands your attention. But you do it nonetheless.

You and I, we’re pretty fortunate to be in such a position. Were it you and I on the other side of the table needing help and being ignorant of all the help available, we’d be so grateful to have an empathetic and caring person to help us.

A humble and sincere thank you wherever you work on this globe of ours when you toil on behalf of those who often don’t have a voice of their own; or rather their voices speak but are not heard. You are doing great work and the impact you’re having is cumulative; you may not see the progress at first, but its building. Think of how many lives you make better every day!