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.