Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

Questioning client advocacy

On Sunday night, I listened to the newest “This American Life” podcast about Harper High School.  I became physically upset when the school social worker essentially said goodbye to a student who was in trouble with the law.  I was mad at her – this beautiful woman who obviously cared so much for her students.  I wanted her to fight for him, to  call the police, and to plead with them to give him a second chance.

As social workers our basic instinct is client advocacy.  We want the best for our clients, and we are judged by our ability to advocate.  We pass the test if we can successfully help our clients navigate the complicated systems we live in.  We have our resource lists, agency contact, and social pleasantries ready to make a deal…. BUT

Is client advocacy the best way to address our clients’ struggles?

I recently attended an interesting clinic led by National Alliance to End Homelessness.  The presenter discussed how advocating for our clients may actually be detrimental to our communities.  We may be able to get what our clients’ needs through advocacy, but are they the most in need of that service?

By getting your client a resource, did you screw someone over who needed it more?

When it comes to limited resources, how can we create a process that is fair as possible?  The ER pops into my mind (obviously it has been popping into my mind a lot lately).  If you show up first to the ER with the flu, you are still going to be seen after the person with a knife wound.  It may seem bureaucratic and sterile,  but a similar process would mean that resources don’t blindly go to the first person who shows up or the person who yells the loudest (which might still happen at the ER).  Its about matching a person’s need, with appropriate services (not the most services you can give someone – which may actually be unhelpful).

Of course, most communities are not there yet.  If the system we work in isn’t there yet, how can direct service workers push their agencies and networks towards change?  How can service professionals help ensure we are serving the most vulnerable?  Especially when the person sitting in front of us seems to be the person in most need.

Back to Chicago – I was so upset, because in my struggles with client advocacy don’t exist in this situation.  Advocating with schools, police, courts, government programs doesn’t hurt anyone.  No one will get screwed over.  While we need to think about the long game, whats best for our community, we should still fight for second chances, safety nets, and a good quality life for all.

Did anyone else listen to the podcast?  What were your reactions?  And what are your opinions on client advocacy?

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Saturday Morning Share

I plan on sharing my favorite articles, blog posts, and reports from the week each Saturday morning.  Did I miss anything good this week?



  1. Ten Things You Should Know About #TheRealTANF – The Nation
  2. Poverty rates higher for blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians – Washington Post
  3. Prison and Poverty Trap – New York Times
  4. Where you live determines how long you live – Richmond Times Dispatch


  1. Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want – Reuters
  2. For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence – US Department of Education  (Summary available at Education Week)
  3. This American Life 487: Harper High School, Part One – NPR (part two will be posted on Sunday evening)



  1. The 12 Things You Are Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking – Part 1 & Part 2 – Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog
  2. Motivational Interviewing: A Client-Centered Approach – Part 1 & Part 2  – Social Work Career Development Blog

FREE Upcoming Webinars:

  1. From Story to Action: Using Film in your Economic Fairness Campaign – Tuesday, February 26, 2-3pm
  2. How to Write Faster: Tips for Nonprofit Marketers and Fundraisers – Tuesday, March 5, 11am-12pm
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Questions about power from my trip to the ER

I previously mentioned that I spent a portion of my holidays in the ER.  Inside the hospital I “was seen” by at least nine different medical staff, each for only a moment at a time.  At least two said they would call within the next week to share my test results, but I was stood up.  The only time I heard from the hospital was the billing department confirming my information a month later.  I eventually called about my test results and was told I couldn’t get records over the phone (HIPPA – blah, blah, blah).  Instead, I needed to send in a release of information with (additional) billing information to cover $0.50 per page for my records.  Of course, once I receive my records, I will have no idea what they say, so that’s another trip/call to a doctor to translate.

I am very lucky that I am healthy and do not have to deal with the health care system on a regular basis.  All of the hoops made me cry from frustration.  Being at the hospital was a very low-point in my life, and the hospital offered me the minimum required of them (which I recognize may have saved my life).  The hospital gave me want I needed, but not what I wanted.  A simple phone call would have changed my whole experience.

How often do we as service professionals do the minimum required of us?  

There are so many hoops for our clients to jump through.  We have to say, “Please fill out these forms and come back in three weeks” OR “We can’t help you right now, try this number” OR “There is a waiting list” (without the bandwidth to call people back).  Customer service is placed on the service professionals, even though the system is rigged against a positive experience for clients.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of experience a client has, because they need the service.  (I would not have been at the hospital if I did not need to be.)   They can complain, but they may not have anywhere else to go.

We hold the power.  As social workers we don’t like to think about the power we hold over others, but it is often the basis of the relationship with the individuals we serve.  Power is one of the first things we discuss in school, and it is an issue that I will always struggle with.  As social workers we can and should treat others with respect while they are with us, make sure they have the information needed to make informed decisions, and follow-up to ensure a smooth transition and closure.  This is what I wanted from the hospital.

Does information and good customer service shift the power dynamics in our relationships with others?

I am not sure.  Of course, treating others with dignity and respect is a core social work value.  It seems more like the human thing to do than a technique to empower others.  I do think that information is key to empowerment – information is power.  If a person has a better understanding of the available options they can make choices for themselves – that’s whats it’s all about.  My issue is that  social safety net systems are set up for emergencies (people’s low points), so they often lack choices and space for consumer input.  A service professional can work towards empowerment on an individual level, but both the client and worker may feel powerless within the larger system.

Does shifting the dynamics in an individual relationship matter when the system so skewed?

Let me know your thoughts.  Multiple brains are better than one.

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American Made: Nephew on the way

For the past two weeks, I have my been test driving my underwear (mentioned in a recent post).  I love both brands: Uranus Apparel and Bella Materna.  They are both comfortable and have made it through the wash unharmed.  Through these purchases, I also learned that I am a size small, not medium in underwear!  This is great for my self-esteem, and also means I now own extremely comfortable undies.

Even more exciting news:  There is a little guy growing inside my sister(-in-law)!  I plan to shower him with gifts and love.  So far, I have scored a 50%, a failing grade, on my baby gift purchases.  Out of the eight gifts I have bought, three were American made (Angel Baby shampoo and lotion, and Prince Lioheart Dishwasher Basket); one was used; and four were made in China.  Luckily, I have plenty of time to improve my GPA.

Below are some good places for me to start:

  1. My local baby store, Franklin Goose, has a whole Made in USA section on their website.
  2. ABC World News encouraged their viewers buy Made in American for Christmas.  They have a a comprehensive list of items on their website.
  3. The blog Made in USA Challenge also has a long company list.

As always, I will update you along the way.

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A thank you note to my dad


Eleven years sneaked up on me today.  That’s how long you’ve been gone.  I not sure how to feel.  I am happy for my current life, guilty for being happy, sad for lost memories, and mad that people don’t know who you are.  In the past eleven years, I have graduated from school four times, got married, bought a house, and started my first real job.  You missed it all, but beautifully big government made you a part of my important milestones.

FERS paid for my expenses during college, and social security helped me with my first down payment on a house.  Some families experience terrible trauma without that safe net, but as a teenager, I was able to keep my house; continue hobbies; eat three good meals a day; hug mom every night; and go to college on time (and on you and mom’s dime).  I was able to save the money you left me to create a nest egg, where as millions of families used their social security to keep them out of poverty.  Because of these experiences, I know I will be safe and loved no matter what comes my way.

Now, I am a social worker, not because of bad things that happened in my life but because of all of the good.  I wish everyone could be hopeful for their future, have equal opportunity to achieve their goals, and have a safety net when things go wrong.  But that’s not the case (I will working on it) – Luckily, because of you and mom, I have hope, opportunity, and a safe net.  Your life brought my childhood trust and love, and your death continually reminds me how lucky I am.

Thank you for everything, and I love you,

Little E

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