Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

Questioning client advocacy

on February 28, 2013

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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