Social Work Heroes

It’s the Fourth of July and I’m thinking about heroes. Not the founding fathers we read about in history books, but heroes within the social work profession … the heroes I see and read about each day.

I’m thinking of the homeless outreach advocate who tirelessly traipses through homeless camps in her city in order to assist those considered disposable in our society. She often ruins her clothes and gets bitten by insects. She never complains that her office consists of a cell phone and an outdated laptop perched atop the cluttered passenger seat of the agency’s clunker. Her efforts to intercede for the powerless make her a hero in my book.

Then there’s the social worker who does crisis intervention at the mental health clinic. Her shift is over, and she desperately wants to leave work on time to make it to her daughter’s recital. But her last client is suicidal and it’s a complex case. She could pass it off to the next shift worker. But she doesn’t because she knows she’s already developed a rapport with the client and is best positioned to do the most good for this client. So she’s late for the recital and only catches a glimpse of the final moments of her daughter’s performance. She doesn’t get paid overtime for staying late because she’s salaried. And flex time is something written into the manual but never put into practice. There’s no reward for staying late except the personal satisfaction that comes from helping a fellow human being in need. She’s a hero in my book.

And what about the social workers who do home visits in squalid neighborhoods to protect children, the elderly, and other vulnerable segments of the population? What about social workers who support the dying in their last moments? Or the social worker who accompanies the ER physician as he bears the terrible news of a child’s unexpected death to shocked and grief-stricken parents? Or the social worker who does her best to instill hope in a crack addict who’s relapsed for the umpteenth time and every detox program in the city is now refusing him services because of his noncompliance? They’re all heroes if you ask me.

It’s not easy to deal first-hand with illness or death, crime, violence, injustice, substance abuse, or any of the psychosocial problems facing our clients. But as social workers, we do it every day. And we do it in a way that makes our little corner of the world a little bit brighter. Our interventions typically go unnoticed by the rest of the world, which makes them all the more heroic. After all, no one becomes a social worker for fame or glory!

There are many unsung heroes in the social work profession, and I’ve been blessed to have met or worked beside quite a few of them. I’m proud of the extremes they have gone to … quietly and without drawing attention to themselves … for the sake of helping a fellow human being in need.

Happy Independence Day to all those unsung social work heroes who are celebrating the July 4th holiday!