Stepping into the world of Social Work
I’ve received my internship placement at last – while I’m tempted to say it was exactly what I expected, I also may have accidentally stacked the deck by mentioning it to my advisor when I met with her. I’ll be working at a senior day health care program very near my home.
While I don’t have any specific interest in Alzheimer’s, it is certainly an important area to have experience in. The field instructors also appear to see themselves more as medical social workers, so it may give me some insight in to medical social work in general. The important reason I thought this would be a good placement is that it will be a rounding experience. While I have worked for years with kids and with disabled adults, my experience with seniors is limited to family and friends. Fortunately, having been close to my great grandmother, my paternal grandparents, and a number of special people from church, that personal experience is strong.
I also think working with seniors may give me some insight into helping my mom cope with losing my dad- the services that area available for her, for example.
At the moment, the plan is for me to be there full days Mondays and Wednesdays. More on my duties later. Classes will be Tuesdays and Thursday evenings, and I’ll work part-time at my job Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. My next chore is to get fingerprinted and a TB test.
As is fairly typical for USC, we already have an assignment for this. We were to arrange a pre-placement visit, which I did, and there will be a short paper due with our thoughts on the visit. I can be a horrible procrastinator, but I may actually do some of the writing before school starts!
I’ve had an up and down week, with mostly ups at school and a roller coaster at work.
First, I’m very pleased with the grades I’m getting so far in my classes. I just got my Behavior midterm back – I was a little nervous because the midterm in the previous Behavior class was where I stumbled last term (if, of course, you can consider stumbling to be anything less than an A). So I’m waiting for one other grade in that class (a much smaller assignment that involved an article critique) and will be working with my group on an assignment for the other class. I need to get started on an interview of a senior citizen, and the paper which will result from getting their life story.
In further school news, I’ll be meeting with my advisor regarding my internship placement next year in the middle of the week. I had quite a bit of paperwork to fill out, and also had to crop a couple of 2×2 photos for the purpose. I believe the meeting is to go over the paperwork and any special concerns I have regarding my placement.
At work, I’ve had some goods and bads. The unpleasant situation was a client who, after resisting every suggestion I was trying to make to help him work faster, decided he either wanted another coach or no more coaching. This would have been only mildly troubling, but my boss is one who makes things worse by immediately going for the jugular to try to figure out what I must have done wrong. I fully admit to being a fallible human being, but I also need my boss to understand that some issues are not necessarily caused by an error.
However, at the very next visit that day, I happened to receive copies of another client’s annual reviews by his employer – this year’s, which I just helped the client complete, and last year’s, a couple of months before I started with him. The difference is amazing! Obviously, the client deserves the real praise for making the improvement, but I have to believe that I must have had something to do with it, too.
I also attended a family meeting with the staff responsible for my father’s care. It looks like he is in good hands.
I mostly intend this blog to be about my experiences joining the social work profession, but since my current job is related, I don’t imagine anyone will care if I talk about my position as a job coach a bit occasionally.
Things have become quite tolerable at work, despite my concerns over the first few months. I do see some serious communication issues and disagreements with my boss, but they’re far less frequent than they were at first. At the beginning of December or January, I finally became eligible for sick time and holiday pay, so that should help a bit as regards the wallet.
I’ve had the feeling in many meetings with my boss that we were speaking two different languages – nothing seemed to “click.” I do notice that as time has gone on, my boss seems less interested in “retraining” me and a little more respectful of the experience I bring to the table.
I now have 9 clients with pretty much enough authorized hours between them to make up a full time week. For anyone just stopping by, I have two clients working at an eyeglass warehouse, 6 clients in various positions at two different locations of the same home improvement chain, and one courtesy clerk at a grocery store.
The courtesy clerk is my newest; I was just assigned her in December. She has had the job for a long time and is doing a great job. She hasn’t been all that welcoming to me, to the point where I thought she was giving me the silent treatment, but my last visit we had a good talk and she expressed herself well as to what she wants from me – just one visit a week and possibly help finding a new job. Seems as if she was very unhappy about being scheduled to work most or all of the recent holidays.
My two clients at the eyeglass warehouse are doing fine. My challenge for one of them, who inspects returned eyeglass frames for defects, is that I probably couldn’t manage to do his job. I would miss too many defects! So it’s hard for me to give him feedback on quality issues. I’m a bit more comfortable making recommendations on how he can improve his productivity, but he’s a bit more resistant to that, so one small step at a time. The other employee is doing so well but welcomes my company and mentoring on a friendly level as I walk with her while she picks orders.
My clients at the home improvement stores each have their issues, but most of them are doing fairly well. Most of them at least appreciate my visiting and checking in with them a couple of times a week.
On Monday, I start classes for my second semester in USC’s MSW program. I am proud of my good but not perfect achievement last semester, and am looking forward to building on that.
This semester, like last, I’ll be taking two classes that are pretty much “part two” from last term.
On Mondays, I’ll have 535, Social Welfare.
The purpose of this course is to understand the building blocks of how social welfare policy is developed and implemented in the United States; the substantive rationale for policy; the role of social workers in all areas of practice in promoting social justice; how to advocate; and the integration of practice with policy.
Understanding social welfare policy is vital to social work practice because it fundamentally affects the lives of those served by the profession. Social welfare policy defines who gets what services, resources, and opportunities, and shapes service delivery systems. For these reasons it’s essential that social workers know about the issues and choices that are embedded in various responses to social problems, guided by an understanding of the ethical responsibilities as expressed in the NASW Code of Ethics, and by the analysis of processes that lead to the formulation and delivery of social welfare policies, to more effectively comprehend the ways in which you can be instrumental in shaping policy choices.
This course builds on the substantive understanding of policy development and critical thinking skills acquired in SOWK 534, focusing attention on the analysis of selected current policy issues in key sectors of social welfare as well as in the processes and strategies of policy advocacy to redress various forms of social and economic injustice and empower less advantaged groups in our society.
SOWK 535 provides a foundation for second year, concentration-specific, policy courses (SOWK 630s) in which students apply policy analytic and policy advocacy skills to develop specific policy proposals in a particular service sector.
This class will have three primary assignments. First, a “Brief the Mayor” examination of a particular policy and a group presentation on this issue. What I gather is that the class or group will decide on a particular policy or change to existing policy to advocate and actually develop some sort of a plan of implementation. The second paper will be a “report back” on the status of the initial plan. The last paper will be a critical examination of what has been done during the semester.
Social Work 505 will continue “Human Behavior in the Social Environment”
Content includes empirically-based theories and knowledge that focuses on individual development and behavior as well as the interactions between and among individuals, groups, organizations, communities, institutions and larger systems. Students will also learn about human development over the life span including knowledge of biophysiological maturation, cognitive development, social relationships, and the psychosocial developmental tasks for the individual and family from adolescence through late adulthood. At each phase of the life course, the reciprocal interplay between individual development and familial, small group, community and societal contexts are emphasized. The course is organized according to the case study method to help students critically analyze how people develop within a range of social systems (individual, family, group, organizational, and community) and how these systems promote or impede health, well being, and resiliency. Thus, students will critically apply these different theories and perspectives to case studies or scenarios of contemporary situations in complex, urban, multicultural environments as embodied in the Southern California region.
Given the mission and purpose of social work, the course integrates content on the values and ethics of the profession as they pertain to human behavior and development across multiple systems. Special attention is given to the influence of diversity as characterized by (but not limited to) age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability and religion. The course makes important linkages between course content and social work practice, policy, research, and field instruction, specifically in evaluating multiple factors that impinge on functioning and converge in differential assessment and intervention.
This class will have two papers and a midterm – I think it’s up to the instructor whether to make the exam take-home or in class. I prefer the former, of course, as I seem to do better when I’m not having to remember details as well as the big points.
As of yesterday, I am closing the book on my first semester of graduate school It has been an amazing start! Final papers were turned in a couple of weeks ago, and I know one of my grades for sure and am pretty certain about the other. 🙂
In Policy, our last paper was to study a social service agency and discuss an unmet need of the population served. I had hoped to do it on a Regional Center, but owing to lost e-mails I had to study my own agency. Unfortunately, management was uncomfortable giving me some of the information I needed for the paper, but since time was too short by that time I did what I could based on my personal knowledge and observation. I must have done pretty well, as the grade I received was good. I don’t know my official grade for that class, but the arithmetic is pretty clear.
The other paper, for Behavior, was actually rather fun. We were given a choice of 3 movies (others on approval) and to study one of the characters using each of the theories covered in class. I was very worried about this class since I hadn’t done all that well (by USC School of Social Work standards, anyway) on the midterm. One of the best things was that a movie on the list (Stand By Me) is one of my favorites, and one my husband likes too, so it wasn’t a big deal to watch it a couple of times. I got the paper back in the mail yesterday, and did reasonably well on the paper and in my final course grade.
My classes next semester seem to be “part two” from each of the fall courses, though I will end up with different instructors. I’m looking forward to the new instructors, as the two I had last semester were OK but not excellent.
One, my policy instructor, was a fantastic man who could tell stories about knowing Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa, as well as his time as a Freedom Rider. Unfortunately, some of these wonderful stories would get in the way of his lecture points. The other was almost certainly a superb therapist, but seemed to be too strongly invested in one set of psychological theories and ended up confusing some of us in discussions of the others.
One thing I am appreciating very much about the early end of the semester is that I have plenty of time to breathe and enjoy the holidays. The next semester starts the second week of January, so I can rest and get some things done around the house that I’ve neglected.
I had noticed in my class syllabi and some of the textbooks that one of my objectives (or the school’s objectives for me) is to develop a professional identity. This means to “identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.” The many facets of this concept would include core values, the history of the profession, conduct, advocacy, and many other positive values.
I told myself that this would be something that developed over the next few years, particularly during my internship and field placements. Obviously, as I thought at the time, I can’t have a professional identity until I’ve actually engaged in some professional activities!
But over the last few weeks, I have learned I was wrong. I have developed somewhat of a professional identity, mostly through work.
As I mentioned in a previous post in June, I have some disagreements with my current manager, sometimes mild, sometimes serious. It has been an interesting challenge for me, as a relatively new employee, to bite my tongue when necessary. He made a comment yesterday that he felt it would be hard for me to be “retrained” due to the amount of experience I had elsewhere.
While I didn’t say anything, I realized after thinking about it overnight that he isn’t going to retrain me because the problem isn’t that I’ve been improperly trained. The issue is that I’ve developed a professional identity: an internal set of values, a significant amount of theoretical and practical training in my area, and a personal style incorporating the above with my own personality/temperament.
I accept that at my level of current employment I don’t get to call the shots. That’s part of the trade-off for having a position with limited responsibility that allows me to concentrate on school. But I’d really like to see a little more respect paid to my skills and experience rather than his apparent assumption that 5-10 years of my life were wasted and he somehow needs to “retrain” me.
I’ve got a quiet day today before USC takes control of my life in earnest on Tuesday. Yesterday, we rescued Lucy from the roof a SECOND time yesterday, celebrated Hubby’s birthday with a dinner at a great Israeli restaurant we had never been to before, and got me a new phone (a Samsung Flight II). Gary is hiking with some friends today, so I’ve got the house to myself.
Last week, the Skirball cohort had our summer welcome reception, which was really nice. We got to see what would be our second home for the next year or two. Someone posted pictures on Facebook (I didn’t even know anyone was doing that!) including my own ugly face, I just hope nobody tags me in them!
Three of my books have come in from the online sources I bought them from – I think I only made one mistake by getting the wrong edition, and that book cost less than a dollar plus shipping, so I think I can manage to buy another copy of the right one. I’m still waiting for two of them to come.
I had registered for the USC all graduate student orientation on Monday, but I’ve learned that most of what I would get on Monday will be repeated on Tuesday. So I’m thinking I’ll save myself the trouble and parking fees and skip the Monday event.
After that is our mandatory Social Work orientation and the start of the “Immersion.” Tuesday (all day) and Saturday afternoon are at the UPC (University Park Campus – USC speak for the main campus as opposed to the medical school or other locations), Thursday and Saturday morning are out someplace we’ll be directed later. Fortunately, I’ve found a few other classmates in my area to share the ride to the main campus with, so we’ll be sharing gas and parking costs. What I’ve gathered so far is that the immersion is a visit to a community served by social workers where we are to do some observation as the beginning of our Policy class. I’m expecting something like a visit to a homeless or women’s shelter. The policy class syllabus shows group presentations based on this in a couple of weeks, so it isn’t just for show.
Class starts a week from Monday. From what I can tell, I’ll get a couple of class days off in September, one for Labor Day and one for the Jewish holidays – our classes are at Skirball, a Jewish cultural center, so that makes a lot of sense. I’ve received the syllabus from one of my classes, it seems like it is all papers and presentations, no exams are listed!
My student loans were supposed to show up in my account yesterday, but they didn’t. I’m not sure what happened – I hope I don’t have to make any calls or visits to Financial Aid or the cashier’s office next week of all weeks!
This week, I’ve been completing the last details of my enrollment at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. I got sticker shock at the $9000 price tag (and that’s only for 6 units!) but as Hubby tells me, it’ll be worth it when I can wave a diploma from such a prestigious school in an employer’s direction.
The most important was completing my student loan documents. I am getting three different types of loans, from two sources, so I had to sign two different “Master Promissory Notes.” I gather these will suffice for the whole three years. I’m not sure when the money will show up in my account, but I imagine it has been coordinated down to the last worrisome seconds. 🙂
I told myself that while I might have to do student loans this year, I’ll take the time to find some grants and scholarships to help next year. Also, my third year I am eligible to apply for a couple of stipend programs provided I agree to work in either child and family services or mental health for a year or two. Those have to be in the concentration year because you receive a specific field placement.
I also had to get vaccinated – colleges are trying hard to avoid epidemics of childhood diseases, so they’re requiring immunization against both kinds of measles and mumps. My doctor sent me for titers, but unfortunately I came up “not immune” to mumps. So I ended up having to get the shots anyway. I got one last week and I’ll have to get another at the end of August. Oh well…
It’s starting to seem more real to me…. a week from tomorrow there’s a welcome reception at the Skirball Center, where I’ll be taking classes the first two years, then on the 15 the graduate school orientation. Then Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I have “Community Immersion.” The next week classes start in earnest.
I’ve been looking at where to buy textbooks – some of them are even available in electronic format now, which would be really great for reading/studying in spare moments here and there. I have an Ipod Touch (basically an Iphone without the phone) which I typically use as a PDA and boredom companion (games, etc.) It will serve nicely for some of my textbooks if they are not too horribly large in file size. I might be able to finagle a Kindle or Nook for Christmas if the print starts to get too small for my eyes. I am definitely happy to see I can buy them a little cheaper than the prices quoted in my previous post. I guess I should look at shipping times and consider placing my order pretty quickly.
There’s not much going on for me on any front – MSW program starts in mid-August, my job is proceeding normally Since I’m in the 3 year program for my MSW, I won’t be doing a field placement until next year, so I don’t have that detail to arrange (unlike some of my classmates). So what do I do – borrow trouble!
Since I’ve got the time, I’ve been looking far more carefully at the materials available on the USC Social Work department website. There’s a wealth of information there that I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t look at before applying. But… maybe that’s a good thing because it might have scared me away.
What I’ve been looking at most recently is the documentation for the field placements. Not only does it look scary just to look at all the process forms I’ll be filling out, but the materials intended for the agencies actually state outright that new interns are likely to go through a pretty predictable set of emotions as they gain competence. Good to know I won’t be the only one feeling scared, nervous, and self conscious.
I did note that there was mention of tape recording (I assume when the intern is conducting therapy) and that troubles me. I cannot stand the sound of my voice on tape! I guess I’ll deal with that when the time comes, though.
I have to admit, it has been great, over the past week or so, to connect via Facebook with my future classmates. I may not get to know many of them very well, or even at all, but having that virtual connection will be great.
One of the terms that came up frequently in the information on the social work programs I applied to is “social justice.” Since the concept will continue to come up repeatedly in my social worker education, I believe I need to spend some time thinking about the concept and where my own personal definition might differ from others.
At University of Southern California School of Social Work, the mission statement includes:
The mission of the USC School of Social Work is to improve the well-being of vulnerable individuals and communities, advance social and economic justice, and eradicate pressing societal problems in complex and culturally diverse urban environments throughout Southern California, the nation and the world. Our mission is achieved through value-driven, scholarly and creative social work education, research, and professional leadership.
From the NASW:
Beneath this practicality lies a strong value system that can be summarized in two words: social justice. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.
So according to my (future) fellow social workers, social justice is the goal of equal rights and opportunities. Sounds good to me!
But to some (such as Glenn Beck) this sounds too .. um… communist. They honestly believe that the phrase social justice is code for redistribution of wealth and all those nasty taxes and programs they don’t like.
There may also be some on the other end of the spectrum who believe that social justice (and our country) should indeed go so far as to actually “redistribute wealth,” but what about the rest of us?
I note that in the NASW definition, rights and opportunities are expected to be equal, not necessarily outcomes. This is important. While I had the opportunity to attend public schools through 12th grade without tuition, and state funded colleges and universities after that, the outcome would depend on what I did with those opportunities.
Political opportunities are the same way. I can run for office and vote, but whether I win or my candidate wins is up to what happens in the polls.
Economic opportunities are a bit harder, as we all know it takes money to make money. I think this is where the Beck crowd starts getting nervous. But I think so long as we’ve equalized educational and political opportunities, economic opportunities might work themselves out.
I’m sure there is a lot of room to discuss HOW to achieve these ends, but I would hope the vast majority of my fellow Americans would agree with the ideals.
I also believe that perfect social justice may not be something we will ever see. While I’d like to believe that my neighbors have the same opportunities as I do, the truth is that they almost certainly have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. I have a middle class background, which provided me with a certain level of resources to start adult life (and admittedly, occasional assistance from parents even as an adult). There is nothing government can do to compensate my neighbor from a less affluent background for what I received and they didn’t or to compensate me for not being born a Kennedy, Gates, or Walton.
So if it’s an impossible dream, what can a social worker do?