Life has become increasingly complicated in the last few decades. One individual must play so many different roles in society, and each one has its own demands. We are expected to cope with a staggering array of tasks on any given day: going to work/school, taking care of our health, looking after our homes, keeping the environment clean, following traffic rules, paying our bills, voting, participating in neighbourhood and community events and generally being good citizens. Most of us manage it pretty well, usually without even thinking about it or finding it very difficult.
But for some people, for a variety of reasons, coping is not so easy. The loss of a job, an unexpected health crisis, the death of a loved one, a crippling injury, a divorce – any of these can be the catastrophe that causes a person to collapse under the weight of his own life.
In simpler times, when families were large and loyal, individuals did not fall apart quite so often. The family support structure was there to catch weaker members and take care of them until they were able to take care of themselves. Nowadays, with people living alone or in nuclear families, often in large, impersonal cities, one seemingly isolated misfortune can be just one thing too many: the person who was just barely scraping through may suddenly become homeless, or disabled, or emotionally shattered.
Social workers are the people who move in to help when a person’s life spirals out of control. They are professionals who are trained to find creative solutions to the difficulties people are experiencing. Their skills include negotiation, counselling, networking, troubleshooting, advocating, investigating and connecting. Because, by definition, a social worker is an outsider, she is often able to be objective enough about a particular situation to find a way out that might not occur to the person caught up in the middle of it. Social workers are aware of the many services available in the community and they know how to break through the bureaucratic red tape that often prevents ordinary people from accessing them.
For people with disabilities and their families, a social worker can be an invaluable guide and resource person. Many handicapped people have no idea that they are entitled to railway concessions, education and employment quotas, tax benefits and subsidized rehabilitation aids. A good social worker will walk them through the maze of a government hospital or development office and help them get what they deserve. Social workers often work as part of a team with other rehab professionals. They are the ones who go into a person’s home to get a sense of what this person’s daily life is like – information which is essential before the rehab team can make realistic recommendations. A social worker may provide on-going emotional and practical support to a disabled person and his family as rehabilitation proceeds.
Social Work is a fascinating career for anyone who enjoys problem solving in a very human environment. Like many other careers in the field of Special Needs, a Social Worker can function in a wide variety of settings, from schools and hospitals to government offices and U.N. organizations. Pay scales vary accordingly – the popular myth that social work is an unpaid charitable hobby for retired people is simply not true. Social work is a demanding and intellectually stimulating job which requires dedication, creativity and keen intelligence.