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By on March 13, 2014

Social Workers: The invisible preventionists

All by myself lyrics.  I’m sure most people know that March is Women’s History Month, but I doubt most know that it’s also Social Work Month. As such, I thought I’d spotlight the work that me and my kind do but often goes unnoticed. When asked what I do for a living I respond with social work. The gambit of responses go from me being likened to a selfless saint (hardly accurate considering how inappropriate I am) to people clutching their children in terror…okay a bit of an exaggeration on the last part, but I’d been known to start a presentation with the phrase, “I’m a social worker, but I don’t snatch babies.” This was usually in communities in which I was doing interpersonal violence prevention work that had a great distrust of my profession. Mostly, I got blank stares and questions of exactly what a Social Worker does. I love to talk (shocking) and have never found it difficult to explain the importance of my profession in the field of work I have chosen. Governed by our code of ethics, social workers have made a commitment to improving social conditions and quality of life opportunities for everyone.

Now, what I have noticed in my transition from local programing to the state and national level is the isolation I feel as a social worker. When I was doing prevention work, on the ground, in the classrooms, CBOs, and where ever I could weasel my way in, there were other social workers around. Not just finding people housing, providing counseling, but comprehensive prevention activities. Yet, now that my work has expanded beyond those local efforts I look around and think, “Where are the Social Workers?” In our office we have a running joke about MSWs versus MPH folks and as teasing jabs go back and forth, I understand at the end of the day my profession isn’t as visible in the field as others. Why is that I’ve come to wonder? When I look at job announcements, agency staff listings, or conduct TA with a program that has a question, Social Workers are present and accounted for. Yet, when dialogues, discussions, and thoughts about prevention work are being conducted and crafted my crew appears to be missing from the action.

Of course, as perception influences ones worldview, this observation could be influenced by a myriad of factors specific to me. Yet, it is Social Work month and I’ve decided to take an opportunity to shine the spotlight and issue a roll call. Social Workers doing prevention work, please rise and let the world (or at least this corner of PreventConnect) know what you do!*

*It would be totally awesome if at this point the comments section gets flooded by social workers stating what type of prevention work they do and where. No pressure of course.  We’ll start with PreventConnect’s own Ashley  Maier:

I 100% sign on to this blog post!  In our office, I just may be one of the main contributors to the MSW vs. MPH joking that goes on.  I, too, have felt very alone in a sea of MPHs as I have done sexual and domestic violence prevention work over the past many years.  I actually picked my social work program (Wash U!) because I was interested in prevention.  Interestingly, my MSW school started a public health degree program within its School of Social Work.  Just saying…

10 responses to “Social Workers: The invisible preventionists”

  1. Hey Leona! We’ve got some social worker preventionists at NSVRC! I’ll forward this post to them.

  2. I have a “non-traditional” degree is Prevention and Community Development, which often leaves me out of the MPH party too. I’d love to know what you think it missing when discussing who is/ isn’t at the prevention table. Are you thinking that social workers bring a human-centric perspective that MPHs might loose with the science base?

    I’d love to also discuss how this conversation fits in with the professionalization of a social justice movement and the privileged of education. Do we need Masters degrees to do this work on state and national levels?

  3. The Action Alliance has some social work and sociology folks on staff – and a good number of the prevention team interns both past and present were in the process of completeing their masters in social work.

  4. Hola Leona!
    Thanks for the Social Worker shout-out! I’m a social worker and the director/founder of Multicultral Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA). I am doing SA/IPV prevention work in under-served, LGBTQ and migrant farmer worker communities. I have found that prevention work to be a natural extension of social work values for over 12 years!
    Thank you so much for raising this topic!

  5. This post is so timely for me! I have been doing prevention work for 4 years now (mostly SV). I graduate with my BSW in May and my family is moving to North Carolina. Prevention seems to be a new field and I don’t see many social workers doing it. I love the SW field but, I was thinking of maybe getting an MPH because, I don’t see too many social workers doing prevention, and I want to build on my prevention skills. Any thoughts from anyone doing prevention? MPH vs. MSW?

  6. Thank you so much for this post. As a proud social worker AND sexual violence preventionist at NSVRC, I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly! The reason I went into social work is because of its social justice and social change framework. Social workers have always been mobilizing communities to affect social change, yet they continue to remain invisible in the public discourse around prevention to some degree (although I see this changing, which is awesome). I’ve always worked as a macro practitioner, trying inform resources, systems, and policies toward prevention, yet I get the same blank stares you talk about. Here’s to making social workers more visible in the prevention conversations!

  7. Happy Social Work Month Everyone! I recently returned to the Hawaii State Department of Health to coordinate the sexual violence prevention program (Rape, Prevention, and Education- RPE). My previous position was with Community Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP). All prevention is GOOD! Thank you Leona for reminding us why we do what we do and to embrace it. Aloha to all you Social Workers out there!!

  8. Wow! These are all great thoughts, Bethany. I have so many reactions to them that I’m going to reach out to you because I think it would actually make a great blog post…hint hint.

  9. Aryn, I think it’s important to reach out to both MSWs and MPHs when making a decision. I’m the first to toot the social work horn but at the end of the day you’re happiness with the profession you choose is what’s most important. <--------FYI classic social worker response

  10. hello all, I’m a fellow social worker, graduated from Lewis Clark state college. I’m also an enrolled tribal member of he navajo nation. I recently moved back home to Arizona and currently working in my hometown. I feel the same way, I’ve been an advocate for Dv and SA for a number of years now, and currently I’m a SART coordinator for our healthcare facility. But as I come across family or community members, it’s hard for the them to understand the different “hats” social workers wear. I always get asked if I’m still working for CPS, when I have never worked there….ever. Lol. But the title social worker is tarnished by the image of “I’m taking your kids away if you can’t take care of them”. It’s horrible and I try to make it clear that’s not what I do, but of course I get stories of that one social worker who was so unethical that makes all of us look bad. But regardless, I’m happy I’m home and can provide my skills to my people and community. I strive to make my community a healthy place for a better quality of life for all. I plan to stay and raise my son in the same culture I was raised in. But thank you all for sharing, glad I’m not alone 🙂

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