Have you heard of Social Work month?

It happens in the month of March, with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) creating an annual theme to showcase the profession and all that social workers do for the public. This year’s theme is Education. Being surrounded by social workers at AFC but not being one myself, I decided to do some research to find out “what is social work?” 

What is Social Work?

Social work is a profession with individuals who seek to improve the quality of life and overall well-being of individuals, families, couples, groups, and communities. (Wiki, NASW)

What types of work do Social Workers do?

Social Workers focus on social justice, addressing issues of poverty, substance abuse, civil and human rights, mental health, and disability through research, community organizing, crisis intervention, counseling, and other practices. They work in places like hospitals, community centers, schools, and government programs like ours-Adult Family Care. (Wikipedia; NASW)

Social Work Month Logo

The information above I found easily online and it provided me with a basic understanding of what social work is. However, I still needed to learn how social workers at AFC fit into this picture. For this I turned to AFC Social Work Manager, Nina Cohen, with some questions about our staff and their work with elders and people with disabilities.

At AFC, there are social workers from different professional backgrounds, languages, cultures, and ages. What do you think they all have in common?

Our most important core value is self-determination, which means respecting everyone’s ability to make their own decisions and choose how they want to live. Our social workers want to help persons who are elderly and with disabilities to live as long as possible and as healthy as possible in the setting of their choosing.

What does an AFC Social Worker do?

Our social workers provide support to elders and people with disabilities, as well as the persons who are caring for them. Much of the support we offer is resource finding. For example, helping people find information about healthcare, support groups, medical transportation, community programs, that sort of thing. We are also a sounding board, a safe place for clients to talk about their stress and concerns without judgment. We help them to address issues like mental health, substance abuse, and relationship conflicts.

Each of our families has a nurse and a physician who are also working to promote healthy living. So we each play a part. Nurses and physicians often focus on the medical aspects of aging and on physical health. Social workers have a very unique approach to wellness that looks at things in the family’s communication, neighborhood, culture, and finances that have an impact on their lifestyle and overall well-being. So their focus is quite expansive.

Why do you think social workers are important to families who live with elders and people with disabilities?

Social workers have an expertise in human development across the lifespan that gives them understanding of the emotional and psychological changes throughout the aging process.  They are strong resource gatherers, which is important when working with elderly and disabled because these individuals often have to navigate medical systems and public programs that are complex even to persons in their twenties who are completely healthy. Social workers take time to research these programs for families and perform much of the information gathering to make it easier for them to access the information and make the best decision. Also, the fact that participants rely on another person for care and support can lead to tremendous stress and burn out for caregivers. Caregivers who are family members are especially prone to conflicts as they come into the program already with a history of how they communicate and behave toward one another, for better or worse. A social worker is often the best person to intervene in these families, to address potential crises and de-escalate conflicts.