Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Social Workers & You #RealExpertsForRealLife

I think my first interaction with a social worker, as a consumer of care services, was in the hospital when Boo was born. He was in the NICU, being treated and monitored for low and unstable blood sugar, and seriously low birth weight. I was exhausted from pumping and attempting to nurse. His nurses were telling me I needed to pump or feed him every 2 hours around the clock. My nurses were telling me I needed to sleep. Both were likely right, but the conflicting messages, lack of sleep, and extreme worry had my stress level through the roof. Then a doctor said they were sending me home, but Boo had to stay behind. Stress and blood pressure skyrocketed. I couldn't cope. 

Boo in his isolette

Who arrived at my bedside? A social worker.  I believe the visit was partly to provide support to me and help me process all that was happening, and I truly needed and appreciated that. The other part seemed to be about assessing my mental state and whether it was actually in my best interest to remain on the ward. She hadn't been gone long when I was told I would be staying through the weekend. I am still so grateful to her for helping me, and for listening carefully to all I had to say, as irrational as I was that day. Come Monday, I was able to go home without completely freaking out.

As life with Boo went on, we quickly realised he wasn't like the other babies, or later, kids. Not in an "everyone's unique" kind of way, but in a real developmentally something isn't right way. After much pushing (by me) and investigating (by health professionals) he received a set of diagnoses, including ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and Giftedness. None of these bode well for the early years at school, and we indeed were dealing with some serious behavioural concerns. Boo's ability to control his emotions, reactions, and impulses was incredibly low. He was academically advanced and socially delayed. Social Workers have played a key role in getting him where he is today - a much better place.

The Defiant Child

I can't tell you how happy I was at one of our "Student Support Team" meetings in second grade, to be offered social work support through the school. Our worker, Marla, was wonderful. She kept in close touch with me, and had a fantastic ability to connect with Boo. He met with her weekly at school for months, and then monthly to the end of the year. She taught him self-management skills and gave him a safe place to talk about things that were bothering him, particularly with the other students. She helped him to develop the social skills he needed to be able to understand his peers and how to more appropriately interact with them. In fourth grade, we went back for some "re-training," and this year he is again having weekly meetings with the Social Worker at his new school. Losing his dad and transitioning to a new school and new program with new expectations led to renewed behavioural issues, we believe, but once we got him back with social work support, he quickly got back on track.

Who knew!

Social workers fulfill so many roles and provide support to individuals, families, and communities, working through community agencies, healthcare settings, or private practice. They are highly trained professionals who offer psychotherapy, grief counseling, career counseling, custody planning, mediation services, and so much more. They are here to help find solutions to a huge range of every day and more complex social, physical and emotional problems. The first Social Workers I knew were all in the careers field, as was I. They worked in private and government settings, assisting individuals with skills assessments, writing their resumes, and work search and placement. Until that point I had no idea Social Workers did anything other than Children's Aid and Group Home work. My eyes were opened.

This video provides more insight into the myriad roles of Social Workers in our lives.

Did you know that Social Workers are the largest group of practitioners providing psychotherapy and other mental health services? Not psychologists or psychiatrists, but Social Workers. And they are unique in that their approach takes into account not just the individual, but that person's family, work, and community context, as well as how larger societal issues may be coming into play. I think this holistic approach is an important strength, as neither we nor our problems or concerns exist in a bubble.

If you or a family member are struggling with an issue currently, consider reaching out. You can find a Social Worker in private practice with a search at In Ontario, private practice Social Workers are not covered under OHIP, but may be covered under your private or group health plan. You can also access social work supports through publicly funded organisations like hospitals, schools, community agencies, or family service associations. Check with your family doctor, or search local telephone listings for mental health services or social and human services organisations. To access a list of community information and referral services across Ontario, visit

March 6-12, 2017, is Social Work Week, and the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) is hosting a themed Q&A each weekday on their Facebook page. The topics are:

1. Addictions/Mental Health - Monday, March 6
2. Bullying - Tuesday, March 7
3. Relationship Problems - Wednesday, March 8
4. Stress Management - Thursday, March 9
5. Caregiving/Sandwich - Generation Friday, March 10

You can submit your own question by private message or email, or read and learn from all the Q&As, at their Facebook page. Scroll down the page for previous days' conversations.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the OASW. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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