March is Social Work Month. Social workers are vital to the foster care and adoption system and TBHC wants you to join us in celebrating the impact they make on our foster children and foster/adoptive families. This is also a time to understand how a social worker deals with second-hand trauma and the stresses of constantly helping others.
This blog was written by a long-time TBHC employee that has helped so many families navigate the foster and adoption process.
From the Heart of a Social Worker
In the world of social work, we carry many emotions with us throughout each day. I have experienced in a one-hour time frame laughter, heart wrenching news followed by tears, and then a few minutes later, with another client, laughter and happiness. At the end of the day, I am emotionally and physically worn out. We wear so many hats trying to meet the needs of our clients.
We try and help our clients find solutions to their problems, while trying not to solve their problems for them. I am a fixer. I like to fix problems. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is to help others fix their own problems, not to fix the problems for them. At the end of the day, I feel that I have used all of my energy and strength caring for others and I am left feeling like I don’t have enough energy to care for me. So many life events and work-related stresses exist for all of us but the one thing that I do have control of at any given moment is how I take care of me.
Self-care for a Social Worker
In the Foster/Adoption world of social work we daily hear of horrific stories that have happened to children. We are at times traumatized by the events that occur to the clients we serve. I have found that when I feel my stress levels rise that I need to take a breath and take a walk. I may call a friend on that walk and just try to deescalate myself to a place where I feel calmness. One of my best self-care acts that I have done for myself over the last 9 years is creating a friend group of professionals who work with children from hard places. We understand the weight that each of us carries. Our group tries to meet often, but if one of us is having a hard week we just reach out and see who is up for lunch. Just by being in each other’s presence brings relief that we are not alone. Being around people who get you and what you go through daily is so important in surviving the day-to-day life of working in the Foster and Adoption world.
Prayer is very important in my life
As a social worker you can’t tell your family or loved ones about your cases so you can’t express why you feel the way you do. Sure, they understand that we as social workers deal with heavy heart matters. The one person I share all my thoughts, worries and anxieties with is Jesus Christ. He is by my side every day at every moment. On the days that I feel drained and exhausted Jesus Christ is with me. He gives me the strength to persevere during the storms.
Healthy Work/Home Boundaries
As a supervisor, I have always tried to teach my staff to have good boundaries with clients. I want them to make sure their clients know their hours and what the client should do if an afterhours event occurs. It is important to be able to check out from our job. We need a mental break from the load that we carry. It is hard to find the balance of leaving work at work when you offer services 24 hours a day to clients. Finding the right balance of self-care will help keep you from getting burned out in your job.
I ask my staff “what are you doing for you?” when I sense they are struggling with the weight of their job. We all need a reminder to care for us first. If you have ever ridden on a plane, you know that they tell you to put the oxygen on you before your loved ones. If you’re not conscious you will not be of help to others. Make sure your needs are being met so you can continue to meet the needs of your loved ones and clients. Create your safe circle of professionals and lean on each other to help you as you learn to care for yourself and continue to care for others. My safe circle has been a great tool to survive the storms of social work. They understand me and I them.