Soundtrack in my head: Love, “Maybe The People Would Be The Times or Between Clark & Hilldale”
Now they’re giving me the steering wheel at my social work internship. I am now the proud manager of my own small caseload–three “consumers” or “clients” for whom I’ll be taking primary responsibility.
I probably shouldn’t get too excited about being able to use this rather common piece of social work jargon. Caseloads can be the bane of many a social worker’s existence, especially when those numbers are so high that it becomes difficult or impossible to give appropriate attention and services to those people who need it.
As I’ve repeatedly told people, I feel I chose my field placement well. I can see that the executive director who supervises me is highly competent, well-regarded in her field, and able to create an environment that is laid-back yet professional and quite supportive. I like my co-workers a lot. I want to look at the people on my caseload as 1) people first and foremost, 2) people who are resourceful, capable, and have as much to teach me as I do them.
Keeping that up is a challenge, but I know it’s important. Years ago, a good friend made me think when she said to me “I hate being a client.” Given that I frequently had lunch with social workers at the agency I worked at back then, I knew exactly what she was talking about.
A lot of times my agency uses the word “consumer” instead of “client” at my agency. I’m not sure if it matters which word we use. “Client” was intended to be a neutral word–essentially, a business client. Yet my friend’s statement underscores the way that the word can be used, and she totally picked up on the lack of regard that the people supposed to be serving her had for her. I think the word “consumer” is supposed to evoke Consumer Reports and suggest that the recipient of services is entitled to look at our services with the same discerning eye that the reader of the magazine should use when deciding which product to buy.
I agree with the sentiment, but it’s not hard for me to imagine the word being used with the wrong tone of voice, just like the word “client.” I think what’s most important here are actions, not words. It’s also important for me to realize that with a few changes in privilege and fate, I could have easily switched chairs and roles with my client, with my client being the person helping me.
Given that most of my classmates already have jobs in the social work profession, very few of us working towards our MSW’s (Master’s in Social Work) have naïve idealism about the profession. That’s good–we are in better positions to exercise discernment with the jobs we take and the situations we encounter. Hopefully, we’ll be less swept off our feet when the cold hard realities of the profession greet us.