Caseworkin' It

Besides a brief stint working for a PR firm representing plastic surgeons, my entire career has been in social work. For 6 years I worked in a food pantry and emergency services program, then I left to work with youth, where I've been for about 2 years. Almost a decade of social work has taught me one thing:

It Takes Time

But nobody wants to hear that. The client doesn't want to hear it, the program administrator doesn't want to hear it, and the funder (in this case, you the taxpayer) definitely doesn't want to hear it. And yet, it's the truth. Social work programs, or really any non-profit, love to roll out the numbers. For instance, last year over 70% of the people "graduating" the program were employed. Oh My God that's amazing! We are awesome! No wonder our contract was renewed! 
OK, yes, we are awesome, but what this number doesn't divulge is that some of those graduates lost said job a month later. Some of those jobs were Dunkin Donuts and Wendy's. That's not really a win. We also got the contract based on what we promised we could achieve: We promised we would enroll 75 new clients between July 1st and June 30th. There's 3 case managers, and me. That's 25 new case loads per person, in addition to the 62 enrollments we achieved last year. In the emergency services branch of the food pantry, we wrote in the annual newsletter that 75 evictions were stopped and 120 utility shut-offs were reversed. This doesn't mention that at least a third of the families pending eviction were evicted the next month, nor that they fell into arrears with the utility company again. Social work, in a lot of ways, is a revolving door. Get the client in, attach band-aid, get them out. Rinse and repeat.
Lack of resources, naturally, has to be blamed. There is "not enough money" to go around and provide not-for-profits with the tools that could be used to actually make a difference.  This, however, means not-for-profits also are never afforded the time they need to make a difference. Should my program be allowed to enroll 10 participants per case manager, with the expectation they are enrolled for 3 years before graduating, I could probably guarantee a 99% success rate. In 3 years we could:
  • Build trust between the case manager and client
  • Build the client's self-esteem
  • Build a career path with the client
  • Reinforce good habits
  • Build a support system
  • Really teach them how to job search instead of just flinging a catch-all net into
  • Get them a job
  • Help them keep the job.
And, like most parents of teenagers, wait for them to realize we're right.


  1. Despite the flaws I still think doing something is better than doing nothing to help people. I certainly agree that the limited resources could be better used.


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