When I first started studying social work, I told myself I was willing to work in the grittiest, most challenging areas of the profession. I was willing to dedicate my life to this; sacrifice my own well-being and face it all in the name of helping children.
I quickly fell from grace.
Within my first year of studies, I was taught about the psychology of people with helping natures, the importance of self-care in this profession, and the trap of ‘playing hero’. These and so many other things prepared me psychologically for the profession I would enter after four years of training. I was told time and again that the profession was a respectable one, but not always recognised as such by other professions. I was told that it was a vocation, and could not be entered with the hopes of high salaries.
Later, as the universe immersed me more and more into volunteer work, I began to realise something very important about social work. Good intentions are not enough. It’s the motivation, the passion, the will to do good that are great and important. I would wish for every person to capitalise on these feelings because I truly believe that giving is a great source of happiness, an integral aspect of life and essential to a better world.
But people need to be given tools, information, preparation and support throughout this process of doing good – whatever it may be. Different to other jobs, this type of work is with people within systems that are alive and dynamic. It requires skill, reflection, and a clear sustainable approach which also considers the indirect ripple effects of our actions. While it requires heart, it cannot be led solely from the heart. It takes patience and understanding. Sometimes it takes time; change does not happen overnight, and because we are human too, we need support in venting frustrations, fears and questions.
When I see Facebook posts of a person in need asking for help and replied to with so many messages offering support, I feel torn. Lots of people seem to be supporting this new system of reaching people in need, yet I feel cautious, uncertain and even fearful. Part of me has a million questions about the situation and I wonder if anyone is asking them, assessing the situation holistically, thinking objectively before kicking into action. I wonder if we’re creating a dangerous precendence for malicious people to use Facebook for further scamming. I wonder if, with our good intentions, we’re fuelling a society that continues to thrive on charity and band aids without long-term solutions and proper on-going support.
I wonder about a lack of trust in the systems we already have and how we may be bypassing them completely. Now, I’ve worked within our systems and I know there’s bucketloads that needs to be improved. I know some bad systems exist, people who may fall through the cracks and political influences that should not be there. However, solving a social case online without involving these systems will certainly not make them improve. Apart from that, the individual working on a case will very likely be genuine and do their utmost to do their job to the best of their abilities.
If we have a big group of socially inspired people, let’s advocate for better systems and better resources, because that’s where we have power. Let us create a conversation between social workers who face people being underserved daily and understand what needs to change to move towards something better, for a better service to the people.
Let us learn before we do.