A Personal Take on Social Work

When I was 17:
Social work is the way to change the life trajectory of these children, which is bound to be screwed without intervention. Gang fights, drugs, teenage parenthood… I need to get into social work so that these two boys I am giving homework support to can have a better future.

When I was 19:
Whatever that was taught in those Social Work modules made so much sense! We can empower the clients, while working on the environment they are in (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). I feel like I can use this knowledge to change the world, to make a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged in society! [N.B. I have not read Bronfenbrenner]

When I was 21:
Shit. I thought I was doing the right thing by advocating for this kid and helping him to get out of the mainstream school where he is finding it hard to cope. Now I have major screwed things up for him because I believed what his mum said. I was just trying to do the right thing as a social work student! [N.B. True story. And thankfully, things were alright in the end.]

When I was 22:
I don’t think I can survive doing FSC work (me as a new grad working with parents/adults?!). Or as an MSW (too bureaucratic and focused on financial aid). Not even considering children’s work because it will kill me to handle abuse cases. Sheez, I don’t even know if I can be a legit social worker if I get so affected just reading news about child abuse or rapes or marginalized groups.

When I was 24:
My role is to provide an accepting space for my youths, and to guide them towards making the best decisions to make the most out of their life. And also, to see IF I can effect change in their home/school/peer environment in the short 6 months I have with them on this program. Good luck to me if the youth is not ready to change and his/her environment is also not supportive or rabak.

When I was 25:
I don’t know if I can stand another 1 year of working in this job. It is so frustrating to go through so much needless paperwork and to fulfill the program requirements. All these while knowing I am so limited! What we need is not a social worker trying to move his motivation to the action stage, challenge her faulty beliefs, build his self esteem and identity, or introduce positive coping behaviours. What we need are employers who are willing to give them more than one chance, schools that discipline while not being punitive or shaming, spaces in society for the youths to legitimately succeed. That is where we as social workers need to put more work in.

Now:
Social work can be both empowering and yet disempowering. We can empower our individual clients and yet the status quo of the systems that disempower them remains unchanged. Have we unconsciously imbibed the state narrative about people in poverty? There is a dark side to social work that I am reading about, and yet all the social workers I know are really working so hard to support their clients (and meeting program requirements of course, funding never come easy). Words and talk are easy. What more practically can social workers in Singapore do, to influence the environment that our clients are in so that their full potential can shine too?

****

Written on a caffeinated state at 2.30am. The next post will be an unsolicited take on the rehabilitation programs I used to do under an Integrated Service Provider when I was 24. Stay tuned!

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