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Meet a Real Social Worker

Name: Donna Ellis

Education: Bachelor’s degree in social work from Walla Walla College, College Place, Washington; master’s degree in social work from Walla Walla College

Location: Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent, Washington

The Job: Donna is a social worker at a medical facility that cares for drug-exposed infants. Her work encompasses everything from helping a baby born to drug-addicted parents to helping a drug-addicted baby suffering from withdrawal.It’s her responsibility to work with the families that come to the center, whether they’re the biological parents of the baby, relatives, or foster parents. She educates them on how to care for the baby, and she provides information on different types of drug treatment and care services available to them.Donna’s day may also include visitations with families who’ve taken their baby home, making sure everything is going well.She believes that the center is a positive and uplifting place. It’s the babies who don’t have a chance to come to a center that she worries about. “At least here,” she says, “they have a chance.”

Words to Live by “Addiction is such a powerful thing. It’s almost as if it would take a miracle to see people change. But here I see so many miracles in the final work. The Lord works in lives.”

Social Work for you?

Consider Social Work as a college major if you're crazy about:
• compassion (service comes hand in hand with love)
• patience (positive changes take time and work)
• people skills (when people are your world, know how to treat them)

Avoid Social Work as a college major if you get nauseated by:
• poor writing (your words will impact your client’s well-being)
• a dislike of school (a master’s degree is almost vital)
• biased thinking (issues deserve objective contemplation)
• lack of ethics (if you don’t own moral principles, try finding them before proceeding with life)


Social Worker

Help. We ask for it, give it, use it. We say it casually, seriously, quietly, desperately. But how many of us live it every day?

In our communities are crack babies, physically abused children, pregnant teenagers,disabled adults, sick senior citizens, and victims of random violence. Thereisn’t enough food, warmth, or hope—yet we often choose to ignore theseproblems.

Meet the social worker. It’s their job to help.

Social work is the one field with the basic description of “helping people.” It’s a broadmajor that deals specifically with everything from the hospital setting to theinner-city homeless shelter.

The possibilities are endless. Social workers help find a foster home for aneglected child, direct a family to a welfare program, provide counselingservices for an alcoholic, and give support to a person who’s grieving the lossof a loved one.

For those of you who want to help people, the social work major definitely deserves yourattention. It certainly caught the attention of Olivia Shrock.

During her freshman year in high school Olivia happened upon an ad for social work. The adsolicited people who’d be willing to work within the court system to helptroubled teens.

“I thought that would be a neat place to work,” says Olivia. “Really stressful, butrewarding.”

Then, Olivia’s senior year, a young woman came and talked to the students at heracademy about her reasons for choosing social work. Again, Olivia was attractedto the idea of helping people.

From there she began checking out the career. And before she knew it, she was enrolled asa social work major at Walla Walla College.

Even after getting only a few hours of sleep (college students are so sleep deprived),Olivia graciously agreed to spend an hour with me on the telephone so you couldlearn a few things about her major.

OC: Social work is such a broad topic to define, but if you could, would you give it atry?

Olivia: Social work looks at the whole bio-psycho-social person. That means lookingbeyond just the body sitting in your office. You look at their familyrelationships, who they are in relation to their community, and their resourcesin their community. Then social workers use that information to help the personimprove in each area.

OC: How do social work and psychology differ?

Olivia: In psychology you train to be a counselor. In social work you learn tocase-manage. For example, you monitor a person recovering from alcoholism. Youwork in hospital settings. You advocate resources for senior citizens. It’sreally a more multilevel field.

In social work you can specialize in counseling. But you get involved in social issues on a broader scale.

OC: What different areas can you study?

Olivia: You can specialize in counseling—for drug dependence, mental illnesses, needs in a school setting. For noncounseling areas, you can become a case manager—maybefor child welfare or child protective services. Or you can set up communityprograms to assist parents who need them.

There are also social workers who work at the political level. You can get involved withallocating resources for certain programs. A lot of social workers get involvedwith grant writing, too.

OC: With so many choices, how does a person decide what field they want to specialize in?

Olivia: Well, you don’t have to decide right away. During your undergraduate studies(your first four years of college) teachers give you more of a generalperspective, and you get a taste of many areas.

In graduate school you can specialize in an area of interest. More places are asking for amaster’s degree, so expect one to two more years of school for a Master ofScience in Social Work.

OC: What types of classes do you take?

Olivia: In our program there’s a specific set of classes that prepare us to practice our counseling skills with groups, individuals, and families. We get to do roleplaying and act out a counseling situation.

During our senior year we learn how to do research in the field of social science. I’mfinding that very helpful, because we have to keep our finger on the heartbeatof where social work is. We have to be able to understand the journals.

We also have to learn the laws and how they work. For example, we have to know whattypes of information we can keep confidential and what we can’t, such as childmolestation. Of course, it all varies, depending on which state you’re workingin.

In our classes there’s a lot of emphasis put on self-awareness or understanding. We’reasked to know ourselves and work toward emotional maturity so that when we workwith others, we’ll be aware of our prejudices or pet peeves.

OC: Is research a big part of social work?

Olivia: Social work is concerned more with practical applications. But we do have to doresearch projects. In one class we research measurement tools (different typesof tests and such) and later administer the tests we researched.

OC: Iswriting a big part of your major?

Olivia:Yes! A lot of classes require us to write papers on social issues, and mostpapers are 10 to 12 pages in length.

We also learn how to keep notes or charts on our clients, and a few classes require usto write note-style papers. It’s important that we practice communicatingclearly in our notes, because in our actual careers we’ll be dealing withpersonal parts of people’s lives. And our notes may impact the type of help ourclients get.

OC: Whatabout observations? Do you have to do a lot of volunteer work and observing?

Olivia: Ourfreshman year we spent a lot of time volunteering in different agencies—I thinkabout 60 hours. It helped us get a grip on what social work is really about.Then by our senior year we have to do a practicum.

OC: What’sa practicum?

Olivia: It’s a required internship. We have to spend about 420 hours as anundergraduate student working under supervision in an agency.

When I worked at a hospital for my practicum, I was able to take some of the thingsI’d practiced in class and apply them. Incredibly, everything I learned in myclasses came together in my practicum.

OC: What do you like most about your major?

Olivia: It’s really neat to meet people where they are. You have to leave all yourjudgments behind and go right to where the people are in their lives. If theyneed food, if they’re struggling with the basics, then you meet that needbefore looking for what else they might need.

OC: How can high school students prepare for possibly majoring in social work?

Olivia: They can start reading magazines such as Time to be aware of what’s going on in the world. And they can get involved in leadership positions that will teachthem how to work with a team.

OC: What relationship do you see between your major and Christianity?

Olivia: I really believe that Jesus was the first social worker on this planet. He putHis neck out to bring about changes in society. Like Jesus, social workers areadvocates for change.

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