The world of social work is a difficult one, and as such reminders to take care of ourselves are everywhere. In my interview process I was asked at each stage if I thought I could handle the volume of trauma I would be confronted with on a daily basis, and I hear the phrase “self-care” at least once a day in my workplace.
This is not without cause. I work in an alternative-to-incarceration therapeutic group home for young adults convicted of crimes. Every single teenager in our care comes from a disadvantaged community, and to a person, the world that these youth face is vastly more violent, cruel, and unfair than what most of us are used to. The trauma they have been exposed to by nature of where they were born results in many of them harboring PTSD that would be terribly sad in an adult war veteran; for a child who has done nothing to deserve it it is heartbreaking.
But this is a reality, and I take a lot of hope from having a direct hand in helping these kids face their world. Moreover, I am learning more every day about the obstacles to equality, which empowers me to think critically about solutions in an informed way. This, combined with the self-care techniques I am frequently admonished to use, leaves me feeling perfectly fine despite the trauma I encounter on a daily basis.
What I have been struggling with in my first month at Good Shepherd is how to represent my work and the troubling reality it is based in to people outside the social services world. Often when I talk to friends, family, or strangers about the work, they are turned off by the violence, cruelty, and injustice that for so many people are simply realities. This is problematic because the intersectionality of social injustice is so woven into our society that undoing it will require the attention and effort even of those who do not directly work with those in need of social services.
In order to effect real change, I need to be able to make all types of people aware of what youth in care face without depressing them to the point that they would rather be blissfully ignorant than painfully aware. Yes, the issues are overwhelming, but there are also daily affirmations of social work to be seen every day. I see these affirmations in the youth who overcomes educational disability to get his GED years after dropping out of school, the staff member who was in care as a child and is now capable of such compassion as to be a fierce advocate for a youth who has assaulted him and spit in his face, and the parent who is willing to take time off of her third job to come in to a room of strangers and ask how to be a better parent. These goodnesses need to be mentioned too, I have found, so as to show people that there is hope, that there is reason not to lean away from suffering but to turn towards it.
It can be difficult to feel as if you need to use kid gloves to describe the reality of people that are suffering to people of privilege, but if it engages more people, if it allows more people to take action, it is effort well spent.
Written by, Shamus Hogan Washington Heights Community '18-'19