Your response to last week's blog on the social worker's role in juvenile justice was overwhelmingly positive but many of you thought that the issues might be better clarified in context. So, let's try to put juvenile justice in some historical perspective.
- During a single year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 are arrested in the United States.
- Though overall rates have been declining over the past years, approximately 1.7 million delinquency cases are disposed in juvenile courts annually.
- Youth are referred to the juvenile justice system for different types of offenses.
- The majority of youth processed through the juvenile court are adjudicated (i.e., declared by a judge to be) delinquent, for most offenses.
The COVID-19 doomsday pandemic introduced an entirely new class of celebrity to the American zeitgeist, the public health official. From Anthony Fauci, the wise old sage of caution and mutual concern, to Robert Redfield, the reluctant dour villain caught between the evil genie and an army of helpless victims, to Rochelle Walensky, the newcomer fairy godmother who wished us well and told us it would all end happily, to Vivek Murthy, the good scout who counseled us not to fear the final dangerous crossing. All public health officials - all newly minted celebrities.
With the popularity of CSI shows, the word "forensic" has wormed its way into our everyday conversations. No one, however, seems to know what it means. "Forensic social work", therefore, is an even deeper mystery. We decided to ask a real "forensic social worker" exactly what forensic social workers do. Here's what she told us.
Social work is filled with disconcerting moral challenges. In child protective services, practitioners are called on to investigate reports of abuse or neglect of children. Once they have investigated the allegations and considered all relevant facts, these social workers have to make daunting decisions about whether to remove the alleged victim from their homes and find alternative housing arrangements. These decisions affect the parents, the children, and the family at large. Rest assured, social workers are aware that, even as they are trying to prevent the child from suffering abuse or neglect, someone is about to suffer. The cases these professionals are called upon to handle are rarely black and white.
"Social workers are my collective heroes. They sit at the juncture between those with too much power and those with not enough. "
- Gloria Steinem -
Case workers in Workforce Development say that unemployment in America is a result of dislocation, not motivation. Labor statistics focus on the unemployment rate and the cost of unemployment insurance to the taxpayer, but case workers focus on the causes of unemployment and the massive effort to rearrange and retrain the American labor force.
A recent article in Social Work Today highlights a true triumph of empathy. In Innovations: New Foster Care Initiative Spotlights Parent Advocates, Debra McCall describes the parents’ pain when social workers have to remove children from their families.
“It is never easy. We enter parents’ lives at the worst possible moment—when the children they love have been removed from their homes. At that point, parents are experiencing shame, anger, and confusion. They are frightened and frustrated by the “intrusion” of the child welfare system into their lives. And they fear losing their children permanently, perhaps because that’s what happened to a neighbor or a friend.” (Social Work Today, Vol. 21 No. 1 P.3)
Paperwork is a dirty word in social services. Social work is not about keeping records, it’s about “hands-on” interpersonal contact with abused children, single parents, the neglected elderly, the abandoned homeless, and other vulnerable populations. As you might suspect, as social work became a more integral part of our society’s fabric, our social workers have been swamped by a virtual paperwork tsunami.
We recently talked to a child and family services case worker in Phoenix, Arizona who, contrary to popular opinion, shed a positive light on all this confounded paperwork.
Social workers tell us that primary care providers are inundated with patients seeking help with psychic symptoms that require the attention of a psychiatric specialist. Family physicians and emergency room doctors often do not feel qualified to deal with this new mental health crisis and need the help of social workers to execute a referral process while helping patients feel more comfortable going to a new and unfamiliar physician.