The FAMCare Blog

Is Making Money a Social Worker's Kryptonite?

Posted by Samantha Stephan on Aug 18, 2016 10:30:00 AM
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As a former social worker I found this a really interesting idea and I’m still trying to make my mind up? 

Looking back on my days as a Child Protective Services Case Manager, I have fond memories of my coworkers, kids, and families that were on my caseload.  The crazy schedule of home visits, court, therapy sessions, doctor’s visits, coordinating family visitation, chasing down runaways, permanency planning, documentation, and everything in between can be taxing both mentally and physically. 

I was young and often felt like the parent to 30 kids.   Some of the kids on my caseload loved me and some hated me.  I learned to be okay with the ones that hated me because in some cases I was the only person around to take their anger out on.  I am extremely proud of the work that I did, but would I have not been as proud if I had been paid more?  This is the ultimate question being asked and I am unsure of the answer.  

As social workers, I think we all start off wanting to help families, children, and adults.  However, are our efforts diluted if we also have a desire to make a good income or build a higher quality of life for our families?

Social Work and Money

Whether you are working for a government agency, nonprofit agency, or in private practice... money is always a factor in providing services to those in need... in addition to how we compensate our employees.  Historically, social workers seem to be uncomfortable with making more money and this has been part of our roots as a profession, according to Samara Stone of the Stone Foundation Counseling Group.  The "rewards" have typically come from the work or "the mission" and I totally get that!  And while the sentiment is wonderful, I wonder if it could lead to a bigger problem of sustainability. 

According to the founder of The Center for Financial Social Work, Reeta Wolfsohn, "it's taken some time for social work to embrace the importance of money and financial education.  For years the majority of participants certified by the Center have not been social workers but other members in corporate America... but that is changing."  See "For the Love of Money: 5 Observations on Social Workers & Money from the 2014 NASW Conference in Washington, D.C"

Social Work and Quality of Life

The life of a social worker is not easy. We take it home with us at the end of the day and so often there is a lot of pressure to do more - with less, or with limited resources.  Average caseloads run close to 40 cases or more per worker.  Don’t get me wrong, social work is a very rewarding profession, but should that be our only compensation?  When did it become a bad thing for a social worker to be successful in their work AND financially successful too?  How many people leave these jobs to find something that is more lucrative so they can have a higher quality of life and provide for their family?  How do we continue to get new people into the field of social work if they are not able to make a good living? 

So What is the Answer?

Can you make a correlation with how much a social worker earns vs. the level of care they provide and their job satisfaction?  Probably not and you shouldn't.  There are many in the profession that feel "the calling" is absolutely enough.  I applaud that.  However - the question to ponder is this...  how much does "quality of life" mean to a social worker?  At the end of the day - each of us have to decide what is most fulfilling and whether the compensation is adequate for the level of value we bring to an organization.  I am not speaking for all social workers, but I do know social workers that have thought about these questions.  We don't want to lose good people if their work/life balance is in chaos.  We want to be more in touch with how they are and keep our fingers on the pulse of the agency at all times.  If not - we risk losing good social workers and incurring more costs if they do leave an agency and we're forced to train someone new as a result.  Would we be better off giving workers incentives to stay in their current roles?  In most industries, unless the worker is a problem... the answer is yes - we would be better off keeping good employees.  Is it any different in social work?

14 years later I ask myself would I have left Child Protective Services if I had been making more money?  While I can say for sure that it would not have changed my perception of the value of my job or diminish my intentions, I think it would have made my decision to leave, a lot harder.

In closing - I will leave you with a quote from the above cited article: 

"In light of the observations made, I strongly believe that social work is experiencing a revolution, and that in the next few years, more and more trained social workers will seek options that not only create better conditions for their clients, but allow them to build business models to support them. They will have open discussions about wealth and entrepreneurship, and demonstrate confidence when quoting their rates. If enough are prepared to do this, not only will we impact the overall pay scale, but we’ll change the course of history forever."

What say you?  I'm interesting in hearing your comments - please let me know what you think.

Topics: Social Services Industry News

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