Social Work; what goes through your mind when you hear those two words? How do you define who a social worker is? I would like to reiterate what I stated in the other interviews I conducted with Eleanor Silverberg and Austin Giltus: there is much to be gained when a social worker shares their story of why they chose the profession, shares their work experience, and shares how they promote advocacy and resiliency. The story and life experiences of another can assist current and upcoming social workers, along with those that are curious as to what the profession is all about. Every person’s journey in life is different but important, and can become a teaching tool or learning opportunity for another. After reading this interview with social worker Daniel Jacob, founder of Can You Hear Me? I would be surprised if you did not agree. SJS welcomes feedback and encourages other social workers to be a part of our social work interview series.
Discuss your blog, Can you Hear Me? Why did you create it, what is the goal of the blog? Who do you hope to reach through the blog?
The Can You Hear Me? blog; words with a voice, a story and an opportunity to inspire others to change for the better! This platform has given me such a great opportunity to express myself in ways that I truly hope are reaching and impacting those in need. The creation of this blog was at a time in my life when I was transitioning from a history and exposure that taught me so much and yet greatly impacted me from a mental health and physical standpoint. By having a forum to share the affects and effects of my own personal and professional challenges and struggles, I was helping myself as much as I hoped I was able to help others. As a social worker who strives to be a work in progress, embracing any and all opportunities to better my quality of life, while continually adding to my personal and professional self, my hope is to share this with those in the field who are experiencing their own challenges and struggles.
My blog is a continual effort to empower, support, and instruct. When I write, it comes from within. The motivation and inspiration that I use to engage this process is based on my own personal and professional history; one that has and will continue to be my greatest resource.
My hope is to reach anyone in the helping profession in need of support, whether one is a recent MSW graduate unsure of their own skill set or a seasoned veteran who somehow became apathetic, complacent, and doesn’t even know where to start. My hope for those that are available to read this interview is that they will have a better understanding of this model of support, one that is influenced (and understood) by an experiential and empirical journey that is ongoing, Can You Hear Me?
Why did you choose social work or what path led you to the profession?
I’ll answer both of these questions by addressing the “why” and “what” as these are primary influences for many of us who choose to be a part of this great profession. My path into social work was one that had many different turns before I arrived and in retrospect that is exactly what needed to happen. I had to learn and grow so much as an individual before I could even come close to helping others in need.
My path into social work came much later than perhaps most, as my time was immersed in some of life’s lessons (overcoming trauma, abuse, difficult relationships, alcohol & drugs, unstable employment and unemployment). My adolescent years led me through many challenging moments, and upon barely graduating from high school, there were few options available. I went to work in a warehouse as a dock worker, followed by various stops in construction. All of these work experiences taught me well as it pertained to work ethic, responsibility, problem solving, and many more lessons that the environments I was immersed into can share. At the age of 25, the beginning towards a career of helping others presented itself and I was ready. The work that I had done up to this point in time had served me well, as I was able to gain so much through the learning (and growth) that comes with overcoming challenge and adversity. When you add the experiential learning with the academic learning that comes from psychology, sociology, and social work frameworks, there is destined to be some truly impactful outcomes and insight, but only if you are aware and available to embrace the experience and I was!
During my undergraduate studies I took an internship with the County Probation Department in my local community. Ever since I was a little boy I have always been interested in incarceration and the influences/factors that cause one to end up in the system, as well as the prevention and intervention side of it. This internship provided me with some very tangible experiences as it pertained to the system of justice and all that it entails. I was exposed to both the adult and juvenile side of probation. However, it was the time I spent within the juvenile section that really held my interest. The experience from my own challenges as an adolescent, in addition to the learning I was receiving from my course and field work was a perfect fit. I had no difficulty finding my place working with and serving the needs of at-risk youth. Upon graduation from college, with a Bachelors Degree in Sociology (with an emphasis in Urban Ethnography), I landed a full time job with Juvenile Probation working with a high risk adolescent population. I was immersed into the greatest learning that I could ask for and I gravitated towards any and all opportunities to learn through the eyes of those I was serving.
It was during this time, working with at-risk youth, that I found myself looking further into what I could do to better serve this population and how effective could I continue to be with my current degree. The experiences I gained working in the juvenile justice system were the catalyst for me to look into MSW programs. After researching several, I found the University of Southern California MSW program to be the best fit. I would be able to choose a concentration (families and children) that aligned with my interests, while reinforcing (and supporting) my previous experiences in both the field and classroom. Furthermore, I was able to obtain a Pupil Personnel Services credential in Public Child Welfare and Attendance in conjunction with my MSW. This school social work component allowed me to be placed as an intern within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LASUD), a system that served many at-risk demographics, students, and families. I continued to work for the probation department full-time during two of the three years of my MSW program. It was a lot of work that many undertake in order to move forward in this profession and I couldn’t imagine any other way.
My MSW degree changed the quality of my life. I embraced the opportunity to learn so much about myself in order to better serve the needs of others. So many doors opened up for me, one in particular was the road toward forgiveness for the abuse I was exposed to as a young boy. Having the opportunity to learn the ‘why’ and’ how’ behind the abuse in a very comprehensive manner, I was able to heal and forgive in ways that I never imagined; both of which impacted my personal and professional self in a wonderful manner!
Can you describe your work experiences including your current employment and population you work with?
My work experiences in the field of social work (as mentioned above) began in the field of juvenile probation, followed by my time working for LAUSD. In both systems I was serving an at-risk population, but in a different capacity. However, the direct services (individual, group, case management, community outreach, etc.) I provided during my time in probation, served me well as I transitioned into working within the schools and the impacted communities they resided in. By the time I ended up in the schools, I had such a broad and deep lens of the psychosocial stressors, risk factors, developmental needs/ barriers, environmental, and socialization issues that are such a large of part of this at-risk population. The biggest learning curve was learning from, while adjusting and adapting to, the system I was immersed. I was operating as a social worker in a non-social work system with many barriers and obstacles in place that would, and did, negatively impact the population I was working hard to reach and support. When folks saw me approach, their look was not always one of support or willingness to collaborate. However, I took every opportunity as one I could learn from. Thus, my time with probation and LAUSD taught me well and provided me with needed and necessary challenges.
My plan (and time) working for the school district was never meant to be long term. My goal was to learn as much as I could, while doing my best to serve the needs of the students, families, and children that I crossed paths with. I wanted to transition into a community based opportunity serving this population. Things changed and I ended up staying longer than I wanted, fighting a fight that I just wasn’t going to be able to resolve. It wasn’t until I found myself experiencing the effects (and symptoms) of long term burnout, in addition to dealing with some historical forces that hindered my health and well-being, that I made a decision to leave and move on in my professional journey.
My current endeavor, Can You Hear Me?, was born during my time of recovery from the above mentioned. When you are presented with a life changing experience, your priorities and opportunities change. I looked into community based opportunities that would support my interest (and passion) in the field, but there was not much that interested me. A lot had to do with the job market at the time and the lack of available opportunities. However, it also had to do with what I did not see as opportunities that would support my commitment to self-care and well-being. During this time of transition my number one commitment was to get well; thus the transformation and necessary work I was committed to was top priority.
How does this translate into the creation and model of Can You Hear Me? . There are many facets that go into this, but as I have shared previously, my personal and professional experiences were a primary influence as the experiential aspect alone is understood well. The time I spent working in two very large and complex systems (with many helping professionals) provided me a great opportunity to see the influences (personal and professional) that negatively impact individuals, which in turn affected and effected those they were striving to serve in a unproductive, unhealthy, and often times unprofessional manner. I always gravitated towards supporting my fellow professional and I was able to see my efforts facilitate positive change.
My model is straightforward as it strives to support the population of helping professionals that are in need of help. Those that chose the helping professions did so because they wanted to help those in need change for the better, but they do not always understand how to help themselves in the process. Often one’s inability to give and provide in a positive, effective and sustainable manner is not due to a lack of skill, desire or passion, it’s most likely a result of unresolved stressors that are impacting their well-being, including the historical factors that are there, but often buried deep within. Can You Hear Me? is striving to change this mindset while creating learning (and opportunity) through vicarious experiences and didactic teaching. The buy in as I would like to see it (and believe I will) is not there quite yet, but it has been an amazing learning experience, one that continues to provide me with many wonderful opportunities!
How do you promote resiliency and advocacy with your clients and/or within your community?
I promote resiliency with almost everything I do within the Can You Hear Me? model of support. The opportunities that I present are ways for helping professionals to help themselves when in need. When you are able to change for the better, you are enacting resiliency and although it may seem readily available to those in the profession, I don’t believe this to be the case, particularly when you may be in a state of suffering. I welcome any and every opportunity to model resiliency within my own shared experience, in addition to the resources I share on all my platforms of support.
Advocacy is never about putting something out there just to fill space or a need for doing. It comes with a process that takes into account: can it help support someone change for the better? The support (promoting resiliency and advocacy) that I strive to give has to facilitate thinking, encourage risk, and support struggle. These components are not only necessary for the process, but they are key ingredients towards changing for the better. When you are available to this process, you are more than likely wanting to change, believe you can, and are ready to commit to the necessary work. This is the gateway to resiliency and I advocate for this with every opportunity I can to the clients and community (in need of the support) that I am striving to reach with Can You Hear Me?
What changes do you think the profession of social work can benefit from?
Like most in the profession, I am on board for the major changes that usually draw the most focus and attention (i.e. fair pay and title protection). However, when I think of change in social work, I embrace the idea that the field itself is one of growth and evolution. As representatives of the social work profession, it is up to us to be that change, whether individually or collectively. We should always strive to uphold our craft while meeting the needs of those we strive to serve. I often am disappointed and impacted when I cross paths with social workers that “choose” to stop learning, growing, and developing once they obtain their degrees or certifications. I feel it is important to see “change”, not as negative, but as a positive opportunity to help us help ourselves.
Embrace professional development even when you see no purpose, as there are always new opportunities to learn from. Embrace the care you give to your own needs, and when you can’t give anything, challenge yourself to figure out why. Embrace the opportunity to mentor a social worker new to the field, because when you do, you will receive much in return. Embrace the countless opportunities to help support your practice that are readily available, as long as you are. Continue to strive for change in your personal self and professional practice, because when you do, you will move closer to positive, effective and sustainable outcomes.
Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer