In today’s context of cutbacks, outsourcing, and limited government funding for programs and services for the public, frontline social workers along with other helping professionals are expected to do much more with much less than before. In managing competing work demands including direct client care, documentation, liaison with collaborating agencies, staff team-building, public outreach, community development, research, training, etc, while maintaining quality of care as well as self-care, are frontline social workers able to not “procrastinate” with certain tasks as others are prioritized? Through my work experience, it is impossible to effectively manage all of these competing demands at all times, which prompts us to make tough decisions about what priorities take precedence.
Attempting to choose among competing work demands on a daily basis, amid news of ever decreasing resources, does not bode well for stress levels of frontline social workers. Especially given the nature of work with its ever-present risks to clients should these decisions result in adverse outcomes, which is why prevalence of burnout is astronomical.
This reality reminds me of a story that was shared by a guest speaker in Grad School about how one had gone by a body of water and found a drowning individual, which one promptly helped to land, only to find another individual had fallen into the water and needed help also, so one went on to help the 2nd individual, but similarly found that once this individual had been safely out of water, someone else had fallen in, as the cycle continued; this guest speaker was shedding light on the importance of that frontline work as well as the need for efforts to investigate why individuals kept falling down from that hypothetical cliff into that body of water. In this way, while there is a vast need for that work in the trenches dealing with the crisis of social problems, social workers are also needed to look at the larger picture of public issues including poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, underemployment, illiteracy, etc, which affect individuals who have to rely on services of frontline social workers, dealing with their own competing demands.
To address this challenge, I urge fellow social workers to assume a macro-level view regardless of one’s individual job duties as this insight into larger issues is integral to micro-level and mezzo-level work. By this, promote the social work profession, participate in elections, engage in community advocacy, etc, as these are important building blocks for helping clients as well as ourselves.
Written by Krystal Jagoo, MSW, RSW
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