Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Interview with Social Worker Austin Giltus, MSW, LCSW

*This article was originally published during Social Work Month 2013. The Network For Professional Social Work remains a strong organization so we thought it prudent to revisit it.*

March was NASW’s Social Work month and SJS participated by promoting the profession of social work in many ways from written interviews of social workers, stories of advocacy, and issues of social justice. In reality, the promotion of the profession should be year round and not just one month.

Below is a written interview I conducted with social worker Austin Giltus from the U.S. There is much to be gained when a social worker shares their story of why they chose the profession, their work experience, and how they promote advocacy and resiliency. The story and life experiences of another can assist current and future 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.

1. Why did you choose social work or what path led you to the profession? 

We Social Workers often hear this question. With much pride I used to say, “Helping people is my passion and I made that as my profession.” I didn’t choose Social Work because it’s a luxurious or a very highly paid profession, I choose it because I can make a difference through this profession. During my school days, I was part of a social and religious organization; Society of St. Vincent De Paul, which exposed me to sufferings of underprivileged poor people through hospital visits and community development activities. The joy I experienced by listening and visiting the sick and poor patients and holding their hands made me commit my life for those who are vulnerable. I realized a divine call and vocation to commit my life to the poor and underprivileged weaker sections of society. Soon after high school, I joined the Claretians, a Catholic Missionary Congregation.

During my priesthood formation, I had the opportunity to work with the poor, sick, and the most suppressed and oppressed sections of the community. I also worked in a Leprosy Rehabilitation Center, managed by Catholic Nuns, for those affected by leprosy or Hansen’s disease. Those affected by this disease were kept away from their homes and communities, and were considered as outcasts and untouchables in society; due to social stigma people were afraid to go near the center. My three years of association with the center deepened my passion and desire to work for the poor, underprivileged, and marginalized people in society and had a deep influence on my life. I also worked with Destitute Homes, Orphanages, and Street children. The exposure and experience I gained through working with these under privileged people lit a fire in me to become a helping professional. During my early student life in undergraduate college, I volunteered in the National Literacy Mission of India and trained many Street Theater Troupes which enact street plays to disseminate messages of literacy.

My Seminary formation also gave me the opportunity to work with a student movement: All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF). Their declaration of, “We are born in an unjust society, and we are determined not to leave as we have found it” echoes in my thoughts daily and helps me commit to positive and progressive change that I want to see in this world. Today, I am proud to be a progressive social worker with a quest for social justice, freedom, equality, and human rights; all the credit goes to my formation and training from AICUF. I left the Seminary as I wanted to do something much greater in society and I decided to make my passion of helping people my profession and attended Graduate School at Loyola College to pursue social work.

2. Can you describe your work experiences including your current employment and population you work with?

Currently, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and work in a Catholic non-profit hospital in New Jersey. Although I work in a hospital setting, social justice, social advocacy, and human rights are my passion. I have worked in various kinds of social work organizations including educational institutions, international charity organizations, international development organizations, inter-governmental organizations, and healthcare organizations.

Before moving to the East Coast, I had been working as a Clinical Social Worker at an acute Psychiatric and Medical Hospital in Los Angeles, California. I worked with Adult and Geriatric Psychiatric units, Medical and Surgical unit, Intensive Care Units, Partial Hospitalization Program, Maternity and Nursery Department, Emergency Department, etc.  I have been working with both inpatient and outpatient mental health customers. As a Right Based Approach professional, I have exhibited my passion to help people by educating them about their rights and helping them to obtain their rights throughout my career.

My credentials from the University Grant Commission of India to be a Faculty member in Social Work School earned me the opportunity to teach Graduate Social Work students in one of the reputed Social Work Schools through the National Institute of Social Work and Social Sciences. I have taught graduate students in Social Work and Social Communication Departments. I am a firm believer that education is not just imparting information, but it is a formation for life and I was awarded “Best Teacher” for my dedication and commitment.

As a Social Researcher, Program Monitoring and Evaluation Professional, I have worked with International Development Organizations, including CARE, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and INTRAC UK. I worked as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of CARE to monitor Maternal and Infant Health Programs supported by United States Aid for International Development (USAID) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

As a professional working with Relief and Development Organizations, I have worked in monitoring and managing Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Programs in various disaster affected areas. I led a Team of 45 Researchers to conduct a Livelihood Assessment Survey in the Super Cyclone affected state of Orissa in India. I designed and developed participatory monitoring tools for Draught Relief and Rehabilitation Programs in draught affected states in India and worked with CARE in a harmony building development project implemented when riots hit the state of Gujarat in India. I carried out Research on Grassroots advocacy of indigenous people affected by mining for INTRAC UK. My social work training and professional ethics have always helped me prove that I am a professional committed to making a difference.

3. How do you promote resiliency and advocacy with your clients and/or within your community?

As we all know, the original mission of social work had much to do with championing the rights of society’s most vulnerable members, from children to the homeless and physically disabled. As social workers, we become the voice of the voiceless; the most underprivileged and marginalized members of society. During my association with International Development Organizations, the projects I worked on focused on Right Based Approach which emphasizes educating clients about their rights, empowering and strengthening them to fight for their rights. Advocacy was also a part of the program strategy and I continue to use this approach today.

In my current role as a Clinical and Psychiatric Social Worker, I educate and empower my clients to advocate for themselves, connect them with various advocacy organizations and peer support groups. I have also worked with clients who are abused by the system, health care workers who became victims of retaliation, and employee abuse when they stood up for justice to protect the rights of vulnerable members of society. Standing up for ethical practices and advocating for ethical practices in health care organizations is very fulfilling.

4. What changes do you think the profession of social work can benefit from? 

I dream of progressive and positive changes for our profession and I feel the issues of fair pay and title protection are important.

Fair Pay: I often feel many social workers are in denial. We need changes in our profession and we need to advocate for these changes. I remember in 2009, that CNN and had an article stating Social Work as the #1 Most Stressful and underpaid job. I felt very sad and wanted to mobilize and fight for our profession. Anyone who hears or learns about Social Worker’s wages are shocked. Social Workers are paid low wages compared to Registered Nurses, Certified Nurse’s Aide and Licensed Vocational Nurses. It is not an insult or humiliation to me personally, but it is an insult to the profession. Clinical Social Workers with Masters level education, training, and internship experience are paid shockingly low wages.

During 2009, it was the initial boom of social media and I initiated and advocated for a discussion at Support and Save the Social Work Profession. Many Social Workers had the opinion that “We are not for money,” “I did not become a social worker for high pay” and “ I did not become a social worker to fight for my salary.” These comments made me to feel that Social Workers were in denial and they were not ready to fight for appropriate wages. Fair wages for Social Workers and recognition for the Social Work profession are changes I am looking forward to.

Title Protection: I often meet people who claim they are “Social Workers” without any Social Work education, training or licensure. Recently, I met a few employees from Adult Protective Services and the Medicaid program whose business cards state they are “Social Workers.” Only people with professional training and licensure should be called by that title. Our profession does not have nationwide title protection, but it should. Advocacy is needed to protect our professional title and strict laws in place to enforce it. Title protection and professional training in social work should be global, not just in the United States and Canada.

In the U.S., social workers are concentrated mostly in Clinical Social Work, but we also need to focus on advocacy, community development, community organization, and social research.

5. How did you get involved with NPSW or in creating the various groups on LinkedIn? What is the goal of NPSW groups? 

I have been a member of professional Social Work organizations like NASW, IFSW, SSWLHC,  etc. and I am still an active member of National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Personally, I feel the core values which attracted me towards Social Work such as Social Reform, Social Change, Social Advocacy, Social Action, Social Justice, Solutions to Social issues, and Social Problems, were and are still missing and have lost their importance. Social Workers who were/are progressive have become mute and silent. Because of this I thought of connecting like minded Social Workers across the globe. The tag line of Network of Professional Social Workers is: “Connecting Social Workers Beyond Boundaries.”

Connecting with fellow Social Workers beyond regional and/or national boundaries, across the globe, networking, sharing and learning best practices, advocacy, and building a virtual global organization is the goal. Initially, I used Facebook to connect and network with fellow social workers across the globe. However, my progressive ideas and views of healthcare for all and healthcare as basic human right led to heated discussions by members and slowly the network moved to LinkedIn. At present, we use popular social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect and network with fellow social workers of Network of Professional Social Workers-NPSW. NPSW has around 15 sub groups, including Ethical Social Workers, Social work Jobs, etc, which are very popular. I am very grateful to the volunteer Managers and Moderators of NPSW who contribute their time and skills to monitor/ manage our networking groups. NPSW connects almost 20,000 Social Workers across the globe through its social media pages. The plan is to expand Network of Professional Social Workers as an International Professional Membership Organization, opening membership for Professional Social Workers across the globe. We are looking for like-minded, fellow Progressive Social Workers who are interested in networking. It is just the beginning as there are miles and miles to go.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada



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