This month, we’re celebrating one of the toughest, but also fastest growing professions: social work. According to the National Association of Social Workers, there are around 720,000 social workers in the US and that number continues to grow. This is fortunate, because we need them now more than ever. The theme of Social Work month this year is “The Time is Right for Social Work.” As our country works to regain normalcy amidst COVID-19 and with the many social issues we face like racial inequality, social workers are on the front lines to help us process and heal from trying times.
At Comprehensive Therapy Center, we have a team of school social workers who work with students to provide communication skills, social skills, and techniques for managing emotions so they can be successful in class. They also provide support for teachers so they can help students when the social worker isn’t present.
One of our social workers, Vicki Jansma, has been doing this work for about 35 years! In that time, she’s seen many kids grow and learn. “I really love my job,” she says, “I get to work with the kids, see their struggle, their progress and wonderful teachers who just pull out everything to try and help the students stay regulated so they can learn.”
Even with the barriers set up by Covid-19, Vicki was still able to find ways to help her students. “I increased my ‘Zoomability’ social work skill,” she explained. Vicki had to come up with creative ways to engage her students, many of whom have developmental differences. “If you can imagine a kindergartener, who’s very active, trying to connect with a social worker over Zoom,” she explained, “we went from about five minutes of him running around with the iPad saying ‘Ms Vicki, look at this!’ to actually being able to engage and pretty much get about 15-20 minutes. So I consider that a huge success.”
Jordan Kuiper, another one of our school social workers, is newer to the profession, having been a social worker for about four years. He comes from a large family, with lots of siblings. Being surrounded by so many people and navigating those relationships made him naturally curious about why people are the way they are and how he could help them. He currently works at three different schools in the Grand Rapids area, providing support to both elementary and high school students.
Jordan spoke with me about how he loves working with “The ones that are loud, rowdy and aggressive.” He often finds that students like this aren’t bad and don’t need to be punished, but worked with. Normally they have a need that’s not getting met. Maybe they’re frustrated with a difficult class or bored with a class they’re ahead in. Maybe they’re struggling with something at home or even just missed lunch that day. Whatever the case, Jordan enjoys getting on their level, communicating and trying to fully understand their needs in order to help them regulate and be successful in class and in life.
I asked Jordan about some of the struggles he’s been facing as a school social worker and the first thing that came up was parent involvement. There are some misconceptions about what school social workers do. “I wish parents knew that we’re not there to be nosy about their homelife,” said Vicki in her interview, “we’re there to focus primarily on how their student is doing in school. We’re not there to tell you how to parent. We’re not there to make accusations.”
“Social Work is NOT CPS,” asserted Jordan “Most social workers work with individuals who are in some way disadvantaged. The purpose of social work is to give the client tools/resources to function in society.” Jordan says the best thing parents can do is to stay curious and communicate with teachers and social workers about their childs’ progress.
There is unfortunately a shortage of school social workers, which means folks like Jordan are spread thin trying to help as many people as possible. I asked Jordan what he does to prevent burnout. He said that he tries to stay in the moment and focus on what’s in front of him … also taking naps.
CTC is proud to have people like Jordan and Vicki on our team, as well as Ruth Gray and Becky Toth, to support and advocate for those students who need it the most. As the need for our services grows, we’re looking to expand this team. If you or anyone you know is interested in school social work, contact our Associate Director, Ellen Sawyer, at email@example.com