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Why do Social Workers have a Negative Rep?

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 My thoughts are: most people who come across those in the "profession" are not social workers at all although perhaps they carry the title. These are actually para-professionals who lack true skill and training in the field of Social Work. Due to lack of funding, scant grant monies, poor work environment overall, etc......those that carry the tittle of social worker are in fact rarely degreed and therefore lack the ability to be true helpers. They give the Profession of Social Work a negative reputation. Thoughts? 

The Truth About Social Work

What people think they know about social work is often a myth, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Contrary to popular belief, social workers are trained professionals who have bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees –- they are not social services employees, caseworkers or volunteers. Only a fraction of social workers are employed in public or child welfare, and social workers are the nation's largest providers of mental health and therapy services.

"The diversity of roles for social workers is enormous," says Ruth W. Mayden, MSS, former president of the NASW and former dean of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia.

Social workers practice in a wide variety of settings, and their presence is constantly evolving. According to Mayden, five arenas in which the demand for social workers is growing are:

  • Aging: As the population of elderly Americans explodes in coming decades, social workers with expertise in gerontology will keep busy. They'll provide counseling to seniors, help them maintain their independence at home, plan for future care and generally help improve their quality of life.
  • Human Resources: Businesses hire occupational social workers to help manage on-site workplace conflict and to make workplaces safer and more family-friendly. A growing practice area for occupational social workers is in employee assistance programs.
  • Schools: Social workers are often part of the interdisciplinary teams that school systems set up to help children with emotional, developmental or educational needs. Some schools now serve as community centers and offer classes and social services for adults, too, which is spurring further demand for school social workers.
  • Healthcare: Social workers are vital members of the healthcare team in many hospitals and clinics. Licensed clinical social workers provide direct counseling services; other social workers serve as patient advocates by coordinating medical and emotional treatment, managing services a patient may require for recovery and planning for care after hospitalization.
  • Institutional Giving: Corporations that place an emphasis on employee volunteerism and community service are hiring social workers to coordinate their efforts. Private foundations with money earmarked for community development also place a premium on social workers because of their inside knowledge of worthy causes.

Despite the diversity of settings, the common thread joining all social workers is their motivation, Mayden says. Social workers are part of a professional community "dedicated to social justice and empowerment," she explains. "It's not about the individual, but about how the individual can use his or her skills and talents to help other individuals or communities grow and thrive."

"As social workers, we view clients within their own environments," adds Miriam Oliensis-Torres, MSW, co-owner of Geriatric Support Associates in Milwaukee. "That's one of the things I like most about social work. We get to approach situations from a holistic perspective."

Would You Make a Good Social Worker?

According to veteran social workers Oliensis-Torres and Mayden, you'll succeed in the field if you have:

  • The ability to accept (and not judge) people who are different from yourself.
  • Patience and a sense of humor.
  • An interest in the dynamics of interpersonal and organizational relationships.
  • An interest in social policy.
  • The capacity to be self-critical and always alert as to whether you're taking the proper steps on a client's behalf.
  • Good listening skills.
  • The ability to put situations in perspective, which will help you avoid burnout.
by on May. 1, 2013 at 7:35 PM
Replies (41-50):
“I can’t imagine how awful that must feel. Being normal? Ugh.”
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by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 10:21 AM

 I'm not offended! Since you seem to work so closely with these professionals I thought perhaps we could have a conversation about it. Have you ever considered that once the client walks out the door, it is then the CLIENTS respsonsibility to take positive, healthy actions in a positive,healthy direction. Y'know that old saying: You can lead a horse to water; you can't always make them drink. A socal workers job is a lot like the keeper of horses.

Quoting turtle68:

I do not blame anyone...

They are installed and brought in to do a job....if the job isnt done.  Then I see the person doing that job as inept.

If they are brought in to help a person find their way...then that is what should happen.  What I see is a lot of talk, many phone calls, lots and lots of paper work ...then nothing.  Person walks away with a referral to a therapist.  The boxes ticked and the next person in the clap.

A certain demographic needs help...they send in a bunch of social workers in to help.  They mean well, they listen, give suggestions, referrals...they record and then report. Who got the help?  The demographic clientele certainly didnt.

I am disillusioned by social workers to the point where I think they are not needed.  A non educated listener who understands from the forefront where the issues have stemmed from and can sympathize...not empathize is worth more than 100 educated with a degree social workers who are culturally disengaged.

Im not out to offend your field...I am being honest with my dealings with social workers and how I see the job negatively, not the person on a individual basis.  Not one social worker was a nasty horrible person, all were lovely people.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 I do wonder if you perceive them as "inept" because they are given a job that no one would ever be able to live up to yet so many have over-exagerated expectations of them to fix a problem that is by it's very nature un-fixable or better yet, due to social ills, state laws/regulations and beuacracy, they are unable to do any more than what they are already doing. It is so easy to blame the social worker rather than recognizing that s/he is only the messanger.

Quoting turtle68:

Quoting Ms.KitKat:


Quoting turtle68:

IMO social workers take things too personal and that to me is a downfall. Perhaps because for the client base they work with, it IS personal to them(the client).

Im not speaking of it becoming personal because of the want to help...more like they arent listening because they dont see you worthy or appreciative enough of their time.

All those Ive met are either totally inept Burn out rate is high-most social workers don;t last past 7 years or overly passionate They are still young and have dreams of saving the world like any young person starting in a field; but that doesn;t last long (see prior statement) .

Again...the ones I know / have known are inept because they have an inability to connect dots...are culturally unaware and in most cases are very insensitive because they are unaware.  I work with indigenous people...throwing a white social worker in the mix has never been a great idea.  Not their fault, there arent many social workers who are indigenous.

One thing they all have in common....

long skirts with books, short quirky hairdo's, black rim (or red) glasses, a large silk scarf... Seriously? Most of those that I know wear pants, have ALL sorts of hairstyles , wear glasses as needed and a scarf?-I got nothin' .....that's just silly

Im old....but the fad seems to have continued through the years ...wasnt that long ago I was in a room full of social workers and honestly...only the man didnt have a scarf on?!  Not silly if that is all you see....however I am being silly :-)  Of course they dont all dress in a uniform type of was just an observance of mine over the years.

oh and the ability to nod a lot. They are trying to not just listen but to hear you.

What is the nod if they have absolutely nothing to compare it to or cannot possibly understand what you are going through.  That nod...becomes condescending.

I have worked with social workers for nearly thirty odd years in some capacity and in different areas.  Ive met mainly inept ones.  I know that is not all...just my experience.




“I can’t imagine how awful that must feel. Being normal? Ugh.”
Yesterday at 5:43 PM
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by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 10:23 AM


Quoting SuperChicken:

I've dealt with quite a few social workers over the past 10 years, and some are great, some are so-so and some are just pathetic.  Just like every other profession.

When I went to university (20 some years ago) social work degrees were considered slacker degrees.   Everyone took social work classes for their "easy" class when they needed a credit they didn't want to have to work for, because the rest of their classes were demanding.   I don't mean that to offend anyone, it's just how the degree was looked upon at my university.  

 and I wonder why that is

“I can’t imagine how awful that must feel. Being normal? Ugh.”
Yesterday at 5:43 PM
Radiohead - 15 Step - Live From The Basement [HD]

Radiohead - 15 Step - Live From The Basement [HD] Track Listing: 1. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi: 2. 15 Step: http://www.y...

by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 10:31 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting lga1965:

My inlaw ( cousin's wife ) wore pants, jeans, no long skirts. LOL. She is Jewis,worked in the South and was harassed because she actually went to college and wasn't a Christian. She relocated to another state when divorcing and people finally appreciated her.
I wish the stereotyping and bias would go away.

 Me too!

and what about Catholic Charities? And Luthern Ministry? lots of social workers are Christian too. It is so bizzarre to me that the field/profession devoted to helping the most vulnerable of populations get the least amount of respect.

oh! wait a second- (my "ahhhh-moment") those most vulnerable individuals also get the least amount of respect too! What I find sad however is that the very people who sw try to help also have a negative reaction to their helpers.

by Member on May. 2, 2013 at 11:01 AM

I've dealt with a lot of social workers with both my kids having been in nicu for so long it's hard to avoid them. Most are very pleasent and have a great bedside manner but I have met a couple who seemed to think it was their job to make a person feel like nothing if they needed even an inkling of help. 

Although I'm still new at the life coaching thing (about 6 months from being internationally certified) I've had good reviews so I think I could use those same skills as a social worker. I don't have the degrees though. 

by Platinum Member on May. 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 Have you ever considered that the true person at "fault" is the parent who is beating the child in the first place. That social workers do the 'dirty work" when no one else would- there is a power greater than the social worker that requires them by law to return the child back to a home. That their "arrogant" attitude you perceive is actually frustration at working in a system where they are trying to do good with parents who are cruel and a beuacracy that is broken. 

Quoting meriana:

The social workers I've run into have been arrogant and had the attitude that one should simply do as they say because they know best. They've also pretty much tended to make mountains out of mole hills. Oh and then there was the one who KNOWINGLY sent foster kids back to the exact same environment they were taken out of in the first place: still drinking alcoholic mom, living with the man the state had proof he had molested the girls on several occasions. Yep, gotta love those social workers...NOT


Well lets see. Social Worker shows up, admits she didn't read much, if any, of the file because it was "too thick", takes the girls aside to speak with them privately whenever she comes and EVERY time has them hysterical by the time she leaves. I wouldn't call 6 & 8 yr old girls crying and screaming non-stop for a full half-hour before they even begin to calm down healthy or productive. When this was mentioned to her, she simply said "it proves they really want to be with their mom", ok so these girls were screaming the opposite. There's just no reason for a Social Worker, or anyone else for that matter, to create that type of situation whether the kids want to be with their mom or not. This woman at one point had huge bruises on her upper arms. There was also the fact that the previous Social Worker had set the case up to terminate parental rights based on having worked with the family over a period of years and determining that the needed changes were not and would not take place. She had to move out of state due to her husband's job but had made it clear that all that was needed was a Court date. Instead these girls were sent back to the exact same situation they had been removed from and the Social Worker who sent them back fully knew this. The really sad thing was that their mom was a really nice person when she was sober which was very rare, but her alcoholism caused her to be extremely neglectful of her children 99% of the time. She was also living with a man who had molested the girls. The end result after a couple more years was that the kids ended up in permanent foster care in Canada, by then they were past the age of adoptability. I don't know how it is now but back in the 70's, the Social Workers had a LOT more say in what happened to the kids they oversaw than anyone really realized unless they were actually foster parents and dealing with it. I really doubt things have changed a whole lot in that area. ------------------------------------------------------------ Then there was the school counselor my then 12 yr old drama queen used to go and talk to just because dd liked her. We had no problem with it at all until said counselor began to insist we needed to take her to an outside counselor. She even had the name and number of an outside counselor she personally knew who, she said, would be happy to take dd on as a patient. At this time we began noticing a negative change in dd's attitude and behavior. Come to find out this counselor had been telling dd that she should go and see this outside professional counselor. We told the school to keep the counselor away from dd at that point and gee, dd got back to her old self.
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM


I agree with you. I encounter them often professionally.

Granted, there certainly is a time and place. I do think it takes the right person, with the right motive to do this job. They need to be discerning and relaly look into a situation, and really know resources, etc.

I am really impressed with those who are good at their job. It is a difficult one. I met a retired CPS/ social worker yesterday- seems a shame he retired. The good ones really shine.

I know many personally as well, including family members... this was the easiest route from them to get a job. You can get a job in social work with a bachelors degree in it, easier than you can with a psych degree. It was the job outlook that made them choose the profession- not because they wanted to do it. That is sad, because they hate it, and it shows. If I were in a crisis, that is the last person I'd want to help me. I suppose though, this can relaly be said for any profession (just like nurses and anyone else- can't tell you how many nurses I met who said, "oh, I really wanted ot go to med school... or vet school...this was quicker and easier...". Just my experience, hope it's not the norm.

I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. They do however have a very difficult job. Some much more difficult than others.

Additionally, there are so many outside constraints as well- in terms of insurance coverage, mandated laws to follow, etc. It cannot be easy.

Just my personal opinion- not based on "myth".

Quoting meriana:

The social workers I've run into have been arrogant and had the attitude that one should simply do as they say because they know best. They've also pretty much tended to make mountains out of mole hills. Oh and then there was the one who KNOWINGLY sent foster kids back to the exact same environment they were taken out of in the first place: still drinking alcoholic mom, living with the man the state had proof he had molested the girls on several occasions. Yep, gotta love those social workers...NOT



by on May. 2, 2013 at 11:36 AM

In this particular case the parents/stepparents/step sibling were all at fault, and all were arrested and are in jail.   The state came down on the county, and the social worker.   They had documented evidence of the abuse and neglect, they failed to act.  

Yes I know there are good social workers, but you don't hear about them.  The bad is louder than the good unfortunately. 

Quoting lancet98:

Well.   In most cases of neglect, it is not the social worker who is at fault, but the agency, which gives them so many cases they can't possibly keep track of them all.   Also keep in mind that many states limit the authority of the social worker, and then blame them, rather than policies or supervisors, when something goes wrong.

I've dealt with a lot of social workers in my time.    Like any job, some are great, some are lousy, and most are in the middle, competent, decent folks who work hard and get little recognition when they do a good job.   The stress level is extremely high and you get blamed for deciding things that you don't even have the authority to make decisions on.

Most of them work their a**es off.   It's a very stressful job.   You get a lot of responsibility and no authority.  

And keep this in mind.   Social workers get shot, killed, beat up, it is a very hard job.

And yes, actually, to hold the title of social worker one must have a degree and maintain a license, pass tests, etc.   Competition for jobs is intense in most places.

The last social worker I ever worked with was what I think of as a miracle worker.   She made a practice of getting the most severely mentally ill, chronically homeless,many of them for decades, onto medication, off the street, into apartments.   She weighed about 90 lbs soaking wet and was as big as a willow branch, and she would go ANYWHERE for the job, went into some pretty bad places.   Pretty incredible gal.  

Quoting PestPatti:,

  Maybe because of the sensationalized cases of kids falling through the cracks, and then they end up either hurt or dead.

 I am thinking about one such case in my county here in NY.  They always had the evidence in front of them, they did nothing.  A 6 year old died.  


by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 11:53 AM
I refused the hep b vaccine, vitamin k, HIV testing, and eye ointment. I actually had to argue with the pediatrician over the eye ointment. I insisted I had no stds, he insisted the ointment protected against other bacteria that might be in my vagina, I argued that the baby never went near my vagina, seeing as how I had a ceserean, and finally he left me alone. However, I have beard of other hospitals that automatically report parents who don't get the ointment, or the vaccines.
I also familiar with cps lying outright, as it was proven they lied about my mother for 2 years to keep me out of her home.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 Why did you have that reaction do you think? Did yout hink she was there to take your baby? WEhy would you think that (if you did)? Was she helpful to you in linking you with services? 

Quoting kailu1835:

I don't know, but I know when a woman walked into my room after I had just had my baby the night before, an introduced herself as a social worker, I swear my arms clenched just a little bit tighter around my baby. Lol turns out she was there to offer me a pamphlet about wic.


by Member on May. 2, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Because they will fabracate to meet the quota. CPSs job is to collect evadence. Pure and simple. They can take any little thing and use it against you and exagerate it. Not all workers are like this but some are. Then they turn around and let someone who is being molested fall through the cracks because the child is too scared to say yes they are being touched.

by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 12:28 PM

I work with master level therapists every day. I will keep my opinion to myself. 

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