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Social Workers: Coordinators Of Chaos


Do you know what a social worker does for a living? March is National Social Work Month, so WUWF’s Bob Barrett got together with three social workers and got some answers.

Sandra Crawford, Amanda Helm and Shannon Massingale are all licensed certified social workers at The Lakeview Center in Pensacola. We recently got together for a conversation over Zoom to talk about social workers, what they do, how they feel about their jobs and their clients and what it takes to thrive in their careers. Here is a sample of that conversation.

Sandra Crawford: “I think that most folks associate social work with just child welfare. Most of our social workers at Lakeview Center actually work outside of child welfare. We work in all kinds of areas. Social work is such a broad career. A lot of social work is medical. Social work is in addiction, it’s in mental health, it is in child welfare, it’s in all of those places trying to help people connect with the services they need to be successful with life.”

Here is Bob Barrett's complete conversation with the Lakeview Center's Sandra Crawford, Amanda Helm and Shannon Massingale

Shannon Massingale: “I do work in the child welfare component of social work. I do a lot of education and advocacy and help people understand mental health and different levels of treatment. We fill in all the gaps.”

Amanda Helm: I don’t know a social worker that doesn’t coordinate chaos. Social work is kind of like a chaos coordinator position. It’s just helping people wherever they are and figuring out what their next step is.”

I don’t know a social worker that doesn’t coordinate chaos. Social work is kind of like a chaos coordinator position.

SC: “One of the major pros of being a social worker is that you can work in a variety of areas. You can work in the mental health or the behavioral health field. You can work with military populations. It’s a huge reaching career path.

SM: “I have had the privilege of seeing people at (the) very worst moments of their life now come back and be successful. I bumped into people who (now) have custody of their children, who are successful, who have thrived and been engaged in their substance abuse treatment and their mental health treatment and really just get to give back and be a member of the community. Every single time that is eye-opening and a blessing and reminds me of why I show up on Monday morning.”

SC: “It’s watching people change for the better, and watching them implement the things that we work with them on and reaping the benefits. It can be anything from seeing somebody who physically just looks healthier than they did on day one, and seeing people who come back after years and they tell you about their new job and show you pictures of their new significant other and their wedding and their kids. It is all about helping people change their lives for the better.”

AH: “It’s really seeing that change in them that they didn’t think they could get, and they have it now.”

SC: “The biggest benefit of my job is being able to make connections with people and watch them be successful. The biggest drawback is building connections with people and having to watch them stumble. It is a field that requires really good boundaries, making sure that we are doing what we can to help other people, but making sure that we’re not taking ownership of their choices and their decisions. Because you want to help people but you have to help people in the right ways. That’s a hard lesson for a lot of people.”

SM: “Rarely do I get frustrated with the people, often I get frustrated with the systems that we have to work within. Because as much as there is opportunity for being innovative and thinking outside the box, there are still rules and laws and regulations that we have to comply with, both (for) our license in the state of Florida criminal justice system and Medicaid. There are many systems. And so sometimes my frustration with the systems and not necessarily the people we are serving.”

SC: “Yeah, I also think it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter what brings people in for help, it matters what they do once they get there, which I think is fascinating. Within the world of addiction, research has time and time again proven that it doesn’t matter what brings people into treatment, the success rates are the same whether or not they are court-ordered. Most people seeking treatment services are doing so because there is an issue in their world, there’s some external motivator.”

SM: “Kids that I work with have complex trauma and so typically they are not coming from home environments where anyone has ever established boundaries. So they are having to learn it myself and the other adults in their lives. And we are teaching their parents at the same time so that they can be successful as a family.”

SC: “The stress of COVID has created more difficulties for the folks that we are serving, and so we need to provide just as many services if not more than what we did previously. But that’s been a really difficult thing to do (while) maintaining the safety of staff and those people that we serve.”

SM: “For my team, it really drove home the importance of self-care. I have several staff members who have lost family members to COVID, and trying to balance out helping others and taking time to heal ourselves has really been a focus for us. You can’t give of yourself if you have nothing left.”

AH: “Find your people, whoever those are who are going to hold you accountable and also comfort you. Find your people, find what grounds you and what things keep you who you are and reminds you who you are.”

SM: “In social work, if there comes a moment that you think you know it all, you might be burnt out and need to take a break, to regroup. Because things are ever-growing and changing as we learn more about brain development and addiction and mental health and resources in our community. Things are ever-growing and changing so it’s important to make sure that they have the personality to keep their finger on the pulse of those changes. Prepare to be a life-long learner.”

SC: “If I could do so and still feel healthy and fit into my clothing, I would love to eat Krispy Kreme donuts every day. I don’t do that because of the consequences that choice has. That’s true for most folks seeking assistance whether it be anything, mental health and addiction and those struggles are no different than physical health.”

That was Sandra Crawford, Amanda Helm and Shannon Massingale, all Licensed Certified Social Workers at The Lakeview Center in Pensacola. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.