I took this picture from my office one day as I watched a rather nasty storm approach. Severe weather has triggered a nervous reaction in me since the day my family and I were awakened early one morning to the sound of a tornado approaching our house. The house suffered major damage, but we did not. However, the experience did leave me more weather anxious. Yet, on this day, as I watched this storm approach, I felt calm. I felt prepared. I knew what to do if it spawned a tornado because my agency had a plan for weather. Better yet, the staff was aware of the plan and had practiced it in other storms, proving its success.
As a Social Worker, you will face “storms” every day. Caseloads for Social Workers around the nation are already too high. Compounded by the expectation of the depth of work required to facilitate real and lasting change, the task can seem overwhelming. It has been proven that inability to achieve expected outcomes causes anxiety and stress, leading to the high worker burn out and turnover rates across the country. You came to this profession to make a difference but sometimes everything going on around you hinders you from doing all that needs to be done.
And your fellow workers, who couldn’t keep going, left for clearer skies. You were left to pick up their cases simply because you were still there. But it is not just another case file you were handed. No, it was a child or family who will have to experience another worker, another viewpoint and often a delay in permanency. These delays serve to further damage a child’s ability to engage or trust anyone. And you know that you carry the added burden of responsibility for more lives and must shoulder the very real fear of missed cues that could affect safety. These dark thoughts, swirling like debris in your mind as you see the storm coming, make you afraid.
Conversely, seasoned workers, supervisors and management will likely have weathered similar storms before. Although the situation is still extremely stressful, and the same reality threatens their stability, the anxiety does not overtake them. These veterans know that though the chaos rages around them, if they keep going, they will get through the storm. They know that the experience will be very difficult, but they will survive
But if you are experiencing the roar for the first time and have nothing to draw from, you may worry that you will be consumed by the raging wind. Your confidence is shaken as you lose your foothold. Without support, guidance and assurance tethering you, grounding you; you feel you will not make It. What can you do?
It is inevitable that storms will come and go in a SW career. But they do not have to devastate. How can we overcome these periodic storms?
Successfully weathering a crisis takes the engagement and trust of the whole agency. Seasoned workers can be very supportive of the newer ones who are anxious about what is going on around them. By sharing their experiences and how they survived the previous storms, they can facilitate belief that it can be done. Managers can speak openly about the crisis plan and what is in place to help and support staff through it. Knowing how the storm developed and being supported during it will help you get through.
But your survival also rests on you. Ask for assurances from the veterans. Speak up to your supervisor of your need for extra support and guidance. Cultivate a peer support group so that you can stand together. Each crisis you weather builds your resiliency to face the next. For I promise you, storms do not last forever. And at the other end lies the sun.