Underpaid and overworked: The life of a social worker

Ten year olds Nubia and Victor Barahona were victims of an abusive, adoptive father. On Feb. 14, the twins were found in their father’s truck along Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach. Nubia was dead and Victor had severe chemical burns covering his little torso.

Four days earlier, a tip was sent to the child-abuse hotline, and the Florida Department of Children and Families sent an investigator to the Barahona house, where social worker Andrea Fleary discovered that the children were missing from the home. I don’t know exactly why Fleary didn’t investigate further or why she didn’t contact the police about the missing children, but maybe the downside of the job is what played a factor in this tragedy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2008 that social workers receive an annual salary of about $43,120. Their job description includes finding foster homes for children, assisting in adoptions, helping people who have health problems and mental illnesses, and providing talk therapy.

They are therapists, health specialists, and adoption professionals rolled into one, yet they may make only enough to pay rent, bills and groceries. Just like teachers, social workers have a profound influence on children. They help them find temporary homes, give them families, and help them through tough times at school. But their work often goes unappreciated and unacknowledged.

With this economy, what student, with thousands of dollars in loans, would want to be a social worker? The good feeling of helping people can only go so far when you’re not making enough money to provide for yourself or your family.

Fleary may also have not investigated thoroughly because social workers are over-worked. The Department of Children and Families is open 24/7; they oversee 18,000 children in foster care (in Florida alone) and receive about 1,000 abuse hotline tips daily. One social worker may not be able to handle his or her caseload as well as investigate, in-depth, an adoptive family’s possible abuse.

The case also questions why a social worker gave the Barahona parents permission to adopt these twins. A heavy caseload may leave workers insufficient energy to recognize red flags or spend enough time with potential adoptive families. Their caseload shouldn’t include jumping from case to case every day. Potential tragedies will not be stopped at the rate DCF is going.

Just thinking about the amount of work social workers take on makes me feel burned out. I can’t imagine how social workers handle everything he or she have to balance.

There needs to be more social workers, but the job doesn’t exactly invite people with its wonderful pay, great hours, light workload and and low burn out rate. It’s a tough job. People going into that field must know they will have dinners from vending machines and enough daily paperwork to make his or her hands cramp. Future social workers shouldn’t have to worry about the measly pay and enormous overtime but the reality is hard to ignore.

Social workers are brave and we should give them more help, more money and more recognition than they receive.

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