5 Attributes of an Admirable Social Worker

5 Attributes of an Admirable Social Worker

Judging Amy and Maxine Gray

Who loved watching Judging Amy back when it was on TV?

I know I did!

It was the perfect mix of drama and comedy. Heartbreak and laughter. Real life moments were at the epicenter of each episode. Amy Gray, the show’s main character, and her daughter live with Amy’s mother. Other family members come and go, but Amy, her daughter, and Amy’s mother are three primary characters.

Little did I know that this show was providing me with some of my first clear exposure to social work.

Amy’s mother, Maxine Gray, is a social worker for the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Her job is to monitor and change (when necessary) the living environment for children in the area (aka make sure the children are safe and cared for but try to keep them with family).

When I think of social workers I admire, one of the names that always comes to mind is Maxine. Even though she is part of a fictional show, her values, skill set, and personality make for a strong and effective social worker.

That being said, here are 5 admirable attributes of a social worker through the lens of Maxine Gray:

1. Knows When Policies Are in the Way of Her Work…and When to Break Them

I’ll admit… maybe this one is controversial. What does a social worker do when ethics and rules collide? On the show, Maxine tends to prioritize the well being of her clients over any rule, law, or policy. Even if it means she could lose her job.

Basically, all of the pros and cons need to be weighed before disregarding or breaking a policy. Also, some policies, when broken, may bear more consequences than others.

Things to ask yourself:

1. Why was this policy originally written?

Policy is rarely written in such a way that it considers all consequences. Your situation may be an unintended consequence of a policy.

The policy may be preventing unforeseeable (to you) consequences.

Also, a policy may have been put into effect due to a prior experience or situation. Dig deeper. Check in with your supervisor if possible. They may have more knowledge about the policy.

2. Is there a way to maintain all laws and policies while also reaching my goal?

Look for all possible solutions first.

Like I said earlier, there’s a good chance the policy is in place for an important reason. Be creative!

3. What might the consequences be of breaking this policy?

Yes, breaking a policy could very result in negative consequences for yourself. But think about other consequences, too. Will it harm the organization you work with? How will it affect your clients? Will it affect funding?

4. Is there a way to change this policy instead?

Advocate for change if a policy isn’t working. Explain why it doesn’t work. And then suggest improvements.

Let me be very clear:

*I am not supporting the flippant decision to break policies. Rules are in place for a reason.

*I am merely advocating for critical thinking instead of blindly following policy. 

2. Acknowledges Messiness

Between medical emergencies, death, a broken family, and countless heartbreaking client stories, Maxine experiences some hard, real life struggle.

But Maxine doesn’t try to ignore it, shrug it off, or tell herself that her experiences “aren’t that bad.”

She leans into them. She weeps. She becomes angry. She gives herself permission to be 100% human and 100% messy.

Here’s the best part: it makes her a better social worker.

As a social worker, it can be really easy to push your own needs aside and focus on others. But doing that will only damage your own health.

And frankly, it might even make it harder to practice and express empathy with clients.

So let yourself be messy. It’s the human thing to do.

3. Maintains a Cheerful Demeanor

Social work is hard. It sometimes means actively choosing to look devastation in the eyes. This can lead to horrible attitudes, cynicism, and burn out.

But Maxine? Like I mention above, she is sometimes in a poor mood. But many times, even when the horrid situations she has encountered are playing through her mind, she makes the active decision to be cheerful.

She sings. She jokes. She laughs. She loves her friends and family.

She allows herself to experience joy amidst painful situations.

Simply put: Maxine does not let her vocation negatively impact her emotional well being.

Brené Brown, author, researcher, and social worker, speaks a lot about vulnerability and joy. Please enjoy her words:

“To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us to not be too happy lest we invite disaster- that’s an intense form of vulnerability.”

4. Uses a Support System

Even social workers need a community. A support system.

Family, friends, neighbors, physicians, counselors, coworkers, or friendly strangers.

Maxine uses this system.

She doesn’t try to do absolutely everything on her own and she finds those people in her life that will simply listen and be present.

I know I’m guilty of not letting others help.

Who is with me?!

I don’t care if you are a social worker or not…you and I both need to lean on others.

I promise you, the world can suddenly become a gentler place. You may quickly feel a little bit lighter. Less worn down.

Because you know you aren’t alone.

5. Doesn’t Back Down When Facing Adversity

Throughout the lifetime of the show, Maxine shows a wild amount of determination and resilience. She also speaks her mind.

Maxine often runs right into adversity and tells it to go away. That she isn’t going to let any challenge or fear get in her way.

Once Maxine has made up her mind, she fights to achieve her goals.

Social work is full of challenges, walls to break down, and bridges that are difficult to build. Adversity can be found within an organization from coworkers, supervisors, or policies.

It can also be found from clients, client families or friends, outside organizations, laws, or personal situations.

That’s a lot of adversity!

Standing firm and not backing down takes energy, determination, confidence, and strength.

And that, friends, is wonderfully admirable.

*As I was refreshing my memory for this post, I came across this very, very fitting video of Maxine Gray. I resonate with her in this scene and I am sure many of you do as well. Enjoy!*https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nQNGBMWv6Wc

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