Social Work Novice Helps Battered Women

Six years ago, this case manager became a U.S. Citizen. Since then, she has obtained a college degree, gotten married, had her first child, become a homeowner, and found a rewarding career helping others in the line of social work. 

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
Case Manager Intern, one year (concurrent with my BSW degree at San Diego State University)

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
Interning as a Case Manager for the YWCA’s Becky’s House Program is a very rewarding job, and there is nothing typical about it. On a slow day, I answer a few phone calls on the Domestic Violence Hotline and meet with clients. Reviewing case notes and case conferencing is a regular part of the job. Working in an Emergency Shelter requires a lot of crisis intervention and patience.

What is your ethnicity? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am a first-generation Mexican in the United States. Working in San Diego has proven to be a plus. I have had a wider range of cases at the shelter due to the diversity in San Diego and the strong Hispanic population, so it has helped me a lot.

What languages do you speak? How has speaking another language helped you?
I am bilingual, English and Spanish. Speaking Spanish in Southern California is a must at times. It has helped me tremendously, and I am glad my parents enforced that I remained fluent in Spanish.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Not taking work home was a hard one. It is hard to separate from a client when you know they need you but you can’t put in too many overtime hours, especially when you have a family waiting at home. Fortunately, I had a great mentor who was able to help me form healthier boundaries with my cases before it was too late. But sometimes I would be at the office for fifteen hours trying to get paperwork ready for a restraining order and custody disputes, and I was neglecting my own family.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Everything, just kidding. I was lucky enough to have the internship at the YWCA while I was in school, and I was supervised by a professional with a Master’s in Social Work who had so much knowledge. But I feel that at school I kind of got a brief run-through of what happened and never really got the whole picture. I felt absolutely lost and frightened when I received my first client, but I survived. It was a learning process and none of the theories or data analysis papers I had written were relevant at that point. My school did not teach me to believe in my own strengths.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I was really unsure of what I wanted to do. I grew up in this country undocumented and going to school was not relevant when our family was mostly trying just to survive and find a job. But when I became a legal resident six years ago, I felt that I had so much to prove to others and myself. One day while riding the trolley, I bumped into an old childhood friend, and she was telling me a few sad stories of what happened after we lost touch. She was a foster child and had experienced many hardships. When I decided to enroll in school, I had her story in the back of my mind, and I took an introductory course in social work, and I was absolutely inspired. I knew then that social work was what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with children or Child Welfare Services. When I reached my junior year at San Diego State and it was time to be placed at an internship, I was placed at the YWCA’s Becky’s House Program. I was terrified because I wanted to work with children. But I would not change it. I have been there for a year and I love it.

On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?
On a good day at work, I place a client in transitional housing, I come home to a clean house and the baby is taking a nap. There are not too many of those days, but I have been blessed with a lot of good days in which clients have done way better than we expected with the help of counseling, support groups, and case management.

When everything goes wrong, what’s happening and what do you dislike?
I think I have had two days when it felt like everything was going wrong. One was when one of my first clients expressed that she was ready to stop attending groups and case management, and we had to ask her to leave our program. It was a hard decision, but non-compliance is a bad thing in a crisis intervention system, especially when you only have a few days to help them find adequate living arrangements, a restraining order, and child custody. I felt that she had so much potential and could have done so much better. And it is always a bummer when clients return to their abusive husbands or perpetrators.

What is your favorite part of your job? What areas do you struggle in or wish you could avoid?
I love that no day is ever the same. I just wish that there wasn’t so much paperwork involved. I really struggle staying on top of all the paperwork and with being correct in my spelling.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
This job is not too stressful. There are no definite timelines and deadlines or anything. You have thirty days with a client and, in some cases, you can grant extensions. It is a give-and-take kind of situation. You are not expected to work harder than your clients; they have to learn to do a lot of things for themselves. Paying bills, maintaining bank accounts, and paying rent are some of the tasks. There are a lot of elementary housekeeping items that have to be taught sometimes, but it is more rewarding that stressful. Since I learned how to make boundaries, I am able to keep a healthy balance.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
I work for a nonprofit—enough said right? I think the average case manager makes about $13hr. But I know that other for-profits or government agencies start at around $20. So you have to love what you do because there are too many responsibilities and not enough pay, but it takes a special person and dedication to do it and not worry about the pay. Social work is always a low paying job.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
I am only bilingual in Spanish and English, but I have worked with clients that only speak Russian and Arabic. I have worked with clients with high suicidal ideations and clients who speak no English and are undocumented. I am proud to say that regardless of the situation, each individual gets treated the same. One of my favorite parts of working here is when the children are happy. I love seeing children and the mothers moving into transitional housing and being able to make it without having to return to their abusers. A stable environment for the children is always a big plus.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
While answering the Domestic Violence Hotline, you go through emergency procedures with the client on the phone in case the perpetrator returns while they are on the phone. One time I was not finished and the boyfriend got on the phone and started yelling at me. I did not have a call back number yet, and the lady had indicated it was a safe time to talk, but it became unsafe very fast. A few minutes later we received another call, and it was them— we could hear them fighting. But there was nothing that can be done; it can only be reported. Unfortunately, we had no address or call back number, just someone’s first name. It was hard, and I felt it was my fault that nothing could really be done because I did not get all the information fast enough. But sometimes you can only do so much.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Work from San Diego State University. Other Case managers have similar backgrounds. You just have to be dedicated and passionate about this position. It takes a lot of energy and patience.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
I would recommend everyone to do it. It is so rewarding. Unfortunately, when you say you are a social worker, everyone assumes you work with Child Welfare Services or County at the welfare office. But this job is so intriguing: its one of those jobs where you go to work in the morning and there never is a dull moment.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
Vacation? What’s that? I have been lucky enough to have been working here while concurrently enrolled at SDSU, so anytime the campus is closed I am on Vacation. But just like any other job, case managers get their sick and vacation time.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
About social work in general, yes. About Becky’s House, not really. The YWCA has been in San Diego for so many years that everyone knows about all the positive contributions they lend to the community.

Some people believe all social workers take away your children or work in the welfare office, and that is just not the case. We are not mean; MOST people that work in the welfare office are not social workers or trained to be in this profession.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I want to go back to school for my MSW. I want to do the MSW/JD program that takes four years to complete so if I start now, in five years I want to have completed that. Also, I hope to continue working with domestic violence victims and immigration issues. I hope that by then I have had already visited Paris too!

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
In the last six years, after becoming a legal resident in the United States, I have completed my undergraduate studies, gotten married, had a child, and became a homeowner. It is never too late.

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