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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  • I’m always fascinated with these types of stories when I hear how people get involved with Social Work and the things that they enjoy most about their job. It’s nice to hear about shattering the myths of Social Work when, many times, these dedicated workers are portrayed as uncaring and uninspired employees of the state. I too have been inspired through my own trials and tribulations to pursue a career in this field. Through Social Work, I will pursue a career in family/divorce counseling because I believe that with my own life expeirinces, I will have a lot to offer.

  • It is nice to know that social workers are not mean people. When i was little my sister had to clean up her act as you can say so we would not lose our niece. At that point we were dealing with CPS not with domestic violence.We must have had the CPS worker at our house looking through our stuff, making sure everything was okay at least four times a week.

    My sister cleaned up for a while, but she went back to her daughter’s father. Things were going great for about a month, but we found out he was beating her every time she tried to leave. She found out she was pregnant again, but he still continued to hit her. She could not use the phone to call for help, but one day she found a way out. The social worker that was helping her got her back home, and completely away from him. I am very thankful for social workers even when they seem to be mean I know they are just doing things with good intentions. Without a social worker I may have not seen my sister, my niece, and my nephew ever again.

    Since then my sister cleaned up for good. She even got remarried and is on her fourth child. I am thankful that there are people in the world who want to help others without having the pay they should deserve. Since then i do respect every social worker there is.

  • As a nurse I can relate to many aspects of social work. Every day is unique. Daily assignments are always different and we must adjust based on the needs of each individual patient. It is particularly hard to leave work at work. Often times patients have fallen on hard times and open up to you as their nurse and this often weighs on a person.
    Watching a family lose a loved one is also very tramatic. When we walk out the door at the end of the shift we are suppose to leave work behind however, the feelings are never just gone. Nursing is a challenging and rewarding profession that takes a very special personality.

  • Most people do not understand the different roles of a social worker. Besides the above situation,they can work in hospitals where they assist with discharge planning when patients cannot go home. They can also work in long-term care facilities, looking out for the well-being of the elderly.
    I have an interest in this last scenario, especially with people with Alzheimer’s, whose rights are sometimes overlooked because tey cannot speak up for themselves.

  • I am inspired by this story and I am looking forward to getting there someday. I have to take so many breaks in school because of my family, but I am on the road to accomplishing what I want in education. I am well on my way and will not stop at all.

  • I work with students with disabilities and I can appreciate you and what you do so much more because of that. It’s surprising how much your job and my job go together. I know how difficult it is to have compassion for people who are in need and how heartbreaking it is when you can’t do anything. I had a student once whose mom was an addict and in rehab, whose father had lost his job, and who only had a meal when he got free breakfast and lunch at school. I appreciate you and what you do so much.

  • These days it is a lot more common to come across a hardship
    story vs. a success story. This is unfortunate; however, stories like this aid
    as a reminder that there is always hope for the future. The idea that it is
    “never too late” can be gratifying to many, especially to the non-traditional
    college student. No one should ever feel like they are out of time. Time is only
    up when the biological clock stops ticking. It is comforting to know that there are
    strong people like this available to help people overcome their personal obstacles.

    I also work in a crisis center and it is very difficult not to feel personal
    anguish when faced with ahard case. Luckily there are dedicated individuals
    there to help others conquerthe storm. Without crisis workers many lives are lost.
    When faced with an overwhelming obstacle it is important to have assistance
    while developing the proper coping mechanisms to be successful. This woman
    has offered her services after facing the hardships herself. She is not blind to her
    own hardship and is able to utilize it to help others. I hope that one day I can positively
    impact the lives of others like she has

  • Its very encouraging when you read about women who empower the nation as assets to the community. This woman is a role model for many women who wish to do the same, I am one.
    Unfornunatley, I have started this career late in my life, but with the knowledge and experience I have, I believe I can be a mentor to other women. I also agree with this woman in the story “Its never to late”.
    I hope one day other women can read my story and I can be encouragement to them, as this women is to me.

  • I agree that once someone mentions that they want to become a social worker, they automatically think of a low waging job that requires several paperwork to be done. However, as described as this by this wonderful woman, we can see that it is really not bad and what social workers do is help other people. The passion involved in this type of job has to be one of the most important. By simply taking part in society, doing something that you love and making a change is inspiring.

    I am undergraduate student now, and while I am part of a underrepresented community(hispanic), reading stories like this encourage me to continue working hard. I am sure this woman had many struggles but she didn’t give up. I identify with her in many ways, but I really want to say that in 3 or more years I want to be able to say the same things as her. I want to be doing what I love, helping people and most of all inspiring others.

  • What an amazing story! I really appreciated how much she finds joy in seeing children and families happy and healthy. I have worked at a bible camp in Iowa for the past three years. I completely agree with her. There is nothing like seeing kids’ passion for life and watching them live freely and happily. It is always heart-wrenching hearing about kids’ difficult living situations and in a way, I have felt a bit like a social worker myself.

    We have one night of the week where we get to dedicate some one on one time with each of our campers. During this time, kids would relinquish their struggles and deepest pains. Sometimes it is difficult to hold back emotion and offer advice to situations I could not fathom.

    Furthermore, I appreciate and respect that she is of Mexican heritage. It is so wonderful to hear stories of success from people of my heritage who have made their dreams come true. I have so much pride in my country and am blessed with the opportunity to share that pride and culture with our beautiful, neighboring country.

    To be quite honest, it has been a struggle to get here and attending an outstanding institution here in Iowa is an opportunity that will not be taken for granted. I feel as though reading these stories has given me even more hope and drive to make the life for myself that I have dreamt of since grade school. I am excited for this new chapter in my life and I have so much gratitude in my heart for the people who have helped me start my success story.

  • This story is inspiring to me because, I too, went through many experiences that could have kept me away from accomplishing my dreams but I did not let them. Instead I decided to use my experiences to help and inspire others like me to realize and accomplish their own dreams.

  • Thank you for sharing your story after reading what you have gone through and the information
    you shared about your position, it has help me to realize even more that I have
    chosen the right career for me. I also
    have gone through many difficulties in the last few years that I thought I
    would not get through. Reading all the
    things that you had to go through just shows that I should push on and I will
    be able to make my goal.

  • This is a truly inspiring story. I can only relate by saying that I hope to become someone who also helps people. While I won’t be in Social Work, I hope that by becoming a physical therapist or something else in the medical field I can help as many people as possible. Also by helping people I hope to become as inspirational as this woman.