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Community Voices: Social workers make a difference

Edith Block

I always keep my cell phone turned on and close by. It doesn’t matter when it rings — I answer it. I know that when my phone rings in the middle of the night the call is about a family in need of help that only my staff and I can provide.

My goal is to make a difference. That’s why I studied psychology and became a social worker.

March is National Social Work Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of social workers to society. I am proud of my profession, but I often get questions from friends and new acquaintances about what it is I actually do. Social work can mean so many things.

Here’s what it means to me: A social worker is someone who dedicates his or her life to making a difference in the lives of others — often for little compensation. The act of helping and changing lives is what matters.

As a regional supervisor for Youth Villages, a nonprofit that helps troubled children and their families live successfully, I supervise teams of family intervention specialists. They work day and night to help some of Massachusetts’ children with the most challenging emotional, behavioral and mental health issues and their families in their own homes in and around Boston.

Our goal is to allow troubled children to live successfully at home and in the community by addressing their issues and by helping their families at the same time. We aim to strengthen their families and teach them ways to effectively parent children with difficult behaviors.

This approach is highly effective. Two years after leaving our program, more than 80 percent of children and their families continue to live successfully at home — without the need for treatment out of the home or involvement with the law. In addition to the high success rate, this approach is cheaper than traditional out-of-home treatment, saving the Commonwealth precious funds.

My staff and I are available to the children and families around the clock — any time they call us for help, whether it’s dinnertime or 3 a.m. That dedication and intensity distinguishes Youth Villages’ intensive in-home services program from other similar programs, and it makes a difference. Families know they have an advocate in our staff, someone who will stand by them no matter what.

I couldn’t be more proud of my staff and colleagues for everything they do, for the sacrifices they make and the enthusiasm they bring to their jobs.

Being a social worker is much more than a job, it’s a way of life. Our rewards are much greater than a paycheck. They are changed lives, happier families, children who succeed in school and move on to successful lives as adults. That’s what being a social worker is about.

I encourage anyone who feels called to make a difference to look into becoming a social worker. There are many ways to make a difference and many ways to work as a social worker. When you choose social work as a career, look for programs that measure outcomes or those that are clinically proven to make a difference to apply your talents.

There is nothing better in life, nothing more rewarding than the knowledge that the work you do every day truly makes a difference.

Edith Block is a regional supervisor for Youth Villages, a nonprofit organization with the mission to help children with emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. She holds a master’s degree in psychodynamic counseling from Birkbeck College at the University of London in England and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Westfield State College in Westfield, Mass.