Help me be the best caseworker possible!
May 25, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me be the best caseworker/social worker possible! Could you recommend resources--or share some tips--that will help me prepare for my new job as a direct, on the ground, social service provider?

After a few years of working in support/advocacy positions with social service organizations, I just accepted a job as a caseworker at a non-profit that works primarily with recent immigrants and other new arrivals. While the organization will provide me with training and I do have some idea of how direct social service provision works from my previous jobs, I'll also be one of the only new caseworkers without either a MSW or significant casework experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am really excited about the job, but I'm also a little nervous about my lack of knowledge/experience.

So! What are some great resources (books, websites, articles, etc.) that will help me hit the ground running? What sorts of things might I need? (A former co-worker recommended comfortable shoes, for example.) What do you wish you knew before you took a similar position?

If it makes any difference, the organization is in the US. (And yes, I'm also sending a similar note to my awesome new supervisor.)
posted by cimton to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Academic books and articles are taking you in the wrong direction for this kind of work. You need to learn the local landscape of resources your clients will need to access. I just gave two talks at Penn's school of social work and emphasized the sad fact that kids are getting MSW's and coming into practice not knowing how welfare works. Why don't they have a class that tells you how welfare works when 90% of your clients will be on it? Baffling. TANF, Medicaid, CHIP, SSI/SSDI and then region and population specific supports are all stuff you need to be ninja on.
posted by The Straightener at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, The Straightener, you make a good point. I'm not specifically looking for academic books/articles, but rather anything that might give me some good, useful knowledge and advice.
posted by cimton at 2:19 PM on May 25, 2010

In my area (Southern Mississippi), the United Way had developed a HUGE spiral bound book of every local resource that was kept pretty much up to date. See if your local United Way has something similar. If not, start one yourself. Every time you learn of a resource, alphabetize it in the media of your choosing--a notebook, Word doc, business card holder--what ever works for you. If you ever find yourself with some downtime, call the resources and make sure you have up-to-date info.

One of my "pro-tips" is to never hang up the phone when talking to a resource without saying the magic words "Thank you for your time. Are you aware of any other organizations that could help me with this?"
posted by thebrokedown at 2:23 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

My immediate reaction was like The Straightener--you gotta know/learn your public benefits basics. Some agency in your area might have created a resource like the PBRC manual, which is a straightforward explanation of pretty much everything in New York. You might also ask around about any listservs or google groups or some other way that people in your field exchange information. Listservs are the #1 way I get names and numbers of actual humans who can help with a particular problem.

Start from day one with a plan of how you will organize contacts. It sucks to remember that you heard about a good resource awhile back, but can't find the number. If your job is anything like the caseworker/social workers I know, there's a pretty good chance that you will spend a lot of time making phone calls and troubleshooting problems.
posted by Mavri at 2:52 PM on May 25, 2010

Is there a local branch of a professional organization you can join? That way you can consult with other SWs and CMs in your area. Look into national professional groups too.

The hospital ERs I've worked at had brochures on local support agencies.

Don't know if this applies to your population but I know some people have gotten help finding geriatric case managers at NAPGM.

Good luck!
posted by dog food sugar at 3:21 PM on May 25, 2010

It would probably help to know which state you're in. I'm not in the US myself, but I know someone who knows lots of stuff that applies in Texas (and federal stuff too? I get a little mixed up with US gov't stuff), who may be able to help you (probably mostly with links to resources about how benefits work, possibly with advice as a former caseworker). PM me if this sounds useful.
posted by Lebannen at 3:52 PM on May 25, 2010

I would suggest combining the knowledge the straightener suggested with some elementary but important clinical skills. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify-since there will be misunderstandings between you and your clients, have them re-state what you've said. And see if you can do the same with what they say. Empathy- try to imagine what it would be like for you to seek services in a foreign land without the ability to easily convey your thoughts, ideas, and needs. Treat your clients with respect and listen to them. While they may be entitled to many services and benefits, they may need time to understand why they need the benefits and how it will help them. Use all the supervision you can get to help you do this job. Lastly, when you feel burned out, request time off or go on a vacation. Good luck.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 4:14 PM on May 25, 2010

As the associate director of a large mental health clinic that receives referrals from social workers all the time, I'd highly recommend that once you've got your list of quality potential referrals for your clients, that you actually contact someone at the referrals where you think you might be referring regularly.

This does two important things: First, it establishes a relationship between you and a contact person at the organization. Ask things like: "Is there someone that at your organization that could be my contact person there?" This relationship can then be leveraged for good later on, as in, "Hey, I've got a client who really needs an anger management group, is there any way that you might be able to fit him in your next group?"

Second, and I'd say, more importantly, find out from these referrers exactly what their process is for receiving services. What can your clients expect when they first call the number to make an appointment? Will it go straight to voicemail? What kind of message should they leave? What do they need to ask for? What is the intake process like? What kinds of paperwork might they need to have ready? If they don't have a phone, and plan to walk in, what should they ask for?

It's one thing to have a list of good places to refer for services, but it takes you another step above to be able to let your clients know what to expect when they start to pursue these services.

ChicagoTherapyConnection makes a great point about imagining what it would be like to be in a foreign land and need services. The social workers that are able to walk clients through multiple processes of participating in services, without enabling or too much hand-holding, are fantastic, indeed.

All the best, and thanks for wanting to be a fantastic caseworker. Even the fact that you're asking this question puts you several degrees ahead of many others.
posted by cheeken at 7:53 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since the practical suggestions above are awesome, I'll just mention that there's a decent body of literature on case management if you ever want to consult it. Although you are not a social worker, the NASW has case management standards. This book is a standard text for case management courses, and includes a lot of templates for assessments, case notes, and treatment plans (although your agency will likely have its own, it's helpful to see how others might do it). I also know a couple of people who have the CCM certification, who say that they have found it useful in a social service context since they are LPCs and not LCSWs, but it requires substantial time-on-job before you qualify to test and apply.

Also, involve your client in decisions as much as you can - even small decisions help the client feel involved in her/his future rather than run over by the process.

Good luck!
posted by catlet at 7:11 AM on May 26, 2010

What sorts of things might I need? (A former co-worker recommended comfortable shoes, for example.)

Are you going to be working in the community or just in the office? Either way, start buying hand-sanitizer in bulk. If you're community based, keep some granola bars or something similar in your car for those crazy days where there's just not enough time to sit down and eat a decent lunch. But do try to schedule a lunch break every day. If you're transporting clients in your personal vehicle, invest in some seat covers that can be easily washed.

Your coworkers will be amazing resources. Ask lots of questions. Shadow them as much as you can during your first few weeks.
posted by whatideserve at 9:36 PM on June 7, 2010

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