We Are for the Child and the Social Worker

"This is my team. The team that saved my life."

Those were the words of a young woman I met 12 years ago who had spent several years in foster care. She was talking about a remarkable group of people: her lawyer, her CASA volunteer and her social worker.

At CASA for Children, we know that every day, social workers help keep abused and neglected children safe. We share a commitment to ensuring that these children are treated with dignity and respect, and that they and their families receive the help they need so the children can have a safe, permanent home. It's an important job and a difficult one. A child's safety and well-being are always at stake.

March is National Social Work Month. It's a good time to honor this profession that takes on such an important and difficult task. One way to support this critical work is to recognize that social workers in the nation's child welfare systems often have caseloads that make it challenging to serve these children and families effectively.

It is pretty clear that difficult economic times make the social worker's job more challenging. Child abuse reports tend to increase when unemployment increases. Court-appointed special advocates around the country have for some months now noticed increasing cases of more serious abuse or neglect of children.

Unfortunately, this is also a period in which the nation's child welfare systems are themselves less able to handle the job of protecting vulnerable children. At a time when it would make the most sense to increase funds for prevention, states are most likely to be reducing that funding.

When child maltreatment increases and caseloads are high, children are less likely to receive the individual attention they need and deserve. And often unfairly, it is overburdened caseworkers who shoulder the blame when something goes wrong. It is important to recognize the time constraints these professionals face as they try to keep children safe. According to a study in New York State, child welfare workers were able to spend about a fourth of their time in contact or communication with children and families. A third of their time is spent on required documentation.

There is fortunately an effort underway to recruit and retain more professional social workers. It seems clear that professionally trained social workers are especially well equipped to handle the stresses of protecting children. Compared to child welfare workers generally, they are more likely to have the training they need, the manageable caseloads, the time and the support to perform this essential function.

Because we at CASA are for the children, we are also for the social workers, who believe that every child deserves a safe, permanent home.