The Power is Ours

By LaTasha Whitley

During a recent conversation, we discussed the use of the term “empowerment” when working with clients and our concerns that this word could constitute a power differential between the client and Social Worker, potentially hindering their partnership.  We instead liked the use of the term “engagement,” because this highlighted the importance of both parties working together to achieve a common goal.

This discussion led me to think about the importance of engagement in my experiences as a Social Worker.  I remembered being so nervous during my initial contact with one of my clients at my first job as a foster care caseworker.  I hoped that she would welcome the opportunity to work with me and was eager to make a good impression.  Her first words to me were: “Are you an intern or something?  You look like you are fresh out of high school.”  I was slightly offended, because I was a recent college graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and wanted to be taken seriously as a professional.  But, I also recognized that it was awkward that I was seemingly in a position of authority over this woman when I was nearly half her age.  I knew very little about the foster care system, and I had no clue about the adversity that this woman had overcome to get to where she was.  However, I knew that I was committed to helping her because of my passion and dedication to strengthening families and promoting the well being of children.  Ironically, this client became one of my closest allies, and I was able to successfully help her regain custody of two of her children.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about being a Social Worker is having the ability to forge relationships with people from various walks of life and using these ties to effectuate change.  My clients have often looked to me for support and have shared how much they valued our time together.  They have expressed their gratitude in numerous ways and have made me feel like I left a lasting impression on their lives.  However, I have not always had the opportunity to let my clients know how much they have also impacted me.  They have inspired me to continue to push forward during moments of adversity and adopt the resilience that they have exhibited.  I’ve encountered people who have witnessed countless acts of violence, abuse, trauma, and injustice, but they still continue to love, trust, and treat people with dignity and respect. 

During the moments when I’ve felt like giving up due to my own personal issues, I was motivated to go to work, because I wanted to be there for my clients.  I realized this was not because I felt like they needed me in order to be successful.  I instead recognized the value of our partnership and the power that we possessed when working together towards a common goal.  I thank my clients for inspiring me to be a better Social Worker and a better person everyday, and I want them to know that they are appreciated. 

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