The Value Added of Social Workers


Social workers are all about value added. The profession, as a whole, has been instrumental in improving the lives of our citizens for as long as social work has existed. On occasion, however, we are reminded of just how much value social workers add — particularly when social workers are applied to new situations and in innovative ways. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a law firm is using social workers to help smooth what might otherwise be more contentious legal issues.

Shandra Martinez, reporting for M Live, explains that Plachta, Murphy & Associates is a full-service law firm in Grand Rapids. “In recent years, it made sense to add social workers [to the firm] who could coordinate care and provide counsel and advocacy services beyond legal advice,” she writes. “The firm’s two licensed, masters-degreed social workers [have] taken on the role known in the legal profession as professional medical advocates… [to] help clients to understand their rights and navigate complex healthcare options, providers, insurance companies and paperwork. Professional medical advocacy is a profession in its infancy, but it’s growing fast thanks to aging Baby Boomers and a confusing U.S. healthcare system in flux.”

Martinez explains that these advocates may do everything from sitting by a hospital bedside to interpreting medical information or reviewing medical bills for errors. They also provide mediation in family squabbles and other issues where the presence of a social worker can make a positive difference.

This is, in all honesty, a welcome application of social work to real-life problems. It makes sense to reduce conflict and work to find common ground, even in serious legal disputes. This can make the whole process go more smoothly. Our legal system may be adversarial in nature, but at its core it is simply a means of finding a way to accommodate all involved parties. The presence of a social worker can help do that while increasing satisfaction on all sides. It’s a very worthwhile avenue for the profession to explore.

This does, however, raise the issue — yet again — of both the chronic shortage of social workers and the immense staff churn social workers experience. If we are to meet the increased demand for social workers in ever more areas of daily life, we must find ways to retain staff while adding new social workers to our ranks. This begs the question: Have YOU considered leaving the field? If so, why do you stay? What do you need, and what would you like, to make it easier for you to remain in social work? And where do you think social workers could be deployed to provide value added, particularly if they are not already being used in that capacity? Please share your thoughts with us by taking our short survey.

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