August 12, 2020

From Breanna Bell, Current MSW Student and Youth Advocate, Former Better Futures Youth

I knew from a very young age the type of social worker I wanted to be. Since my entrance to the world of foster care I had far too many social work “professionals” in my life, more than I can count. The majority of them never stuck around long enough for them to even know how to correctly pronounce my name. More often than not the various case workers, mentors, and therapists in my world did not approach their work from a place of trauma informed compassion. For a lot of them when we would meet, it felt as though our conversations came straight out of their social work 101 textbooks. I remember so clearly the way it made me feel: as if I were just a box to check on their long list of clients to see, unimportant, and without a voice.

I believe at times it was to no fault of their own, they were probably overworked, underpaid, and trained to be some sort of social work robots. Whatever the reasoning, I remember telling myself, I did not ever want to be that type of social worker. I remember constantly feeling as though all I wanted was someone that at least tried to understand me and relate to me, instead of just a case worker that would tell me what’s best for me and not even see me as someone with emotions, dreams and hopes of my own.

Lessons I Learned

Everything I have experienced as a service receiver has shown me what not to do as a social work professional. During my time as a Near Peer Coach, or youth mentor, I have made it my business to ensure that the youth I am working with know that they are important and their voices are heard. I always made sure to remember their names, how they are pronounced, and their stories. As simple as it may seem, it was important for me to do so as a way to show they matter and are worth knowing. Over the years some of the approaches I have taken in an attempt to empower the youth I work with include being my authentic self, more often than not the clients we are serving can tell whether or not we are being genuine.

I have also learned that going into client meetings with my own agenda and without including the individual on the formation of the plan is the furthest thing from implementing self-determination. Also approaching my work with an open mind, and including my youth in decision making processes as much as possible and validating their opinions. Most importantly I go into the work I do with youth recognizing that not every individual is the same, not their circumstances, not their story, and certainly not their goals, therefore the traditional one size fits all game plan is no longer acceptable.

Helpful Resources

Insight Teen Parent Services 

Outside In Young Adult Services

Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC)