I clearly remember every feeling I had when I started Graduate School at University of Chicago (School of Social Service Administration). Mostly a very strong feeling that everyone around me was smarter, had a clearer path, and a better foundation than I did.
I was nervous about being “enough” for the the caliber of people I was now sitting next to on a daily basis. I remember my third draft of my first assignment, in almost hysterical tears, which was literally to write a memo to the director of the Department of Human Services.
I matured, and I learned, and I loved everything about my experience over time at U of C. I am very proud to be a graduate of a school of it’s level, and they must have thought I belonged because they let me in and let me stay.
Reflecting now on the things that I learned over those years, I am so thankful for the education I received in Social Work, both the administrative work and the clinical. Who knew that ten years after graduating from U of C, I would begin my journey as a special needs parent.
My days are filled with social work philosophies and best practices, and their use in my current life is invaluable.
I fill out copious forms for support of my daughter, to help secure the equipment she cannot live without, to modify our home, to fund and find her therapies. Doctors visits, therapy visits, surgeries – all have a social work component. But my perspective as a parent is so much different than it was as a student.
As a student everything I learned applied to concepts and people I would never know. It all made clear sense to me what should be done or what could be done in a given situation. I followed the administrative track at U of C because I loved the focus on quantifiable results and on business practices to social work. I learned in my semesters doing grant review and applying principals of business to what I considered to be the clinical and non-measurable goals like “to empower a community.” I wanted to define the “how” to these goals and the “how do we know it works” to goals about empowerment or growth.
I wish I could go back to the School of Social Service Administration and talk to the students about a parent’s perspective of social services as a special needs Mom. As a Mom I work at making sure my daughter has access to the world, whether that be through durable medical equipment, education, accessible places, or social emotional development.
It is not as clear cut as just following principals and best practices. There are emotions to consider at diagnosis, there are oceans to cross in education and knowing and advocating for what is best for your child. There is exhaustion and fear and financial concerns, there is planning for the future. There are medical records to access, and bureaucracy and red tape to wade through. There are siblings to consider, and making sure their needs are equally met in a family situation. It is not the way it always looks on paper. Case reviews and clinical diagnosis, and a satisfying treatment approach that has a happy ending. It never really has an ending. It never seems to let up or get easier. It is a constant stream of advocacy and outreach, and an endless demand of strength both physically and emotionally.
I thankfully, feel well qualified to handle what life has given me. And found a sense of peace and confidence in what I have been able to do. But I constantly think of those who do not have the SSA graduate education I have been lucky enough to have received. Those who do not have the knowledge or the language or the background to know how the systems work, or how to wade through paperwork and forms and grant applications. All of them take time and a base level understanding, and many parents of special needs children do not have either.
We, as social workers, need to often walk in our client’s shoes for awhile to fully know what help to give. We need to be able to see social work from the true perspective of those who need our services.
I would love to share what I now know, with those who are just starting out in social service. To show them the view from my own life and to let them see what my shoes feel like on a daily basis. I think having that perspective could be an invaluable resource as they go on to advocate and plan for those with disabilities in their professional lives. And maybe like me, in their personal lives someday.