A day in the life of a social worker
15 March 2016
07:30: Arriving at the office on Monday at 07:30 there is a staff meeting to be attended. Coordination of tasks is important to survive another hectic week. Back in my office at 08:30 I check my email. There is a Form 9 from court. With this form, the court ordered me to investigate a case of alleged child abuse. I have to contact the school and arrange a meeting to interview the child.
08:30: I stop at the school on my way to do some scheduled home visits. A tiny and very shy eight-year-old girl with fear in her eyes approaches me. It is a warm day, but I notice that she is wearing a long-sleeve shirt and I can’t help but wonder what she is hiding.
When I started telling her who I am and what the purpose of my visit was, she started crying softly. I tried to comfort her and gain her trust. She told me that she didn’t want to go home that afternoon. She was afraid of her dad. Her mother passed away a year ago. I realized that there was something seriously wrong at home and promised her to do whatever I could to protect her.
09:00: I realized that I had to cancel all my other appointments for the day and to start the process of putting this girl in a temporary place of safety. I started phoning. The fourth place I contacted, a place of safety in a town 100km far from my office, was willing to accommodate her. Then I had to get all the documents ready for court. And of cause I had to inform her father that I was going to put her in a temporary place of safe care. He was furious and denied all allegations against him.
13:00: I went and fetched the girl at school and brought her to court. She was very anxious. Her entire body trembled. She was not willing to face her dad at all. With the help of the clerk of the children’s court we tried to safeguard her in a vacant office space in the court building while waiting for the Presiding Officer.
14:00: I realized that she could be hungry. I asked her whether she had had breakfast that morning. I phoned my colleague to arrange something for the girl to eat and drink. An hour later we were still waiting for the Presiding Officer. He was busy with another court case.
15:30: The Presiding officer was ready to see us. He tried to explain the procedures to the still very furious father of the girl. After what felt like hours, he issued an order to put the girl in temporary safe care.
16:00: I took the girl to the temporary place of safety. I phoned my supervisor to inform her. The girl turned quiet and seemed less anxious. We drove along in silence.
18:00: I dropped her off at the place of safety. The people there are very professional and I know they will take good care of her.
Eventually, at 20:30, I stopped at my home. I was extremely tired. Before I went to bed I made some notes on things that I had to do the next morning, like phoning the social worker at the place of safety to make sure that a medical doctor examines her.
Did I make a difference in this child’s life? I don’t know. What is the nature of her trauma? I am not sure yet. At this stage I only have questions.
But most important: I have to do my statistics as expected by the Department of Social Development first thing the next morning. It may not be submitted late.
A social worker has to deal with this turbulent, exhausting, unpredictable, responsible work daily.