Scapegoats and the Social Work Workplace

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Changing Professional Focus

Thank you Thank You Thank You for this article! I graduated 4 years ago with my original social justice ideals intact. It didn't take long for me to become jaded and cynical. A few months ago, I was fired from a small nonprofit agency because I couldn't produce the numbers needed to please the funders. I was heartbroken--by my expectations that social work was going to be a fulfilling profession. My best skills cannot be measured--empathy, intuition, an exceptional ability to develop rapport with clients...all reasons I went back to school and became a social worker in the first place. I was lucky to have some colleagues I could trust who pointed me in another direction: policy. I plan to hopefully do research on the damaging effects of the current political climate on social workers, and how it more often than not causes us to risk our physical and mental health on the front lines. I have felt so alone these past few months. Reading this article was very affirming around my personal experience as a social worker.

Adina more than 4 years ago

To Adina

Thank you for sharing your experience. Keep in mind that the policy work you plan to do is also social work and is much-needed work! more than 4 years ago

The struggle is real...

Thank you for these good words. They came to me this morning at the right time. In my current employment I am caught between a rock and a hard place. Taking a job for a new program that did not have critical staff buy-in. The grant funders are unhappy with the lack of progress and staff are unhappy with being asked to make changes as directed by the grant. I don't have an administrative champion and all these challenges you, Dr. Bodenheimer, write about, I feel deeply. As a matter of fact a colleague told me last week she thought I was the agency scapegoat. It's hard to even write these feedback words because I feel like a failure on all levels. I have been told I am a disappointment as a leader and then prevented the support and resources I needed to accomplish the grant goals. At this point, I don't know if I can continue. My interest in Social Work came from my passion for social justice and building equity, teams, collaboration. I am a true Aquarian! What I have found in practice is a deep animosity and suspicion towards individuals who work to build that equity. I am in the unique position of being a nurse (RN) and social worker (LCSW), tasked to implement an integrative care grant. Yes, many come and tell me their secrets. I am the agency vault. I am also the person staff can point to and say "you are the reason this didn't work." Clinical staff wonder why I left nursing, behavioral health staff wonder if am I trying to be "above" them.... A foot in both worlds and the trust of neither. My super power is that in spite of staff discontent and reservations they genuinely like me, even when they don't "like" each other. But I can feel a gauntlet is about to drop and yesterday a thought surfaced, in order for this organizational change to happen, I may need to be dispensed of for the "cleansing" reasons you listed and articulated so well.
Thank you so much Dr. Bodenheimer and New Social Worker. I am really struggling right now and feel a great deal of comfort and wisdom from this insightful analysis of organizational dynamics and it's impact on the work, the good work we are all trying to do. Balance, harmony, peace and blessings to you and us all!!!!

lam more than 4 years ago

So True!

I don't feel so bad now knowing how scapegoating works in social work and the dynamics that encourage it! This was me last year, twice! It was so emotionally damaging and really made me lose faith in social work practice. However, having a better understanding makes me not feel like it was somehow something wrong with me!

D James more than 6 years ago

About Real World CSW

Dr. Danna Bodenheimer is the author of Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way and On Clinical Social Work: Meditations and Truths From the Field. She shares practice wisdom with new clinicians.