16 CHILD WELFARE
Ellen Harrington was determined to pursue a degree which would prepare her "to help people. Sociology gave me the perspective I needed, as well as some specific tools." By perspective Ellen means, the ability to see a problem or some situation in a productive or perhaps unique way. For example, Ellen suggests that, "A legal perspective might define a family as those related by blood and/or marriage and who also reside at the same address. A sociological perspective might help one see that a common name and address does not necessarily mean functional family relations. Many people can identify with being close to someone in proximity, but not close as a friend. In the case of a family the sociologist would look at actual relationships and the nature of those relationships in determining how to deal with a collection of people as a family."
According to Ellen there is another way in which sociology provides perspective, and this is found in the discipline's method. The focus on research in sociology means that new data are always being produced. Research skills possessed by individual sociologists allows one to produce their own data whenever current data are insufficient. As a result, perspective is something that is dynamic. It is always developing. But this only makes sense, according to Ellen, "because the nature of human issues continues to evolve. Ten years ago we really weren't hearing anything about AIDS. Before AIDS it was crack babies. Before that it was issues of recreational drug use and the disintegration of traditional families. Now we are talking about blended families and cultural diversity." The lesson to be learned is, if one's perspective is static then they will become less and less effective as circumstances change.
After earning her B.A. Ellen went directly to graduate school and earned her Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree. An increasingly popular degree, MSW programs can be entered from a variety of undergraduate degrees including sociology, psychology, undergraduate social work, and even business and education. Several things make the MSW popular, foremost among them being flexibility. "There are so many directions that a person can go with an MSW," according to Ellen. In her case she went to work for an agency to which she had been introduced by her undergraduate advisor. With her MSW in hand Venessa entered the work force as a principal case worker doing investigations. This was the top entry level position in her organization, and gave her significant responsibilities. One year later Ellen was promoted to Social Services Specialist II, a licensed position, and one recognized with the title of Master Social Worker.
Ellen's responsibilities were significant and varied. She investigated allegations of child abuse and neglect. Specifically she investigated child sexual abuse. Her work would begin with a case of potential abuse being reported to her agency. These reports could come from neighbors, teachers, doctors, and even family members. In coordination with the local police, and according to a special protocol, Ellen would begin investigating by interviewing victims. According to Ellen, "The difficulty here is determining what has really happened versus what people believe or perceive has happened. It is also difficult to get people to trust you, as the investigator, and therefore provide the information you need. In many ways this is just basic sociological research."
Subsequent to an investigation which determined that abuse had occurred Ellen then worked with the district attorney in superior court in prosecution of the case. According to Ellen, "What was especially important here was consulting with the authorities so that they fully and clearly understood the case. The law may be `black and white' but cases of actual abuse are usually `gray.' In sociological terms you are constructing realities about what occurred in ways that people can respond."
In addition to her duties as investigator Ellen was involved in a number of other projects. Her skills in research and her ability to communicate the nuances of her work made her a widely recognized expert in the community. She conducted training seminars for the police department on recognizing the indicators of abuse. She participated in U.S. Department of Justice research on the handling of domestic violence cases by police. And, she advised the courts on the benefits of prison verses intervention in prosecuting a case. She also consulted other agencies which had reason to come in contact with children and families. The important career point here is, Ellen's career developed well beyond the standard parameters of her job. Her discipline gave her the perspective to see more opportunities for her work than a simple job description might lead one to believe.
One way Ellen's career developed was to change careers. After about eight years Ellen returned to school and eventually earned the Ph.D. in social work. But instead of advancing within the field of social work, Ellen moved into higher education. Now she is preparing students for careers in social work. As usual, however, Ellen does more than simply teach. She has promoted learning opportunities for students outside the classroom and has served the community generally. For example, when the local school district was sponsoring a youth leadership development conference Ellen was asked to present a seminar on gangs. Rather than lecturing, Ellen had her juvenile delinquency class prepare and present skits and other role playing performances to teach young people about gangs. In addition to all this Ellen is taking on yet a new challenge. In her mid 30's and after earning her Ph.D., Ellen is learning a second language, Spanish. Her reasoning is, "With the United States being one of this worlds largest Spanish speaking countries, and with that population being one of the fastest growing in the U.S., it just seemed like I ought to be prepared. Besides, when my students complain about having to take Spanish I can say that I'm in their with them." To this end Ellen even engaged in an immersion program in the Dominican Republic. Ellen advises, "The learning never stops."
Financially social work does not necessarily mean low pay. According to Ellen, "You will not make a lot of money, but you can be comfortable." For large urban areas Ellen reports the following type of pay scale. Entry level with a B.A. starts at $20,000 – $25,000. First year MSW's can earn at about $30,000. Ph.D.'s can make $40,000 – $50,000. In addition the flexibility of the degree allows those who are motivated to become entrepreneurial and set up clinics or go into private counseling. In this case the earnings potential is great; from $50 to $150 per hour, depending on locale, population, and kind of service offered.
Two others, Todd and Tracie Abbott, are just embarking on their careers. Todd was an undergraduate psychology major and Tracie majored in sociology. Their interests tended towards the human services, but both realized that additional education would be necessary. There was also a complicating factor. Todd was a year ahead in college and he and Tracie were intent on getting married soon. Tracie's parents were somewhat concerned about educational expenses and job prospects. The solution was an accelerated program for Tracie whereby she was admitted into a graduate MSW program after her junior year in college. This effectively caught her up with Todd who was also entering the same MSW program. Two years later they are both graduates with MSW's in hand and, significantly, jobs. Tracie is a clinical therapist focusing on children and Todd is a clinical outpatient therapist focusing on adults. Located in a small town Todd and Tracie find that there is still tremendous need for their services. As far as their parents are concerned, the payback for education has already begun. Both Todd and Tracie have entry level salaries of $25,000, for a combined income of $50,000. "We're not sure just exactly what to expect," say Todd and Tracie, "but we know we are prepared. It's just a matter of using the knowledge we have and being willing to look for and take advantage of the opportunities. It's exciting."
Careers Page |