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Bridging the Gap: Social Workers Report Back

12/12/2014 by Aysha Khan

To create LIFELINES, JCCF sent 13 journalists across the country this fall, breaking down historical tension between the two fields to tell stories of those who work to improve the human condition.

To help bridge that gap, social workers who were interviewed suggested journalists show patience, curiosity and respect for the field while reporting.

“It was a really easy process for us,” said Catherine Claybrook, who heads a team of social workers at Oklahoma’s Women in Recovery program. Reporter Molly M. Ginty interviewed her for several hours, over lunch and dinner, and sat in on several group counseling sessions.

“She wanted to see what got us interested in what we do, and she wanted to see it in action,” Claybrook said. “I was expecting more questioning, but it was really just conversation. Her approach worked beautifully.”

“Social workers might start out a little guarded,” said Claybrook, who said she is rarely interviewed by media, and never for a broader national audience. “We’re really open to talking about our work here, but it helps if the journalist has some curiosity and willingness to understand and value our profession.”

Diandra Kaufman is a fairly new social worker at the Children’s Home. She said she was impressed by radio producer Alison Byrne, who came into the interview with a good grasp of social work already.

“Understand the field – the risks we take every day, the dangers, what it entails to go to work every day with so many forces up against what you’re working for,” Kaufman said. “That way we can have a discussion that focuses on the important issues.”

For Bill Mendez, a social worker with the SAGE Center, the challenge of dealing with a reporter was more of time.

“My first thought when I was contacted by Audrey Quinn was, ‘That’s something else on my plate.’”

“It wasn’t as easy as it initially looked,” he said, suggesting that reporters keep social workers’ schedules in mind. Between his clients’ activities and medical appointments, his own meetings, and bringing in photographers, arranging the interviews took incredible coordination.

Most media representations put social workers in a negative light, he said, while Quinn’s piece allowed him and his clients to tell their stories.

“A lot of times the media focuses on kids being taken away, kids falling through the cracks –– and it usually ends up falling on the social workers who are in charge of that,” Mendez said.

Claybrook agreed that social work is generally painted as a “power and control-based relationship.”

“What I find in this part of the country is when I say I’m a social worker, people immediately think of Child Protective Services and the people who work with removing children from unsafe homes,” Claybrook said. Women in Recovery receives some media attention locally, but never something on such a broad scale, she said.

For social workers being interviewed, all three suggest honesty and forthrightness.

“Speak from your heart and remember what pushed you to do this,” said Kaufman. “We’re not lawyers or politicians, but we do have a voice that’s important to hear.”

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