National Social Work Month: Fighting the good fight

I have always been proud to be a social worker, especially as I work alongside my colleagues at Catholic Charities and with the other social service organizations serving in our communities. Together we consistently work to address difficult social issues, both in the broad impact these issues have on society as well as how they impact individuals in our communities.

Sometimes we social workers are viewed as "bleeding heart liberals" or "tree huggers" who don't understand the way the world really works.

At Catholic Charities, the social work staff are not busy hugging trees. Rather, we are finding ways in which our work can better the lives of children and their families. Our objective: keep them from falling through the ever increasing holes in our social service safety net. This requires that we be creative problem solvers, active listeners and vocal advocates for the people we serve. We challenge our own staff to think analytically and broadly as we work together with other helping professionals to bring resources to bear in solving a broad array of problems, including those brought on by this time of economic downturn.

Social workers across the network of Catholic Charities programs work with parents to ensure that children are well cared for. We support struggling families when we facilitate access to the education and training programs that will eventually provide a way out of poverty. We guide young parents as they deal with the challenges of raising their young children. We counsel those struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, helping to heal and enrich lives. We reach out to our youth in hopes of helping them develop the resiliency so necessary for success.

David is one such young person. Recently he lost his 14 year old friend to violence, the unintended victim of a gang related shooting. A Catholic Charities social worker has been working with David, as he awaits a mentor match through our TEAM program. The social worker reaches out not only to David, but to a number of his friends to provide comfort and support. Impromptu gatherings are formed and over the course of the following days, the social worker, with the help of other youth workers who know the kids from the neighborhood, make sure that the teens have access to the information and support they need. This includes providing access to programs about self care, normalizing some of the everyday trauma they experience, and connecting those who need additional help and attention to additional providers for more ongoing help. Low key, pro-social activities are organized to give the kids constructive structure and comfort while they remember and grieve for their friend. The teens themselves are not the only ones being supported in the aftermath of this tragedy. Parents are contacted and information about helping their children through this loss is shared with them as well.

As in this example, often our work happens in neighborhoods: on the streets, in schools and in people's homes. You will find Catholic Charities in some of the commonwealth's most challenged cities, towns and neighborhoods, from Brockton to Lowell, to the Circle of Promise neighborhoods of Dorchester. We are where the needs are greatest.

I am grateful to my Catholic Charities colleagues, who day in and day out, fight the good fight as they address the multitude of challenges faced by the disenfranchised in our communities. As we celebrate National Social Work Month, take a moment to thank a social worker you know for their commitment to making our communities better. To learn more about our work here at Catholic Charities log on to our web site at

Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.