Some of my best friends are social workers. I’ve long been impressed with the work they do supporting children grieving the loss of parents, helping couples improve their marriages, connecting people with AIDS to a range of services.
Social work doesn’t always work. Anything that depends on human beings will be imperfect and will require a blend of persistence, flexibility and forgiveness. Failure is inevitable. Transforming lives ain’t easy. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. Our world is full of need and in need of healing.
This project started under the title “A Day in the Life of a Social Worker.” JCCF put out a call to journalists nationwide to pitch story ideas. We were excited finally to have a grant to fund original reporting on a single theme; we considered it a way to support journalists directly and promote excellent coverage of our issues. JCCF received 52 proposals. Narrowing them down to a dozen assignments was hard. So, we went with a baker’s dozen: 13.
Diversity was a guiding factor in our editorial decisionmaking. We wanted the stories to come from a diversity of journalists, from different parts of the U.S., working in various media, covering a range of issues people face across the lifespan.
Along the way, we shifted focus away from day-in-the-life stories to more complex and nuanced coverage of human needs, social issues and the individuals and institutions that rise to these challenges.
No one project can completely capture the field of social work in the U.S. But as a whole, LIFELINES gives a fairly comprehensive portrait of the profession. Does it spin too positive? I think not.
Social workers are typically portrayed negatively in the media, both in the news and in fictional entertainment. They are sometimes depicted as paper-pushing bureaucrats who make the least effort possible on behalf of clients. They are usually blamed for institutional neglect in the child welfare system, especially if it results in the death of a child. Quite often those responsible aren’t even social workers, but case workers who do not have social work degree or training. Still, sometimes social workers are at fault. Burnout is a problem in any line of work, especially underpaid and underappreciated fields that seem to carry the weight of the world in the fate of a single human life.
This project aims to show us the impact that social work has on all of our lives, the truly hard work of helping people move from a bad place to a better place, and the ripple effect such change has on our entire society. LIFELINES is about the people who listen, pay attention, offer hope, demand accountability, and steer people toward good choices and opportunities.
I learned so much in the course of producing LIFELINES. Of course, everything worth doing always requires more time than anticipated. I was reminded of the importance of hiring professional photojournalists to take pictures. I learned that when you choose a wordpress theme with responsive design that you really to need to test out how it will look on all devices and browsers first. And, I realized that projects like this really are a partnership between an editor and a web developer/designer. I feel very fortunate to have worked with Maria Averion who exercised great judgment and shared my commitment to excellence. I am also grateful to the 13 reporters who pursued their subjects with equal parts empathy and accuracy. But I am especially thankful to the women, men and youth who shared their stories and lives with us all.