My understanding of the social work profession has developed over the course of my lifetime, as I was involved, as a client in social-worker/client interactions from a young age. Therefore, my understanding of the social work profession is, at the most basic level, that social workers' job is to help people dealing with circumstances that are considered outside of the norm of daily existence. To me, the core values of social work include service, social justice, recognition of the dignity and worth of every person, a focus on the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. The idea of social justice is particularly important in the field of social work, though it can be very difficult to define. Social justice refers to the idea that every human being should be treated as though they have the potential to do good things and should be afforded the same opportunities. Social justice goes beyond the idea of surface equality. For example, social justice is not fulfilled by giving all students access to an equal education, when those students are struggling with various different backgrounds and issues that makes it impossible for all of them to utilize resources in the same manner. Therefore, social justice does not mean things are equal, but that they are just. It is just for some people to have access to greater resources than others, in order to provide them with a fair opportunity at meaningful equality.
My personal history led me to understand how critical it is for children to have positive adult role models and to receive adequate financial support. As a result, I began volunteering with the Big Brothers / Big Sisters military program. This enabled me to help supplement the backgrounds of those children who did not have equal backgrounds that would support their success. I felt like this was a way for me to focus on service and emphasize the dignity and worth of children in at-risk populations. I also incorporate that focus in my professional life. I currently work for the County of San Diego's Department of Child Support Services. One of the greatest travesties of modern American life is the absence of parents, generally fathers, from the lives of their children. One of the ways that this impacts single-parent homes is that they are disproportionately impoverished. While the government cannot mandate direct parental involvement, it can mandate that non-custodial parents pay child support, and I believe that helping enforce those laws helps bridge some of the economic inequities that strike single-parent homes, though I also recognize it is a stop-gap measure rather than a permanent solution.
I am almost hesitant to describe the significant relationships and life experiences that I have had in giving or receiving help that have motivated me to enter the field of social work, because I fear that giving an honest response will make it appear that I am seeking pity. However, I would be disingenuous if I pretended like I was not significantly motivated by my own personal life to try to help others. I grew up in Jackson, Michigan, an area with a high crime rate and a high teen pregnancy rate. My mother was both a drug addict and an alcoholic, which significantly impacted her parenting abilities. She allowed a man to molest me, which resulted in me having a baby at the age of 13 years old. There was no meaningful intervention in my life, though a pregnant pre-teen should have been a tremendous red flag about my family situation. I believe that social worker involvement in my childhood prior to that point may have prevented my molestation and pregnancy. I witnessed many family members have involvement with the social work system, and many of my family members were removed from their families and placed in the foster care system. Their outcomes were not always positive, but these placements did appear to have meaningful positive impacts for some of those individuals.
The personal characteristic that will serve me best as a social worker is that I am an optimist. I grew up in the type of circumstances that lead many people to give up hope and turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort. I witnessed, firsthand, the impact of those decisions on the lives of their loved ones, and I determined that I would not become that person. I joined the military, and, in the military, I worked hard and climbed the ranks as an avionics technician. I refused to allow the naysayers in my life to define me, but chose to define myself. I continue to do so. When I gave birth to a child at the age of 13, few people would have predicted I would have a successful career in the military, much less that I would be pursuing a master's degree in any subject. I refuse to allow myself to be confined by the negativity of other, and I believe that optimism is the personal quality that will best equip me for the social work profession.
One of the things that I have come to realize as an adult is that my decision to join the military was beneficial on so many different levels. Perhaps it was most beneficial in that I gained exposure to a wide variety of people with varied backgrounds while in the military. Moreover, a military situation put me in forced close-quarters with these people, many of whom I never would have approached in civilian life. Therefore, when asked about my experiences and feelings working with populations different from my own, I actually find the question a little ridiculous. As a social worker, I will be called upon to deal with populations where there is real need for help and compassion; and I feel as if these underlying human needs are much greater than the differences between people. Obviously, I understand the need for cultural education, so that I can better understand the perspectives of potential clients; behavior that it maladaptive in one culture can be positively adaptive in another culture, and I cannot understand those differences without studying the underlying culture. However, I do not believe that I will find it challenging to relate to other human beings in need as a human being who was once in need, myself. It will not be difficult to empathize with someone who is scared, intimidated, and feels totally alone because the people she should have been able to trust her have betrayed her, and, to me, that describes a significant percentage of the population with which a social worker will work.
Given what I have already described about my background, it should come as no surprise that the social welfare area that interests me the most is identifying children in at-risk homes and transitioning them to better environments. I understand the historical issues that have made removal of children a last resort in social work, but I am not certain that is an appropriate approach. I would be interested in further research on the positive impact of early intervention and removal of children from parents in abusive or neglectful homes, rather than seeing a continuation of the modern cycle of removal/return to the home, which results in children having a permanent sense of transience and not feeling as if they belong. I would really like to focus research efforts on the impact of long-term placement in foster care, with an emphasis on retaining any positive relationships with a child's birth family.
My academic experience to date has faced some challenges. I did not have the same degree of foundation education as many of my peers. Not only did I grow up in an academically challenged area, but the addiction issues in my family home and struggling with pregnancy during junior high school had…