I am not a kid person. I general I dislike having to deal with any children that are not my Godson, or any of my adopted nieces and nephews. In fact, when I adopted my cat they said “you need to be warned, she doesn’t like loud noises or children” and my response was “perfect, we’ll get along just fine!”
Entering the MSW program in my 30’s I had a relatively good idea of where and what I wanted my future Social Work practice to look like (or at least I thought I did: it’s expanded tremendously as I went through my program, though the general idea has largely stayed the same).
So last year, for my first field placement, I indicated on my placement request form that I was looking for an adult population, in a clinical setting…and my Field Placement office met me half way: I would have one day a week doing Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy at a Family Solutions Center (so adults would be involved…but so would their children…).
I said “Okay…”
Then the other shoe fell: I would be spending my other day a week doing School Social Work.
I was (initially) a little disappointed. I was super excited at having the opportunity to do some clinical work…but…School Social Work? Children? Teachers? Parents? PTA? Soccer Moms (and Dads)? Why would I – a soon to be Social Worker working with adult clients – need to do any of that? How was that at all relevant to my future practice!?
Because. Adults. Have. Children. You. Doorknob (I say to myself, now…older and wiser…)!
…and sometimes it is absolutely critical that we learn how to interact with populations that we are uncomfortable or dislike working with, because our clients (and our code of ethics) require us to do so…and it was one of the world’s most amazing experiences.
I learned Theraplay and I learned how to work with children and their families. I learned how to work with parents and guardians. I learned how to interact with CPS. I learned how to liaise between administrators, teachers, parents, and students. I learned about the incredible developing minds of Kindergartners, First, and Second Graders…and how they can explode cartons of chocolate milk with only their eyes (sort of like…Darth Vader). I learned how to elicit information (and the truth) from unwilling children, and how to play games while at the same time conducting counselling sessions. I learned how to effectively advocate for my students’ needs. I learned a lot about myself. I also learned about the incredibly important role of public schools within a community, and why I think they need to be protected and cherished at all costs.
Now, as I complete the last 8 months of my MSW program, and I am in the Field Placement of my dreams, and I interact and work with adults as a Domestic Violence Counselor as part of my day job, I am extraordinarily thankful that my first field placement forced me to grow and stretch my boundaries as a Social Worker…because while day-to-day I get to work with my “ideal” populations, I also know that if I need to work with children I can, and because I had this incredible experience, with incredible mentorship, guidance, and supervision, I know I can do so effectively.
My first field placement gave me the gift of expanding my toolkit, which can only benefit my clients…so if I client tells me that they’re having concerns at home…and they’re an adult…and they have children, I can have them bring their kids into the office and I know that I have the training and the experience to work with that client and their family as a whole…and I would have never had that if I had my “ideal” field placement for my foundation year.
…I also wouldn’t be working as a Domestic Violence Counselor either with my incredible team at my incredible place of employment…so if you’re a student working your way through an MSW program, work with your Field Placement Office…and trust them (at least a little bit)…they may not give you what you want your first go round, but odds are they may give you what you need.