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Building the Mindset for a Social Services Career

Guest blog written by Melissa Y.M. Webster, M.S., LCPC, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Residential and Day School Programs

With the employment landscape changing every day in this country, industries like social welfare must adapt and innovate in order to continue to provide the critical, often life-saving services our young people need. I supervise One Hope United’s residential programs, which provide live-in care for youth whose needs are best addressed in a highly structured environment. The young adults we serve have a history of trauma, and they need our support 24 hours a day. While the situations we face are often painful and overwhelming, our work is also incredibly rewarding. My staff and I go home every day knowing that we helped a young person feel seen and loved.  

You can imagine the challenges a global pandemic and employment crisis pose in our line of work. While these obstacles are significant, our team is working hard to meet the present moment head on. 

When considering what makes our programs unique and how we have been able to respond during this time, I have found three unique approaches that we have taken have helped us find the best people to serve our youth. If you are interested in a career in social services, whether it be as a residential youth care worker or a similar position, these tips can help you gain the tools you need to build your career – and in turn, make a difference in someone’s life. 

First, find your why. This is imperative for staff members at every level, from senior managers to entry-level youth care workers. Once you know why you are here, you can encourage those around you. I have young team members who have served youth and families for over 10 years. Many started when they were 21 or 22 years old, and they have remained in the field and at One Hope United. 

Our world is full of opportunities, and many of these talented and committed team members could find meaningful and lucrative employment in a myriad of fields. Why do they choose One Hope United? There are many reasons, but I believe the biggest reason is that these young professionals have found their “why.” 

Simon Senek gave a highly viewed Ted Talk on finding your why: your purpose, your calling, your beliefs. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why this job and why stay?

I have done this work for a long time. I know why I am here, and what drives me to keep doing this hard work every day. My residential team members have found their whys. They are pulled out of bed in the morning by a love of serving teens who have suffered trauma, who often have mental health issues and behavior disorders. The days are always challenging, and sometimes the struggles our youth face drive people away. But those who stay do so because they have found greater purpose in remaining committed to extremely demanding yet fulfilling work.

Next, find your team. Social services professionals are team driven. We work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We do it because we are committed to our youth, but we also do it because we are committed to each other. 

Residential folks have found a tribe in their team members. At One Hope United, we are a team of people who share a passion to serve this population of youth. We serve alongside inspiring professionals and paraprofessionals who, in the deepest part of their souls, want the world to be a better place, one youth at a time. What a blessing it is to have a workplace where we come together, see a vision for a different kind of world, and work with people we like and respect to reach that vision. Once you find your why and your team, it is hard to imagine doing anything else. 

Finally, help others see the value of what we do. Most of our residential programs at One Hope United had their roots in orphanages founded over 125 years ago. There is a mythos in our culture around the orphanage and orphans: think of Dicken’s Oliver Twist and Annie. It’s important that whenever we can, we challenge misconceptions about the work we do, and help our friends, family members, and the general public gain a more accurate understanding of what modern residential programs actually look like. 

When people learn what I do, they always want to know more. They always want to hear the stories. What I am proud to tell you after almost a quarter of a century in this field is that we make a difference. From the first youth served at the beginning of my career to now, many of them still reach out. They tell us we made an impact in their lives: who they are today was in part shaped by us. We see their children, their work, and who they have become as an adult. They share their accomplishments and their challenges. 

A key part of attracting the right people to serve our youth is finding people who care that the work they do today will create happier and more successful adults, five, ten, twenty-five or fifty years in the future. Many jobs are rewarding, but our careers help support a shifted trajectory of the lives of youth who have suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the most traumatic ways possible. 

Final Thoughts: Even as essential workers who have been on the frontline throughout this challenging time, our focus remains on providing the highest standard of care possible to the vulnerable youth we serve. Our young people deserve the opportunity to build happy, healthy lives, and we help equip them with the tools they need to do so. I know that if you choose a career in social services, you will find fulfillment in a mission centered around serving others.

Want to make a difference in the life of a child, youth, or family? Learn about current employment opportunities with One Hope United here. 

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