A social worker friend of mine who works with low-income families wrote recently on Facebook,
Today was a bad day. There is so much despair out there. I think I need a new career.
Another social worker commented to her,
I know what you mean. This is the worst I've seen it in 30 years.
And a friend who is a principal of a school in southeastern Michigan, a school with a high number of children living in poverty, told me,
The economic stresses on these families are unbelievable. Their instability in housing and jobs keeps them moving all the time. We enroll new kids in the school, and have kids leave the school, every week because of the instability.
And if a school has 30% turnover from the beginning to the end of the year, is it fair to measure kids' progress the way that we do in a school with 5% turnover?
When I was teaching, I remember kids coming up to me and saying, "There is too much chaos in my house (housing issues, immigration fears, lack of employment, etc.) and I just can't do my homework." For some kids, just making it to school is the miracle.
I know a lot of people are worried about those families. We think less often about the front-line workers--by which I mean, in this case, social workers and school staff--who confront increasing need and decreasing resources. I worry about the front-line staff. It is really hard to hear the public discussions around education and social services, to hear that teachers or social workers "get paid too much," to have pay and benefits rolled back, and not to acknowledge that it is hard to be the social worker or teacher working with the kids or families who need so much more, who deserve so much more, and who don't get what they need.
Sure, in our area there is a surfeit of teachers and social workers--so maybe they are replaceable, but is it a good thing to set up a system where teachers and social workers get burned out because there is so much need for their services and so little value placed upon them?
My friend was writing about the despair among her clients, but what I hear from her is the despair that things will get better. We alone cannot control the economy (of course, we can each do our small part), but when we value the work of front-line staff, we can improve their feelings about their work.