Help starts here
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of social work? Help. That's exactly what the social workers at Children's Hospital Boston provide every day to patients and their families. Working to understand their concerns, social workers help develop plans that meet a child's health, developmental and emotional needs. But it doesn't stop there—social workers also conduct research, facilitate support groups, develop new resources, and much, much more. In recognition of National Social Work Month, Children's News sat down with four social workers who are finding new and different ways to help.
For the past eight years, Laura Gray, LICSW, has worked with patients with the genetic bleeding disorder hemophilia through the Boston Hemophilia Center, a joint program of Children's, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Gray has been so inspired by her patients' resiliency over the years that she decided to share their stories with others. As hemophilia is more common in males, Gray initiated "The Gift of Experience," an oral history study in which men, age 40 and older, participated in voluntary interviews to share their experiences living with hemophilia.
"While there have been dramatic advances in the treatment of hemophilia through the years, there have also been heart-breaking challenges," says Gray. "These men have an invaluable perspective, and I think telling their stories has been therapeutic, allowing them to gain a better understanding of themselves and the impact hemophilia has had on their lives."
Once finalized, transcripts of the interviews will be available at Harvard Medical School's Countway Library. "Hemophilia really is a family illness," adds Gray. "My hope is that these interviews will serve as a valuable teaching tool for future generations of hemophiliacs, their families and those of us working in the field."
Like Gray, Susan Shanske, LCSW, is developing a new resource for families and social workers’Äîthis one for children with complex medical needs’Äîwho often seek resource information. But this information hasn't always been readily available...until now.
Shanske has developed a new online Resource Guide that contains information on various topics, such as camp and recreational programs, organizations and foundations for disease-specific needs and government insurance programs. It is arranged by topic, by illness, or by state to ensure ease of access to the information.
"We wanted to make the guide as user-friendly and comprehensive as possible," says Shanske. "My hope is that this database will continue to grow and develop." The new guide is scheduled to go live in the coming weeks.
Maria Carvalho, LICSW, and Olga Perez, LCSW, are also working to help families of children with complex needs, but are targeting those who speak Spanish. In the spring of 2004, they started the hospital's first Spanish-speaking parents group, which meets every Monday for two hours, providing a safe place parents can come for information and support.
Social workers provide assistance with a variety of issues including:
Coping with illness
Parenting and care-giving concerns
Grief, loss or end of life issues
Violence in the home or community
School or educational concerns
Adoption or foster care
Access to community resources
Carvalho and Perez facilitate the group, emphasizing mutual support through shared experiences. Families learn about coping strategies and resources in their communities, as well as how to access and navigate complicated health care and education systems. Guest speakers are also invited to present on selected topics. There have been two six-week groups, and the third is scheduled to begin at the end of this month.
So far the feedback has been very positive. "After their session ended, our first group chose to continue meeting on a monthly basis," says Perez. "They have since added several parents from the second six-week session. We hope to help them develop the leadership skills they need to eventually run this group without our assistance."
Children's social workers are constantly working on new and different ways to help enhance the quality of care for children and their families both inside and outside of the hospital.