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Recipient of the Inspirational Leaders Award
Angela Townend, MSW, RSW, believes that clients are relying more and more on social workers' expertise and their professional networking to help meet both their immediate and long-term needs. Angela, who is Clinical Program Manager at Catholic Family Services of Durham, has led her agency's violence against women counselling programs for 16 years. She was interviewed in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 6-12, 2006 under the theme:
"Violence Hurts Everyone"
Angela explained that the call for the profession to advocate more extensively than before has become necessary not only due to the absence of family supports, but also because of the increasingly complex maze of systems that social work clients must navigate (e.g., mental health, justice, housing). In her agency, she has built a team of highly skilled social workers leading programs such as "Parenting After Violence", "Free to Be Me" (self-esteem programming for girls and boys), "Healing Hearts" (a group and individual counselling program for sexually abused children), and previously "Respect and Connect" (parenting skills for parents of school-age children). These programs all have a research component, which contributes to knowledge in the field. The Ontario Victims Secretariat has selected for funding Angela's most recent program conceptualization, "Safe and Sound/Sain et sauf"; this project will result in a bilingual, multicultural handbook for workers in the field of family violence.
In terms of the profession's future, Angela Townend sees social workers forming more community partnerships and taking on increasingly prominent roles in schools, the justice system, community mental health and child welfare, not just with respect to front-line services but in program development and implementation, policy and research. She finds that other professionals are looking to social workers for guidance and expertise in planning interventions with mutual clients. As an example, she indicated that her own agency is forming a greater partnership with the local police department in providing more comprehensive services as well as training in regard to family violence. She views these types of partnerships as a sign that other professionals have a better understanding of and respect for social work's role and expertise.
At the same time, Angela advises that the profession must now deal with new challenges, such as the increasing litigious nature of the business. It is vital to practice ethically and understand the primary legal issues that are encountered when working on the front lines. She finds the intersection of law and social work truly fascinating but, at times, it can also be subject to ambiguity and various interpretations. She underlines the importance of proceeding with caution and with consultation to avoid legal issues later.
Angela Townend also pointed out that social workers are facing head-on the fallout of a time-starved society. She worries particularly about the erosion of family time and the exhaustion of parents, and believes that social workers have a critical role to play in helping families reconnect with one another and with their community. She stressed that, no matter the setting one works or lives in, this seems to be a challenge facing all social workers on different levels: in front-line work with multi-stressed families; in administrative roles where there is a need to be accountable to agencies and funders; and even in social workers' own personal lives. She sees this "time-poor" theme weave itself into so many facets of clients' lives - work, parenting, marriage, friendships - and she stresses that there is a role for social workers to help others assess "how" they spend their time, and to consider that they do in fact have some control over this. She tries to challenge when people say they don't have time, and to underscore the choices that they have.
In the same vein, another issue that Angela highlighted was employee wellness. She remarked that social work has lagged behind the corporate world in tackling burnout and self-care. As a supervisor, she emphasizes the need to be creative to ensure that staff feel respected and valued, and keep their love of the work that they do. Keeping her own passion for her work has not been a problem - she feels fortunate and energized to be in a profession and position where no two days are remotely the same. Over the years, she has been involved in program development, intake, proposal writing, supervision, evaluation, orientation and front-line work. The opportunity to be innovative in different ways on a daily basis and to continually recreate herself has kept her stimulated. As well, she says that both her husband and her faith have been her ultimate supports throughout 16 years of being privy to so many hurt and abused individuals: "My faith, in particular, has helped me to focus not on the 'why's' of violence so much as knowing the role I have been led to play in helping others to heal".
In keeping with the theme for Social Work Week 2006, "Violence Hurts Everyone", Angela was asked what she would like to see happen to address the concerns related to violence and abuse, if she had a "wish list". She answered:
"My wish list would be for women to start valuing their worth in our society. I am both amazed and disheartened when I listen to stories from women who are true survivors, yet have so little insight into their strengths and capabilities. I enjoy working with young girls and helping to instill in them a belief that they are valuable and important and have a unique place in this world and have great things to contribute. My second wish would be for us to do a better job of raising our boys by helping them to value their role in relationships. We need to be more positive about what men can contribute to relationships and raise our boys to be emotionally literate. I wish for men and women to both contribute their strengths to building healthy relationships where power is shared."
Angela Townend is a social work leader - insightful, positive, creative. During Social Work Week, March 6-12, 2006, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who play a vital role in addressing the many forms of violence in our society.