UK HealthCast: Understanding the importance of social workers

Social workers podcast

On this edition of the UK HealthCast podcast we spoke with Wallace Bellis, a senior social worker in the department of pediatrics in the division of forensic medicine at Kentucky Children's Hospital, about the important work done by social workers.

What is a social worker?

A social worker is someone who can function in many different roles as they interact with families and patients. I don’t think that there’s really one specific definition for a social worker. For example, we may act as brokers when we’re assisting families or patients in accessing resources within the community.

We may be working as an advocate helping the underserved populations, impoverished, or victims of abuse, advocating for their rights. We can provide education to families on family functioning, child development, et cetera. Really, there’s just a whole different range of functions for a social worker.

How is a pediatric social worker different than an adult social worker?

Pediatrics is different because we’re very much focusing on the patient in the environment. Very frequently, our children are not able to function independently because of their age. So, we are specially trained to look at the environment as a whole, and address issues within the environment that will assist our patient. 

What kind of conditions are you seeing that you can help with when it comes to teens? 

We’re seeing patients both on an inpatient basis and also as outpatients. Essentially, what we’re doing is seeing patients when there is concern that there may have been some type of child maltreatment. As you can imagine, oftentimes these are families, these are individuals, that pretty much are having the worst days of their lives when we walk in.

What is your average day like?

We may have one or two consultations where we’re going over to the hospital or actually seeing a patient in clinic. When we do an assessment, it’s typically myself along with either one of our physicians or one of our nurses or nurse practitioners. We go into the room, introduce ourselves to the family, explain the nature of why we’re there and what exactly has brought us to them.

The interview itself is fairly standard. We’ll gather demographic information from the family. We’ll talk very specifically about the circumstances that have led up to their being brought to the hospital. The nurse practitioner, nurse, or physician will take a detailed medical history of the patient and also of the family members.

Frequently there’s additional tests that our medical folks will order. We compare what we find in our medical examination with the details surrounding how the child came to be in the emergency department. Basically, what we’re doing is trying to make sure that everything we see is accounted for. That there’s a plausible explanation for what we see.

Do you do investigative work if there isn’t a plausible explanation for what you're seeing?

If there are any questions left over, if there’s things that we cannot answer, then yes. What we do is we work in conjunction with state social services, the Department for Community Based Services. They're actually the agency within the commonwealth of Kentucky that performs the official child maltreatment investigations.

What we’re doing is not only trying to ensure the safety of the individuals that we have, either in clinic or in the hospital, but also making sure that those individuals, that family members, that everybody kind of understands the process that’s going on. Where they are in the actual investigative process. 

Listen to the entire episode of UK HealthCast below:

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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