Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a Professional

When I was in school getting a degree in social work people would ask me, “So what exactly does a social worker do?”

My mom thought social workers only worked in public assistance offices. My dad thought maybe social workers just took kids out of bad homes. No one really knew that social workers then – and now – work in hospitals, work as counselors, create and manage programs for special populations, and perform a whole range of tasks, in a wide variety of settings.

Titles mean something, especially job titles. That’s why nurses often say they’re “RNs” instead of just nurses – it reflects the level of training, skill and knowledge that they’ve achieved.

But when your job title isn’t one that people recognize it has less meaning. That’s why, when I was just finishing graduate school, the National Association of Social Workers began a campaign of saying, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a social worker.”

They wanted the general public to start getting a better idea of the broad range of jobs that social workers do, and how they contribute to the fabric of our society in many different ways. They also wanted to help people working as social workers gain a more professional status at the same time.

Today, one of the growth fields in an era of massive unemployment is the field of caregiving. Open any newspaper’s want ads or look at any online job board and you’ll see this immediately: caregiving is a field that has openings.

But it’s also a field where workers are frequently undervalued and underpaid. Many caregivers work for minimum wage or just a little above, with no health care benefits, paid vacation or sick leave.

It’s not really surprising that the national turnover rate in caregiver positions approaches 200% today.

In some states caregivers are organizing with the help of labor unions, demanding respect and professional recognition. That’s one approach, but not the only approach.

There’s another way that’s even more effective because it’s even more grass-roots. That’s when every single caregiver says, “I’m a professional caregiver,” and begins to ask for respect and benefits.

PHI advocates for the term Personal Care Aide. This term has been accepted by the federal Office of Management and Budget, too.

Our company is preparing to launch a comprehensive certification course for Personal Care Aides, allowing them to complete 40 hours of foundational training completely online. We’re instructing graduates to identify themselves as Certified Personal Care Aides.

We’re telling them: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a Certified PCA.”

Together, we’ll begin to raise the bar for caregiver professionalism.

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