Written by Mary Beaven, Lead Pediatric Social Worker & Bereavement Coordinator for Capital Caring Health

There are many myths about the role of the social worker in pediatric hospice.  I am often asked, “do you work for the county or the state?”  Other times I’m told, “I don’t want to talk about how I’m doing.”  Comments like these are sometimes based on personal experiences, but more often than not, they are assumptions people have made based on things they have heard through the grapevine or seen in movies. Here, I’ll address some commonly-held misunderstandings about social workers on a pediatric hospice care team.

Myth 1: “Social workers work for the government.”

While it is true that some social workers do work for county or state agencies, many social workers, including hospice social workers, work for private companies or helping organizations. Capital Caring Health is a not-for-profit hospice agency and employs around 80 social workers in both direct hospice care and bereavement support. Social workers respect all people and their ability to make their own decisions. In our organization, social workers work with families regardless of factors like age, gender, socioeconomic status and immigration status.

Myth 2: “Social workers take kids away.”

The sad reality is that some children are abused or neglected by their caregivers and require intervention from county or state agencies in order to protect children. Even so, the goal of this type of intervention is always to support the family structure as much as possible. All employees at Capital Caring Kids are mandated reporters, meaning that if we see evidence of abuse or neglect it is our duty to report it.  Thankfully, this experience is extremely rare, and in my 7 years of working as a hospice social worker have only had to make one report.

Myth 3: “Anyone can call themselves a social worker.”

Historically, social work jobs were open to caring, compassionate individuals who were dedicated to public service.  As the field has expanded, though, social work has become more highly regulated and now social workers must increasingly hold a master’s degree.  Many social workers, including hospice social workers, also hold a license through their state, which requires two years of supervised practice and passing an exam.

Myth 4: “Social workers force you to talk.”

Sometimes hearing the word “social worker” is a turn off to patients and families if they are fearful the social worker might force them to talk about their feelings or have hard conversations.  While helping families process their emotions and talking through care options is part of what we are trained to do, one of the main tenets of social work is to “meet the client where they are.”  This means that we will not force you to have conversations you aren’t ready to have.

How will a social worker in pediatric hospice support my family?

Social workers are part of the interdisciplinary team that cares for children in hospice.  They are specially trained to provide emotional support to the parents, caregivers, and siblings, as well as the child with the advanced illness.  When working with children, social workers use a variety of modalities including talk, play, and art to allow the child opportunities for self-expression.  Social workers provide education to families on advanced directives and goals of care, while helping the family make memories and identify what makes a “good day.”  In addition, alongside the nurse, social workers help navigate care coordination with community providers and private duty nursing.  Lastly, social workers assist families by connecting them with community resources.  There are many wish-granting organizations, as well as organizations that provide financial support that many families aren’t aware of, so social workers can provide information about these programs.

Each social worker has their own style and personality, but each has the goal of providing compassionate care to children with advanced illness and to their families.