What to Expect in the Field of Human Services
By John Hodgins, Sweetser
With five employees joining her department in the past month, Sweetser's Amy Goodwin has found herself acting as unofficial tour guide to her orienting colleagues. When one had his first meeting with a family, she came along for support. When another coworker crafted a service plan to strengthen a family, she suggested incorporating input from the client to determine goals. Prior to visiting a family in their home, one team member expressed apprehension. Amy used the opportunity to promote the benefits of home-based services. These fresh recruits consider Amy a human services veteran, though she laughs at the idea. "I've only been working in the field for a year," she explained. "I remember my initial expectations and concerns, so it's easy to offer advice."
Like many entering the human services field, Amy was motivated by the chance to create change in her own community. "I've always wanted to help people," she admits. "When I looked for my first job, I knew there would be personal rewards and challenges. After working awhile, I find it's held true." In almost all areas of human services, there is a focus on helping others find safety, health or success within their own lives. The work is vital and valid, which is often motivation enough. For self-described "people persons," careers in the field are ideal, because job duties revolve around the development of personal and professional relationships with others, whether children, adults or seniors.
Those working in human service have specialized training - whether earned through school or on-the-job - as a helping professional. You could hold a variety of positions, whether in residential care, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and food banks, substance abuse programs, organizations dedicated to children and families, poverty and employment services, child and elder care operations, mental health agencies and domestic violence efforts. Your role may include helping others obtain services, monitoring and keeping records, organizing or leading group activities, assisting clients in mastering everyday living skills and modeling healthy behaviors for residents or clients. For people like Amy and her coworkers, the possibilities and opportunities are endless.
Most human services jobs are paraprofessional, meaning not clinical or medical. Common positions, such as childcare workers, activities coordinators and in-home staff, don't require years of extensive education. Often, paraprofessionals are part of a team that includes professional social workers, psychiatrists or doctors. For example, at Sweetser, which provides housing for more than 300 children in Maine, Youth & Family Counselors comprise the vast majority of the residential team, providing supervision to clients, helping support the work of psychiatrists and treatment coordinators. Depending on the setting, organization and population served, job titles and duties vary greatly. Regardless, every job is valuable to an individual's level of help or care.
Despite the rewards, there are real challenges for those working in human services. When you enter the field, there is significant pressure on you to develop appropriate boundaries with those you help. It's an important balancing act that everyone must walk. Your supervisor will help you learn how much of your own personal life is appropriate to share in the workplace. Just as everyone has different boundaries, many people have different lifestyles and values than yours. For some, there might be a challenge in working so closely with those who live differently, which could be the result of education, economics, culture or values. Regardless, human service workers must learn to help others without being judgmental. You may work with individuals who need services because of disability, inappropriate behavior or family patterns. These are difficult things to overcome, and it can be a long time before the benefits of your work are realized. Patience is a needed trait for the field. In addition, people receiving human services often are part of a larger system, such as the state or workfare. Maneuvering these systems can be slow and frustrating, but possible to manage when your eye is kept on the goal.
Of course, when a family learns a healthier way of interaction or a difficult child becomes more respectful, the previously mentioned challenges seem lessened in the face of successes. Jobs in human services impact people more than any other profession, and therefore, the satisfaction of helping others is present. In addition, a significant benefit of working in the field is the people: your team and coworkers. It is a wondrous thing when people gather for the singular purpose of helping others live better lives. Your coworkers will share your vision of a better community and your compassion. In addition, you learn more about your community, because you discover what systems and services exist.
In the end, it's a great field, that's often a lot of fun. The possibilities for advancement are endless. The skills are very marketable, and are needed in every region of the country. It's more than a job, it can truly become a career for those who are dedicated and interested in helping others. More importantly, you are needed. Today, in every community, your neighbors need the help of talented individuals to improve the quality of their lives. If you accept the challenge to make a difference, you'll be glad you did.