I interviewed School Social Worker Sue Cataen-Ingram, MSW, to gain a better understanding of her job for those who aspire to a similar career. Ms. Cataen-Ingram has worked as a school social worker for nearly 20 years, one of which she was named the Eastern Regional School Social Worker of the year.
During her social work program, Ms. Cataen-Ingram studied individual, family, and group behavior. She said she also learned how our environment shapes who we become. She explained that it was an intense, rigorous curriculum that prepared her well to become a social worker. She said that internships were a large part of her training and she learned a great deal from this field experience. During graduate school, she said she polished her skills. Ms. Cataen-Ingram received an associate degree from the College of the Albemarle, a bachelor's degree in Social Work from Elizabeth City State University, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Norfolk State University. After completing her coursework, she received a license from the state of North Carolina as a school social worker. She is currently a member of two professional organizations: North Carolina School Social Workers Association (NCSSWA) and North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).
According to Ms. Cataen-Ingram, school social workers perform a variety of tasks to help students, their families, and the community. She explained that school social workers act as a liaison between the families and the community.
Ms. Cataen-Ingram said part of being a school social worker is helping to keep students in school. This entails assisting students and their families as they face hardships, which might otherwise make remaining in school and completing academic tasks more difficult, or even impossible.
Currently, Ms. Cataen-Ingram works with elementary school students in the Wake County School System in Raleigh, North Carolina. For the majority of her career, however, she worked with secondary school students.
When I asked Ms. Cataen-Ingram what it is like to work students, she explained there is a difference between working with older and younger students. Younger students, she explained, are "like sponges and they watch everything we do." She also stated that younger students are less inhibited and say whatever they are thinking at the moment.
Ms. Cataen-Ingram said that one of the challenges to working with high school students is that many people expect them to act maturely. However, Ms. Cataen-Ingram said that they are still children and need guidance and direction to learn.
The best part of her job, according to Ms. Cataen-Ingram, is working with the children. She said she loves getting to know the children and their families. She said that she also enjoys the fact that she never knows what to expect. The aspect of her job that she least enjoys is taking parents to court when they do notsend their children to school.
"It's hard to describe a 'typical' day," Ms. Cataen-Ingram explained, "because I never know what to expect." She said that she cannot expect a day to go according to her plans. She might plan to work on attendance when a parent calls, upset because they have no place to live that evening. "School social workers," she said, have to prioritize responsibilities, and "think fast on their feet" to help students and families as problems arise. She said this sometimes means teaming up with churches, businesses, or additional social workers.
Ms. Cataen-Ingram said she became a social worker because of the difficulties she faced growing up in a single-parent household. She said that she wished she had had a social worker or counselor who had taken and interest in her and had given her encouragement to succeed.
"Social work is tough," Ms. Cataen-Ingram warns. She advised prospective social workers to be certain that it is really what they want to do. She said social workers must be flexible and always be ready to change their direction, their schedule and their plans. It is essential that prospective social workers enjoy home visits and working with families in the community. Potential social workers must understand that they will not always feel appreciated and will often not be recognized for what they do. However, the job itself has its own rewards. Ms. Cataen-Ingram states that she loves what she does.
Image provided by Sue Cataen-Ingram. All rights are retained by her.