Social Work Week: Meet Michelle

This week is Social Work Week, in BC. It’s a week to celebrate the essential contributions to the health and well-being of British Columbians, that social workers provide. This year’s theme is “One Profession, Many Roles.”

In previous blogs, we have talked about CHV’s Community Support Services (CSS) that are comprised of Outreach and our Drop-In Centre, and how these services are often the first point of contact between a youth and CHV. Michelle, Social Worker for CSS, discusses some of the many roles that social workers have in society and discusses how she supports youth in CSS.

Michelle’s Background

“I grew up with social workers in my home. I hated social workers when I was a kid, and I never wanted to be a social worker.”

However, in her early twenties, while working in the Downtown Eastside as a frontline harm reduction worker, Michelle met some social workers who were working in mental health and addictions, who helped people get access to various forms of treatment. “I thought this was really interesting and inspiring, and I had no idea that social workers worked in that field. I thought that social workers only worked in child protection.”

Michelle sees the humour in her change of heart from her opinions as a kid. But she acknowledges that both her experiences with authority as a child and her work in the Downtown Eastside have better equipped her as a social worker to help young people who are now in need of her services.

Michelle’s Role at CHV

Michelle has been working at CHV, in CSS, for five years. She is extremely busy. Not only is Michelle working full time in CSS, as its only dedicated social worker, but she is also going to school and working on her Master of Social Work degree.

CSS is a low barrier point of entry for many youth seeking support. Michelle works with youth who use substances, have mental health challenges, are street-entrenched youth, and those living in a variety of accommodations.

Young people are referred to Michelle from the youth workers, who work in CSS. The youth let Michelle know what areas they would like support with, “and then I support them with my knowledge of resources, making referrals to other services, connecting them to counselling, different stream of funding, immigration support, legal support, housing support, education, employment, life skills, help with taxes, getting ID, applying for income assistance, welfare, and disability assistance.”

Essentially, Michelle supports youth in any way that they need. “If it’s something that I’ve never done before, I’m going to learn about whatever it is and I’m going to support them with that knowledge.”

Although Michelle is the only social worker in CSS, she does not work in isolation. Michelle is part of a very supportive Case Management Team. This includes the other social workers at CHV, the clinical counsellors, and the spiritual care practitioner. When complicated cases arise, “we gather and hive mind, and we will come up with various options on where we can connect youth, based on their needs, while always honouring their self-determination and their choices as to where they want to put their energy to achieve their own goals.”

One youth initially connect with Michelle, they don’t need to visit the Drop-In Centre in order to access her help. Once they are connected, she can reach them by texting, emails, and phone calls. “Once they’ve connected with me, I’ll go out in the community and meet them where they’re at.”

Distance can also be another barrier that youth face when trying to access support. “Often, I’ll have to go meet youth where they’re at because they don’t have money for the bus, and I’ll bring them bus tickets, so they can get things done, like their groceries.”

Michelle also coordinates with Outreach to book the CHV van to help youth get to appointments. “Essentially, we never have any downtime. The van is always booked. There’s always a full day where everybody who can be offsite is offsite helping youth. It can be frustrating because sometimes we have to turn down requests, because we’re completely at capacity.”

How busy is Michelle? “The truth is that there are so many youth in CSS that want to be connected to a social worker that our Crisis Program social workers also carry a bit of a caseload for youth in CSS. So, across our whole team, we all have CSS clients.”

The CSS team has seen an increase in the number of refugees and newcomers to Canada. “Essentially, our role at Covenant House is to connect these newcomers to settlement services, but they are youth and they’re so vulnerable that we end up supporting them quite a bit as well, and we connect them to youth resources as needed.”

The social workers also attend meetings about updates around immigration. One of the challenges with newcomers is the language barriers and using AI, Michelle does her best to meet with newcomers and help support them.

When asked about mental health trends that Michelle was seeing, she actually had some positive news. “I support a lot of youth that identify or have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and are also gender diverse. There’s now a lot of discourse happening on TikTok and other social media channels about autism and gender diversity, which is great. I feel like these youth are now just being themselves and it’s awesome because now they’re feeling safer to come out, or as they say ‘unmask.’ And we’re encouraging youth to be themselves in our safe space. So, even though mental health is always a struggle, we’re seeing some good things happening now.”

Carrying a full caseload at CHV and going to school full time is a lot. So, how does Michelle practice self-care?

“I’m really grateful for my partner. He has been cooking for me every night, plans all the meals to make sure that I’m fed. He also does my laundry and my dishes. I also have my hobbies. I write music and I power lift.”

Thank you, Michelle, for all that you do at CHV. And a shout out to all of the social workers, both at CHV and out in the community. Your services are greatly needed and appreciated!

Do you have any social worker stories that you’d like to share? Follow Covenant House Vancouver on Twitter @CovenantHouseBC, on Instagram @covenanthousebc, on LinkedIn, on Facebook page, and on TikTok, and share your stories.