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Interview with Daniel Jacob, Los Angeles Social Worker and Instructor

We recently had the opportunity to interview Daniel Jacob, a social worker in Los Angeles, with 13 years’ experience. Daniel attended the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he earned a BA degree in Sociology, with an emphasis in Urban Ethnography. He continued his studies at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, earning a MSW degree with a Families and Children Practice concentration and School Social Work PPS credential, which allowed him to practice as a social worker with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Can You Hear Me? is Daniel’s current project, one that he is passionate about and determined to bring to the field of helping professionals in need of support. Can You Hear Me? operates from a social work perspective with its support services greatly influenced by the tenet to start where the client is at, helping them move towards positive outcomes while empowering, supporting and instructing them in the process. As Daniel shares, this model of support services represents purpose and action that translates into necessary change, an outcome that will produce an opportunity for these professionals to have a greater impact (and effectiveness) within the specialized services they provide.

Can you tell us about your work background, Daniel? What is your specialty area?

daniel-jacobPrior to working in the school district, serving at-risk youth, families and children, I worked in County Juvenile Probation (both in Juvenile Hall with male/female detainees, and the community with a high risk house arrest caseload) serving and supporting the same population (at-risk youth) but in a different capacity.

Prior to my career as a social worker, I walked a different path. Being at-risk as an adolescent myself, my time in high school was challenged and thus my options upon (barely) graduating were limited. Post high school, I worked in a warehouse as a dockworker then onto the construction field with various stops, including being a union carpenter. At the age of 25, an opening towards higher education became a reality, and it was time to go to work.

My specialty area (and passion) when I was in direct service was working with at-risk youth (families and children). I still keep current with practice and policy with this population and always will have a special interest in supporting those within. In my current endeavors (Can You Hear Me? and working with MSW students as a field instructor for the USC School of Social Work) my population and target market is helping professionals, including social workers.

Please describe your typical workday.

My typical workday usually begins with setting my mind and heart in the right place as it pertains to my self-care and wellbeing (reading, writing, and exercise would summarize this). Having the flexibility and freedom of running my own business, I am able to dictate much of my schedule. However, with that being said, I strive to be accommodating to my clients’ and students’ schedules as best as possible. Therefore, my day would include meeting with clients (in person, by phone or video conferencing), research and development (anything I put out as a resource/support) I do my homework and educate myself on and about, networking/marketing (which includes maintaining all of my outreach efforts on all of my social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook page, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.). I post at least once a week on my blog.

My time supervising and instructing MSW students is much more structured, and I reserve Thursdays and Fridays to meet with them and work throughout the week reviewing assignments, email communication, and collaboration. I can spend around 20-25 hours per week with students depending on the number I serve. The remainder of my day or week would be devoted to Can You Hear Me? I am currently studying for the last test component for my Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) license. I work as it comes to me, usually 5-6 days a week.

What are the greatest challenges you face in your job? How do you overcome them?

Transitioning from direct service (working with an at-risk population), to the work I currently do with helping professionals and MSW students is much different. With that being said, a challenge that is found within both is the idea that my “expectation” is just that, mine, and the expectation and/or investment/willingness to change for the better for my clients is just that, theirs. Therefore, I’ve learned along the way to accept what I can control, and to accept what I cannot, release it and learn from it. As social workers, we have the training and education and if you are dedicated to upholding your craft, with the idea of working and evolving to gain effective skill sets, you know how to help others change for the better. However, when those you are striving to reach are unable and unavailable to help themselves, or do not respond to the support, resist or avoid it, it can always be challenging. There is learning in it all and thus with wisdom and experience you learn to overcome and use what you have gained to add to your work in progress.

The greatest challenge that I face with Can You Hear Me? is that I am targeting those in the field who help others change for the better. Thus, when it comes to helping those who help others, this means reaching out to a vulnerable population (“I help others I don’t need help/support myself”) with pride on their side. However, I am passionate and determined to serve this population, helping them to help themselves. Ultimately, this will lead to becoming a better person and professional self, translating into what I believe will be a better opportunity for effective and sustainable practice and outcomes.

What aspects of social work do you most enjoy?

The aspects of social work that I enjoy the most are the opportunities to see change for the better, and being witness to this process and the impact it has on the quality of life for someone in need. It is a very empowering process; one that I believe benefits those who serve, as well as those who are served. In social work, the work itself presents constant challenge, obstacles and barriers. However, with that there is so much opportunity to grow, develop and impact not only a population in need, but yourself as well. I am continually inspired and empowered by the career and opportunity that I have been given!

Can you share a particularly meaningful experience you have had in your career?

In social work, success (how you define it is subjective at best, in this case I would say success would mean being able to overcome adversity in a manner that leads to change for the better) is often incremental and it takes time, patience and much more. With that said, the meaningful moments are those when you see your clients “get it” which means that they want to change, believe they can, and they commit to the necessary work in order to get there. When this happens, the likelihood for success becomes much more realistic. Being witness to this process is what it is all about and it fills me with joy, reinforcing why I am exactly where I need to be…

What advice would you give to those just starting out in a social work career?

There is much to learn when you start out in the field of social work. I often tell my students that the real learning (and curve) starts after obtaining your MSW degree. In our field, it is one that evolves over time with experience and practice. One of the most important aspects of how you will thrive and strive in this field is your self-care and the attention you give to maintaining your wellbeing. Helping others change for the better while navigating through some very complex and challenging systems and influences can be very taxing, and often at the end of the day you find yourself with nothing left for yourself. How one takes care of themselves (in and out of the profession), while having the available support system to assist them in the process is a fundamental principle within the work and efforts I promote, advocate and educate within my Can You Hear Me? model. As I have learned along the way, if you ignore such, it is only a matter of time before it comes knocking and when it does it will not wait to accommodate your schedule…

We thank Daniel for taking the time to provide insight into the field of social work. Visit his blog, Can You Hear Me?, or connect with him via Twitter @DJCanYouHearMe.