Former social worker reflects on experience working with abused women and children
Certain jobs are impossible to “keep inside the office.” Margaret Dawson, a 25 year-old project manager for The Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, Fla. thought she had a calling for social work and relationship counseling. After a year of working for the Salvation Army in Tampa, she changed career paths. However, she is happy with the life lessons she’s learned along the way. Today, she answers some questions about her early career as a children’s advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Tell us a little about your job at the Salvation Army. What did you do? How did you end up there? What drew you to this kind of position?
I was originally hired as the children’s advocate for victims of domestic violence in Hudson County, but after three months I was also privileged enough to take over as the primary prevention coordinator. As the children’s advocate I was the primary contact for any children that came into the shelter as a victim of domestic violence. I was in charge of doing their assessments within 72-hours of their entrance to the shelter or the outreach program. I would then provide the mother and child (depending on age of the child) information of the services in the community that could assist them with certain needs. Basically, I was the child’s voice with teachers, lawyers and doctors. It was my call on whether the mother was a fit parent or if the child needed to be removed. As the primary prevention coordinator I would go out into the community twice a month and speak to the youth at schools or Runaway Homes about healthy relationships with themselves, family and partners. I also held a meeting once a month with leaders within the community (teachers, lawyers, law enforcement, etc.) to discuss ways to integrate more into the community and bring awareness of domestic violence to put an end to it.
I ended up in Tampa because I was looking for a job working with children as I graduated from Florida State University and had a passion with helping children in need as well as women. I was lucky enough to get a call from them within three months of graduation with a family child science degree and a minor in social work.
2. Tell us about the women you interacted with. What were some of the common traits among them?
I worked with a variety of women from a variety of different backgrounds (ethnicity, religion, income status and education levels). However, the more common traits were low feeling of self-worth. I must admit that at the beginning I was so determined to get in and make a change. But, I learned quickly that some of these individuals, not all, wanted nothing more than to use the system at times. That alone made it tough on me because I wanted the best for the children and at times I had no choice but to remove the child in hopes that the mother would change for the best.
3. What are some problems in society (in your opinion) that lead to domestic abuse and why is the cycle so hard to escape?
The main problem in society that leads to abuse is the stress of finances, which in turn causes some individuals to turn to drugs to avoid the problems in life. This causes outrage and depression that results in abuse. Escaping the cycle is a challenge for most women because they are so dependent on their men. Most of the women do not work and depend on the man for all finances. Also, they are normally brainwashed to believe they are not worthy and that no one else would want to be with them, so they stay. On average it takes seven episodes of abuse for a woman to leave for good. However, that is just AVERAGE some women stay and some leave sooner.
4. Are there less extreme abuse situations you see women go through where they may not be aware they are being abused? Can you give examples?
A common misconception is control and mental/emotional distress, not being abuse. However, those are the first signs of abuse. The man calling the woman “stupid” or “dumb” over and over again is mentally abusive because the women will begin to believe those things about herself. Some men will also control the money and limit the woman of finances (if any at all) or even take phones away while they are not around or even limiting relationship/communication with friends and family.
Not all abuse is physical.
5. Did your position there change any of your “life outlooks”? How did you change walking away from it?
My position definitely made me more appreciative toward my life and relationship I have with my friends and family and really opened my eyes to what is going on in our communities that a lot of people may turn a shoulder to. The biggest change on my “life outlook” is to never judge a book by its cover, because you never know what is going on behind closed doors and to pay CLOSE attention to changes in personalities as well as the way someone talks about themselves—never allow someone to call themselves dumb/stupid and never allow someone to feel alone. There is ALWAYS help!
6. What do you do in your career now, and why did you switch? Do you miss any aspects of your position?
I am currently a project manager at an advertising agency and I love it. I didn’t particularly plan on changing my career path, rather I planned on continuing my education to become a therapist. But this opportunity came up and I am thankful. I have to admit I absolutely miss the children and being involved in a community and spreading awareness to a very severe topic.
7. What is your advice to women who are working toward becoming social workers?
I would definitely recommend doing LOTS of volunteer work with the community and non-profit organizations. Really research the non-profit background and figure out what population is best for you. There are many roads to take with social work, but make sure you are passionate enough to face the struggles and that you have knowledge of what your community has to offer.