By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Northborough – June David-Fors remembers her mother as having been “the modern day Norma Rae,” who fought for the rights of underdogs. She remembers her father as someone who always gave to others. Influenced by their example, David-Fors was driven – from an early age – to help people. She became a social worker in the 1970s and has devoted herself to assisting people in that capacity ever since. She recently paused from her duties as director of Family and Youth Services for the town of Northborough to share her thoughts about March as National Social Work Month.
“It is an opportunity to raise public awareness of the many roles of social work and its mission to enhance human wellbeing and help meet basic human needs of all people, especially those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty,” David-Fors said.
She views the month as a chance to dispel the myth that social workers function in the sole capacity of taking peoples’ children away. According to David-Fors, social workers function in all areas of society including medical social work, government, universities, schools, outpatient therapy, the military, social service agencies, administration in public/private sectors, political action and advocacy for legislative priorities, community organizing, education and research, and case management to provide families with basic needs such as food and fuel.
“Social workers are active in global, national, state and local politics working to pass legislation to benefit the most vulnerable people,” she said. “They have helped this nation live up to its ideals by successfully pushing for equal rights for all, such as women, African Americans, Latinos, people who are LGBTQ, etcetera.”
David-Fors reflected on historical accomplishments of the profession. She noted that in 1911, social work pioneer, Frances Perkins, became the first female secretary of labor and cabinet member in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. She said that Perkins used her position to improve conditions for working Americans, including safer workplaces, a minimum wage, social security benefits and unemployment benefits.
“Social workers also help people overcome racial strife and economic and healthcare uncertainty by successfully advocating for initiatives such as Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Affordable Care Act,” she said. “As the largest group of mental healthcare providers in the U.S., they work daily to help people overcome depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other disorders to lead more fulfilling lives.”
According to David-Fors, the Department of Veteran Affairs employs 12,000 social workers to help bolster national security by assisting active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families. Additionally, she explained, social workers work with schools and families to ensure students reach their full academic and personal potential. They help those affected by earthquakes, floods, wars and other disasters by helping survivors get food, shelter, and other needed support, she added.
A highlight of David-Fors’ career was when she worked for a community-based agency that came to the aid of a couple who tragically lost their two young children. Because David-Fors had built strong community relationships in her role over the years, the organization she worked for became the centralized source to coordinate all types of support for that family. Once she made the first outreach call, she recalled, help poured in.
“With the help of local clergy, the food pantry, schools, police, board of directors, the husband’s employer, funeral home [and others],” David-Fors said, “the cost of the caskets and service were donated; a memorial fund was established to help with unexpected expenses such as transportation, new housing, income due to loss wages, etcetera.”
David-Fors was proud of the outcome and has continued to value community alliances as an essential part of her current work supporting the people of Northborough. She believes the profession of social work is one that will be needed for years to come.
“As we move into the 21st century we still grapple with complex challenges such as immigration reform, racial strife and ensuring everyone has access to vital services,” she said. “Social workers will continue to play an important role in helping our nation forge a path to a better future.”