Many factors play a role in the good physical health and well-being of children. A balanced diet and regular physical activity may be the first things that come to mind, but there are other components to take into consideration — psychosocial factors. These are cultural and environmental influences that affect a person psychologically or socially, including anxiety/depression, education and socioeconomic status.
Especially when a pandemic has made significant impacts on the psychosocial factors that affect children and teens, social workers are on the front lines at hospitals, working closely with the medical team to provide a different perspective to the care they receive.
For Holly Wasilenko, who works as a clinical social worker in the Emergency Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, that’s one of her main goals.
“We’re there to help the medical team understand all of the social factors that may be going into situations at home,” Wasilenko says. “We usually are able to give a different perspective and take a look at, ‘What kind of environment does this patient live in or are they a part of, that may or may not be contributing to their physical health and why they’re in the Emergency Center?’”
Wasilenko is called for three primary types of consults: She is present for all trauma cases that come to the hospital’s certified Pediatric Trauma Center, for mental health concerns that come through the Emergency Center, including suicidal/homicidal thoughts, anxiety or depression, and for concerns of abuse/neglect.
While many people typically think of the latter when it comes to their idea of a social worker, the role encompasses much more than the stigma associated with the position.
For the parents of babies and children in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU), for example, Debby Segi-Kovach is a valuable resource. Segi-Kovach, who has worked at the hospital for 35 years, meets with every new admission to the NICU and CVICU, assessing what each family might need help with while their child is in the hospital for an extended stay.
“We provide a lot of advocacy for our families and help educate the medical team on the psychosocial issues that are affecting a family while their child is in the hospital,” Segi-Kovach explains.
This same approach goes for Rebekah Diaz, a clinical social worker in the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and Cleft and Craniofacial outpatient clinics. She not only plays a role in the coordination of care for patients but also acts as a source of support for parents. Diaz screens questionnaires that gauge postpartum depression, adverse childhood experiences, mental health and psychosocial risk, and subsequently, ensures that families have all the resources they need to be successful.
“We’re a resource for somebody to talk to when they’re having a bad day or they don’t know what next steps to take,” Diaz says. “We’re here to support them and be with them throughout some scary times in their child’s life.”
Wasilenko would agree. “There are definitely overarching assumptions about us as a profession, but we’re there to be helpful and to align with the family so that they’re getting their needs met,” she says.
At the end of the day, regardless of the stigma, social workers like Wasilenko, Segi-Kovach and Diaz are committed to advocating and effecting positive change for the well-being of their patients and families.
“I don’t know how to explain it. As someone who’s spent the majority of her career at this hospital, it’s in my blood,” Segi-Kovach says. “We all work together as a team to improve care for these vulnerable and fragile children that we encounter every day.”
This year’s theme for Social Work Month certainly rings true — social workers are essential.