A social worker who wears many hats, Glenn Seet did not start out knowing that he wanted to do social work. It was through a friend’s suggestion that brought Glenn his first glimpse of the social work field in his school days. Glenn has now been working in the social service sector for more than 15 years and has supported many clients and their families in the process.
In this third installment of the Professionals’ Day Special, senior Communications and Outreach executive Chong Cai Yun speaks with Glenn on his journey in the sector and how social work value adds to our clients’ journey towards independence.
1. Hi Glenn! Tell us more about yourself.
Hi everyone! I am Glenn, a senior social worker at the SPD Ability Centre. I have been in social work since 2004, after graduating from the National University of Singapore. Wow, I just realised that it has been almost 16 years now!
My journey with SPD started in 2016. Back then, I was supporting the Transition to Employment (TTE) programme where my colleagues and I helped to re-integrate people who acquired disabilities back to the workforce.
Recently, I have been posted to support the SPD Rehabilitation Centre and the Specialised Case Management Programme. The current clients that I serve have diverse medical conditions or disabilities and are mostly middle-aged or older. Some of them have more complex needs, such as strained relationships with family, and mental health concerns.
2. 16 years is very long indeed! Out of so many professions, what drew you to social work?
I did not enter university knowing that I would major in social work. It was a friend of mine who suggested for me to try the social work exposure module since we had to take modules from different departments within the faculty. I enjoyed the module and subsequently decided to major in social work. My 8-week internship at a family service centre cemented my interest in the subject further. Those eight weeks really drove home the thinking that I would prefer working in the social service sector, rather than in a business, profit-oriented sector.
3. What does your work usually involve?
Generally, I work with clients and caregivers by facilitating assistance in fee payment for services and schemes, connecting them to community resources, and encouraging them to make choices to improve their coping skills and quality of life.
For instance, a recent case of mine involved a client who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and was fully dependent on his wife and domestic helper. He was referred to SPD’s Assistive Technology Centre for recommendation of assistive devices.
With the need for continued home assessments, the client’s wife was concerned as the subsidy they received could not fully cover the costs. Here, I had to do some investigative work by finding out why their subsidy eligibility was not higher. I also needed to understand their financial situation to prepare for necessary appeals for financial assistance.
At the same time, I was informed by my client’s wife that they were also receiving financial aid from another organisation but she was unsure about the renewal process. I then reached out to the organisation and advocated for the family by conveying what I learned from the client’s wife, to the staff-in-charge to help facilitate the renewal.
Besides these, I also serve as the bridge between my client and other agencies. When my client was hospitalised, I had to correspond with his medical support team by informing them about the devices we have prescribed, his family’s needs moving forward, and their financial state to assess if they can afford additional equipment and services such as home therapy.
Apart from the above, I have also been providing emotional support to the client’s wife as she was experiencing high caregiver stress. As she has been very cooperative and forthcoming, we have built good rapport which has made it easier for me to assist her.
4. Wow, that’s a lot of coordination involved and all these are just direct work alone.
That’s right! My work also involves me supporting other colleagues such as therapists, by sharing my observations and assessments of clients, and contribute to intervention plans where appropriate. I also supervise junior social workers too.
More recently, I have been working with four other colleagues on a project to develop our organisation’s social work competencies and social work career pathway, and I was involved in providing training to colleagues on how to respond to clients in crisis.
5. Being a social worker does require one to possess a myriad of skills. To you, what are the key attributes to performing well in this job?
It is important for us to objectively listen and attend to our clients and their caregivers without passing judgement, even if they are not willing or ready to make choices for their own betterment. If we can build trust with them early on, it will help a lot in our working relationship.
I also think that we have to stay open to learning, and look forward to learning new things, no matter how many years we have been in service.
Self-care is also of utmost importance to keep us going in this profession, so it is crucial to stay healthy and happy.
6. Being in the sector for so long, are there any memorable moments that you have had while working as a social worker?
It is not easy to think of one such moment that stands out from the rest! Perhaps I can share about how my former client, who is a stroke survivor, successfully graduated from the TTE programme with a new job.
My client was a driver and delivery man for his entire working life until he had a stroke. This affected his dominant right arm and leg, as well as his ability to express himself verbally. His care team at TTE worked with him to improve his walking and build his ability to take public transport safely. As he struggled to accept that he is physically not the same after his stroke, we also supported him and his family emotionally and connected them with relevant partner agencies.
Eventually, he managed to get a job in the food and beverage industry through one of our valued employment partners. This client went through so much and though his grief was not fully resolved, he chose to hold on to the cards that he was dealt, and he prevailed. This is what makes serving this client one of the most satisfying for me.
7. What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a social worker?
We can face many kinds of challenges in our work. One example that I recall was a former client of mine who was motivated to be more independent in the community. We met with him and his family, and they agreed for us to help him get a subsidised motorised wheelchair and arrange for an external partner to install a ramp at the entrance of their home.
We managed to get him the motorised wheelchair, but the family backed out of the ramp installation. Without the ramp, my client would risk injuring himself by carrying the motorised wheelchair up and down the steps at their home entrance when he enters or exits the house.
I visited his family again to try to understand their concerns and see if we could address them together, but they remained adamant about not installing the ramp. I felt helpless and sorry for my client. This was not a challenge that I could overcome, which probably explains why this was so frustrating for me.
At the end of the day, we must be able to tell ourselves that some things are simply beyond our control, despite our best efforts and intentions.
8. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Glenn! To end off, what advice would you give aspiring social workers, especially those who wish to work in the disability field?
- Work on your ability to build a trusting relationship and good rapport with those whom you serve and work with.
- Learn as much as you can about the types of disabilities and common medical conditions so that you can better understand what it is like to be in our clients’ and their caregivers’ shoes.
- Appreciate the value of networking – building working relationships with partner agencies such as family service centres, hospitals, social service offices etc, is crucial for our work.
- Stay open to learning new things, even if they are beyond the scope of what you learn in school. To be effective in supporting your colleagues and clients, you may need to build your knowledge in areas such as:
- Staying current with technological trends. For instance, I recently helped my client to set up a Google Nest Mini and taught her how to use it. I also found myself needing to teach some of my clients how to use their smartphones.
- Assessing a client’s home environment (or other location they often visit) for its accessibility features and limitations. Social workers are sometimes the first point of contact with new clients and they would need to know what additional support is needed.
- Being able to observe how a client manages tasks, e.g. their activities of daily living, how they are using their assistive devices etc, in order to share such information with colleagues and/or refer the client for additional help.