Perinantal social workers focus on responding to psychosocial issues emerging from pre-pregnancy through the first year of life in a variety of settings.The role of a perinatal social worker can make a vital difference to individuals, families and communities. But what benefits and challenges does it provide? Could it be your next career move?
Who Does a Perinatal Social Worker Help?
The perinatal period starts in before conception and lasts until the baby’s first birthday. This time can be a rollercoaster for any family, and some families have particularly tough social or medical issues to manage.
The National Association of Perinatal Social Workers (NAPSW) says some of the situations they help families navigate are:
- Medically high-risk pregnancies
- Fetal diagnosis
- Premature and sick newborns
- Drug use by the pregnant woman or her family
- Family conflict
- Legal concerns
- Parents who have cognitive, behavioral or mental health needs
- Ambivalence about the pregnancy
- Grief and loss (infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and death)
What Does a Perinatal Social Worker Do?
The role of a perinatal social worker is to help women and their families express and process their emotions, navigate the health system, advocate for themselves and their baby, make decisions and plans and access community support and financial assistance.
Meeting the variety of needs that families have keeps perinatal social workers on their toes. Perinatal social worker Marisa McFadin works in a Texas Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She explains: “I often have to change hats from a counselor to a concierge or a family advocate to a problem-solver several times a day in order to help assist parents as they go through the journey of the NICU.”
In short, NAPSW states that the goal of perinatal social work is to ascertain that every baby and every family is supported with competent, compassionate care.
What Environments Do They Work In?
While many perinatal social workers work in hospitals, there are also opportunities to practice in:
- Hospices for babies
- Adoption and foster care agencies
- Drug programs
- Parent education programs
- Early intervention services
- High-risk pregnancy clinics
What are the Benefits of Being a Perinatal Social Worker?
For some families, the perinatal period is the hardest of their lives. Many feel their friends and family don’t understand what they’re going through.
A social worker can find satisfaction in being a vital source of information, comfort and hope.
Nikki Brockel, a Minnesota perinatal social worker, writes: “As a mother baby perinatal social worker I have the honor and privilege of being at a family’s side on what is an exhausting journey physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.” She adds that she is inspired each day by the strength, determination and hope of the families she works with.
What are the Challenges of Being a Perinatal Social Worker?
Some perinatal social workers struggle to win the trust of their clients. At first, some families are suspicious of why a social worker is talking to them. They may assume she thinks there’s something wrong with the parents.
Perinatal social workers can also struggle to manage their own stress and responsibilities. Stress is often a daily part of the job. Anxious parents may not be at their best, and can often be difficult to work with. These emotional situations can quickly drain their energy and the bureaucracy of the system can be frustrating.
As well as families, social workers need to establish their credibility and work productively with other professionals. Depending where they work, their allies could be doctors, nurses, other health professionals, volunteers and government agencies, so working cohesively and productively with others can be a challenge.
Despite these challenges, perinatal social workers play a pivotal and personal role in the lives of their clients and charges.
How to Become a Perinatal Social Worker
To learn more about a Master’s in Social Work degree and where you can study, explore your options here.