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The Importance of Social Workers

Wallace Bellis, a senior social worker at UK HealthCare in the Pediatrics Clinic, discusses the importance of social workers.
The Importance of Social Workers
Featured Speaker:
Wallace Bellis, MSW
Wallace Bellis, MSW is a senior social worker at UK HealthCare in the Pediatrics Clinic.

Melanie Cole, MS (Host): Welcome. In today’s podcast, we’re talking about social workers. People have heard the term psychologist and psychiatrist, but they’re not quite sure what the difference is if somebody is a social worker and what training that they have. My guest today is Wally Bellis. He’s a senior social worker in the department of pediatrics in the division of forensic medicine at UK Healthcare. Wally, I'm so glad to have you here today. Tell us what is a social worker.

Wallace Bellis (Guest): Well, hi Melanie. So to me, a social worker is someone who can function in many different roles as they interact with families and patients. I don’t think that there’s really one specific definition for a social worker. For example, we may act as brokers when we’re assisting families or patients in accessing resources within the community. We may be working as an advocate helping the underserved populations, impoverished, or victims of abuse. Advocating for their rights. We can function as educators providing education to families on family functioning, child development, et cetera. Really, there’s just a whole different range of functions for social worker.

Host: So then what type of training do you have? Is this a master’s degree work? Is it a Bachelor of Science? What kind of training do you have?

Wallace: So I have a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a master’s degree in social work. I took an examination and am certified by the state of Kentucky to practice social work.

Host: So it’s college educated, and then there’s a license or a certification that you get. Does everybody have to get that?

Wallace: No, ma’am. Not everybody. But here at the university, in order to practice at the level that we do, we do require a master’s degree and certification. We also have another area of expertise for social workers. That would be the social worker principals who are actually licensed clinical social workers. Meaning that they are licensed to practice individual and group therapies.

Host: One thing that’s interesting to me Wally is that you're a social worker in the department of pediatrics and forensic medicine. So I'd like break those down a little. How is a pediatric social worker different than an adult social worker?

Wallace: I think that pediatrics is different because we’re very much focusing on the patient in the environment. Very frequently our children are not able to function independently because of their age. So we are social workers specially trained to look at the environment as a whole, and address issues within the environment that will assist our patient. To me, that’s what I believe that social work is very much dovetailed specifically for pediatrics.

Host: One of the things I said as I introduced you was that you're in the division of forensic medicine. People think of forensic medicine as figuring out how someone died. That’s what they think that word forensic. You must have heard this a lot of times, right?

Wallace: Yes, as a matter of fact. So when we go in and we introduce ourselves to families, we typically introduce ourselves as the child injury team because forensics has a very different connotation to it, as you pointed out.

Host: Okay. So you explained to the parents or to the patient what it is that you do. Tell us how you work with pediatric patients. What kind of conditions are you seeing that you can help with when it comes to teens and tweens? I imagine that it’s pretty broad.

Wallace: It is very broad. So we’re seeing patients both on an inpatient basis and also as outpatients. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re seeing patients when there is concern that there may have been some type of child maltreatment. So as you can imagine, oftentimes these are families, these are individuals that pretty much are having the worst days of their lives when we walk in.

Host: Wow. It must be an intense job for you Wally. What is a day like? What is your day like? How do you keep your own head in perspective if you're helping people that have pretty severe problems? As I said before, adolescents, wow. They can just have all kinds of things going on.

Wallace: Yeah, absolutely. So a typical day, we may have one or two consultations where we’re going over to the hospital or actually seeing a patient in clinic. When we do an assessment, it’s typically myself along with either one of our physicians or one of our nurses or one of our nurse practitioners go into the room, introduce ourselves to the family, explain the nature of why we’re there and what exactly has brought us to them. The interview itself is fairly standard. We’ll gather demographic information from the family. We’ll talk very specifically about the circumstances that have led up to their being brought to the hospital. The nurse practitioner, nurse, or physician will take a detailed medical history of the patient and also of the family members. Then we’ll do a psychosocial part, which is what I'm responsible for. We take all of that information that we gather. Frequently there’s additional tests that our medical folks will order. We compare what we find in our medical examination with the details surrounding how the child came to be in the emergency department. Basically what we’re doing is trying to make sure that everything we see is accounted for. That there’s a plausible explanation for what we see.

Host: Then, do you do investigative work if there isn’t a plausible explanation for what it is that you're seeing?

Wallace: That’s a really good question Melanie. So if there are any questions left over, if there’s things that we cannot answer, then yes. What we do is we work in conjunction with state social services, the Department for Community Based Services. They're actually the agency within the commonwealth of Kentucky that performs the official child maltreatment investigations.

Host: So then it passes on to social services. Then do you get back with the adolescent if they’ve figured out what’s going on and help them to kind of come to grips or deal with whatever the problem was?

Wallace: So absolutely. What we’re doing is not only trying to ensure the safety of the individuals that we have, either in clinic or in the hospital, but also making sure that those individuals, that family members, that everybody kind of understands the process that’s going on. Where they are in the actual investigative process. Making sure that they have the necessary support that they're gonna need once they get back into the community, whether that’s individual counseling for the patient or for the parents, substance use counseling, et cetera, et cetera.

Host: Wow. It’s pretty comprehensive what you do. Tell me a little bit—Well it is. It’s such a big role that you play. I'm sure that you really affect so many family’s lives. Wally, tell us your philosophy of care because you seem like such a nice guy. You're easy to laugh, easy to talk to. I imagine that the teens, adolescents are really attracted to the fact that you are able to deal with them, talk to them, help them. Tell me your philosophy of care.

Wallace: So I think really my philosophy of care is… Let me think about how to describe this. To me, it is very important to treat everybody that we see with respect and with dignity regardless of what’s going on, regardless of what has brought us into contact with folks. There is an amount of dignity and respect that everybody deserves. I think that that is… Honestly, I think it’s the best way to interact with everybody.

Host: Well, I think it also adds a comfort level. Teens are not always easy to get them to open up. I'm a parent of two of them. So I know that sometimes it takes a little finagling to get them comfortable with whatever it is you're discussing. Wrap it up for us. What you would like the listeners to take away from this segment about social work, your profession, and how you can help families at UK Healthcare.

Wallace: I think the biggest thing that we do here at the university is education. We try to give every parent and every child that comes in a little bit of information that’s going to help guide them in the future. Sometimes it’s things like education on the TEN-4 bruising rule so that parents know when to recognize that perhaps something isn’t going exactly as it should with their child. We also provide education on things like the Face It campaign and making sure that families know who to contact when they have concerns. So to us, a really large part of our job is the education factor. Because really what we want folks to know and what we would really like to do is to be able to prevent child maltreatment before it happens.

Host: That’s great information. Thank you so much Wally for coming on today and sharing with us your expertise and telling us your philosophy of care and how you work on a day to day basis with families. Thank you again. This is UK Healthcast with the University of Kentucky Healthcare. For more information, you can go to That’s I'm Melanie Cole. Thanks for tuning in.