Mental Health

Sitting down with Hunter, a social worker at Children’s Hospital New Orleans

Sitting down with Hunter, a social worker at Children’s Hospital New Orleans

During social work month, we want to highlight the impactful work done by our social work team. Social workers play a key role on a patient’s care team. They help patients and their families understand a particular illness, work through the emotions of a diagnosis, and provide counseling about the decisions that need to be made.

Today, we are talking with Hunter, one of the social workers in the Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital to hear his perspective on what it is like to be a social worker for kids in the hospital.

What does your typical day look like as a social worker?

There is a lot of variation in my workday. In the morning, I prepare for my day and make phone calls to parents, outpatient agencies, and child services. Then,I then lead process group with my patients, which is an opportunity for them to talk about and process their thoughts and feelings related to the reasons they are hospitalized which could include trauma, relationship issues, and various other stressors. Afterwards, I check in with the care teams for each of my patients to get an update on their care plan and how I might be able to help. In the afternoons, I lead two family therapy sessions with patients and their caregivers. Other things I try to accomplish through the day are to schedule additional family meetings, file any necessary reports with state agencies, check in with patients and their doctors, and schedule outpatient appointments for discharging patients.

What do you like most about being a social worker?

I love feeling like I am part of something bigger and being able to see tangible outcomes when working with patients and families. I also appreciate social work's focus on the importance of the environment and systems within which individuals operate. Social work looks not just at an individual's mental health, but also considers the effects of relationships, organizations, culture, socioeconomic status, and more in terms of one's wellbeing. This is paramount in our work within behavioral health as well.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging part of my role is working with children who have experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment, or have been involved in sex trafficking. Not only is it difficult to hear these stories, but these situations get even more complex as additional agencies become involved and the child must interface with law enforcement, child services, victim advocates, and other state agencies. While the patient is hospitalized, I am responsible for overseeing these interactions while being sensitive to the patient and their situation. It’s a fine balance.

What drove you to this career?

I have always had an interest in understanding the way people think and interact, having received my bachelor's degree in psychology. I participated in therapy at a young age to help assist with some difficult familial transitions, and it was really helpful for me. I wanted to be able to make a difference in the lives of others in a similar way and feel like I am doing that each day here at Children’s.

Do you have a story about a patient that sticks with you over the years?

I had a patient a couple of years ago who stands out to me. This pre-teen had experienced a lot of trauma, abuse, and neglect at a young age causing the patient to act out physically and sexually. They had difficulty with attachment and boundaries and the patient had frequent outbursts and tantrums. The patient was in state (DCFS) custody and was very difficult to place due to these behaviors. This patient was admitted to Children’s and I assisted with developing a behavior plan for the patient. Eventually, by putting a solid treatment plan in place and building good therapeutic relationships with the patient, the patient's behavior dramatically improved. A few months later, the patient called my office to let me know they were being discharged to go stay with a new foster family. Seeing the impact I could make on this patient made me remember the importance of what I do each day.

Do you have a favorite quote?

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To learn more about the Behavioral Health program at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, please visit: www.chnola.org/behavioralhealth.