March is National Social Work Month, which serves as a time to recognize the hard work and selfless efforts of upcoming, current and retired social workers. The 2022 theme, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), is The Time is Right for Social Work. More people continue to enter the field because the services provided by social workers are at a higher demand, especially due to the current political and medical climate of the nation.
In their Theme and Rationale statement, NASW shares that there are “nearly 720,000 social workers in our nation. That number is expected to grow by 12 percent by the end of the decade.” At Ramapo College, the social work program is active and filled with many diligent students who are eager to become involved in the workforce.
The means of social work fall hand-in-hand with law professions. Because of this, Ramapo’s Social Work and Law and Society programs partnered together to host a presentation on the two professions’ intersections on Monday, March 21 in Trustees Pavilion. The college welcomed four New Jersey law professionals to speak with the community via Zoom on the importance of intersection and implementing trust within the law, social work and the public.
“Much of social working is listening and having people feel that they can just be relaxed and tell somebody their story or event and they are listened to,” said Criminal Division-Drug Court Judge Mitch Steinhart. “You can’t run the courtroom in family court and criminal court without those professionals there to support you.”
Social workers and law professionals work with clients to make sure they are heard and cared for. With judges, however, they still have a role to obtain that is neutral and fair, listening to the facts that are presented in the courtroom.
“The judge cannot play an advocacy role,” said Appellate Jurist Morris Smith. “When the lights come on in the courtroom, the judge is the finder of fact.”
Many judicial professionals in family or drug court, however, do have a background in social work, and this is a plus to their colleagues and clients. Each speaker emphasized their own journeys of moving around within the field of law, and that there is plenty of room to grow as a professional and individual.
“Being a judge is my job, it’s not who I am,” said Steinhart. He stressed the importance of separating personal life from work life, because “you want to relax. You want to be yourself. You want to enjoy your family.”
Family Division Judge Jane Gallina Mecca echoed Steinhart’s sentiment of balancing a family and career. Especially for social workers or law professionals who deal with family law and situations, it is important to find time for their own well-being and fight for their own families.
The conversation also focused on how the judicial system was heavily affected by COVID-19. Solving court cases and engaging in meaningful trust still occurred over the past two years, and the virtual layout had pros and cons.
“It’s really shaped the courts into another direction and brought us into the 21st century,” said Steinhart. “By having them participate by Zoom, really it has cut down a couple hours of their involvement.”
However, many participants may forget that they really are part of an active courtroom, even if they are sitting in their own living room. Consistent engagement from jurors is still necessary.
The virtual setting also made it harder for the public to truly identify the trust dynamic between them and the judges, but the in-person hearings allow for more interaction and safety. The judges shared that it is best when a case is solved face to face, so many judges are thrilled to have in-person court hearings again.
“All we do as judges at the end of the day is that we wear robes and we sign pieces of paper,” said Smith. “We call those pieces of paper orders, and when you get them you’re supposed to do it, but that system only works if the public has trust in what we do.”