Photography Exhibits

"Fighting to Care: California's Social Workers"
Photos of the workers and clients of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 535

Institute of Industrial Relations Gallery, UC Berkeley 1/15-7/15, 2002

click on photos for larger view and full caption

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Social Worker Thana Christian with Abbey

Jann Noddin, Family
Preservation Worker, with Erica

Terence Rice, Child Social Worker,
Emergency Response Command Post

Social Worker Jacob Ocampo
with Maya, and ex-client

Social Worker Valerie Golden (right) with Stephany

Adoptions Worker Amy Dooha-Chambers (right) with Paula McMurray and the children that Dooha-Chambers helped her adopt

Children's Protective Services Emergency Response Worker Denise Smernes

Social Worker Peggy Stevenson with a 14-year-old girl

Steve and Paula, with four of their five children, and Social Worker Diane Brown (center)

Child welfare workers in Oakland walk off the job in 1990 to protest cutbacks in services

Oakland, 1999 - almost a decade later, workers are still demonstrating

All photos copyright 2002 Richard Bermack

Fighting to Care: California's Social Workers

When one thinks about labor struggles, one usually thinks about the struggle for better pay and benefits. The following photos are about workers who are fighting to provide better services to their clients. Social workers provide help to those in need, and especially working families and the poor. Ironically, these workers are themselves in trouble. A recent study commissioned by the California state legislature found that children's social workers were so overloaded with cases that they had time to complete only half of the tasks legally required of them. The situation is so critical that one out of five county children's social workers quits each year. Counties cannot even find enough workers to hire to fulfill staffing requirements.

The workers' responsibilities are enormous. When there is a report of child abuse or neglect, social workers go out and investigate. They must decide if they can provide services to the family to make the home safe and a place where the child can thrive. If they cannot make the home safe, they are charged with the grave responsibility of separating the child from the parents and finding the child a new home. Children's protective services workers investigate over 2 million cases of child abuse per year, nationwide. In California they are responsible for approximately 120,000 children in foster care.

In the face of adversarial working conditions, social workers perform miracles. They transform dysfunctional adults into healthy parents. They rescue kids from abusive situations, find them new homes, and provide the support they need to heal. What keeps the workers going is the appreciation they receive from children and families they have helped.

These photos are part of a larger exhibit and campaign to improve the conditions of all social workers (not just child welfare) so that they can fulfill their mission of creating a better society by helping children and adults live more fulfilling lives. To find out more about the To Make a Difference Campaign, you can go to, or contact Richard Bermack, 510 548-3215, or

Richard Bermack is the co-editor of the Service Employees International Union Local 535 statewide newspaper, the Dragon. Local 535 represents most of the social workers in California. His writing and photography covering the crisis in social work has won many awards, including the AFL-CIO's prestigious Max Steinbock Award (labor's "Pulitzer Prize") for humanistic spirit in journalism.

This is the second photo exhibit sponsored by the Institute of Industrial Relations Library.

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