Ability To Cope Sustains Social Worker 32 Years

January 29, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Changing the channel to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is one way E. Gertrude Robertson has learned to cope with the pressures of a career in social services.

The coping works: She's lasted 32 years ina field known for quick staff turnover.

"I don't watch docudramas," Robertson, 58, said.

But sometimesa friend or co-worker asks whether she saw the movie the night before about, say, an abused child.

"I say, 'Why? I've been doing that for 30 years and I'm not going to do it in my off time,' " Robertson said.

Yesterday, the Carroll County Department of Social Services board of directors honored Robertson with a plaque for long tenure.

Since November of 1959, she has worked in nearly every area of whatthen was called the Welfare Department.

She and her husband, Hal,live just outside New Windsor, where she was raised.

For the last15 years, Robertson has worked in and now supervises the office thathelps low-income families get help paying for day care and legal services.

"What you're doing is helping people change their lives andhelping them become independent," she said. "It is the type of service that you can easily burn out in. You have to do as much as you cando and accept you can't solve all the problems in the world."

Sheremembers several years ago when she had to remove five children from their home because the parents -- an illiterate mother and alcoholic father -- simply were not providing for them.

She watched as thefather calmly told the children -- all under 10 -- to behave well intheir new home and that he and his wife would visit. He also asked Robertson whether she could give him a ride somewhere to run an errand.

"I thought, 'How cold they are about losing their children,' " Robertson said. "I probably went back in the office and ranted and raged for a while.

"But a week or so later I thought about it: they had prepared their children and talked to them and did not make it traumatic for their children to leave."

Robertson's tenure at the Carroll DSS has illustrated to her the cycle of poverty: Some of the people coming to her office now are grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of clients she worked with when she first started.

For those entering the profession now, she advised, "Take your job seriously but also be able to back off from your intense work."

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