Social Work May Be in Ruth Supranovich’s DNA

Following in Her Parents' Footsteps, IV-E Alum Finds Fulfillment in CWS, Management, and Academia

When Ruth Supranovich earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Leeds, “I think my parents thought being a psychologist would be a ‘step up’ from social work,” she says. “Little did they know that the die was already cast on that one.”

That’s because Ruth was raised by dedicated social worker parents who worked with a variety of clients in a mix of settings throughout their careers in England. At one point, her father moved into management. Both parents mentored new social workers, and her mother later was a field instructor at a local university. Their moves to different towns and associated work transitions “certainly role-modeled that social work is a transferable skill,” says Ruth.

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Besides having these role models, from a young age Ruth was forming relationships and building memories with the people her parents helped. 

As a young child, she lived in the group homes where her parents worked, and the abused, neglected, and abandoned children were her siblings. During adolescence, she recalls visiting senior centers with her father and “listening to stories of their lives and families and helping to eat their chocolates!” As a teen she recalls her mother sharing artwork created by her mentally ill clients “that was both beautiful and terrifying (she didn’t hang it on the wall).”

Of that childhood, Ruth says, “Mostly, I recall this being a very positive experience.”…but I do recall feeling guilty at times, especially around the holidays, when I would be able to leave and spend time with my family while there were always a few kids who had no one at all and spent the holidays with the staff….They were my friends and family members in a way, and as a kid you don’t want your friends to feel sad.”

Joining the Field, and IV-E

Ruth’s remembers that her “first proper job as a teen was as a Home Help—a job my mum got for me.”  The job entailed visiting seniors and the homebound to do their housework, shop for them, and keep them company. But Ruth didn’t “purposefully” pursue a social work career until she was 27. It was around this time that she started working for a domestic violence shelter and a child abuse prevention agency, and this led to her decision to work in public child welfare. She began the MSW part time and heard about the Title IV-E Stipend Program. “I already knew this was the work I wanted to do, so I immediately applied.”  

“It was a great educational experience,” she says. “I had two excellent internships with fabulous field instructors. In fact, prior to my current position, I have had only two jobs—San Diego CWS and Rady Children’s Hospital, Chadwick Center for Children & Families—the two places where I interned. “

Related: More about Ruth Supranovich

Staying the Course

Her first two years at San Diego CWS were much harder than she expected, concedes Ruth. “I was hired on at a time of burgeoning caseloads, and all us new hires were overwhelmed from day one. I seriously considered leaving at about 12 months in. But I stayed because I did not want to pay back the stipend. Sadly, this is true. And thank goodness, because after about 18 to 24 months, it all fell into place. I seemed to find my stride; I was also eligible to move around programs.”  

Ruth next joined Rady Children’s Hospital, where she managed a child abuse prevention program and later became  a trauma counselor. Being a therapist full time was emotionally draining, particularly since she had young children of her own. Upon reflection, she realized that she still “thought like a CWS worker” and wanted to return to that role. But running the prevention program also made her realize that she enjoyed and had some talent for management, so she returned to CWS to pursue a management position and successfully moved up in the agency.

 ‘The Icing on the Cake’

Four years ago, Ruth moved into academia, as a clinical associate professor at the USC School of Social Work. “I love teaching,” she says. “My current position is the icing on the cake. I am no longer in the trenches, but I help prepare those who will be there soon. I am personally uplifted to be around their energy and enthusiasm and this pumps me up on a daily basis."

Among the advice she offers students: “Follow your heart or passion and work from your strengths. When you do what you love and what you feel strong and capable doing, time will fly, you will get better outcomes, and you will go home energized, not depleted.

“When you do go home, relax and enjoy. I try to really promote self-care. Social work, especially in this field of public child welfare and childhood trauma, is enormously hard. You need to be vigorously self-reflective and self-aware. …To remain engaged you need to have a strong network of social support—your MSW peers are an important part of this, and I encourage students to invest in these relationships NOW—good health, love, and joy in your personal life.  

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having good supervisors, mentors, and coaches—and of course, becoming one yourself when you can. Paying it forward is part of the deal…..And remain open to new information; be lifelong learners. … We need to be willing to constantly examine and improve upon our practice.  

“Lastly, move around. Take advantage of the gift of this degree; it opens doors in so many areas from clinical to political to admin to training to academia. …You do not need to stay in the trenches forever… The trenches need new soldiers who come refreshed from leave, refueled and healthy. New graduates are excellent line workers because they enter the field full of energy and hope and up-to-date skills.”

Challenging the Profession

Energy and hope also serve a field that is impacted personally and professionally by a number of major social problems facing society today. “At USC we talk about ‘wicked problems’; our school of social work is engaged in the ‘grand challenges’ facing the nation and the world today,” says Ruth.

Among these are the physical, emotional, and social fall-out experienced by service members and veterans and their families that are rippling out to the rest of society; homelessness; and community violence, especially gun violence, she notes.  

Institutional racism and the long-term impacts of colonialism is another challenge, Ruth notes. “I would like us to look more carefully as a profession on how we often practice a form of neocolonialist social work practice….We have yet to come to terms with the impact of historical trauma for communities we serve, and I think we prefer to look away from the shame of the horrors perpetrated on Native American and African American people. … As a profession, we are beholden to grapple with this, or else places like Pine Ridge and issues like prison over-population and incidents like Ferguson will continue to scar our country and weigh heavy on our communal psyche.”

Emulating Her Parents

Reflecting on her career, Ruth says, “The fact that my career has focused on child maltreatment is probably not surprising based on my early childhood experiences. The fact I have moved into management and am now teaching is also following in my parents’ footsteps. 

“Social Learning Theory at play? Maybe. And probably some more complex dynamics too, but I know that when I am doing this work I am in my strengths zone. You could say it is in my DNA. I feel passionate, knowledgeable, and fulfilled. And I am grateful that my parents taught me early the importance of caring for our fellow citizens—we are all one family—contributing to the social good, and fighting for social justice.”