Social worker garners annual award

Monica Dedhia, program manager of access, crisis and community engagement at the Child & Family Center, pictured at the center’s Teen Dating Violence awareness month campaign from 2020. Courtesy
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Child & Family Center social worker Monica Dedhia recently received “Social Worker of the Year” recognition for excelling in her field.

The program manager of access, crisis and community engagement at the Child & Family Center was recognized by the Santa Clarita unit of the National Association of Social Workers California Chapter, Region G.

Dedhia was named 2021’s Social Worker of the Year following several letters of nomination from her peers and colleagues. It’s one of five awards NASW presents in honor of National Professional Social Work Month every March as an opportunity for social workers around the nation and world, and their supporters, to educate the public about the invaluable contributions of the profession.

“To be honest, it’s really quite surreal,” Dedhia said. “Within the social worker community, we just do our best to serve the community and really stay true to our values, and typically, there isn’t necessarily recognition in that on the day to day.”

Even so, Dedhia said it’s powerful to see this type of recognition from her peers, especially this year as she and those peers have faced the pandemic’s challenges head-on.

The pandemic has left the Child & Family Center to transition to offering all of its services in an entirely virtual setting, while the need for such services has increased dramatically, according to Joan Aschoff, CEO and president of the center.

“I think it just validates a very difficult year of trying to continue to support the community and really focus on access to mental health and working on destigmatizing mental health in the world of the pandemic,” Dedhia added. “So, I just think all of that is just really meaningful, and it’s very humbling to be recognized by my peers.”

The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence, according to the NASW — a set of values Dedhia has more than exemplified since joining the center in 2016, according to Aschoff.

“We quickly realized what potential she had in the way that she thinks big-picture, and her passion is all over the map, too,” Aschoff said, adding that whether it be event planning or program managing, Dedhia’s passions show through. “That’s just her nature — she’s all in in whatever she takes on. … She advocates just at every level, so not only is she doing her daily job, but she’s always like looking to see where she can make improvements in not only the lives of our clients, but also in our clinicians. She’s just phenomenal.”

For Dedhia, helping people was always a natural calling for her, she said.

“Sometimes you become a social worker before you become a professional social worker,” she said. “So, I think when I was younger, it’s just something that has always been somewhat part of my life … recognizing that there are populations that are underserved and … how can I use the privilege that I have to support those who don’t have a voice.”

What began as simply providing an after-school music program to other kids who didn’t have one, as she did when she was a teen, turned into a career in social work as Dedhia grew up.

“It definitely gets harder nowadays because again there’s obviously going to be systemic barriers when it comes to trying to build programs or managing funding and all that, but I think what’s nice is that there’s always these little moments that remind you of how important the work is,” Dedhia said. “One thing that we’re able to implement might be life-changing or might change someone’s world for just a minute, so it’s actually really powerful.”

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