25 Years of Centering Community: Serving Clients through Social Services

A mother hugs her two young children as they sit outside in nature

This year, PLA is celebrating 25 years of centering community and paving a path towards justice. In 2019 we hired our first social worker to help holistically support our clients beyond their legal needs. We sat down with our social worker Elizabeth Delus to learn more about how social work helps PLA address client needs and get real Philadelphians the help they need.   


Can you talk a bit about your work with PLA and how social services can be used to help our clients? 

I work with the Family Law Unit and Consumer Housing Unit. Both units are able to refer clients for social services that relate to their particular legal issue. These services include, but are not limited to, helping clients obtain clothing, therapy, rental assistance, drug and alcohol services, and general support.  

What kind of services do you connect survivors of violence to? 

Survivors of violence are met with services that might help them with their case and overall wellbeing.  It is crucial that survivors have a say in what services they receive and aren't pressured to accept services they are not ready for. For example, one client may be ready to sign up for domestic violence support groups, while another client may not be ready to work in a group setting and may prefer one on one support only. Some clients may need to be connected with a domestic violence shelter, while other clients just need to talk out potential ideas for where to turn while they figure out their next steps. In some cases, clients may need more involved case management. In other cases, survivors may have left their abuser with just the clothes on their back and may need to be connected with services to help them obtain new birth certificates, social security cards, and clothing. 

How do you practice trauma-informed care since you work with many survivors? 

When I am working with a new client, the first step is to explain my role and how I plan on helping and being a support system for them. Sometimes, the term social work may have a bad reputation associated with it from previous experiences that were not helpful. I try my best to explain that I am here to help in any way that I can and show the client that I mean it. It is important to show survivors that they are safe with you. I give clients a chance to trust me by allowing them to tell their story no matter how long it may take, even if we need to schedule multiple appointments. I always assure clients that a social work referral is completely by choice. It is really crucial for advocates to give the power that the client may feel they have lost right back to them. Everything is an option and clients do not have to make any decisions right away when asked. It is best to move at the client's pace.  

How crucial are social work services for someone going through the Family Court system? 

Going through the Family Court System can be very overwhelming and traumatizing for individuals, especially while dealing with other outside stressors. There are clients who are attempting to file a protection from abuse order from their abuser while also wondering how they are going to feed their children for the next few nights or what clothing they are going to wear. This is where social work skills are crucial to connect the dots that family court just can't help with. 

What can someone expect when they are getting social work services? 

When receiving social work services, clients go through a full intake which may cover issues the client may not have known they could receive help with. For instance, I sometimes help clients get clothing for themselves or their children, or I help them obtain needed furniture and supplies for their new place of safety, like a child’s bed. There is so much intersection within our clients' cases and other environmental factors, so, issue spotting is really important. A client can expect an honest experience where I set realistic expectations. Unfortunately, I will never have all the solutions to issues. I try my best to explain this in the beginning of interactions in order to set expectations. However, I can guarantee that I will complete as much research as I can, and also connect with other providers in the area to see how I can best support them. Clients can expect to be heard through open communication. If an issue or thought comes to mind after the initial phone call, clients are made aware that they have the ability to call back or text with any additional details or issues. 


Can you tell us about working collaboratively with PLA advocates to ensure clients in crisis have the support they need? 

Working collaboratively with both the attorneys and paralegals in the Family Law Unit and Consumer Housing Unit is an important factor for the client. Certain issues may come up in conversation between the client and social worker that may help the client's legal case. It is vital for the client to see that everyone on their case, regardless of whether it is the legal or social work side, is working together to improve the client's overall situation. For example, a client may need a bedroom furnished in order to receive some type of custody of their child. While the paralegal or attorney is helping the client prep for court related to custody, I am creating referrals to get beds delivered to the home prior to the next court date. 


Elizabeth Delus is a Social Worker at Philadelphia Legal Assistance. 


To learn more about PLA’s 25th Anniversary and celebrate this milestone with us, click here.