by Rachel West, MSW LMSW
At Social Work Helper, we like to encourage social workers to get involved in politics and public policy. A frequent question from readers is how does a social worker get started in politics? The Odd Couple?: Social Work and Politics in North Carolina answers this question. Published by The North Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-NC), this booklet features interviews with state and local politicians, lobbyist and advocates in which all of them are social workers. The interviewees discuss their pathway into politics and how social work and politics intersect. As NASW-NC Executive Director Kathy Boyd states in the introduction, “Despite the clever title, social work and politics really isn’t an odd couple at all but rather a comfortable companionship.”
Currently, there are seven social workers serving in the United States Congress and around a 173 holding varies state and local offices.
Social Work and Politics in North Carolina: Highlights from The Odd Couple?
“Clinical work is good and helps many, but if you want a bigger impact and to help others in a large way, politics gives you a way to do that.” (MaryAnne Black, MSW, pg. 9)
“Apolitical social workers make no sense. More social workers in office means there is a greater chance of hearing the human side of things.” (Jacquelyn Gist, MSW, pg. 10)
A common theme throughout the report is that social work must be political. It is not enough for us to work at the micro level engaging in direct practice with individuals and small groups. If we are to affect change, we must be involved at the macro level working towards policy and systems changes. We need to be actively engaging policymakers and seeking public office ourselves. Helping individuals to access services or cope during a crisis are an important aspects of a social worker duties, but it is not are only responsibility. We have to be the voices of change to help improve the systems that are often times placing additional barriers and challenges preventing vulnerable populations from escaping their circumstances.
“We have a responsibility to promote public policy that creates social justice. Increasing opportunities for people to succeed should be the goal of social work and public policy.” (Matt Gross, MSW, pg. 17)
“We’re community workers and legislators are community representatives — therefore, they NEED to hear from social workers from all over their districts. Outside of this, it is a great way to advocate for our clients — we need to better voice the issues in our districts by talking to our legislators and finding solutions.” (Kay Paksoy, BSW, pg. 22)
While the interviewees are from North Carolina, the experiences they share are applicable to any social worker interested in entering politics. Social Work Helper founder and editor, Deona Hooper, initiated this project while serving as an MSW Intern for NASW-NC.
Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work
Housed at the University of Connecticut the institute holds an annual training program for social workers looking to enter politics.
The Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA)
ACOSA is a membership organization made up of community practitioners (activist, community organizers, advocates, etc). They publish the Journal of Community Practice and host events related to macro social work.
The Congressional Social Work Caucus
CSWC is the an authorized Congressional Membership Organization (CMO) that is made up of members of Congress who are social workers or support the social work profession.
If you are a social worker holding public office or if you are currently seeking elected office we want to hear from you. Share your story with Social Work Helper by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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photo credit: antonychammond (off4awhile) via photopin cc