Harnessing Our Own Power in Action, Not Just in Theory


These United States are changing, and there is a desperate need for services that include and treat diverse groups of people from all walks of life. Since last year, I have realized the power and extreme altruism of professional social workers as our society’s safety net. Many perform services that help people face significant life challenges, while others give voice to the growing constituency of individuals who are abused, dispossessed or idle despite meager wages.

We as social workers are needed on the front line of defense against political uncertainty, historic economic downturns and violence erupting in families, in schools, neighborhoods, or even between police and citizens. Our nation’s safety net is buckling, and as a profession, we need a strong political force to continue to catch those who has fallen between the cracks, is currently falling, or could be heading that way, with no possible way of survival.

We as young adults have not all fallen victim to the despair that keeps us voiceless in the political sphere. Since 2013, through the use of hashtags on social media, several movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #StudentBlackOut were birthed to nationally recognize allegations of racism, racial insensitivity and inequality, police brutality; the denial of federal workforce or health care benefits to graduate students; or the lack of inclusion or diversity in higher education.

In 2015 alone, a series of protests led by students at the University of Missouri inspired other protests or indications of solidarity at Yale University, Ithaca College, Amherst College, University of Kansas and numerous other US campuses. We as a generation have power, but we as budding social work leaders have not even begun to exercise our strength.

For those tired of inequalities in the world today, for those terrified by the currently political climate in our local, state, and federal government, and for those serious about young social workers in elected office to ensure the safe passage of policies that matter, harnessing our own power in action, not just in theory, is critical to the growth of this country.

12715938_249739668691602_4008388706752908654_o (1)Through #YSocialWork, originated by myself in media partnership with Social Work Helper in 2015an online movement was created so that the profession could benefit from young, innovative problem-solvers, regardless of field experience, who can introduce practical approaches to advocacy and policy reform.

We as young adults can modernize the social work profession through technology, innovation, and through our inherent sense of bravery we are known for as a generation, but are often too late or pushed aside when we are no longer of use. Now is your time again to exercise your voice and speak up about issues affecting the social work profession and the clients we serve.

March 1st will kick off the second annual Social Work Student Advocacy Day on the Hill, under the banner of “Social Work Day on the Hill festivities. Students and early career professionals are invited to discuss how policy is shaped and learn more about the critical issues that affect the social work profession and our clients.

This momentous event will be held from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM in the Congressional Auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center. The full-day conference is being organized by social work students and sponsored by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW).

This year’s event will focus on the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 3712). Hands-on training will provide unique opportunities for participants to learn first-hand how advocates can promote professional growth and inclusion. By listening to speakers and engaging with leaders in the social work profession, you will learn to voice your ideas and promote professional concerns to legislators and congressional staff. Experience the power of social work through collective engagement and advocacy.

The annual Social Work Student Advocacy Day Forum enhances advocacy skills and builds a community of social work students and early career professionals through the following activities:

Overview of H.R. 3712 by the Congressional Social Work Caucus– We have invited U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-13), Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, to serve as this year’s dynamic keynote speaker. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced H.R. 3712 to help seniors who are struggling with mental illness.

According to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a former psychiatric social worker, this bill proposes a new payment structure that will align Medicare payments for clinical workers with that of other non-physician health care providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The legislation will also ensure access to the full range of behavioral assessments and intervention services provided by clinical social workers.

Morning Panel Discussion – Focused on H.R. 3712, the morning discussion is divided into four key topic areas — Advocacy, Research, Education and Community, to:

Implement strategies for students to create a voice of action and advocacy through facilitated training exercises, workshops; and congressional office visits;

Enhance social work research for students to inform social work practice; and policy and legislative deliberations on the Hill;

Empower the next generation of students by way of direct lobbying training undertaken in partnership with the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) and the National Association of Social Work (NASW);

Establish a community of students regardless of field practice via networking opportunities and ongoing social media contact with speakers, student ambassadors, early career professionals, and one another.

This year’s panelists will include: Margot Aronson, LICSW, Deputy Director of Legislative and Policy Practice, Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA); Darla Coffey, PhD, President of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); Dina Kastner, MSS, MLSP, Senior Field Organizer, NASW; Tanya Rhodes-Smith, Executive Director, Nancy A. Humphrey Institute for Policy Social Work (NAHIPSW); Jacqulyn Washington, BSW Student, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work; Student Ambassador, YSocialWork. Dr. Janice Berry Edwards, Associate Professor at Howard University School of Social Work, will serve as the panel moderator.

Congressional Visits – Following the panel, groups of students will visit the congressional offices of members of the Congressional Social Work Caucus who have not co-sponsored the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 to urge them to consider signing on to the bill in the 114th Congress. They will also visit the offices of Members of the House who co-sponsored this bill but were not members of the Social Work Caucus to urge them to consider joining the Caucus.

Social workers play a unique role in our society, bridging the gap between the most vulnerable and the power-at-be. We as young social workers need to be visible change agents and committed to social justice ensuring all people are recognized for their inherent humanity, but we still have a lot to do in establishing ourselves as a political force, not just in theory.

Join us on March 1st, so we can harness our own power and learn to use it effectively. The challenges we and our clients face are political in nature, making social work an inherently political profession. Together, we will walk the halls of power and give voice to the voiceless.

To register to attend this year’s event click here and register. The above seen t-shirt is free for the first 200 registrants.

President Obama, A Social Worker Is Your Ideal Poverty Czar


Last week, President Barack Obama once again did the unusual by participating in a panel discussion as part of Georgetown University’s Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty. It was a rare setting for a sitting president but proved to be an interesting exchange of ideas with a couple of thought leaders on the subject of why so many (45 million below the poverty threshold) have so little in the land of plenty.

Moderated by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, the discussion included Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute’s president Arthur C. Brooks. Putnam’s latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” has renewed interest in the numbers of American children who are mired in poverty with bleak hopes for the future. Brooks has captured the imagination of many with his own brand of compassionate conservatism which sees free enterprise’s most important work as not generating wealth but creating opportunities for the poor.

It was a bold move for President Obama to put himself on the proverbial hot seat because his administration has garnered criticism from those who believe he could do more for the poor. This appearance prompted Martin Luther King, III to renew his call for a “poverty czar” to coordinate poverty reduction efforts across agencies. King was among those who called for the appointment of a poverty czar during the run up to the 2008 presidential elections. Candidate Obama was noncommittal then, however, candidate Hillary Clinton embraced the idea. Appointing a poverty czar this late in President’s tenure does not seem likely, yet those living below the poverty line can use all the help available.

What other profession equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to bring people together to address issues of great magnitude such as poverty? At the top of the list would be Oakland, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who currently chairs the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Out of Poverty Caucus and chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.Should the President decide to appoint someone as poverty czar, it would be wise to consider a social worker for the position. Who else would you appoint? Who better understands the many dimensions of poverty than a social worker?

Reducing and eliminating poverty has been at the forefront of Congresswoman Lee’s legislative agenda. One of the first bills she introduced in the 114th Congress in January was H.R. 258—the Half in Ten Act of 2015 that would establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would develop a national strategy to reduce the number of persons living in poverty in America by half within 10 years after release of the 2014 Census Report on Income and Poverty in the United States. She also sponsored H.R. 1305—the Income Equity Act of 2015 that would address escalating income inequality by denying employers tax deductions on excess compensation. However, Congresswoman Lee has much unfinished business as a Member of Congress and may wish to remain.

One might think retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski would consider taking on the challenge of being poverty czar but that’s probably not in the cards as newly-elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan could appoint a Republican as her replacement diminishing the Democrats very good chance of recapturing the Senate in 2016. Should the President look off the Hill, there are several highly qualified social workers who would fill the role of poverty czar.

Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis is director of the Center for Social Development and has done extensive research on asset development for the poor. Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University, played a significant role in crafting policies that help cut Britain’s child poverty rate in half.

Social workers have provided significant leadership for the federal government, most notably Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins who were key administrators for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the implementation of the New Deal. Social workers are uniquely trained to understand poverty and address it roots causes. If President Obama decides to appoint a poverty czar, he should have social workers at the top of his list.

Social Work Members of Congress Launch Social Work Day on the Hill

WASHINGTON, DC—Spearheaded by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and joined by former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums and current Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Tuesday March 17, 2015 has been declared Social Work Day on the Hill.  A reception will be held in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. to highlight the day dedicated to celebrating contributions social workers make to Congress and the federal government.  The event’s theme is Engaging Congress in the Pursuit of Social Justice.

More than two dozen social work organizations and schools are collaborating to create the event in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, founded by Mr. Towns in 2010 during the 111th Congress. Congresswoman Lee chairs the Social Work Caucus.  A focal point of the day will be stepping up efforts to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus

“Having a day for social workers on the Hill has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the former lawmaker acknowledged.  “This will be a day held each year when social workers from all walks of life can gather on the Hill to celebrate the many accomplishments we have made in Congress and salute the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people.  March is Social Work Month so this is the perfect time to do this.”

Towns, who served 30 years in the House representing central Brooklyn, NY before retiring in 2013, earned his M.S.W. degree at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work.  He first introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act in 2008 during the 110th Congress and it has been re-introduced in succeeding Congresses, most recently in the 113th Congress by Rep. Lee as H.R. 1466.  A companion bill, S. 997, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.  Both Lee and Mikulski are social workers.  Congresswoman Lee earned her M.S.W. degree at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Work.  Sen. Mikulski is a graduate of University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know first-hand the impact that social workers have on our communities. Professional social workers continue to work on the frontlines, helping individuals overcome adversity, connecting families to critical care services, and making communities thrive,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As the proud Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am looking forward to attending yet another successful social work day on the Hill during Social Work Month in March.”

Former Congressman Ronald Dellums, who served in the House from 1971 to 1988 representing the 9th District in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker for the reception.  He later became mayor of Oakland, CA and is currently the Visiting Fellow at Howard University’s Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center.  He was the first African American to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee.

“I am pleased to help bring social workers to the Hill,” Mr. Dellums said.  “There is a sense of urgency today that did not exist fifty years ago when I first arrived on the Hill.  When Congressman Towns and I first came to Congress it seemed like we had plenty of time to address the challenges we faced.  The world is moving at a faster clip today and too many people are being left behind.  Social work must find the big idea that will define the profession over the next decade which is why it is so important that we all come together.”

There are currently seven professional social workers in Congress—five in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.  In addition to Congresswoman Lee, other social workers in the House are Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA53), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA3).  Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are professional social workers.  Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and founder and co-chair of the Out-of Poverty.  In 2013, she was selected by President Barack Obama as the congressional representative to the United Nations.

For additional information, contact Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr., president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) at celewisjr@gmail.com. CRISP is a 501(c4) nonprofit organization Towns helped to found to complement the work of the Social Work Caucus.

Why the Rothman Commission was Created to Save Macro Practice Social Work

Francis Perkins with FDR

Social work has traditionally been a profession that has embraced the principles of social justice, social action, and equality with individuals functioning as change agents fighting oppression and inequality in order to improve outcomes for their communities. Social Workers such as Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, Whitney Young, Congressmen Ron Dellums and Ed Towns as well as Senator Barbara A. Mikulski to name a few used their social work background to influence social policy and legislation. Organizations such as ACOSA (Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration) was created to promote the development of community organizing and macro thinking in social administrations which would later commission Dr. Jack Rothman to evaluate the current state of macro practice courses being taught in social work education. The Rothman report was completed in October 2012 and will be discussed in greater detail later in the article.

However, under today’s standard none of the individuals listed above would be entitled to call themselves a social worker under today’s standard because they do not meet the standard of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Clinical Social Workers focus on micro practice in which therapeutic treatments deal only with how an individual can develop mentally, cognitively, or behaviorally. However, macro community practices are focused on influencing the social policies that creates oppression and inequality. Macro practice social workers are change agents committed to making social change while the other is managing individual change.

For instance, Social Worker Frances Perkins was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and she was also the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet by President Franklin D. Roosevelt whom she helped craft New Deal legislation. During her tenure as Secretary of Labor, Perkins championed the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and its successor the Federal Works Agency, as well as the labor portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act.   She was a major force in establishing the Social Security Act, Unemployment benefits,  and public assistance for the neediest Americans.

Perkins fought to reduce workplace accidents and helped create laws against child labor. Through the Fair Labor Standards Act, she was responsible for establishing the first minimum wage and overtime laws for American workers, and defined the standard forty-hour workweek. She formed governmental policy for working with labor unions and helped to alleviate strikes by way of the United States Conciliation Service. Perkins resisted having American women be drafted to serve the military in World War II so that they could enter the civilian workforce in greatly expanded numbers. Sadly, Frances Perkins with all her achievements as a change agent with graduate degrees in political science, sociology and economics would not have been considered a social worker today.

Since 1988, ACOSA has served as the official representative of social workers in a broad array of community/macro practice professions.  These include “Community organizers, activists, nonprofit administrators, community builders, policy practitioners, students and educators.  These conversations led ACOSA to commission a study to explore the concerns of its members regarding the status of community/macro practice in social work.  The report would focus on both identifying the problems with macro practice in schools of social work  while also looking for possible solutions.

The timing of this study and its outcome could not be more relevant with today’s societal issues.  During the survey process, Dr. Jack Rothman determined that many in the profession believed the over focus on clinical social work has devalued community/macro social work.  Participants were concerned about the future of community/macro practice as exhibited by the lack of macro courses for individuals interested politics, administration, public service, and grassroots organizations.  One respondent of the survey Dr. Rothman constructed pointed out that many social work faculty believed that anyone could teach macro classes—no experience or training in the field was needed.

Participants stated that ACOSA should seek to gain visibility with other professional groups and disciplines-­‐-­‐“to interface better so our community-based work is known and social work is not seen as simply casework. ”We need to relate to these groups”, they said, because “we have a common cause in macro areas and there is strength in numbers.” There were concerns that if the community/macro practitioners in social work do not establish themselves as visible players in broader areas of intervention and public policy that other fields will step in and replace us.

One of the recommendations of the Rothman Report was to develop a high-level special commission to look at community/macro social work.  One of the key issues ACOSA members expressed was the level of support received from their schools when addressing the lack of courses in the community/macro area. As a result, participants wanted to engage the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) with respect to macro practice course in social work curricula.  Additionally, participants wanted to raise the visibility of community/macro practice and advocate for a strong place for community/macro practice within social work institutions and with the public.

Since the survey was conducted, a Special Commission with 16 individuals has been formed.  One of their first tasks will be to prioritize the issues raised by participants in the survey.  They will begin to work on growing faculty with experience in community/macro practice, as well as to work with CSWE to develop curricula in response to the need for students interested in a community/macro concentration.

Also, ACOSA has developed core competencies for community/macro practitioners, and they are looking at developing research studies that reach beyond the individual application of social work principles.  The association will begin to work with organizations that are incorporating social, cultural, economic, political and environmental influences that advance social justice solutions as well as develop change agents that empower individuals at systemic levels.  Moreover, they have also begun to develop collaborative relationships with legislatures, community members, non-profit groups, and organizations that address the needs of communities on a macro scale.

For organizations and individuals interested in community practice and the work ACOSA is doing, you can contact its current Chair, Mark Homan at   (mbhoman@msn.com).

You can also view the full report below:

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/ACOSA+Report-by+Dr.+Rothman.pdf”]

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