Social Work Students Give Up Spring Break To Advocate for Policies in D.C.

UA Social Work Students on Advocacy Day 2016

There won’t be a post-spring break re-acclimation for a small group of social work students at The University of Alabama.

Instead, they’ll sit before members of Congress on Capitol Hill to advocate for three bills related to social work during the first University of Alabama (UA) School of Social Work Policy and Advocacy Washington, D.C., Fly-In on March 21-22 in Washington, D.C.

The program will provide UA BSW and MSW students with the opportunity to analyze and advocate for one of three bills: S 3434: Violence Against Women Veterans Act; HR 1290: Improving Access to Mental Health; and HR 253: Family First Prevention Services. Ohio State University asked UA to join the event, and 50 students were selected to participate.

The Fly-In will mirror one of the components of UA’s long-running D.C. MSW internship program, which provides field education, policy practice and advocacy opportunities. UA’s School of Social Work added a BSW D.C. program in 2014.

“The Council on Social Work Education put forth an initiative to incorporate more policy and advocacy experiences in our curriculum, so we decided it would make sense to work with what our school has done in D.C. for the last 38 years,” said Carroll Phelps, field coordinator for the Washington, D.C., internship programs. “We wanted to give students an experience of policy and advocacy in Washington for those who couldn’t participate in our BSW and MSW DC internship programs.”

The DC Fly-In is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two prominent schools of social work, said Dr. Vikki Vandiver, dean of the UA School of Social Work.

“Led by each institution’s field education program, this event will provide students a rare opportunity to mix and mingle in a close-up and personal way with key politicians and national leaders in the social work profession — doing so in the very heart of government,” Vandiver said. “I have no doubt this experience will be transformative for our students not only now but for their future.” 

Students will have a full slate of events with speakers from policy and advocacy agencies, training at the National Association of Social Workers, tours, a panel discussion on social work careers led by MSW DC alumni, receptions with members of Congress and policy practice training, particularly in the points of emphasis and how to communicate effectively.

“They’ll all be involved in advocacy at some point, whether it’s for an individual client to get services or for a group of clients to be able to have access to resources,” Phelps said. “Teaching them on this national level, where they go before members of Congress, will prepare them to do that on any level.”

Alexi Bolton, a sophomore BSW and business student from Madison, was assigned to HR 253: Family First Prevention Services, which would restructure the funding requirements for family interventions. Current law provides more available funding when a child is removed from a home and placed in foster care than funding for preventive measures, Bolton said. Bolton said she is looking forward to working with the current students in D.C. to craft a strategy for presenting this policy.

Bolton hopes to have a career in nonprofit administration and already has experience implementing service projects, both through an art camp in her hometown of Madison and through 57 Miles, a UA Honors College development program in Perry County. Her previous experiences in those projects have shaped her interest in policy analysis.

“Someone once said to me that the problem with policy is not that it’s poorly written, it’s that policy makers don’t understand the field,” Bolton said. “So doing the service work and giving back allows me an avenue to see what this policy is directly affecting.”

Jonathan Harrell, a MSW student from Birmingham, participated in the undergraduate Washington internship program. He, like Bolton, is interested in how policy changes as it moves from the ground level to the House floor.

“In reading and understanding laws, things jump off the page, and you begin to apply them to real-life situations at the ground-level to determine how effective it can be,” Harrell said. “Do people have a realistic chance to get the resources? Reading it is one thing — but what are the true outcomes? I’m interested in becoming a health policy analyst, so this is a great opportunity for me.”

Harnessing Our Own Power in Action, Not Just in Theory

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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.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senator Debbie Stabenow Introduce Resolution to Support Social Work

Howard University School of Social Work Students at Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill  (from Left to Right) Latoya Parker, Ne’Presha Watkins, Jeanni Simpson, Sydney Wilson, Nadolphia Andou, Tiara Shelton, Crystal Evans, Kyla Payne, Tania Flores, and Kevin Thomas

Washington, DC – March 18, 2015, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Stabenow (D-MI) introduced a Congressional Resolution to highlight the positive impact of social workers on their communities to mark National Social Work Month and World Social Work Day.

On March 17th, 2015, World Social Work Day, the first student-led Social Work Advocacy Day was held on Capitol Hill co-sponsored by Congresswoman Lee in conjunction with Former Congressman Edolphus Towns, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work Policy, Social Work Helper, Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Workers, and Catholic University of America.

“This resolution brings long overdue recognition to this important profession that is having a positive impact, both at home and abroad. As a psychiatric social worker, I am proud of the contributions that our nation’s social workers make every day in our communities by supporting the most vulnerable,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, in which Senator Stabenow is also a serving member. The Congressional Social Work Caucus was founded by Former Congressman Eldophus Towns and ratified by the 113th Congress in 2011.

“Social workers play critical roles in our communities,” said Senator Stabenow.  “Whether in schools, hospitals, mental health agencies, or community service organizations, these trained professionals provide critical support to families and improve the quality of life for all of us.”

If enacted, the resolution will not only observe National Social Work Month and World Social Work Day but also formally acknowledge the diligent efforts of social workers and promote the social work profession.

Back on Capitol Hill, Different Day, Not Much Has Changed

I’m back on Capitol Hill in the office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge. Rep. Fudge represents Cleveland and Akron, Ohio and currently serves as chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Fudge sits on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Both are areas of great interest to social workers. It’s a wonderful office to be in these days as spirits are riding high with the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the prospects of a “Johnny Football” Manziel-led Cleveland Browns going to the NFL playoffs. On top of that the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently selected Cleveland as the site for their 2016 presidential nominating convention and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just opened a fashion exhibition of Beyoncé’s personal collection. Cleveland is on the rise!

So what’s happening on the Hill? Not much. This, the 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in history with 128 laws passed to date. You don’t have to go too far back to find the least productive Congress before this—it was the 112th Congress which passed a total of 284 laws. With 30 working days left, there is minimal probability that this Congress will pass 200 laws. You have to go back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) which passed 772 laws to find the most productive Congress in the past 20 years. The average number of laws passed during the last 20 sessions of Congress was 564. Enough said.

Keep in mind that many of the bills that pass both the House and Senate and are then signed into law by the President are ceremonial—that is they are laws that name a post office, courthouse, or airfield after prominent individuals or award medals to distinguished people or organizations. Many of the laws passed are extensions of previously enacted legislation. Many important bills are stalled.

So what gives? Why are Republicans in the House so consumed by parsimony that they refuse to invest in things that are vital to the social and economic health of the country? Their dislike for President Barack Obama is well documented so their opposition to Obamacare—a term they coined in disdain is expected if not defensible. You would think Republicans would welcome the fact that 8 million people have purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act another 6.7 million have signed up for Medicaid. Yet, the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal all or some part of the ACA while not being able to present an alternate plan.

It was a struggle for the House to agree to a consensus on the Farm Bill passed earlier this year. Ultimately House Republicans and the Democratic-led Senate settled on a bill with an $8.6 billion reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that issues food stamps to eligible households. This, at a time when the Department of Agriculture reported more than 47 million Americans had difficulty putting adequate food on their tables in 2012.

Legislation currently stalled in the House includes the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) which is the comprehensive transportation and infrastructure bill that funds highways, mass transit, bridges and other projects related to transportation. Despite the fact that many of the nation’s bridges, airports and highways are crumbling, lawmakers cannot find a compromise to provide adequate resources to rebuild America’s infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money before Congress returns from its five-week recess that begins Friday if it fails to pass stopgap legislation this week. A 10-month, $11 billion patch is expected to be voted on by the Senate before week’s end.

Congress has not figured out what to do with the thousands of immigrant youth coming across the border to seek asylum in the U.S. It appears no action will be taken on President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the problem. A 2008 law protecting trafficking victims makes it difficult to send youth back to their home countries other than Mexico and Canada. Of course a comprehensive immigration bill is needed but may not get a hearing until after the 2016 elections.

Monday, the House and Senate agreed on a $17 billion bill to reform the Veterans Administration with $10 billion set aside for veterans to use at non-VA medical facilities. The bill was almost a no-go as House Republicans sought to offset spending with cuts to other programs. You know things are out of control when it is difficult for lawmakers to agree on providing adequate healthcare for veterans.

The bottom line is this is the only government we’ve got so we need to be involved in trying to make it better. More social workers are needed in politics and policy.

The Many Faces of Latino

Time Is Now Immigration Rally in DC

When I was about 14 years old, I started to really notice that my family was different from others. I always knew I did not fit the stereotypical Hispanic or Colombian image. I am not 5’3’’ with brown skin and curly hair. I am 5’ 7’’ with straight hair and pale freckled skin which means no one ever took me for Hispanic. We did not face as much as teasing however we were called “wetbacks”, “Drug Traffickers” and “Mexicans”, and many Latinos are called far worse. Not to say for us being called “Mexican” was bad, but we were not from Mexico.

Latinos come in all shapes and sizes and colors much like in the African-American culture. The lighter skin color a Latino has society perceives them to be the more attractive. The media messages about Latinos from political media and entertainment sources seem to paint a picture of the cartels who traffic drugs, angry women who are abused by their husbands, and Macho husbands who drink too much and party all of the time.  Others perceive us as immigrants who will cross the border and bankrupt the economy because they send money to their homeland in order to bring drugs into the country. What can the average listener or viewing audience get from these messages?

Are violence and drug abuse only common among Latinos? Is domestic violence normal in Latino families? When thinking about what it means to be Latino in the United States. First, People need to understand the origin of the word Latino and what it really means. Latino means being a descendant of Latin America which is comprised of Mexico, Central America, and South America. Hispanic is another term which is often used to describe individuals who are Spanish-speaking but are not from Spain. However, neither terms correctly denote race and ethnicity.

Latinos are a group people of whose origins are from Latin America which could mean Mexican and Proud, Colombian and Proud, Puerto Rican and Proud, or from any other Spanish-speaking country proud of that heritage. This is no different from Caucasian people who celebrate being Irish or share their pride in their family’s background from the “old country”.

An interesting part for social workers to discover is that if a Latino has lived in the United States of America for a while not only are Latino, they are American!

The Daily Show captured the essence of this story. They spoke to immigrants about the Immigration Bill by reminding people that Latinos are people, and don’t lump us all together.

Photo Credit: (April 10, 2013) Scenes from the “Time Is Now” Immigration Reform Rally at the US Capitol. ~ Washington, DC ~ Photo by David Sachs / SEIU Read more: Follow us: @RYOTnews on Twitter | RYOTnews on Facebook

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