Where are the Social Workers, and Why Are They Missing from the Global Conversation?

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Human rights, economic inequality, access to clean water, and improving educational outcomes are consistent narratives mentioned in the media on a daily basis. Where are the social workers, and why are we missing from the national conversation?

Media outlets are constantly reporting on the challenges and barriers facing teachers, nurses, and law enforcement. However, the social work community appears to be invisible. There is no doubt in my mind that Social Workers are the restorative power and profession of hope, but this power must be manifested into united action. The current structure of our profession promotes fragmentation and isolation of social workers with different focuses into smaller groups.

Social Workers are the single factor that permeates through every spectrum affecting the human condition. Social workers are in hospitals, schools, social service agencies, care facilities, prisons, and police departments. Although we may not use the title, social workers can be found holding positions in the government, private sector, nonprofits, and even in Congress.

I believe that removing barriers preventing intra-communication, collaboration, and sharing of ideas and resources within our profession is the single most important factor in solving issues facing our communities as well as uniting our profession. With the austerity cuts to public agencies, we must be even more innovative in pooling our resources and responding by not being invisible anymore.

Uniting Social Workers with different areas of focus would be the most powerful force needed to address the important issues facing society today. Our different focuses are not our weaknesses, but our strongest attributes collectively. But, we must first elevate our profession’s presence on the global stage.

We must double our public relation efforts in showing our contributions around the world and in our local communities. As social work month starts on March 1st, it’s the best opportunity for us to elevate our profession in the global conversations on poverty, inequality, and human rights.

World Social Work Day 2016

On March 15, 2016, please help @SWHelpercom make the #socialwork trend world-wide on March 15, 2016, on our most important global day of the year. I am asking everyone to tweet out your thoughts, social work resources, research, articles, or just say Hello World using the hashtag #SocialWork all day long. You can utilize Hootsuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets throughout the day if you are extremely busy.

Social Work allies and organizations who have social workers working within them, join us on this day by tweeting out articles, resources, information, and research to share with our profession.

Children’s rights/advocacy groups and family advocacy groups, we want to hear from you too. Share your thoughts, articles, information, and/or resources social workers should be familiar with.

Let’s see if we make Twitter History on this upcoming World Social Work Day!

More Social Workers Needed for Political Action

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It is time for social workers to begin to flex our political muscles because not much will change in the pursuit of social justice. Until there are more people in the political arena fighting for a more just and equitable society, opportunities for everyone willing to put in the effort will not become a reality.

Many of the politicians in office at all levels of government need to be retired. They need to be voted out of office, but until more people are energized to go to the polls, too many corrupt and selfish politicians will remain in office to the detriment of society. As many social workers as possible are needed to replace these unfit elected officials in office while other social workers are needed to mobilize voters and manage campaigns to elect new leaders, change unjust laws and policies, and get government working for the people and not just the few. It’s been repeated so often, it is now a cliché.

Political activism is not for the faint of heart. It sometimes takes all of the toleration for sleaze one can muster to roll up your sleeves and dive headlong into political campaigns. Attacks on candidates are considered necessary strategy if you want to win an election. Charges and accusations against your opponent do not necessarily have to be true if you can make some of the mud stick, so there is much innuendo, conspiracy theories, and circumstantial hypotheticals. These tactics are designed to discourage voters from even wanting to participate in the process—to become jaded and lose all interest in political participation and leave elections to the cutthroats and ethically challenged. These scenarios are extreme but political warfare can get pretty ugly.

It is important that people of conscience, people for whom a more just and egalitarian society are sincere goals, stay involved in political struggles because politics may just be the last frontier in the fight for social justice. Human institutions are invariably susceptible to corruption—from religion to politics and everywhere in between. Politics attracts more corruption because of the power and resources that often come with holding elected office.

New accounts of political corruption seem to break daily. Someone gets caught trying to redirect government funds into the bank accounts of friends or those they are trying to bribe. Or exploiting or creating loopholes in the law that will allow some or all of their campaign funds to find their way into their personal bank accounts.

Not everyone in political office is there for personal gain. The majority of people who seek office do so hoping to better the lives of the people they represent. Many work diligently to resist and escape temptations that would invite their baser instincts to rule. Many do resist although some may succumb to minor indiscretions like breaking franking rules—mailing more items than the rules allow.

Political systems that function on money transfers are ripe for corruption. The more money, the greater the temptation, the greater opportunity and the more likely corruption will occur which is why the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should go down in history as one of the most undemocratic actions ever perpetrated. Until the influence of money is reduced, politics will attract the corruptible.

So why should social workers want to wade into the cesspool of political warfare? It is a necessary undertaking. Social workers are equipped with skills and knowledge that will work against all the corrupting influence in politics. Social workers are guided by a code of ethics that challenges us to do the right thing by our clients, our colleagues, and society at large. Social workers are not perfect and social workers do break rules but we are not inherently rule breakers. More social workers in politics would reduce corruption.

Getting more social workers involved in politics is not the panacea to what ails America. But it’s a start. Social workers are empowering individuals, families and communities. Social workers are doing quality research and focusing more on making that research relevant to policy discussions but the political system is a mess and some effort must be put into restoring integrity in government. As long as money is the primary language spoken in the halls of government the lines between quid pro quo will continued to be blurred.

President Obama, A Social Worker Is Your Ideal Poverty Czar

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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.

OSU School of Social Work Dean Is Not Silent on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

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Over the past year, we have witnessed massive protests around the world spawned by human rights violations, declining labor rights, and austerity cuts to public services. The plight for many Americans struggling with poverty and located in low-income neighborhoods are not being spared the same fate in our “land of plenty”.

These protests have brought to light the use of police forces and government resources being used to further suppress the voices of the poor and what appears to be an acceptable disdain for policing communities of color. Many have predicted this period in our history will be remembered as the third reconstruction, but how will social work be remembered regarding the most important issues in our life time?

Since Ferguson and the development of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, it is my opinion that social work leadership is failing to engage and participate in discussions on behalf of vulnerable populations with very little political power. Largely, I have been disappointed in the social work profession as whole for the lack of any organized national efforts to advocate on a range of social issues affecting the clients we serve.

However, I was able to get a glimpse of what a top down effort could look like when social work leadership leads an effort instead individuals being forced to act autonomously without social work leadership support. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ohio State University College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire who lead a #BlackLivesMatter March for their community. Here is what Dean Gregoire had to say about why it was important for him to get involved.

SWH: Why was it important for you and the School of Social Work to lead a march on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?

We have all be moved by the events of the past year and wanted a tangible demonstration of support for our students, faculty, and staff colleagues. It is important to hold conversation about emergent social topics.  But as social workers, it is also important at times to transcend talk. By marching we “walked our talk” and provided a demonstration of our concern and support that transcended conversation.

SWH: How are student’s processing in the classroom the racial tension and angst manifesting in a variety ways across the country?

I believe that a lot of our community is in pain regarding the level of racial tension and violence. We feel the need to communicate our concern and support. Although we hosted a public forum on these issues, we did not think we were doing an effective enough job of providing the vehicles for classroom attention to the issues that are manifesting nationwide.  I believe that left our entire community wanting more, and looking to us for a strong statement. So we took a walk together.

SWH: How did the use of social media help to increase awareness of your school’s on the ground efforts with the #BlackLivesMatter March?

Social Media played a critical role.  We made a decision to participate in the walk on Wednesday, and then marched together on Saturday, only three days later.  All of our communication was via social media. Social media was important in allowing those who wanted to support the walk but were unable to attend.  Via social media our impact and reach was much broader, and allowed far great involvement.  To further carry the message we created a Storify to tell the social media story of our day, https://storify.com/osucsw/blacklivesmatter-march

SWH: How do you think social work institutions and members of our profession can engage in the large discussion on poverty and institutional racism within the systems we work?

Social media is an important vehicle for carrying the message. It is not constrained by traditional media, and its much more real time. We are not dependent on the mainstream for getting our message out.  I also think it’s important to be open to conversation that moves us toward solution. It is important to be a witness and a voice in the face of social injustice and a voice.  As social workers we need to transcend complaint alone and lean into difficult issues with an expectation of leading change.  Finally,

SWH: What do you feel are the biggest barriers and challenges for social workers to engage and/or have an impact on the social issues of our day?

Courage and curiosity are two important precursors to having an impact on important social issues. Courage allows us to believe that we can make a difference, and helps us be patient for the enduring effort.  Curiosity is the path to new solutions   Rather than thinking we have all the answers, a willingness to see a problem in a completely different way is the only path to new strategies. We need more sentences starting with “what if?” and fewer with “yes but”.

We are often dragged into zero-sum arguments, ones that pit vulnerable groups against each other.  Should limited resources go to support needy children, or older adults?  Is the oppression of people of color more urgent than attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ community?  When we are arguing among ourselves we are not advancing.  Nothing preserves the status-quo better than when the people who need it changed are fighting among themselves.

Are You or Your Nonprofit or Foundation Being an Askhole?

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You may have read my previous article about Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE) ,which is a frustrating phenomenon that each year causes many executive directors (EDs) of grassroot organizations to daydream about abandoning civilization to live with adorable woodland critters, foraging for grubs and berries. (Note to self: Stop writing blog after watching Disney movies with toddler). Today, I want to touch base on a related phenomenon called Askhole Community Engagement (ACE). TDCE and ACE are connected, like two peas in a dysfunctional pod.

So what’s an askhole? Here are some Urban Dictionary definitions. Basically, you know that one friend who keeps coming crying to you about something, asks you for advice, and so you hit pause on Netflix, listen to them attentively, empathize, and give them reasonable suggestions, and then later you find out that they completely ignored you or did the opposite of what you recommended? That’s an askhole. Or someone who keeps asking for advice until they get an answer they agree with. That’s also an askhole.

In the nonprofit field, just like anywhere else, we have a lot of askholes. At the individual level, it could be coworkers or supervisors who ask you for feedback on their performance or quality of work, and then basically disregard everything you say. Or someone who recruits you to join a committee and then scoff at your brilliant suggestions. If you are not going to take my ideas seriously, annual dinner decoration committee, then stop asking me! People would love glowsticks and a fog machine at our annual fundraising dinner!

Askholism is very annoying, but at the community level, it is dangerous. Now that diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competency are as popular as quinoa and coconut water, we have a lot of “Let’s ask the communities of color for their input on stuff!” “Yeah, it’ll make them feel important that we’re listening to them!” If I get invited to give my opinion on one more thing that I know from experience is going to go nowhere, I am going to lose it. And by “lose it,” I mean “drink at work.”

All right, listen, it’s very sweet, but we communities of color are getting tired of being “listened” to:

First, it’s insulting to assume we haven’t already done our own “listening.” A year ago, I was asked to join a committee to figure out an effective information delivery system to be implemented among the Vietnamese community during weather and other emergencies. The organization got a grant and wanted to do some focus groups, surveys, and interviews. Problem was, my previous organization three years ago had already done a lot of that research and came up with this beautiful report. They could have called us up before writing this grant, got that information, and focused the grant instead on actually piloting a communication system, which would be a much better use of funding and would waste fewer people’s time. Save yourself some time: check to see if the communities you want to listen to haven’t already listened to themselves.

People are sick of all listening and no action. “Listening” is not an outcome. It is a required component, the first step, to effectively achieving outcomes. And yet, irritatingly, the session itself is touted as some amazing accomplishment. A shiny report or plan may come out, with lots of pictures of the diversity of the attendees present. Then everyone feels good and goes get some organic ice cream. These reports and plans are then usually placed on a shelf, sad and lonely, until people have forgotten about them, and then they rally to do another listening or planning session, which was the original plot for the movie Groundhog Day.

It raises false hopes and makes people jaded. These sessions are often high energy and very kumbaya. They give people a sense that their voices really do matter, that things will change. When there is no follow-through, it is very annoying and disappointing. I’ve seen passionate community members leave inspired after a summit or community forum, only to become jaded later when they see little follow up. Worse than doing nothing is raising people’s hopes and then doing nothing. And we community organizers who bring people to these events bear the wrath of our communities when these things end up being pointless.

Only ideas that organizers and funders agree with are implemented. If you’re just going to cherry pick the ideas that align with your organization or foundation’s priorities, then stop wasting people’s time. If you just need community support for a particular priority that is unchangeable, just be transparent. Don’t give people false hopes when you have no intentions of changing your agenda.

We’ve been giving the same answers for, like, forever. Communities have been asking for these things for years: General operating support, funds for direct service, catalytic grants and not just tiny amounts, funding for grassroot efforts and not just bigger organizations or collective impact efforts, multi-year funding, full-time staffing, capacity building support, leadership support, closer and more equal partnerships with funders, streamlined grantmaking and reporting processes, etc. No matter what topic you plan to address—the environment, homelessness, mental health, economic disparities, education, or whatever—communities will always need these above things in order to carry out whatever priorities are identified at these listening sessions.

Community Engagement can be powerful when the right people—the communities most affected—are doing it, and it is done right and has support. For example, I learned of a community engagement effort rallying Latino parents around education. Parents of a particular low-income school were asked what their top priorities were, and their answer was school uniforms. This is a public school, so the concept of school uniforms was interesting, but that’s what the parents wanted. The school and the District listened and negotiated. Now, all the kids at that school wore uniforms. It was awesome. To come together, to have your voices heard, to have your suggestions implemented—what something like that does for a community’s morale cannot be overstated. They felt hope and they wanted to work harder and to be more engaged civically.

So, in summary, if you or your org or foundation do listening sessions or community forums or summits or whatever, raise people’s hopes, then don’t follow through, or only follow through on the crap you like, you’re an askhole. Luckily, it’s preventable and treatable. Here are some recommendations:

First, admit to times when you and your team have acted like askholes. The first step to not being an askhole is to admit that we are capable of being an askhole (This should be on a t-shirt somewhere). Don’t feel ashamed. We’ve all done it. I’ve been an askhole on many occasions, both personally and professionally. It’s important for us all to reflect on listening processes in the past and analyze where we screwed up. Did we include the right people? Did we follow through? Vow to not make the same mistakes.

Second, before launching some listening forum, check around to see what work has already been done. You may think it’s brilliant to get diverse people to come together to determine a “policy agenda” or “community priorities” or something, but chances are, they’ve already done that, and the plan is just sitting on some shelf waiting for funding. If a plan exists, fund the implementation of that plan instead of another exhausting input process.

Third, be where people are; attend existing community processes. Communities by their nature usually already have gatherings where they discuss concerns and solutions. And most of the time, it is like pulling teeth to drag funders and leaders of large organizations to attend them. It’s frustrating when you don’t attend when people ask you to come to their things, and then you turn around and expect people to show up when you call. Take time to build those relationships.

Fourth, if you insist on doing a listening process, get your org or foundation mentally ready and committed to trust the community’s feedback and act on it. If you are not willing to change your priorities or strategies based on what you hear, there is no point wasting your time or the community’s time. Be prepared to hear stuff you may not want to hear and do stuff you may not want to do. Within reason, of course.

Fifth, get your org or foundation committed to providing funding to act on the feedback you receive. Don’t raise people’s hope if you have no funding set aside and don’t plan to work on securing funding. Funding is what is required to implement ideas, and if there’s no plan to secure support somehow, or at least the commitment to searching for it, again, don’t waste everyone’s time.

With that, I’m going to go research fog machines. I don’t care what the decoration committee says, I’m the ED and I want a thick layer of fog on the ground at my next annual fundraising dinner. And, I want some woodland critters.

The Persistent Stigma of Substance Use Disorders

“Stigma is a five dollar word for a two dollar concept. It’s prejudice.”

Stigma, a set of negative stereotypes tied to behavioral health conditions, is not a new problem. Results of a recent survey suggest that views may be changing when it comes to mental illness. Advocacy efforts are getting results, and the public is beginning to recognize that mental illness is, in fact, a health condition.

We need a similar evolution to start when it comes to substance use disorders. Public perception of what it means to be addicted hasn’t shifted significantly. This is a problem.

In a study of Americans conducted by Johns Hopkins University, only 22% of people surveyed were willing to work closely with someone suffering from drug addiction, yet 62% were willing to work closely with someone suffering from mental illness.

Every person struggling to manage a substance use disorder, and every family stigmatized while supporting a loved one, are part of this broader landscape. Our current culture of stigma creates resistance to funding prevention and treatment. Belief that persons with substance use disorders are immoral, not ill, reduces support for behavioral health-centered policy.

Funding for treatment of substance use disorders isn’t commensurate with the scope of the problem. If substance use were recognized by the public as a health issue, it’s likely that prevention would be a higher priority.

We must help each other, and our communities, reshape the distorted image of substance use disorder as criminal and deviant. A person with a substance use disorder remains a person first. Examples of person-first language for substance use are included in this chart shared by Michael Botticelli, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy. Note: Mr. Botticelli is himself a person in long-term recovery.

Language for addiction

Of course, stigma-free language is only one step and changing a stereotype takes time. We should see this as part of the process of removing structural roadblocks to health. As we break the persistent stigma that clings to substance use disorders, we’ll turn the focus instead to very real opportunities that exist for health and recovery.

The Problem with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The people of color that I’ve been talking to are getting kind of sick of the equity, diversity, and inclusion terms use by nonprofits. We love them, but the dissonance between their usage and actual practice is like getting poked in the eye on a daily basis. Case in point, at a panel I was on recently, a colleague of color told me that someone contacted her, saying, “Can you help us spread the word about this new job position? We want to diversify our pool of candidates.”

My friend said, “I wanted to ask, Are you trying to just diversify your POOL of candidate, or ACTUAL hires?” We both sighed; thankfully, the wine was plentiful that evening.

equityThis has been happening a lot recently, the usage of these feel-good and trendy terms without serious consideration for the challenging and time-consuming changes that we need to undergo to actualize them. Equity requires the embrace of risk and failure. True equity, and diversity and inclusion, cannot exist without them.

Unfortunately, our field is often frustratingly and ineffectively risk-adverse, paralyzed by thoughts of failure. So yeah, we’ll “diversify the pool of candidates” and then, most likely, select the “most qualified” person anyway, who is often White. I know many organizations who tout equity and inclusiveness whose staff and board are mostly White. They are highly qualified and awesome, but it is jarring when most of their clients are people of color.

Or we’ll “work with communities of color” and then, most likely, select mainstream organizations because these ethnic-led organizations “don’t have the capacity” or “didn’t put in a strong enough proposal.”

The voices of communities of color have been struggling to be heard on almost every single issue. And to everyone’s credit, I don’t feel like people are actually being exclusive. This recent trend of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a testament to the fact that we all recognize both the importance and the lack of engagement of these communities. However, recognition of the problem and talking about it are necessary but not sufficient elements to solving the problems of inequity. We have to be willing to try different stuff, fund differently, and accept a few failures.

Unboxing equity

By now, most of us have seen this graphic above, which displays very clearly the difference between equality and equity. But after we think, “Aw, that’s so cute; all these kids can now watch the game; equity is so magical,” how does it actually translate within our field? Let’s unpack this.

First, I’m not always a big fan of this image, because to the less wise, the short kid is obviously deficient and needs some serious help. The short kid represents entire marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ community, communities of color, poor communities, etc. But this kid can also symbolize individuals such as professionals of color, as well as nonprofits such as ethnic-led organizations. These communities and individuals have plenty of strength and assets and is not always just the baby in the group.

But anyway, let’s continue with the metaphor. Since my experience is with communities, people, and nonprofits of color, I’m going to hone in on that for this post today.

Regardless of who this little kid represents, the point is that we are always struggling to see over the fence. We’ll be lucky to get a two-by-four to stand on, much less a whole box, much less TWO boxes. In the case of ethnic-led nonprofits, the argument against giving a whole box to them has always been, “You’re cute, but you guys just don’t have the capacity. If we give you a whole box to stand on, you’ll probably just fall off of it. We can’t give you a large grant. Here’s a small one. Sure, all these problems we’re tackling disproportionately affect your communities, and you have the best connection to them. But come back when you are more organized.”

At a recent conference I attended, funders were congratulating themselves on capacity building around collective impact work. As much as I like collective impact in theory, the reality is that it has more often than not been screwing over communities of color, who cannot access funds to be significantly involved and thus are unintentionally tokenized. (See “Collective Impact: Resistance is futile,” where I compare ineffective CI efforts to the Borg from Star Trek).

“Collective impact has been leaving behind many communities of color,” I said from the audience, “how are you addressing building capacity for organizations that are led by these communities so that they can be involved?”

A funder took the microphone to respond. “I wish my organization was one of those with the flexibility to give $5K or 10K grants,” he said, “but we don’t do that. We give larger grants.” And of course, these ethnic-led nonprofits would never be able to compete for one of these larger grants. They are stuck in the capacity quagmire like college grads who can’t get hired because they have no experience.

The importance of risk and failure

Look, I’m not advocating for people hire staff willy-nilly, or for funders to be throwing money around at random. But the status quo is not working, and holding hands chanting “equity, diversity, and inclusion” without actually doing stuff differently is dangerous because it makes us feel like we’re making progress when we’re not.

Here’s the reality: If we hire less experienced people from communities of color, yes, they will likely require more support, and they may fail more often. If we fund small ethnic-led nonprofits, yes, they will likely require more support and may fail more often. That kid has not had much experience standing on two boxes. His balance is being tested. He may fall down a couple of times.

But here’s another side to that reality: Those staff from communities of color are critical when working with communities of color, and our field does a lot of work with communities of color, to put it mildly. You can hire a less experienced staff of color and train them on technical skills. But you cannot teach someone to be a person of color. Believe me, I tried it; it was uncomfortable for everyone. So if your org works with clients of color, take some risks in your hiring. Don’t just “diversify the pool.”

Ethnic-led nonprofits organizations are the most effective in connecting to their communities, and they do it on shoe-string budgets. Since they have the strongest relationships, they are constantly asked to help with outreach, to sit on advisory teams, and to do other stuff for free. Then when they try to get more significant support, the response has historically been, “You don’t have the capacity” followed by “but why don’t you join the Cultural Competency workgroup of our awesome collective impact effort!”

Let me know your thoughts, and also check out my previous article on building capacity for communities of color.

The Radical Age Movement Comes Out

New York-The Radical Age Movement held its first public event last evening at the New York Ethical Culture Society.  One hundred people came out in the freezing cold to hear about what it takes to “leverage the power of age”.

The evening began with a welcome from Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, Chairperson of the Social Service Board of the New York Ethical Culture Society.

Alice Fisher, founder of The Radical Age Movement, then talked about the need for people who don’t like the way that old people are portrayed and regarded in what she described as the “youth oriented culture of the United States” need to speak up.  Alice told of her deep interest in longevity and its multiple effects on society and how this led her to the founding of The Radical Age Movement.

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Founder Alice Fisher, MSW

“I came to the realization that the extra years many of us will be living are not tacked on to the end of our lives.  Rather, a whole new stage of life has opened up along the life span, and those are people between approximately 60 and 80 years of age who are still a vital and relevant part of our society.”  “We”, said Fisher who is 69 years old, “are not ready to throw in the towel.”  After being asked, “how do you change an entire culture”, her response was “with a movement.  It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.”  Right then and there the seed for The Radical Age Movement was planted.

After working for over a year with a small 10 person steering committee and launching a website a few months ago, The Radical Age Movement was ready to come out.  “When people leave their career positions, whether by choice or not by choice, they walk into a void”, she said.  “There is no role for us in society, unless we want to accept the description of old just because we are collecting social security.”  People of this age, although older, are not ready to be consigned to the rocking chair. “Nobody even knows what to call us.  Sometimes we’re the old boomers or the young seniors.  We don’t even know what to call ourselves”, said Fisher.

The original agenda for last evening’s event included a participatory demo of what it is like to be part of an age-oriented consciousness raising group.  Not expecting such a large turnout and without enough facilitators to guide the number of groups that would be necessary to run this part of the program as planned, Radical Age decided to let the program run with interactive discussion.  After a presentation about ageism by Joanna Leefer, 65, a care-giving consultant, three people gave personal testimony about their own confrontation with ageism, while two others testified to the effect that participating in consciousness raising around the topic of age has had on the way they are experiencing ageing.

Corinne Kirchner, 79, who is a sociology professor at Columbia University and  who experienced two strokes in her 70’s, talked about the way that people constantly try to give her too much help.  She described Thanksgiving dinner where a nurse who was a guest at the dinner followed her around, prepared to catch Corinne should she fall. Understanding that the nurse was trying to be kind, Corinne was very polite but “inside I was so angry that this person was treating me like a child learning to walk.”10911401_414546068714498_9154173076394596286_o

Hope Reiner, 70, the founder of “Hope Cares”, a companion service that provides one-on-one stimulation, socialization and engagement to older adults, talked about her abrupt dismissal from the consumer magazine publishing world where she worked for over 33 years. “Despite the magazines’ high ratings and high revenue and my standing as the #1 salesperson for much of that time”, she told the audience, “my career ended. I can only assume my dismissal was based on my age.”

Next it was Rodger Parsons’ turn to talk about his personal experience with ageism.  Roger, 68 years old, does voiceovers for Radio, TV, Cable commercials as well as author voiceovers for other venues. He spoke about how ageism is especially relevant in the Voice Over world and ways of dealing with it. “It is especially important to confront situations as directly as possible to get outcomes that make it clear that access to work should be based on the talent of the performer not the performer’s age.”

After each of these testimonies, lively discussions from the audience ensued. People shared their own experiences or commented on the testimony they had just heard.

Alice then took the podium and gave a brief description of the consciousness raising process that The Radical Age steering committee has been using. “The one advantage to participating in this process”, she said, is providing participants the space and time to examine our own ageist tendencies”.  “After all”, said Fisher, “we did grow up in this youth oriented society.”  The Radical Age Movement is developing a guide for people who want to start their own consciousness raising group around the topic of age.  This guide will be posted to The Radical Age Movement’s website, www.theradicalagemovment.com, in the coming weeks and be distributed at their next event on February 21st.

Barbara Harmon, 72, a speech language pathologist, and Jon Fisher, 70, artist and real estate broker, then testified to the changes that participating in the consciousness raising process has made for each of them.

Barbara spoke of how she came to accept the graciousness of those who offer her seats on crowded subways after coming to the realization that her own ageist attitude was getting in the way of her being able to accept aid when offered.  “Accepting a seat acknowledges the fact that my age is recognized; but because of the discussion and support of my peers, I now feel comfortable with the recognition”.

Jon talked about his career in the ad business where everything had to be new and fresh, including the people.  “I had the mindset that I had to look, act, and feel young; and I carried that with me into my personal life.  When I was invited to join the consciousness raising group, I really didn’t think that my ideas about ageing would ever change.  Now, I also feel more comfortable in my age.  The consciousness raising process has made a major imprint on who I am and who I am becoming”.

Remarks and conversation continued until it was time to leave.  Alice asked everyone to take a save-the-date for The Radical Age Movements next event on February 21st.  This will be a 4 hour workshop entitled “The Age Café.”  Through this process, those who attend will have the opportunity to help plan Radical Age’s agenda going forward.

Reacting to Alice’s expression of disappointment at not being able to proceed as planned, one attendee said that  the evening was one huge gestalt consciousness raising session.  Another comment by a member of the steering committee was, “I think we have the start of a real movement here.”  That expression was echoed by many who attended the event.

Social Work Students Respond to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Neutrality of Social Work Program Administrators

UC Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are speaking out against nationwide police brutality and systemic violence against the Black community. As students and as social workers, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to issue a statement in support of the community action and the demands issued by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Our criminal justice system continues to fail the Black community. It is intolerable that the lives of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, McKenzie Cochran, Kimani Gray, and countless other Black men and women were taken by individuals who took an oath to protect and serve them.

tumblr_mz6ujyfZXV1qm0yhvo1_500The criminalization of and violence against Black men and women speaks to larger systems of racism and oppression that we, as social workers, are ethically bound to interrupt. Students questioned the school’s response after the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare administration had not formally issued a statement.

The silence has been deafening, and it has been particularly felt by the Black community throughout the institution. This lack of support on campus for students of color is disgraceful, and completely unacceptable, especially for an institution such as Berkeley that prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a history of activism.

We join our social work colleagues from Columbia University, Portland State University, Washington University, Smith College, and numerous other schools and organizations that have made public statements to call for community members to demand social reform. As students at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, we too will use our voices to break the silence that pervades our academic community and act on the principles of social justice that we have been discussing in our classroom.

We are in solidarity and thankful to participate in the actions and healing spaces that Berkeley students and community members have organized: The Black Student Union action on December 4th, the walkout organized by the Black Student Union at Berkeley HS on December 10th, the organizing efforts that brought the Millions March Rally from Berkeley to Downtown Oakland on December 13th, and the December 15th  “Not On Our Watch” silent protest organized by the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO), a response to the effigies which were hung in Sproul plaza. Our goal is to uphold the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s focus on disrupting white supremacy, and we must acknowledge how Black people are mistreated in the United States, including on the UC Berkeley campus.

We invite the Berkeley Social Welfare administration as well as other Schools of Social Work to discuss how our programs can better model social work praxis and include the #SSWBlackLivesMatter organizing movement in their plans for Spring 2015. We will continue to mobilize, and we are prepared to take action on our campus and within our community – because at the end of the day, #BlackLivesMatter.

Media Contact

Ariana Allensworth | ariana.allensowrth@berkeley.edu

UC Berkeley MSW Graduate Student Body

Voluntourism – How to Find an Ethical Project?

“Voluntourism” is a portmanteau of “volunteer” and “tourism”, describing tourists that combine a trip abroad with volunteer work. The idea is often met with scepticism and has caused a lot of controversy. One reason for this is that researchers have found that some of the companies involved with voluntourism are misrepresenting their products, i.e. trying to make a profit out of volunteers that come to help. But with hundreds of opportunities offered by agencies, charities and grassroot projects, how does a potential volunteer know which organisations are ethically a good choice and which ones are unhelpful to the very communities they claim to help?

During my bachelor’s education, I considered volunteering abroad. However, I was overwhelmed and shocked by how difficult it seemed to find information on projects. Much of the international volunteer industry seemed ethically ambiguous to say the least. Most projects I found charged thousands of dollars which in the end discouraged me from joining any program at all. Nevertheless, there are many ethical options out there for everyone interested in volunteering, however finding them is tougher than it should be. It is the very nature of this dilemma that motivated me to join Team Social Work, a social enterprise dedicated to making the voluntourism market more transparent

Step One: Be realistic

Make sure you have realistic expectations about what to expect to experience on your trip and what you can accomplish

  • You came to help, keep that in mind throughout your stay. This does not just mean that first you have to think about the beneficiaries of your stay first and put the community needs ahead of yours, but also remember that your efforts are ultimately for the community you’re serving, despite the pivotal role you can play. Your ultimate goal should be to to assist them with their vision, whichEducationh ever part you may play in it.
  • Remember that change takes time. If you’re only going to be there for a short period, then the chances are that you won’t be there long enough to witness the impact your efforts will have on the community that you have elected to h
    elp. Nevertheless, consider the bigger picture to appreciate that your contribution has made a significant contribution and indeed a difference.
  • Last but not least – don’t underestimate the importance of a smile or other acts of kindness. They can have a bigger impact than you might realise.

Step Two: Choose a Good-Fit Type of Volunteering

A lot of volunteers have only a few weeks of their time to donate to a project and are worried that they can’t make a difference in such a short period. So how can you make short-term voluntourism worthwhile?

Short-term voluntourism isn’t necessarily bad. It really depends on the project that you want to volunteer for. As a general rule of thumb, you should always ask yourself whether or not your position at the project is effected by a personal relationship. E.g. within a conservation project, your duration of stay will have limited impact on the animals or biodiversity; often these projects need an extra hand, so it won’t make so much difference if you are only there for a short period. If you want to volunteer with a project that involves community development or working with children, carefully evaluate whether your short term stay will be useful to them or if you will do more harm than good. You might help to build a school in a few weeks, but you won’t become a counsellor for traumatised children. In any case, be sure that you are matched according to your skills.

Step Three: Ask the Right Questions

To ensure that you are joining an ethically sound volunteering project, the organisation should be able to provide you with answers to your questions. But what are the right questions to ask?

Before getting in touch with someone at the organisation, think about the following:

  • Many projects will provide you with a great vision of what they are trying to achieve, but only genuine projects will be able to provide you with details of how to get there. Ask whether or not there has been a needs assessment establishing exactly what help is required. Only projects that plan ahead will be able to make a lasting difference, so be sure to enquire about specific goals and why these are of importance in advance.
  • Take careful consideration over how the communities and projects are talked about by their relevant organisations. If they are degrading the locals they claim to be helping and belting their situation, then this should be sending you warning signs – taking advantage of their poverty to market the volunteering project in question is not respectful in the slightest.
  • Furthermore, every project should break down where the money you pay will go, and how the money from past volunteers has made a difference to the community they are working in. If they don’t, I recommend reconsidering your choice.

Get in touch with someone who has volunteered there beforehand: 

  • We live in the age of social media, so make sure you use it to your advantage. Sincere organisations should provide links to their social media sites. Use them to get in touch with former volunteers of the projects and ask them for their personal experience.
  • Make sure to ask what the exact nature of their volunteer work was, and what level of volunteer support they experienced. If the program description doesn’t match what former volunteers describe, you should be cautious and ask the project why this was the case.

Have you been on a volunteer holiday? Share your views and experiences in the comments below.

After #Ferguson: Taking a Stand in Governance

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In the wake of #Ferguson, we can all agree that something needs to be done. I think we can all agree that we need to stand in a way we haven’t for many years. We need to take responsibility for what is going on in our communities. We need to do better and there are ideas as to how to do this.

According to a recent article in The Root, it argues that “Black America Needs Its Own President”, and I wholeheartedly disagree. For years, we had something akin to this in the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but then we are still having the same conversations. We are still reactive and not largely proactive. We are still asking for the same things and making the same demands.

We don’t need our own president what we need is to take responsibilities for ourselves and form a coalition to directly address behaviour, policies and practices that are detrimental to the way we are viewed globally and treated locally. They need to be able to directly and assertively lobby for changes that obliterate racial disparities.

We need to develop a caucus that goes into our communities where there are issues and organize strategic action that doesn’t include violence or destroying our own communities. We are a people of immense and immeasureable talent and potential. We need representative voices that are not only saying something new but are about real action – strategic and targeted that would uplift and empower our communities.

Having one person we look to when things go wrong isn’t the answer. We are a diverse people living in diverse communities all over the country. If we had a caucus where individual leaders from Black communities could come together we can start having the conversations that lead to action plans. We need to address our economic needs and start to build community wealth so we are in a position to help each other instead of relying on others.

There is no reason our community shouldn’t be as prosperous as others. It isn’t about amassing wealth as much as it about being able to help our own through crisis. So many have been doing it for so long, meanwhile we are still waiting for our 40 acres. I can’t stand people who continue to perpetuate a myth. We are the only people who rely on our oppressors for progress. Are we serious? This is why we have made progress but have not become leaders and drivers of changes in our communities.

I agree that there needs to be a Black presence to represent our interests but it does not need to come in the form of one person who is on the media stage. It would be more empowering to go into communities and help develop local leaders who can then come to the table to represent their communities.

The problems individual communities face are problems our community faces on the whole. There are those who still see our problems as the problem of “Black Americans”, having amassed their own wealth through hard work and dedication and I believe this is what is needed. But we also need to realise that the resources to achieve this are not readily available to everyone and there are communities that are systematically disenfranchised and would benefit from assistance and motivation from their peers in order to see and experience success. We need to help each other out of the trenches and onto the the path of prosperity.

There is no reason for us to rely on others to take us out of the shadows; we have everything we need within. It is about having the conversations (new one because quite frankly, there have been apologies for slavery, we need to stop expecting our oppressors to help us progress – i.e. move away from the fairy tale of our 40 acres and a mule, and we need to wholly understand the impact of racism ourselves) that will lead to strategic plans to impact the world around us so it will change in favor of us.

A coalition of communities leaders could do this. Yes they will come with their own agendas and understandably, so they come from varied communities. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there are some issues that are pervasive and need to be addressed. We can balance the two, addressing issues of the Black community as a whole while helping individual communities develop.

To be more specific I think the remit of a caucus or a coalition could be:

  • making “community call outs” on any prominent figures – local, nationally, or internationally – who are doing or saying things that are counterproductive to change, prosperity and progression.
  • manage image of the Black community in the media
  • manage community issues before they become national statistics and fodder for stereotyping
  • sending consultants to communities to help in times of crisis (public relations, organizing, creating strategic actions plans for change led by local leaders)
  • sending consultants to communities where leaders appeal to the caucus for assistance
  • training of local community on change management, building community resources, and training local “champions” to manage local political processes
  • aiding in ensuring there is equal political representation and policing in communities where Black people dominate the population (to start)
  • re establishing town hall meetings as a means of addressing local issues and manage them independently
  • building of funds to fund community interventions
  • financial drives: possibly local drives to address their own issues
  • national drives: appeals to organizations and representation for national crisis fund

We have all the talent and ability to unite and do better. Having a national voice is part of it but listening to local voices is the bulk of it. Let’s build on what we have to increase what we have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Milwaukee Community Journal

The Michael Brown Shooting: Why the Requirement for ‘Perfect’ Victims is About Race

By the time Norma L. McCorvey was 21, she had abused drugs and was on her third child. While carrying that third child, her scheme to falsely claim she was raped in order to obtain a legal abortion put her in the path of attorneys seeking to challenge U.S. abortion laws. Those attorneys who would make her (as “Jane Roe”) the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that would make abortion within the first three months of pregnancy legal for all women in America and halt the deadly practice of amateur, underground abortions: Roe v. Wade. Subsequently, McCorvey, despite her background, became a national symbol of women’s rights and the fight against female oppression.

photo-2-for-ferguson-blog-post
via Twitter/PhillyPhill

Was McCorvey an angel? No. Was McCorvey free from teenage and young adulthood missteps? No. Was her right as a woman to make decisions about her own body worthy of justice and defense –regardless of her sketchy background story? Yes.

Enter Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, MO (2014).

An unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Community uproar and demand for accountability, justice and legal recourse for police brutality followed the shooting. Then on the day Ferguson police officials released Wilson’s name to the media, they also released a video allegedly showing Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store right before his shooting. Several days later, it was ‘leaked’ that an autopsy revealed Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he was killed.

The message being sent from the video and marijuana leak was clear: Brown wasn’t an angel. Therefore, because there were no wings found on his dead body, the legitimacy of the community and others fighting for his rights and seeking justice against police brutality should be questioned.

Those looking to understand why McCorvey’s backstory did not alter public and court perception about the need for justice in her case while the exact opposite plays out in the Brown case need only know this: McCorvey is white. Brown was African-American.

Sure, a situation in both the lives of McCorvey and Brown intersected with a long-standing discriminatory American policy/law, thus garnering demands for change. The difference is that in America, there is an expectation steeped in racism that African-American victims of injustice and/or those African-Americans fighting for justice should be beyond reproach, while white victims or justice fighters can be ‘flawed’ or ‘complex.’

Just look at the African-American symbols of injustice in some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court cases and justice movements in history: James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi; Rosa Parks, who brought national attention to Jim Crow laws on public transportation; little pigtailed Ruby Bridges, 6, who stoically endured racists and violence while integrating a white Southern school; and Mildred Loving, the other half of the couple in Loving v. Virginia that struck down laws against interracial marriage. These people were so squeaky clean that if they were a floor, you could eat off of them.

Meanwhile, America is quite comfortable with its white heroes, leaders, and activists being flawed. What does it matter that Thomas Jefferson had essentially a second family with his slave Sally Hemings while President of the United States? Why should politician David Dukes let a little fact that he was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan stop him from being voted in by the American people as a Louisiana State Representative? Who can forget the Oscar-winning performance by Julia Roberts of Real-life Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich. The film portrays Brockovich, as a struggling single mother, who was able to expose corporate environmental crime after being hired by a boss who, when first meeting her, was able to overlook her dressed with certain upper body parts hanging out to see her ‘passion’ and ‘potential.’

As the Brown case illustrates, even teenagers are not spared from this ridiculous double standard. For teenagers doing teenager stuff resonates quite differently when that teen is African-American. I can speak from past professional experience working in a treatment center serving white, rich kids, that marijuana use is not exclusive to African-American teenagers. Many of those kids had lied and stolen to support their drug habits. Some have been violent right before my eyes toward their parents seeking help for them. But with these teens – as with the infamous “affluenza” teen, Ethan Crouch, who killed four people while driving drunk and was sentenced to not-so-hard time in a treatment center – we are supposed to understand that not being fully mature, teenagers need our support, understanding, and second chances because they have – “potential.”

By contrast, the news that Brown may have had marijuana in his system, whether true or not, has been used to illustrate his being unworthy, a “thug” (aka, N-word), not deserving of empathy, but very deserving of being shot at least six times (twice in the head) by Wilson. One need only read Twitter feeds, listen to commentators on television news programs, or read the comment section of virtually any newspaper covering the story to see examples of this thinking.

Then the video of the alleged cigarillo ‘robbery’ was released, and the judgment was swift and decisive. “HP” wrote in the New York Times comment section that the video has convinced her “that incident is no longer between a Gentle Giant and rogue cop. It is between a felon and a cop.” And then in the same comment section, “David” of Chicago reminds us that Brown could reasonably have been expected to act aggressively toward Office Wilson because “as any psychologist will tell you, past behavior predicts future behavior.”

So, Brown, whom authorities have verified did not have a criminal record, is now labeled permanently in death as a “felon.” But, of course, that’s a fair assessment because, as “David” points out, what was done in your past is always what you will do in the future.

But, again, such reasoning only applies to African-American victims.

When then 20-year-old Caroline Giuliani, daughter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was arrested in 2010 for shoplifting at a Sephora in Manhattan, the worst she was called was “rebellious” (New York Post). The New York Daily News even went so far as to try to milk sympathy for her plight by calling her a “Poor Little Rich Girl,” while even interviewing a psychologist on what could motivate someone like her to steal. They even included a photo of her as a cute little girl to further drive home the point of her innate innocence to readers. Absent were the references to predictions of “future behavior” of the then Harvard student –– flawed, but worthy of a chance at a bright future. And unless my ears and eyes are failing me, I missed that psychological assessment in media accounts of Brown’s alleged cigarillo swipe.

The double-standard extends to those who are fighting against injustice, as well. Lest we forget, the Occupy Wall Street Movement took over – let me repeat – took over a park in downtown Manhattan for months, met police efforts to shut them down with righteous resistance. They disrupted as they raised awareness about economic inequality between the 99% and the One Percent. Yes, people were tear-gassed. Yes, people were arrested. Yes it was mayhem. Yes it was chaos. Yes it was an uprising watched worldwide. These people meant business. Now, there was some public and media resentment toward the movement, including Newt Gingrich famously telling the large hipster contingent of the movement to “go get a job right after you take a bath.” But unless my ears are failing me, I don’t recall these activists being referred to as “animals” deserving of being murdered by the police, despite whatever flaws critics thought Occupy protestors possessed.

But “animal” has actually been mild compared to other things said about African-American protestors in Ferguson. Some Americans have consistently questioned the protestors’ right to speak out about injustice toward the black community by whites because of “black on black crime,” looting,” and other irrelevant topics. In other words, how can a race of people, whose issues and actions are ‘complex’ and not perfect like their grandmother’s sweet potato pie, think they have the right to demand justice against police killing unarmed black men and women? That’s like saying white Americans should just sit back and accept the murders of loved ones at the hands of serial killers because the vast majority of serial killers are white males.

But, then again, one can’t really expect a logical assessment of Ferguson protestors from people who view them as racially inferior people whose lives are not worth much at all. “If looting and firebombing, destruction of property and violence is their reaction to everything, perhaps we haven’t shot enough?” asked “Kevin,” of Kansas, on a New York Times comment section, without any shame.

But not every white person in America is drinking that Kool-Aid. Some get the double standards in both word and deed. One poignant Ferguson protestor sign carried by a white male captured on Twitter read: “At 18 Yrs old in Festus, MO, I shot a cop with a BB Gun. Why am I still alive?”

People who are looking for perfection from fighters for justice are living in an alternate reality. For as history has shown, those who are willing to risk it all to right a wrong or correct injustice are not usually those who have the most to lose in the way of big and shiny things like cars, houses, boats, and the corner office. It is usually those with nothing left to lose, nowhere to go but up. And life at the bottom ain’t no crystal stair. Therefore, the people at the bottom will not be perfect. They may look the brother in the now famous Ferguson protest photo, who slings a fiery object back at police with one hand while holding a bag of potato chips in the other. But they will be courageous.

Author James Baldwin, himself a participant in the black Civil Rights’ Movement of the 60s, understood this formidable combination when he said: “the most dangerous creation in any society is the man who has nothing left to lose.”

But don’t’ be misled that this powerful fact is lost on those participating in the smear campaigns of Michael Brown, Eric Garner before him, Renisha McBride before him, Jordan Davis before her, and Trayvon Martin before him.

Their goal in focusing on the imperfections of victims and protestors is to silence minority concerns through de-legitimization. Their goal is to create a smoke screen to blind others to the obvious injustices. Their goal is to steer the discourse off-topic in hopes that it will remain there and never find its way back.

It’s an old tactic. It’s a pretty transparent tactic, but people still accept it in America.

The reason is as clear as black and white.

Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing

Airing live on CSPAN, Dr. Steve Perry gave a searing speech on the “The Role of A Social Worker” at the Clark Atlanta University Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and principal of a Connecticut school which only accepts first generation, low-income, and minority students.

Dr. Perry received his Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has since become a leading expert in education, a motivational speaker, accomplished author, and a reality tv host.

Dr. Perry was adamant that social workers are the key to solving societal problems because we are the first responders for social issues.

However, he also pointed out that social workers are not unionized, tend to be politically inactive, and do not engage in social conversations in the public sphere.

Dr. Perry asserts that our jobs are the first to be cut because we are silent, and taxpayer dollars are being diverted to education budgets for programs social workers should be implementing.

I have listened to Dr. Perry’s speech twice already, and there were many pearls of wisdom that he dropped on the ears of those in attendance and viewing the broadcast. For the most part, I agreed with 95 percent of what Dr. Perry said which is a very high percentage for me.

Now, I am going to share with you my top 5 reasons why I believe social work is failing:

1. Title Protection

First, it made me beam with joy when Dr. Perry referred to himself as a social worker despite his celebrity status. Most individuals with social work degrees who work in social work settings often refer to themselves as researchers, professors, therapists, or psychoanalysts. The people most vocal about title protection and licensure don’t actually call themselves social workers as if the title is relegated only to frontline staff.

I feel that over time title protection has been convoluted to mean licensed social worker and not a worker with a social work degree. I go in more detail on my thoughts regarding licensure in a prior article entitled, “Licensed Social Workers Don’t Mean More Qualified”. In my opinion, current policies and advocacy by professional associations and social work organizations have fractured the social work community into its current state.

We hail Jane Addams as the founder and pioneer of social work when in fact a story like Jane Addams’ would not be possible today. Jane Addams did not have a social work degree nor did she need a license to advocate, help people organize, or connect them with community resources. As a matter of fact, in today’s society Jane Addams would probably major in gender studies, political science, public policy, business or law.

Social work degree programs have begun dissociating themselves with “casework” connecting community members to resources, and they actually steer students away from these types of jobs. If we are going to pursue title protection, we also need to create second degree and accelerated programs to pull experienced professionals and other degree holders into the social work profession instead of excluding them.

2. Macro vs Micro

For the past couple of decades, social work has slowly moved towards and is now currently skewed toward being a clinical degree while marketing itself as a mental health profession. Over time, the profession has done a poor job in recruiting and connecting with individuals who are interested in working with the poor, politics, grassroots organizing, and other social justice issues.

Individuals who once flocked to social work to do community and social justice work are now seeking out other disciplines instead. Many social workers who want to be politically active and social justice focused are forced to do so under the banner of a women’s organization or other social justice nonprofit due to lack of our own. Students who decided to seek a macro social work degree often feel alienated and unsupported both in school and later with lack of employment opportunities.

3. Professionals Associations Represent Themselves and Not Us

Social Work organizations and associations have been pushing licensing for the past couple of decades which happens to also correlate with the same time frame they tripled the amount of unpaid internship hours required to complete your social work degree.

Recently, the Australian Association of Social Workers conducted a study which found university social work students were skipping meals and could not pay for basic necessities in order to pay for educational materials. American social work students who receive no stipends or any type of assistance are being forced to quit paying jobs in order to work unpaid internships, and they have no one fighting for them. In fact, most social work leaders argue that if you can’t shoulder the hardship this is not the profession for you. Many social workers struggle with supporting the fight for $15 dollars per hour for minimum wage jobs because they have master’s degrees making less than $15 dollars per hour.

You can’t talk to a social worker about anything without hearing the word “licensing”. From the time you start orientation, licensing is being forced feed to you as the solution that will solve all of social work’s problems. You are told licensing is going lead to better pay, better professionalism, better outcomes for clients, and better recognition to name a few. Minimum education and training standards are important, but requiring a medical model for all areas of practice in social work is not the answer. Social Work Licensing advocates often compare social work licensing with that of nurses, doctor, or lawyers.

In my opinion, social work licensing gives social workers all the liability and responsibilities without any of the rights. In states where licensing is required, social work licensing advocates did not advocate for employers to assume the cost of the additional training. The cost of continuing education credits have been passed on to the employee who is already in a low paying job, and the employer may opt to pay for them if they choose.

Here are a few things that licensing actually does:

  • Who can pass the licensure exam without having to pay for test prep materials or a workshop in which your professional association happens to sell to you at a “discount” if you are a member.
  • People are taking the licensure exam sometimes at $500 each time for four to five times. Where is this money going?
  • Once you pass the licensure exam, you are going to need liability insurance in which they also happen to sell.
  • To keep your social work license, you will have to maintain a certain amount of continuing education unit (CEU) hours yearly. They just happen to own and provide the majority of these CEU online companies and workshops for you as well.
  • Then, you have to pay renewal fees yearly and fines to your state board of licensure which goes to sustain their jobs.

Licensing is currently in all 50 states and US territories, and it seems to benefit the people who created the policies more than it does the social worker and the communities we serve. Licensure makes money, and social justice issues just aren’t income generators. For social workers who are already struggling, how does all the above fees and costs affect their career mobility in one of the lowest paid professions with one of the highest student loan income/debt ratios? Without a union for social workers, who will advocate on our behalf and for our clients to get the resources we need to serve them?

4. Lack of Diversity in Social Work Leadership and Academia 

Through Social Work Helper, I have had the opportunity to be a part of conversations with various factions of social work leadership over the past couple of years. Often times, I was the only person a part of the conversation that didn’t have a doctorate or at least in the process of earning one.  Additionally, I noticed that very few were minority voices if any other than me who were a part of these conversations. At first, I was intimidated because they had more education and  higher positions than me.

However, the more I listened and paid attention, I realized they are not better than me rather they had access to more opportunities than me. The ignorance and insensitivity displayed towards communities of color and the plight of social workers who are struggling in this profession was unbelievable.

Diversity in leadership brings different perspectives and point of views to be added to the conversation. Why didn’t more social work organizations and schools of social work support last night’s speech by Dr. Perry hosted at a Historically Black College? How often is the topic of social work front and center in a televised public forum?

According Social Work Synergy,

“At times this will mean sharing power and leadership in deeper ways, and taking proactive steps to undo oppression and racism. The use of community organizing principles and skills are essential” (p.19) to this effort. Read Full Article

5. Lack of Support and Silence

Social work organizations and associations are forever holding conferences that the majority of social workers can’t afford to attend. Many social workers don’t have the luxury of having their university foot the bill for them to attend every social work conference each year. This very dynamic adds to the failures listed in 1 thru 4. In addition, it highlights another point made by Dr. Perry when he stated, “Social Workers will talk to each other, but they won’t engage in the public sphere”.

I have contacted both the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) asking them to waive certain expenses, so I can cover their conferences in order to engage social workers via social media who can’t afford to attend. I can get press access to a White House event, but not to a social work conference. It’s like a country club that you can’t be a part of unless you can afford it.

Watch for free on CSPAN: The Role of Social Workers

 

The Business of Social Work Practice

Over the last decade, certainly in Australia, funding for human services organisations has undergone significant change.  The days of filling out an annual evaluation report and expecting to be automatically re-funded are gone. Simply ensuring you meet the objectives of last year’s funding is not enough. A competitive tendering process is now a harsh reality in the realm of community services. What implications does this have for social work practice?

CompetitionFirst of all, we need to get comfortable with the notion of “competition”. It’s a word that doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with most social workers.  And yet, in the tender process, that is exactly what we face.  May the “best” organisation win. No matter what your values and passions may be as a social worker, no matter how much you abhor the thought of competing with another well-meaning, non-profit agency, no matter how much you talk about collaboration and partnerships, the bottom line is that you have to provide evidence that your organisation deserves a portion of limited funding more than another.

Secondly, we need to become acquainted with the word “business”. Traditionally, funding in community organisations is prioritized to the grass-roots workers – those who deliver service to the client group. The rest of the “business” is expected to be run by volunteers. Or the coordinator of the service works double the paid hours to ensure everything is running smoothly at a business level. At times a small portion of funding is reluctantly allocated to a bookkeeper or administrative assistant or allocated to the social workers who are already overloaded meeting client needs. Besides being an unrealistic addition to workload, most social workers do not have an effective skills set in business practice.

This reluctance to allocate funds to the business side of the organisation exists because traditionally, community organisations are “supposed to” spend allocated money on client service delivery. This has been perceived to mean “direct service”.  But tell this story to any small business, or a corporate organisation and they’ll ask “how does your organisation (business) run effectively and professionally without business and marketing expertise? “ Every business knows, to compete effectively in the market place, you need people with both business and marketing skills. Private businesses are born in a tough, competitive market place so this notion is simply accepted as part of business life. Community services however, were born in a “charitable, gentle, cooperative” market place.

Time to wake up – things have changed. As many of the larger community organisations have proven, allocating funds to the “business” side of an organisation enables growth. These large community organisations have whole departments allocated to “operations”, “marketing and communications” and “fundraising”. Those employed to deliver client service are able to focus on just that – their clients. The business side of the organisation is fine-tuned by those with specific skills in those areas. The ultimate result for those organisations is that they’re highly competitive in the tender process. And the more tenders they win – the more their client needs are met.

So how would a small community organisation start the process of being competitive in a business sense when funding is so limited? First of all do what you’ve been taught to do as social workers: look at the big picture.  Empowering your clients is not just about casework and running groups. The stronger your organisation is, the more chance you have of gaining the funds you need to initiate or expand service provision. Then question the status quo. Just because it’s always been done this way, doesn’t mean that’s what works best.

Perhaps the well-meaning volunteer, or the overworked caseworker are not the best people to be focussing on business operations or communications strategies. Where there really is no funding to employ more people, start placing some priority on business practice. Think of ways existing staff and volunteers can be up-skilled so that they understand and possibly assist in strategic planning, fundraising, marketing and business operations. Talk to some of the larger organisations and ask them how they raised the funds to break away from the traditional charitable approach to a solid business approach. They also started out small.

Then ask yourself these questions: How many social workers know how to write up a business plan? Or understand that a marketing plan is an integral part of a business plan? How many social workers understand that innovation and creative thinking are essential elements of any successful and sustainable business?  Or at a smaller level, how many social workers understand how to promote their services to their client base?

Social workers traditionally are not business oriented. Social workers want to see all human services as affordable. But in a world where values change, where government priorities become unpredictable and outcomes are consistently measured according to standards set by external assessors, isn’t it time social workers took on some business sense?  We’re not the traditional “do-gooders” anymore. We’re agents of change. It’s time to look inward at our profession and take some responsibility for the lack of funding to critical operations funding in our organisations.

After all, we continue to accept and work under the premise that our organisations should only allocate funding to direct service, not to administration. Ironically we do this because we’re used to another kind of tender – being gentle.  Ultimately, this quiet acceptance significantly reduces the chances of community organisations gaining momentum and successfully competing for effective client services.  Which tender are you aiming for in your social work practice?

Community Organizing and Creating Allies on Twitter

Twitter can be very noisy due to an enormous amount of tweets and random people who can make their way into your timeline. In the beginning when you are trying to become accustomed to the twitter culture, twitter lists, faves, retweets, and obtaining followers may seem like another exercise of gaining friends on Facebook. Unlike Facebook, twitter will never ask, ” Do you know this person”? This lack of barriers provide a unique opportunity for twitter users to seek out collaborators and allies for a particular cause, shared passion, or to community organize.

Twitter Reach
Example of Twitter Reach

Private accounts on Twitter receive the least amount of connectivity and interactivity. Most people will not follow back a private account because you can’t retweet anything insightful or informational posted by a private user because its private. If you approach Twitter with no expectation of privacy and that everything you tweet will be for public consumption, your experience and how you use it will begin to take new form.

This is week three in the Live Twitter Study I am conducting to explore the practical uses for twitter in the scope of social work practice and policy. On Sunday, we will be discussing how to use twitter to community organize and identify non-social work allies, as well as discussing why creating non-social work allies are important to promoting social work policy and practice.

Also, I am asking participants to be prepared to share @organizations and/or any hashtags for the purpose of creating a twitter list of allies and possible collaborators for everyone to have access.  Also, we will be discussing twitter reach and what it means in terms of disseminating an awareness campaign, action alerts, important resources, or urgent information as a prelude to understanding potential reach.

Join us on March 30th at 3PM EST to discuss using twitter for community organizing and creating allies using the hashtag #swhelper. Be ready to @ your favorite nonprofits and organizations to share because you believe they should be natural allies to the social work profession.

Also View:

Beth Kanter’s Community Organizing Twitter Rules

Evidence Based #SWHelper Live Twitter Chats: Open Forum Wrap Up

Yesterday, Social Work Helper held its first inaugural live twitter chat after a long hiatus, and the first chat was used as an open forum/town hall with members of the social work community both domestically and abroad to discuss twitter uses in academia and practice.

The purpose was to identify topics and issues that resonate with students, practitioners, and academics in order to micro target future chats. Additionally, it occurred to me the best way to challenge existing norms of social media use within the profession is to prove Twitter’s practical applications for data collection, resource identification, evaluation, community organizing, live event engagement, and advocacy.

There was no surprise when familiar themes emerged such as lack of branding for the profession, lack of technology core competencies being taught in social work education, ethical use of social media, and using social media in the professional space. Social Work Academia and leaders within the profession are still asking the question of whether to use social media platforms instead of how do we teach ethical use of social media and leverage them to extract data for future implications.

With the data collected from Sunday’s chat and future chats over the next six weeks, I will use this data to create a study for publication to challenge existing perceptions in the field of social work on the practical applications of twitter as a resource tool. The post for next week’s chat is soon to follow, and you can view the full archive of the chat at here: http://sfy.co/dc1t

#SWHelper Live Twitter Chats are held on Sundays at 3PM EST, and here are the week’s best tweets!

Assessment

Desired Goals and Outcomes

Challenges and Barriers

https://twitter.com/davecannFSED/statuses/442761041135800321

 

Good News for Macro Practice?

There may be good news on the horizon for social workers who appreciate the need for our profession to be more involved with influencing institutions and policies. The Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration’s (ACOSA) Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work expects to release a report and proposals this year on ways to strengthen social work macro practice. The formation of the commission was spurred by a report, Education for Macro Intervention: A Survey of Problems and Prospects, by the venerable Dr. Jack Rothman. The Rothman report garnered a great deal of attention because it documented how little attention has been given to macro practice in social work. And that macro practice instructors often felt marginalized in social work programs. Social work leaders coalesced around the critical and timely need to address these issues and created the special commission.

St Thomas Univ. at Social Work Day at the Capital
St Thomas Univ. at Social Work Day at the Capital

Once again, social work is wrestling with the tension between cause and function—how much resources and energy should be devoted to addressing the structural causes of what ails society’s most vulnerable citizens versus efforts to help these citizens cope with their various sets of circumstances. What is encouraging is this appears to a credible effort to systematically examine the state of macro practice and arrive at some proposals for real change.

The special commission is being co-chaired by Dr. Darlyne Bailey, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, and Dr. Terry Mizrahi, professor and chair of Community Organizing and Program Development, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and former president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). To date, it has received financial support from 40 schools and departments of social work and two organizations.

At issue is how much attention and resources can be devoted to macro social work practice given the overwhelming emphasis on licensing and direct services in most schools and departments of social work? Social work schools value instructors who teach courses that prepare students for licensing exams. Rothman found in his research that schools will use adjunct instructors for macro courses and reserve the bulk of their tenured positions for micro practice educators. As a result, students gravitate to micro practice because they believe this area of focus gives them the best chance for employment after graduation.

Another concern for macro practitioners is the issue of licensing. If macro practice were to grow as a share of social work there would undoubtedly be increased pressure to professionalize this specialization. Dr. Linda Plitt Donaldson and colleagues wrote in Social Work that licensing macro practice is a complicated enterprise because of the current state of variations in licensing requirements among states. Currently only three states (Michigan, Missouri, and Oklahoma) offer licenses in advanced macro practice. Given the broad range of macro practice would there be different standards for administration, community organizing, and policy? Licensing is generally seen as a means to protect the public from poorly trained practitioners. Would the same concern apply to a policy analyst who rarely interacts with the general public?

These are some of the tough issues the special commission will be grappling with going forward. What is clear in this ever changing society we live in—new technologies, graying population, transforming demographics, growing inequalities—decisions are being made in various policy deliberations and social workers need to be at the table. Gentrification and immigration are reorganizing communities and social workers need to be in the mix. We are not going to be able to “fix” people to deal with their environments, we need to be fully engaged in helping to shape their environments.

This is not a zero sum proposition. Expanding macro practice does not mean reducing the emphasis on micro practice. There will still be a need to improve the image of the profession generally and increase compensation to attract more direct service providers. By expanding macro practice, we may expand the pool and some who enter for macro practice will find micro practice more to their liking as well.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Thomas University

Communities Build Tiny Homes for the Homeless

pods

In the city of Austin Texas, a group of people have come together and begun to build small mini pod homes for homelessness individuals in the city which has been deemed the Tiny House Movement. There are also homes that have even been called “Dignity Roller Pods” that were built by Gary Pickering, a man who was once homeless himself.

Around the world, there have been other cities that have taken homelessness into their own hands by creating these mini homes. Some of those places include Florida and Utah. These homes, which require volunteer effort, community support, and donations are being coined as the cheapest and fastest way to temporarily end homelessness.

According to The National Coalition for The Homeless 

  • The number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade.  Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In its 2007 survey of 23 American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population
  • On an average night in the 23 cities surveyed, 94 percent of people living on the streets were single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors.
  • Seventy percent of those in emergency shelters were single adults, 29 percent were part of families and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors.  Of those in transitional housing, 43 percent were single adults, 56 percent were part of families, and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors.

I applaud this movement and the efforts put forth by this group of people. I love this idea and it’s extremely creative. However, I am also saddened. Is this the best America can do collectively to help provide shelter to the millions of homeless citizens within our borders? There are numerous services the homeless can benefit from, but due to the abundance of people who are in need, communities are having to take matters into their own hands to see a real change.

These small pods may help some homeless individuals, but what about food, clothing, warmth, being able to take care of their hygiene, or being able to cook healthy meals? What about the homeless families in need that may have more than just one person who yearns for shelter? They may have young babies or newborns that cannot fit in a small pod altogether. It takes more than just a temporary fix, and more Affordable Housing and Transitional Housing Programs are needed.

Voter ID laws Impact the Most Vulnerable: Time to fight back!

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director of Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Voting is a right, not a privilege. Somehow, this basic American truth is being forgotten in our frenzy to battle “voter fraud,” a phenomenon that exists more in the minds of the paranoid than in the voting booths. Voter ID requirements are one of the newest forms of voter suppression spreading through the states. Women and people of color are widely acknowledged to be the communities most adversely impacted by Voter ID laws. These communities must be at the forefront of the battle against discriminatory voter ID laws that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of North Carolina voters.  To support community inclusion and access to information, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice invites you to join a FREE webinar to discuss strategies to combat Voter ID and other forms of voter suppression in North Carolina and throughout the South.

Please join the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Blueprint NC, State Voices, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Lawand Southern Leaders for Voting Rights (SOLVE) for a free virtual voter ID strategy discussion at the outset of 2014 state legislative sessions. This webinar is free and open to the public. Information is designed for community organizers and concerned citizens looking to find concrete ways to make a difference in the fight for access to the ballot for all eligible voters.

I tried to vote today

SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls will explain the history and context of voter ID so that participants can understand the precise manner that voter ID laws are used to suppress the vote.

The webinar will also include first-hand accounts of how Voter ID laws are being fought on the ground in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. We will discuss lessons learned, best practices, and how to effectively put together grassroots movements in our own communities.

Voter ID is just one of the tools in the arsenal of voter suppression tactics being deployed in North Carolina and beyond. Understanding voter ID is an excellent first step toward understanding and organizing against all forms of voter suppression. We hope you are able to join us on Tuesday, January 28 for this free 2-hour webinar. Click here to register!

Rothman Report Inspires a Student Led Movement

In 2012, Dr. Jack Rothman, a prominent author and academic, issued a report on the current state of social work macro practice. The study identified barriers in schools of social work which have shown a steady decline in social work engagement with community organizing, policy making, and political activism.

Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) received the Student Recognition award from the Association for Social Administration and Community Organization (ACOSA), and I was chosen to lead the expedition to see how we can reinvigorate and shift social workers back into policy makers. I left New York City to go on a fact finding mission in the mid-west in order to collect data and identify concerns from students and academics on the state of macro practice curricula within their universities. I visited four schools of social work which was the University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.

MSWSN
Macro Social Work Student Network

This humbling honor reflects not just the potential of students to affect macro education, but the need for us to be advocates. Anxious to hit the road and meet my colleagues at other schools, I took another look at the Rothman Report which is essential reading for any social worker and especially the macro social worker.  The following findings of the Report manifested themselves during my trip:

  • There is limited integration of macro with micro in the curriculum
  • Macro courses are neglected or marginalized
  • Students are not encouraged to choose a macro program or are deflected to clinical practice
  • There is lack of student interest in or knowledge of macro 
  • Field placements are lacking or problematic
  • Licensure requires many micro courses and leads to little macrocontent

The Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) is a student-driven organization that has been forming campus chapters for macro education advocacy. In turn, this leads to better macro practitioners and healthier communities because social worker are trained to influence policy shifts in order to help improve outcomes for children and families.

Micro level social work is primarily dedicated to clinicians who provide treatment to the individual and/or family. In recent years, social work has shifted from its social justice roots, and it has moved towards the perception of a mental health provider or a child welfare worker.

In my opinion, the profession is dangerously incomplete without macro practitioners organizing in communities, leading and administrating vital agencies, drafting policies, constructing programs for healthier society, and more. Galvanized by the barriers facing macro education, student are working together across the country and in their schools to enhance macro education. On my journey, I met with students and professors to learn more about why they think enhanced macro education is imperative to the social welfare.

Perhaps, it was in the 1980s when the decline in macro education begin to shift. By the 1990’s, a paltry “2.9 to 4.5%” of masters-level students focusing on policy and political involvement according to the Rothman Report. In June, the Network held an event on the current state of macro education with Dr. Loretta Pyles and Dr. Scott Harding presenting on the 2012 Rothman Report.

The Rothman Report added validity to what students were already feeling in their schools which equated to macro education students being underserved. Amazingly, campus chapters have been springing from Massachusetts, Texas to California, and it is reminiscent of “an earlier period [when] grassroots activism and political campaigns were a vibrant aspect of the emerging social work field” (Rothman, 2013).

University of Texas-Austin

At the University of Texas-Austin, I encountered two impassioned MSW students, Elise Fleming and Jessa Glick who led me to Professor Duncan’s classroom. Professor Duncan asserted, “As an educator and social work practitioner I believe robust macro education is critical to fulfilling our profession’s commitment to social justice.  We cannot achieve true social justice one client at a time.” He continued, “To be truly effective social work education must include a strong foundation in macro practice for all students and specific skill development for those students that want to focus on macro practice.  One of the true tenets of macro practice is grassroots organizing and empowerment. I am excited to see the potential of MSWSN to help students learn those skills and strengthen macro practice!”

Ms. Glick made the statement, “I think of macro education as siloed. I don’t see clinical and macro as separate, but curricula enforce a false binary that they are. MSWSN is giving students a chance to collaborate and share experiences.” She continued, “MSWSN allows for sharing of information and innovations/trends within macro social work programs with a space for dialogue. Most importantly, the student voice has a professional platform.”

A few days later I received a message that UT-Austin would start a chapter and focus on assessing the school’s macro curriculum using MSWSN’s assessment survey.

Arizona State University and North Arizona University

The next day, I made my way to the Land of Enchantment at Arizona State University, where I met Judy Krysik’s Program Planning in Social Services class in Phoenix and Nick Taras’ at the Tuscon campus. Assistant Professor David Androff regarded this “as a huge opportunity for ASU social work students.”  ASU’s Policy, Administration, and Community Practice (PAC) students expressed many concerns that would be echoed up north in Dr. Anne Medill’s BSW macro course at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

NAU students, limited by an undergraduate generalist curriculum, threw up their hands with questions such as:

  • Other than what was described, what else is macro social work?
  • What sort of job can I get as a macro practitioner?
  • What about the licensing?
  • Can I actually be a social worker who writes policy?
  • How can we get more macro classes in here?

These are real questions that social work students face across the country and not enough are getting the answers they need. Students are feeling disempowered and misguided by an abundance of myths, misinformation, and mere separation from the facts in order to make intelligent decisions about their social work careers. Ultimately, both the student and our communities suffer.

University of Utah

At the University of Utah, I spoke both with MSW students in Dr. Lindsay Gezinski’s class and in a general information session, each organized by BSW students Carlos Rivera and Rick Reimann. Although Utah only offers a clinical track, students still have macro practice concentration option. One student, Katheryn Dennet stated,

“I see great value in understanding and participating in macro level social work. Systematic change requires many minds – including clinicians – to provide information for our clients. Too often we feel powerless and if we communicate this to our clients we will have done them a great disservice. Learning how to work at the macro level as a clinician is empowering and a crucial part of the social work education. MSWSN’s presentation made me, for the first time, feel excited about a clinician’s role in a large macro setting.”

The Rothman Report

Dr. Rothman started the “Action Recommendations” section of the Report with the following statement:

“There was a strong sentiment for increasing the visibility of the macro area and advocating for its greater status and importance in the field. The major institutions identified as key to attaining this objective are CSWE (in particular), schools and departments, and NASW. These emerge as the core target groups of an action program. Additional targets are the general public, related professions and disciplines, and social work scholarly organizations”

With this statement, I interpret its meaning as stating student involvement in schools and departments of social work is an inherent necessity for the growth of macro practice. While I encourage collaboration with CSWE and the NASW, the development of solutions to barriers to growth in macro education must begin with student action.

As I reflect on my journey, I realized there is more work to be done with MSWSN than before I left, and student sentiments are clear. We want enhanced macro education, and we’re determined to work for it. The development and growth of MSWSN provides an opportunity to facilitate and advocate for the advancement of macro practice. Increased advocacy has the ability to influence schools to produce more and better-skilled macro practitioners which will enhance policy initiative to improve communities.

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