Social Work for a New Generation

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Social work is at a crossroads. As a new generation of social workers move towards graduation and entrance into the profession, we face a unique conundrum. Millennials overall are earning less despite being the best educated generation in history. We are struggling to pay student loans and are widely expected to be the first generation to fare worse than our parents. We know from our own struggles this is not for lack of effort.

Injustices have been allowed to fester and grow unchecked. The social work profession must choose how to address the concerns of this new generation–dedicated to meeting the needs of others, but who are also struggling to meet their own.

For millennials, there is little choice. We will lead for a better tomorrow.

Millennial social workers are recognizing the importance of clinical, community, and political practitioners working in tandem for change at all levels, and the foundations to support this philosophy are being laid down at this moment. Recognizing the unique perspectives of our generation, YSocialWork is launching as a millennial-driven organization that will apply social work methods to the profession itself.

YSocialWork, originally launched as a hashtag for the inaugural Student Advocacy Day platform for social work students in the United States,  is a socially conscious, grassroots start-up based in Washington, DC.  It seeks to provide training and education to youth and young professionals in the areas of innovation, leadership development, and political engagement.  Since its inception in 2014, as the driving force behind creating new opportunities for students in policy-entrepreneurial engagement, YSocialWork continues to empower its members to transform ideas into sustainable solutions in the classroom, community , and government.

Examples of policy-entrepreneurial activities led by YSocialWork will include (but not be limited to): idea generation activities, problem framing activities, dissemination activities, strategic activities, demonstration project activities, activities cultivating bureaucratic insiders and advocates, activities enlisting support from elected officials, lobbying activities, and administrative and evaluative activities (Roberts & King, 1991).

I’m a millennial who became politically conscious under the second Bush Administration–tainted as it was with an air of corruption and illegitimacy. My entire adult life, the United States has been at war. I’ve only experienced an economic recession, despite the alleged recovery. My political reality has been shaped by seeing advocates who stood against the conservative Bush agenda all but disappear as a new Democratic administration came to power–but the injustices remain.

I saw a political system change but go unchanged.

I changed. What might have been the making of partisan loyalty eroded. The belief that good politicians could change the system from the inside dissipated. Because every good politician must confront a system fueled by money and seniority–two things that have a way of influencing political thought and behavior.

I cheered the Arab Spring, the occupation of the Wisconsin capitol, and of course Occupy Wall Street.

In the midst of it all, I became a social worker, drawn by its values–so simple yet essential–a belief in the inherent value and worth of all people and the pursuit of social justice. It is the only profession that carries such a mandate. Social work seemed like the obvious answer to our fragmented systems for social good with micro, mezzo, and macro practice united by a common mission to enhance human well-being.

Unfortunately, our profession has become unbalanced, with an emphasis on clinical practice that comes at the expense of organizing and political work. This is not unlike my own generation. No matter how idealistic we may once have been, we have disengaged from the political in favor of individual impact. We are a generation undeniably invested in social good, but we have not yet mastered how to maximize our impact.

To be sure, this is changing. The vestiges of Occupy–once apolitical–have found a candidate in Bernie Sanders. The historic Black Lives Matter movement has grown to engage not only in street protests, but the political sphere through its strategic confrontations with presidential candidates and the launch of a policy agenda–Campaign Zero. We are learning quickly how to use all the tools at our disposal and to attack the ills of our world from multiple angles.

We must recommit to our core values. We need social workers helping communities to stand up and force systemic change. We need social workers to be political leaders who will listen and take action with the interests of society’s most vulnerable at heart. We need front-line social workers to help individuals overcome their personal struggles and navigate existing systems. We need a united front of social workers for social justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Someone Asks #YSocialWork Does It Feel Like An Insult

Social Work is a tough profession even under the best of circumstances, but the impact social workers have on the lives we touch can influence the trajectory of a life over its lifespan. Many of us choose this profession for a variety of reasons. However, if you surveyed a huge sample of social workers, many would say the profession chose them.

From birth to hospice, Social Workers enter the lives of people when they are in crisis throughout the spectrum of life. Social Workers are the first responders for social issues and family intervention because we are called in when problems begin to show up on the radar. From domestic violence and suicide prevention to cancer awareness, social workers provide intervention and advocacy on many issues because we directly impact our clients and their ability to heal.

March is National Social Work month and every third Tuesday in March is World Social Work Day. Social work month is the one time of year social workers celebrate our profession and each other. It’s the one time of year, social workers feel allowed to pat themselves on the back and say good job or well done even if no one else does.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of our impact is often compromised by having access to limited resources and funding, worker burnout, depression, outdated systems and processes to increase efficiency, and a host of other issues that are too long to list in this article. As a result, social workers become the faces of the failed systems in which we work. So, when someone outside the profession, family, or friends asks why social work, does it not sometimes feel like they are insulting your choice of profession?

#YSocialWork

According to Twitter, the very first #YSocialWork tweet came from a Master of Public Administration student who simply tweeted #YSocialWork

When Shauntia White, the event organizer for Social Work Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, began planning a #YSocialWork campaign for the event on March 17th, I felt Social Work Month would be the perfect opportunity for social workers to explain #YSocialWork is important to us and potential future social workers. Sometimes, it can be a bit frustrating always having to defend your chosen profession or having to explain why social work matters, but we are our best brand advocates. Our profession often falls victim to a majority of negative articles or comments when something bad happens. However, this is an opportunity for us to flood social media with positive messages about why social work matters.

To help celebrate social work month, I invite you to participate in the #YSocialWork social media campaign. Social Work Helper is launching the #YSocialWork campaign in conjunction with Congresswoman Barbara Lee chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work Policy (CRISP), Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work, and Catholic University of America (CUA).

How to Participate in #YSocialWork

Print out the attached campaign sign below, write your message of empowerment, and create a picture or video holding the #YSocialWork campaign sign below. You can post your #YSocialWork message to Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Also, you must include the #YSocialWork hashtag in your post to share your message with other social workers. Will you participate and also share this experience with others to help celebrate Social Work Month with us?

Twitter Example:

Facebook Example:

 

Also, if you tag Social Work Helper in your tweet using @swhelpercom, on instagram @socialworkhelper, on Tumblr, or Facebook at facebook.com/swhelper, I will be resharing tags to Social Work Helper on all SWH social media outlets including Pinterest and Google Plus. Social Work Helper has a combined social media reach of 110,000 people.

Don’t miss the opportunity to share with the social work community at large your message of empowerment, an issue you care about locally, or why you chose social work as your profession. I look forward to sharing your messages.

Happy Social Work Month!

Social Work Advocacy Day: Ensuring the Future of the Social Work Profession

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Washington, DC- On March 17, social work students and social workers will attend the first Social Work Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill  launched by Social Work Members of Congress.

With the support of the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW) and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP), Howard University (Jenna Simpson), and Amanda Benjamin (University of Maryland) have organized a late-morning advocacy training for students and emerging professionals, to complement the Congressional Social Work Caucus “Social Work Day on the Hill”.

The day’s events will provide an opportunity for students to learn how policy is shaped and how pertinent issues are addressed the affect the profession as a whole. A major focus will be the Social Work Reinvestment Act (SWRA), a groundbreaking initiative created to address the challenges faced by social workers and recommend strategies to maximize the services social workers provide, with recommendations spanning recruitment, research funding, educational debt, salary inequalities, and more.

In-person training will provide an opportunity for millennials to voice ideas and concerns to legislators and congressional staff, to speak up about the need for support for professional growth and innovation in the field, and to experience the power of getting involved in direct advocacy.

#YSocialWork

The social work profession can be viewed as the back­bone of health care and social services with more than 650,000 individuals with social work degrees employed in the field.  It is also one of the fastest growing careers in the United States: the Bureau of Labaor Statistics (2012) anticipates that the percentage of Americans who are employed in a variety of social work settings is expected to increase by more than 100,000 jobs by 2022.

A 2013 Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Survey of Social Work reported that 46% of Master’s degrees were awarded to individ­uals aged 25–34 years, 86.4% were women, and 31.2% were from under-represented groups.  By field placements, 22.9% of master’s students were placed in mental health, compared to 1.8% in administration and 0.8% in social policy.

Why are millennials entering into the profession and how can this profes­sion adapt along with society to the millennial culture? Through the use of social media, our advocacy project will provide each social work student an opportunity to share their narrative of what led them to join the profession of social work

Since the beginning of the year, it has been an utmost honor to be able to organize such a meaningful event where social workers can gather together and cele­brate the profession. Our project will continue, after Student Advocacy Day. We want students to realize that they do not need to wait to be licensed to get involved or to be politicians to make policy changes. They can visit Capitol Hill and have a voice at the policy making table on our future professional careers. There will be more opportunities to learn, to advocate, and to participate in social media campaigns supporting social work as we begin Social Work Month in March.

I pledge to uphold social work values and engage in generativity with those who train after me. I invite you to join me in paving the way for younger generations to ensure the future of the social work profession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

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As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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