Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

After helplessly watching her sister try to navigate the international adoption process, Felicia Curcuru launched Binti in an effort to reinvent foster care and adoption. Since the launch of the company in 2017, Binti has expanded its network to over 190 agencies across 26 states in the U.S. The software Binti creates helps social workers and others who work in foster care to effectively approve 80% more families and decrease their administrative burden by up to 40%.

Jimmy Chen, a Stanford graduate and the son of struggling immigrants from China, created Propel in 2014 after noticing that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients needed to call a 16-digit phone number to check their balance. In order to check their balances, some of the recipients would resort to strategies such as buying cheap items such as bananas. Currently, the Propel app helps 5 million households who are eligible for SNAP benefits to manage their finances!

Besides using technology and entrepreneurship to transform human service systems, what do these companies have in common? They were not started by social workers.

Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

Technology and entrepreneurship have and will continue to transform our profession. But social workers have stayed on the sidelines of this creative process for too long. If we are to be successful in effectively disseminating our incredible values and pushing forth the mission of social work, social workers must play a more direct role in embracing the movements of technology and entrepreneurship.

This is not a new concept. Research articles on technology and entrepreneurship in social work have been published for years, and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has published reports on technology in social work. Furthermore, universities such as Columbia University in New York have embraced the movement, and have created a minor for social workers called “Emerging Technology, Media, and Society,” which trains social workers to understand the latest developments in the world of technology. Finally, thousands of social workers operate their own private practices and embrace the benefits of entrepreneurial practices.

This slow, yet continuous shift towards technology and entrepreneurship is important, but it must be accelerated. The question still remains: how do we enable social workers to embrace the power behind technology and entrepreneurship? Here are some ideas:

Enabling Social Workers to Embrace Technology and Entrepreneurship

First and foremost, social work curricula must embrace technology and entrepreneurship. The curricula must incorporate mandatory courses on technology and entrepreneurship, and these courses should be taught by experts in these fields.

Social work departments must enable field placements for social workers in technology or startup environments. By being a part of successful organizations in these spaces, social work students can be exposed to this type of thinking and be inspired by the possibilities!

Social workers themselves must take time to explore and learn about these fields. Although it is difficult enough to maintain our mental health while managing our caseloads, we can utilize the time we spend on webinars or Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to take classes in technology and entrepreneurship.

Social workers can become intrapreneurs, or employees that create new projects from within organizations and businesses. For example, during my time at a community mental health organization, I helped launch a social media channel for the organization’s therapists, which allowed us to feel more connected, share resources, and learn from one another.

Moving Forward

As social workers, we uphold an ethical code that enables us to represent the most marginalized members of our society. But we can only do this effectively by embracing the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and social work. Although there is no silver-bullet answer, we can help social workers gain entrepreneurial and technological skills by broadening the education available to social work students and ourselves so that we can all better understand the possibilities that are out there.

The Code of Ethics: A Guide for Difficult Decisions

It is common for social workers and case managers to have some amount of firsthand experience with the problems their clients face, but what happens when that level of understanding impacts one’s work in a negative way? A case manager recently shared her experience of working with a teen client who is experiencing confusion with her gender identity. Because the case manager has a personal history of transitioning and subsequently de-transitioning, she worries that her own gender identity experiences might cause problems in her relationship with the client. This issue is complicated by the fact that the case manager has not shared her personal transition history with her agency.

In this instance, the client spoke with the case manager about her interest in seeing a therapist who specializes in gender issues. Now, the case manager is unsure of the right way to approach the provision of services and the referral to a new provider. As she explained, the therapist would be providing a different service, meaning the client would continue seeing both of them. She came up with two options for herself: speak with her supervisor about her history and why she believes a transfer would be a good idea, or wait and see if her lived experience does cause any problems in her work with the client.

In this type of situation, consulting the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)’s Code of Ethics is extremely helpful. The Code of Ethics establishes ethical principles standards that must be followed by those working within the social work profession. The first ethical standard – Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to Clients – has quite a few useful subsections. This scenario highlights the importance of subsections 1.15 and 1.16.

1.15 – Interruption of Services

In section 1.15, the Code of Ethics establishes that social workers must do everything in their power, within reason, to ensure that their clients receive services. Even in the face of personal challenges, social workers should strive to provide continuous services. To adhere to the Code of Ethics in the dilemma above, the case manager should continue to provide services while a transfer to a new case manager is in process.

It is important to acknowledge the case manager’s worries regarding her personal history conflicting with the client’s current feelings. In requesting a transfer to a new case manager, she does not have to disclose her history of transitioning to her supervisor. This is her private information and if it is determined that she would not be the most effective case manager, regardless of the reason, it would be in the client’s best interest to be transferred.

1.16 – Referral for Services

This section establishes that social workers should refer clients to other professionals who are better suited to serve the client’s needs. This should be done in a timely fashion, with the service coordination facilitated by the social worker. Because there is no established definition of service coordination, this can be ambiguous and difficult to navigate. Without a universal guideline of how service coordination and the transfer of services should look, social workers may find themselves in a grey area when trying to ensure their clients are receiving the proper services.

Applying the Code of Ethics in Practice

Therapeutic relationships do not always run their course perfectly, a recent study of therapy practitioners showed that 90% of participants had to terminate a therapeutic relationship before its natural end. The top reasons for termination were facilitating a referral to a practitioner who could better serve the client, and to identify other resources that may be more beneficial. This is in line with the Code of Ethics, which can and should be used as a guiding force behind the decisions social work professionals make, making it a worthwhile tool to refer back to when in doubt about tough situations.

The case manager discussed at the beginning of this article has valid personal concerns but also wants to ensure the client is working with someone who is a good fit for her. Because the case manager understands that she may not be the best fit for this particular client, a transfer to a new case manager may be in order. In this scenario, the Code of Ethics functions as a guide by laying out the path a social work professional should follow. The transfer of a client from one provider to another is often distressing for the client, so it is important for the case manager to facilitate a smooth transfer, where services are not interrupted in the interim.

NASW Foundation Partners with University of Texas-Austin on COVID-19 Vaccination Grant

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation and the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work have been awarded a $3.3 million, one-year grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to engage the nation’s more than 700,000 social workers in boosting COVID-19 vaccine confidence, uptake and access, particularly among populations with low vaccination rates and higher vulnerability to severe forms of infection.

“As an essential health care workforce, social workers are well positioned to help people in their decision making around their vaccination status and address any impediments to getting vaccinated, for themselves and for their family members,” said NASW President and NASW Foundation board member Mildred (Mit) Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW. “Whether they work in health care settings, schools, mental health clinics, child welfare agencies or out in the community, social workers are trusted professionals who are able to meet people where they are in their COVID-19 vaccination journey and help them navigate any personal, systemic or logical barriers to becoming fully vaccinated.”

As of this week, 63 percent of the total vaccine-eligible population are fully vaccinated, with much lower vaccination rates among certain populations. With the rampant spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again sharply rising, largely among unvaccinated people. With vaccines recently recommended for pregnant women and expected to be approved in the coming few months for children under age 12, and with booster shots expected to be available this fall, there is increasing vaccine availability, which will be instrumental in reversing the spikes in infection. Facilitating confidence in and uptake of the vaccines is still crucial, as is eliminating barriers to access.

Vaccine confidence is a complex construct that involves a variety of personal factors such as religious beliefs, political beliefs, perceptions of the government, perceptions of science, individual and/or community experiences with health providers and/or systems, language and/or literacy, and/or immigration/refugee status.  As is seen in health and public health initiatives generally, there are also systemic and logistical factors such as transportation, childcare, and mis/disinformation. With their distinctive “person in the environment” framework, social workers possess highly relevant expertise in helping facilitate health decision making in this context.

The one-year project will include a comprehensive education campaign for social workers on COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness, barriers to vaccination (e.g., mis/disinformation, logistical challenges, psychological, etc.), and the role of social workers in promoting vaccination. The initiative will also include trainings for social workers on facts and myths about the vaccines as well as training in Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and other evidence-based, culturally competent, public health- and social work-informed methods for helping clients to process health-related decisions and choices. Through reflective listening and other strategies, versus traditional advice-giving approaches, these methods support and honor the client’s capacity and right to make choices about their health, while centering science-based and accurate information.

HBRT will collaborate with Michigan State University to develop a smartphone mobile application for social workers. The mobile app, which will supplement training, will support social workers by providing them readily accessible vaccine information, motivational interviewing  strategies, screening questions and  brief interventions, and effective vaccine messaging for real-time support. HBRT will also collaborate with NORC at the University of Chicago to assist in developing messaging and in evaluation efforts.

NASW’s 55 state/territorial chapters and specialty social work associations will also be engaged in the initiative.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

The Impact of Recent Court Decisions on Abortion Access

Protesters hold signs in support of Obamacare’s birth control mandate CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/SY MUKHERJEE

In the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstat, it was determined that Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws create an undue burden for women seeking abortion.  In the latest ruling in Alaska, the decision overturned their state-level parental notification law because it violated the Alaskan constitution. These decisions have begun to unmask biased, unscientific abortion policies in the United States, and they should be celebrated everywhere as monumental victories for client self-determination and human rights.

These rulings represent the possibility that the tables may be turning in favor of fact-based abortion policy. Also, they give advocates in this area hope that when abortion policy represents a biased, undue burden, as TRAP laws and parental notice laws do, they will be considered and ruled as such.

These cases also create precedents for the contemplation of the undue burden created by other laws restricting abortion, including mandatory waiting periods, which strip self-determination from social work clients, likely causing secondary trauma when clients are attempting to access a routine health procedure that is safe and absolutely legal in the United States.

The removal of these additional legislative barriers are a particular triumph for social work clients, who at the very moment of this ruling were already finding it harder and harder to access abortion because of the burden of pseudoscientific policy restrictions. These restrictions have been implemented at unprecedented levels since the 2010 midterm elections. Abortion access is such a problem in Texas that women were already attempting to end their own unwanted pregnancies without medical intervention which harkens back to the days of illegal abortion.

While these rulings will not address all abortion access problems immediately, they represent a rational response to moralized abortion policy, which will keep clinics open in Texas and facilitate abortion access for adolescents in Alaska that is on par with that of adults.

The impact of these decisions is also distinct because they expose the intent of the policies, which was to make abortion inaccessible by victimizing vulnerable patients with unnecessary regulation, while couching the laws as means to make abortion safer, when abortion services were already safely provided for both adults and adolescents under existing clinic regulations.

Current decisions are drawing attention to the rhetoric falsely decrying a need for women’s safety in the form of TRAP laws. They expose the actuality that unnecessary abortion regulation decreases family safety by impeding the timing and spacing of births and sets the stage for forced pregnancies similar to those experienced by women in countries like Ireland and Nicaragua where abortion is illegal outright.

TRAP and parental consent laws have been exposed as tools of oppression used by politically motivated legislators to cut off access to abortion for a subset of the population. They also bring to the forefront the understanding that abortion is a low-risk procedure that can be safely performed in clinic environments under existing regulations, for both adults and adolescents.

These decisions also expose the conflict between politically motivated abortion policy in the United States and a sound public health approach to the reproductive health needs of vulnerable groups, by demonstrating that unscientific abortion policy keeps economically disadvantaged women from accessing abortion, while merely inconveniencing adult women of means who have the resources needed to overcome the restrictions. Additionally, these rulings open the door for a scientific presence in our nation’s understanding of abortion and the laws and policies that govern it, because if we can demonstrate that these laws are thinly-veiled attempts to restrict abortion access, then we can demonstrate that the other laws are too.

The overturning of these laws has not created a panacea for abortion access in the United States.  During the time SCOTUS was considering their case, new anti-abortion tactics designed to stigmatize abortion were implemented in the form of fetal pain and funeral policies, which took effect over the summer and spring.

These pseudoscientific laws are currently traumatizing abortion patients who are already facing difficult decisions around unwanted pregnancies that are often surrounded by trauma. Moreover, these laws highlight how out of touch state legislators made up of primarily white, upper-class men are with the best interests of their constituents. They also reflect an ongoing preoccupation with promoting abortion stigma to the detriment of addressing other pressing social issues such as poverty and economic development.

The SCOTUS ruling does not address the Hyde amendment, which restricts all federal funding of abortion in programs such as Medicaid, military health programs and prison health programs. Hyde prevents low income women, and women of color who are more likely to live in poverty and rely on Medicaid, from accessing abortion. This is a prime time for social work advocates to highlight the burdens that Hyde creates, which include completely blocking access to the procedure for those who cannot gather the funds for it.  Social work advocates can call attention to the ongoing burden of Hyde by lobbying for the law’s repeal.

In order to support self-determination, the National Association of Social Workers advocates access to all forms of reproductive health services, including abortion. If we are to achieve social justice for women and pregnant people in the United States, it is imperative that social work capitalizes on these recent rulings to revive our advocacy efforts in this area and work to eliminate pseudoscience in remaining abortion policy.

Write about abortion, talk about abortion, normalize abortion and contact legislators to voice support for our clients needing access to abortion. These rulings represent the tables turning towards a more scientific approach to abortion in the United States, and if we make the best use of this opportunity we can lead the way towards rational abortion policy in that promotes access to the full range of reproductive health options for all clients everywhere.

Failure to Expand Medicaid: Are We Failing Our Most Vulnerable Citizens


We often hear politicians make promises about what they will do their first day in office if elected, but how often do we actually hear about them keeping those day one promises after being elected? Newly elected Democratic Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards, on his first full day in office reversed the decision of his Republican predecessor, Bobby Jindal, to not expand Medicaid for the state’s poorest citizens.

As illustrated by the map above, there are currently 16 States primarily located in the South, and they all have in common Republican-led state legislatures that are still refusing to expand Medicaid and adopt the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite winning two Supreme Court challenges and being signed into law six years ago, Congressional Republicans have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act approximately 60 times as recently as August 2015.

According to the United States Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Affordable Care Act is working despite not being implemented in all 50 States as it was originally designed. DHHS states the ACA is “working to improve access, affordability and quality in health care.” Additionally, DHHS states the ACA has helped 16. 4 million Americans who were uninsured gain access to insurance and affordable health care.

According to Kaiser,

In states that have not expanded Medicaid, 3.1 million poor uninsured adults fall into a “coverage gap” and will likely remain uninsured. These individuals would have been eligible under the Medicaid expansion. However, in the absence of the expansion, they remain ineligible for Medicaid and do not earn enough to qualify for premium tax credits to purchase Marketplace coverage, which begin at 100% FPL (Figure 2). Most of these individuals are likely to remain uninsured as they have limited access to employer coverage and are likely to find the cost of unsubsidized Marketplace coverage prohibitively expensive.

Over 1.7 million adults of color fall into the coverage gap, and uninsured Black adults are disproportionately likely to fall into the gap. Overall, about one in ten (11%) or 3.1 million of the total 27.5 million uninsured adults fall into the coverage gap in the 20 states that have not adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion. This group includes over 1.7 million adults of color. Uninsured Black adults are more than twice as likely as White and Hispanic uninsured adults to fall into the coverage gap. Read the Full Report

Researchers have found five medical conditions that are higher in non-Medicaid expanded states which include high blood pressure, heart problems and cancer.

Also, if you fall into the Medicaid expansion gap and ACA plans are too expensive for you, you may be able to access an income based community health clinic in your area. You can look up local resources using this link.

What Can We Do

First, we must advocate to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are protected. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council has put together an extensive resource list and tool kit to help you better advocate on behalf of citizens in your state. Secondly, we must encourage social innovation within our current health care models.

The links between poverty and poor health are well known: Food insecure children, now numbering 17 million in the United States, are 91 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health than their peers with adequate food, and 31 percent more likely to require hospitalization.5 Children under age 3 who lack adequate heat (another 12 million) are almost one-third more likely to require hospitalization.6 And families with difficulty paying rent and housing-related bills face increased acute care use and emergency room visits.7 – Read Full Article

Most of the time, our first responders who tend to the social needs of patients such as social workers and case managers are overloaded due to a shortage of manpower, funding and resources. According to the National Association for Social Workers (NASW), social workers provide 60 percent of the mental health services in the United States. Currently, the NASW is proactively seeking to “promote the inclusion of social workers as essential members of health care teams in coordinated care models” through advocacy and policy initiatives.

Most importantly, we must work collaboratively for collective impact in an effort to add protective factors and increase outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.

NASW Celebrates 60th Anniversary with Forum on Ethics, Family Well-Being, and Equity

Presenting Award 1

WASHINGTON — The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) celebrated its 60th year with a special anniversary forum on Oct. 23, 2015 bringing together leaders of the profession to discuss how social workers can lead national efforts that improve family well-being, ensure liberty and equity for all, and develop ethical responses to new technologies and globalization.

The event also commemorated the 55th anniversary of the NASW Code of Ethics, which guides the ethical conduct of the profession, and the 40th anniversaries of the NASW National Committee on Women’s Issues (NCOWI) and National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (NCORED). These committees continue to support initiatives that advocate for women’s rights and ensure that racial and ethnic diversity are included in NASW policies and programs.

In conjunction with the forum NCORED released an updated “Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice,” originally published in 2001, and “Indicators for the Achievement of the NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice,” published in 2007.  These standards will help social workers better serve the increasingly diverse U.S. population.

As part of the celebration, 19 eminent social workers were inducted into the NASW Social Work Pioneers®, an NASW Foundation program that recognizes social workers who have elevated the profession. NASW will also honor six individuals who have made significant contributions to the Code of Ethics and to the advancement of social work ethics (See lists below).

“NASW and the social work profession have much to celebrate and much to be proud about,” NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW said. “This leadership forum will be an opportunity to reflect on how NASW has helped pave the way for positive change in our society since 1955. It challenges leaders in the field to discuss how social workers can have the greatest impact on serving our nation’s families, helping achieve critical social justice goals, and understanding the ethical implications of seismic changes in technology and globalization over the last decade. ”

“This forum is also an excellent way to publicly honor our new NASW Social Work Pioneers and individuals who have helped make the NASW Code of Ethics the guiding light for the profession,” McClain said. “NCORED and NCOWI have also helped guarantee that NASW continues to be one of largest professional organizations in the world advocating for equal rights and social justice for all.”

Three panels were shared via live stream which included “Family Well-Being Across the Lifespan,” “Equity and Liberty in the 21st Century” and “Code of Ethics: Evolution and Emerging Issues.” Social workers and other human service professionals can register for the live stream to listen to the panels and take part in a virtual Q&A. NASW President Darrell Wheeler, PhD, MPH, ACSW, will help moderate the program.

Family Well-Being Across Lifespan

Panel was moderated by Howard University Professor Tricia Bent-Goodley, current editor of the Journal of Social Work. Panelists are Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Alexandria, VA school social worker and NASW 2014 Social Worker of the Year Ana Bonilla-Galdamez; and Laura Taylor, national director of social work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Equity and Liberty in the 21st Century

Panel was moderated by past NASW President Gary Bailey, professor of practice at Simmons College School of Social Work. Panelists are Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth and Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation; Carol Bonner, associate dean at Salem State University School of Social Work and chair of NASW’s National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity; and Joyce James of Joyce James Consulting, a trainer with the People’s Institute Undoing Racism Campaign.

Code of Ethics: Evolution and Emerging Issues

Panel was moderated by Allan Barsky, professor of social work at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Panelists are Frederic Reamer, professor at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work and author of “The Social Work Ethics Case Book”; Mary Jo Monahan, CEO of the Association of Social Work Boards; and Jo Ann Regan, vice president of education at the Council on Social Work Education.

NASW Social Work Pioneers® Program Inductees:

Mimi Abramovitz, DSW, MSW: Professor at Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. New York City.

Ronald Aldridge, PhD, MSW: Executive Director of AIDS Services of North Texas. Denton, TX.

Jeane Anastas, PhD, MSW: Past NASW President, educator, researcher, author and women’s issues advocate. New York City.

Frances Coyle Brennan, LCSW, ACSW: Cancer care and elder care expert, advocate on national eldercare issues. New York City.

Iris Carlton-LaNey, PhD, MA: Social work educator, author, researcher and advocate for African Americans in social work. Chapel Hill, NC.

Yvonne Marie Chase, PhD, MSW: Former Deputy Commissioner and former Assistant Secretary of Children’s Services for Washington state. Anchorage, AK.

Chia-Chia Chien, MSW, MPH: Founder of the Culture to Culture Foundation, advocate for mental health services for Asian Americans. San Francisco, CA.

Elizabeth Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH: Former NASW CEO, social work advocate, developer of innovative programs for oncology support services and end-of-life care. Saugerties, NY.

Sister Ann Patrick Conrad, PhD, MSW: Dean of Catholic University of America’s School of Social Work and Council on Accreditation of Family and Child Services Agencies accreditation standards developer. Washington, D.C.

Vilona P. Cutler, MSW (deceased): Former director of the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work and head of the YWCA in Oklahoma City, human rights and anti-racism activist. Oklahoma City, OK.

Wayne D. Duehn, PhD, ACSW, LCSW: Professor Emeritus at the School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Arlington. Known for research on issues such as sexuality and trauma and innovations in adoption and foster care and standards of assessment for child abuse offenders and treatment of victims. Arlington, TX.

David E. Epperson, Phd, MSW (deceased): Former dean emeritus and professor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social work. Longest serving dean of social work in the United Sates (29 years) and social work education trailblazer. Pittsburgh, PA.

Anita S. Harbert, Phd, MSW: Founder of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies and Services. San Diego, CA, and renowned social worker advocate within the California State Child Welfare system.

Hortense King McClinton, MSW: Academic and professional accomplishments paved the way for African American social workers in North Carolina. Durham, NC.

Alex J. Norman, DSW, MSW: Researcher on groundbreaking cross-cultural studies in family planning and inter-ethnic conflict resolution. Pacific Palisades, CA.

Salome Raheim, PhD, MSW: Former dean and professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and former director of the University of Iowa School of Social Work. Hartford, CT.

René Robichaux, DSW: Mental health trauma expert and social work leader in the U.S. Army whose programs were designed to help military families navigate the health care system. San Antonio, TX.

Barbara Wenstrom Shank, PhD, MSW: Founding dean of the School of Social Work, University of St. Thomas/St. Catherine University. St. Paul, MN, and BSW generalist practice and curricula developer.

Michael Sheridan, PhD, MSW: National recognized scholar of spirituality and social work and a master teacher and in diversity and social justice. Washington, DC.

Excellence in Ethics Honorees:

Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD: Served on the NASW National Ethics Committee (NEC) since 2007, serving as chair from 2011 to 2014. He was instrumental in the nationalization of the professional review process and currently chairs the Code of Ethics Review Task Force (COERTF). Boca Raton, FL.

Elizabeth DuMez, ACSW: Served as the Manager of the Office of Ethics and Professional Review during the 1996 major revision of the NASW Code of Ethics. She also developed the Wichers Ethics Education Fund. Arlington, VA.

Natalie Holzman, MSW, LCSW: Champion for the NASW professional review process for several decades serving in various roles on the NASW Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee including serving as chair from 2000 – 2007. Continues to be a leader in NASW’s professional review program. Chicago, IL.

Ruth Lipschutz, LCSW, ACSW: Served various roles in the Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee and the National Ethics Committee, which she chaired from 2009-2011. Continues to be a leader in NASW’s professional review program. Evanston, IL.

Frederic Reamer, PhD: Professor at Rhode Island College School of Social Work and noted ethics educator for NASW who develops and conducts training and seminars throughout the US and abroad. Currently chairs NASW and Association of Social Work Boards Technology Standards Task Force. Pawtucket, RI.

Kim Strom-Gottfried, PhD: Committed service to NASW’s professional review process including serving as a past chair. Conducted and published the only official research on NASW’s ethics complaints process. Recently appointed to the Code of Ethics Review Task Force (COERT). Durham, NC.


Media Contact

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with 130,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) is a charitable organization created to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through the advancement of social work practice.

Duty to Expel: Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools

Go At It All Alone Poster  Emily & Kaley, 2011.
Go At It All Alone Poster Emily & Kaley, 2011.

Many people have heard of Tarasoff “Duty to Warn” laws, although the back story and subsequent legislative rollercoaster isn’t as well-known. Given the number of states that continue to mandate zero tolerance policies in schools, it is time to remind our lawmakers of the risks of legislative reactions to tragic events.

In 1968, University of California student Prosenjit Poddar pursued Tatiana Tarasoff and was rebuffed. When Mr. Poddar voiced intent to harm his romantic interest, his roommate encouraged him to seek therapy at the campus counseling center. Clinicians at the counseling center, concerned about the threats, eventually decided to call the police and recommended that Mr. Poddar be involuntarily hospitalized. When law enforcement officials investigated they determined that there was no risk and did not follow through on initiating hospital admission. Mr. Poddar tragically killed Ms. Tarasoff.

In 1974, the Supreme Court of California issued its first decision in the case of Tarasoff v. the Regents of the University of California and determined that mental health clinicians have a ‘duty to warn’ potential victims. While well-intentioned, the strict and limiting wording used in this decision prompted criticism from the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychiatric Association, and other professional groups. The court vacated, i.e. erased, its decision and rescheduled the case for hearing. In 1976, the Supreme Court of California issued its official Tarasoff decision that determined that mental health professionals instead have a ‘duty to protect’ potential victims.

While this may seem to be semantic hair-splitting, the differences between ‘duty to warn’ and ‘duty to protect’ are legally and clinically profound – and serve as a good comparison to zero-tolerance policies in schools.

Following the Tarasoff case, a host of state legislative bodies across the nation focused on the wording of the vacated 1974 decision and imposed upon mental health professionals a legal ‘duty to warn’. While these legislative efforts appeared as well-intentioned as the 1974 Tarasoff wording, they were also just as misguided. Such laws were widely viewed as knee-jerk reactions to an unfortunate event that unnecessarily tied the hands of front-line professionals and, paradoxically, did not increase public safety.

The same can be said for secondary school ‘zero-tolerance’ mandates. In reaction to school violence many states enacted these policies which are, in effect, ‘duty to expel’ laws that undermine education, safety, civil rights, and the clinical expertise of the ground-level professionals serving our children.

Initial post-Tarasoff ‘duty to warn’ laws required a clinician to warn a potential victim – even if the threat was vague or temporary, even if better options existed, even if warning a potential victim wouldn’t necessarily protect anyone, and even if making such phone calls carried its own, possibly worse, burdens and risks by reversing clinical progress and eroding client and public confidence in the mental health system.  

While most people agree that reaching out to Ms. Tarasoff would have been clinically appropriate in the afore-mentioned case, there are many instances in which calling a potential victim is not appropriate when other options are available.  If a woman whose schizophrenia is typically well-managed contracts the flu and forgets her medication and makes vague threats to the Pope, our best option in protecting the Pope is to arrange for hospitalization, not make a phone call to Rome.

Zero-tolerance policies in schools carry similar limitations and burdens.  We are well-familiar with the stories of children suspended or expelled because school administrators’ hands are tied by zero-tolerance policies: the 1st grader who plays cops and robbers on the playground and makes a gun with his hand; the bullied child who eventually pushes his tormentor; the little girl who went off her medication after a bout of the flu and her ADHD is topsy-turvy for several weeks. These children, removed from their learning environment, then carry the additional burdens of stigma, shame, and compromised educational opportunities.

Wisely, most states have since rescinded post-Tarasoff ‘duty to warn’ laws and replaced them with ‘duty to protect’ mandates. For example current Ohio law recognizes that mental health clinicians should be able to utilize their professional knowledge and familiarity with each individual case to determine the best course of action – whether hospitalization, increasing level of care, notifying police, and/or warning a potential victim (Ohio Revised Code 2305.51).

Ohio and other states need to similarly replace zero-tolerance mandates.  Doing so does not mean that schools no longer have the option to suspend or expel a child when warranted, rather it allows schools to determine, on a case-by-case basis and with input from trained professionals, what is the best course of action for the child and society.   As of this writing Ohio Senate Bill 167, introduced by Senator Tavares and Co-Sponsored by Senators Schiavoni, Brown and Sawyer to rescind existing zero-tolerance mandates in the states, will most likely die from inattention.  Social workers and other professionals need to encourage all states to evacuate ‘duty to expel’ laws and replace them with ‘duty to serve and educate’ laws.

New Tennessee Law Will Criminalize Pregnant Women

by Katherine Bisanz and Maggie Rosenblum
of Social Workers for Reproductive Justice

As we speak, the law in Tennessee is turning against women and families. The General Assembly has approved SB 1391, a bill that would turn pregnant women and new mothers into criminals.

SB 1391 takes a law that was intended to protect pregnant women from violence and instead turns them into assailants. The law would permit prosecutors to charge women with assault for losing pregnancies, or giving birth to babies with health problems at birth. The targets of the law are women who are in the most need of support: largely women who struggle with narcotic addiction during pregnancy.

Pregnant_woman2This is all happening under the guise of “finding a solution” for neonatal abstinence syndrome according to the State of Tennessee. They claim that the law is a way to use misdemeanor charges to get women into treatment. Anyone aware of the criminal justice system in our country knows that assault charges can heavily impact the course of a person’s life.

A prison or jail sentence could mean that women will be unable to be present to care for the families they already have or sustain the employment necessary to support a family and get through a treatment program. In a nutshell, Tennessee lawmakers seem to believe that they can “keep babies healthy” by punishing their mothers and don’t seem to grasp how terribly backwards and simply unrealistic this idea is.

It’s clear that no evidence-based information is backing this law being that research around the issue of child health have shown that babies are healthiest when pregnant women are treated with care, and when babies are kept close to their mothers after birth. Even women who struggle with addiction love their babies, and can have healthy pregnancies if they can form supportive relationships with their maternity care providers say Connecticut Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Groups like National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) have made clear in past cases that punitive measures are the wrong approach in dealing with the “decades-old” question of how to handle pregnant women who take drugs. As opposed to taking a punitive approach that scares women away from seeking help, the state should treat pregnant drug abusers as addicts with medical problems, NAPW states.

Given their role as gatekeepers and mandated reporters, this law could have serious implications for the roles of social workers in the lives of their substance abusing clients in Tennessee.  Social Workers we are trusted to protect clients self-determination and strive to work with clients to empower and better their lives and this bill could compromise our ability to fulfill this imperative and not to mention obligatory aspect of our work.  Despite Rep. Weaver’s (R-TN) comments to the contrary, it’s hard to believe that child abuse allegations akin to those that have popped up in years past won’t arise in some form and in turn question social workers role as mandatory reporters.

This law will also erode choice as it relates to pregnancy. This law may be used by those who wish to prevent a woman from having an abortion who can now just report their concerns that a pregnant woman is using illegal narcotics in order to have her arrested so she will not be able to access abortion care.

Furthermore, this law may pressure some women into having an abortion they do not want in order to avoid prosecution under SB 1391. One study reported that “two-thirds of the women [surveyed] who reported using Cocaine during their pregnancies … considered having an abortion… (Jeanne Flavin, Our Bodies, And Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America 112 NYU Press 2009.)

Additionally, while the bill appears race-neutral at first glance, prosecutors and judges will wield the law against Black women more so than white women, based on a long tradition and culture of deeply embedded racial stereotypes about Black motherhood and drug use. The law would likely lead to Black women being thrown in jail for up to 15 years for aggravated assault should they choose to carry a pregnancy to term while struggling with an addiction to illegal narcotics. Should social workers be mandated to take part in this, they would directly be violating the discrimination clause of the NASW code of ethics, which includes the responsibility to racial justice and gender justice.

The NASW Code of Ethics states that, “Social Workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people… (NASW 2008).” If SB 1391 is signed into law it will limit choice and opportunities for all Tennessee families. We strongly urge the National Association of Social Workers and its Tennessee chapter as well as individuals who identify as social workers across the nation to speak out against TN SB 1391.

Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet

There has been much talk recently about who can legitimately call themselves social workers. What training is required? Which licenses are needed? And, there have been many discussions about the variations of social work licenses that exist in different states. License or no license, we know that many social workers are “hiding” in non-clinical environments where it doesn’t seem much social work is happening in places like Congress, the World Bank and federal agencies such as the departments of Labor, Housing, Education and Health and Human Services (HHS). In many of these settings, social workers operate under cover. They often do not identify themselves as social workers and they have little or no connection to professional social work organizations. Yet, they are trained social workers with a B.S.W, a M.S.W., or a Ph.D. from an accredited social work school, but you would never know.

The subject arose this week during my lunch with three very special social workers who are at the forefront of promoting greater emphasis on macro social work practice. Darlyne Bailey, dean of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Terry Mizrahi, a professor at Hunter’s School of School of Social Work, are co-chairs of the Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice formed by the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA).

With us was Jenifer Norton, a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr who provides administrative support for the commission. The commission’s mandate is to examine the state of macro social work practice and offer recommendations on how to strengthen the macro dimension of social work. To date, 46 schools and departments of social work and two organizations have donated funds to support the commission’s work. In addition to 21 commissioners, there are about 50 allies who are participating in the effort by working with one of five workgroups.

The ACOSA group was in DC for a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to discuss the current state of macro social work practice. It is encouraging these major social work organizations are finally paying more attention to macro social work practice. This new found interest in macro social work practice was triggered by a 2011 report by Jack Rothman that concluded macro social work practice was being marginalized at many schools of social work. He and Mizrahi followed that report with a published article quantifying students who are pursuing macro practice.

While discussing the working group I have joined—Promotion and Public Support of Macro Leaders and Practitioners—Terry suggested that identifying social workers in macro settings is often difficult because many of them are hiding in the closet. Whether this is intentional or just a byproduct of being in a non-social work setting, we need to know who these social workers are, where they are plying their trade and how they are providing leadership. Many are operating at high levels and have very inspirational stories that need to be told. Why? Because many are in the closet because they feel their work might be devalued by colleagues who may not appreciate the value of social work.

My favorite example is Jared Bernstein who I have written about on several occasions. Bernstein is the former chief economist for Vice President Joseph Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team. Bernstein earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and chose to hone his economic skills and practice in that arena. He proudly self-identifies as a social worker but when he is introduced on television programs and in settings where he is discussing fiscal and monetary policies, he is introduced as an economist. Would listeners value his input if he were identified solely as a social worker? His commentary would have the same value, but I doubt that his audience would give it the same weight if they thought his ideas were those of a social worker and not an economist.

We need to identify more social workers like Bernstein. NASW has agreed to work on identifying social workers in these settings. That should help much. If you know of social workers in macro settings—working at the Supreme Court, leading corporations, working in the media and other arenas—please shoot me an email at

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

Find Your State’s Licensing Laws with Social Work License Map


Are you unsure about your State’s licensing laws or possibly considering a move to another state? Finding this information out on your own can be a frustrating process, and you may not know where to begin your search process. Well, Social Work License Map has created an interactive website to help kick-start your licensing journey for your State or a state you are maybe contemplating a move to.

Recently, Social Work Helper was listed on the Inspired Advocates list of top advocacy blogs, and I decided to reach out to Inspired Advocates which is a project of Social Work License Map to find out more about their efforts in providing up to date information relevant to the social work community.  I had the opportunity to interview  Brian Childs who is a content developer for Social Work License Map, and here is our interview.

SWH: Tell us about Inspired Advocates, and what led to the creation of Social Work License Map?

Brian Childs
Brian Childs

I studied History and Spanish at the University of Georgia and went on to earn a Masters in Journalism from NYU. Currently, I oversee content and technology projects for and Inspired Advocates is one of those projects.

Inspired Advocates is a dynamic ranking of websites in the social justice blogosphere designed to raise awareness, build community and educate bloggers on how to promote their sites using search engine optimization, social media and outreach. Any site with a blog that is relevant to the social work space can submit themselves to Inspired Advocates. Once approved, they are ranked by our algorithm which looks at domain authority, frequency of posting, user interactions and the quality of the content.

Social Work License Map was created to be a free resource aspiring and current social workers to help guide them through the licensure process while also providing practical information such as salary, scholarships and career tracks.

SWH: How is the site useful to students, aspiring social workers, and practitioners?

For students considering a career in social work, or any career really, it can be difficult to assess the pros and cons and the best path to move forward. What are the opportunities available in the field? What level of education to do you need to pursue your goals? How will you pay for that education? When you graduate, are there going to be jobs available?

While we can’t advice individual students on their specific circumstances, we have tried to create a helpful resource for the aspiring social worker by researching  information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, state social work licensing boards, and scholarships for social workers and placing them in one convenient location. Social Work License Map is meant to be an overview of the available information, with links pointing back to more in-depth sources.

For current social workers, we have provided guides to help with questions relating to resumes, interviews, cover letters and conferences. Our newest project, Inspired Advocates, is intended to raise awareness of online projects by social workers or online social advocacy efforts that overlap with the social work field. After our campaign to raise awareness of this new tool, we will be publishing a series of guides to social media, search engine optimization and creating content for the web to help educate advocates on how to increase their online presence.

SWH: How did you collect and verify data to ensure the accuracy of licensure laws in all 50 states, and how often is it updated?

We collected the data from the relevant state social work licensing board then contacted those licensing boards to make sure we had represented the process accurately. This research and fact checking process was last completed approximately 18 months ago and will be updated again after we’ve completed our outreach and awareness campaign for our new Inspired Advocates tool.

SWH: Does your site also provide information about becoming a social worker and social worker salaries, and how reliable is the information?

The information on becoming a social worker largely comes from sources such as the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers and the Association of Social Work Boards as well as a variety of schools of social work. The information on social work salaries comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Throughout our research we attempted to use the most reliable sources for this information.

University Decision to End Partnership over Reproductive Rights May Have Bigger Implications

Dean Will Rainford
Dean Will Rainford

In a recent decision, School of Social Work Dean, William C. Rainford, at Catholic University of America (CUA) issued a statement ending a long-standing partnership with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) because of its support for women’s reproductive rights.

According to the university’s website, Dean Rainford was appointed to lead the School of Social Work in June 2013, and his biographical information states that he is nationally recognized as a social justice advocate. This major change in University policy comes less than three months after Dean Rainford’s appointment.

Many social work students have taken to twitter to express their outrage for the decision. However, an on campus student social work group, NCSSS Action, reached out to the Chronicle of Social Change to go on record about their opposition to the new policy. According to the group’s organizer Andy Bowen,

“The other students and I are still coalescing around strategy and action, but we won’t go quietly into the night here,” said NCSSS Action organizer Andy Bowen, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change. Will Rainford, who in April of 2013 was named dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS), informed students in a recent letter that he will “no longer allow NCSSS to officially partner or collaborate with NASW.” The reason, he said, is “based solely on NASW’s overt public position that social workers should advocate for access to abortions.” Read More

The timing of this decision is surprising especially when NASW has been on record about its support for reproductive rights as early as 2004. According to the NASW website in its activities, projects, and research section, it states:

  • Healthy Families, Strong Communities is an NASW project funded by the United Nations Foundation to engage the U.S. and the broader international community in the strengthening of maternal health and reproductive health.
  • Human Rights Update on Social Workers Addressing the Rights of Women and Girls Worldwide through MDG5 (10/8/2010 pdf)
  • NASW Policy Statement on Family Planning and Reproductive Health – appears in Social Work Speaks, a compilation of over 60 NASW policy statements on social work-related issues.
  • Female Genital Cutting – an NASW research page focusing on the practice of female genital cutting, otherwise referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision.
  • March for Women’s Lives – a 2004 rally co-sponsored by NASW for women’s reproductive rights.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, women’s reproductive rights have been an area of contention for conservative and religious groups. In several Red States, such as Texas and North Carolina, Republican led legislatures have begun passing some of the most restrictive laws limiting women’s reproductive rights and women’s ability to gain access to preventative care.

In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.

This major policy shift by the university’s School of Social Work does not align with the mission and values of a social work education. The role of a social worker is to help a client who is in crisis or help them improve their outcomes through intervention. As a social worker, if you can not set aside your personal beliefs to provide a client all necessary information to make an informed decision, you are ethically obligated to refer them to someone who can.

If the logic of this university is accepted and applicable to make policy decisions based on religious beliefs, what prevents it from teaching future social workers the tenets modeled as it relates to members of the LGBT community or women seeking health care advice? What prevents any religion from making policy decisions based on ideology to be enforced on a minority group? In my opinion, CUA’s shift in policy is in direct conflict with the Council for Social Work Education’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). If institutions are modelling practices and instituting policies in violation of accreditation standards, should the institution retain its accreditation?

In EPAS section 2.1.4, Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice states:

Social workers appreciate that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim. Social workers

  •  recognize the extent to which a culture’s structures and values may oppress, marginalize, alienate, or create or enhance privilege and power;
  • gain sufficient self-awareness to eliminate the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse groups;
  • recognize and communicate their understanding of the importance of difference in shaping life experiences; and
  • view themselves as learners and engage those with whom they work as informants.

The website for the commission and board who oversees the accreditation for schools of social work can be found at Additionally, if any students at CUA would like to be interviewed, I can be reached at or at @swhelpercom.

You can view all of the Council for Social Work Education’s educational policies and accreditation standards as adopted here.


Cover Photo: Courtesy of Catholic News Agency

Hope and Change: Interview with the New NASW CEO Dr. Angelo McClain

Over the course of my career, I have experienced at least 15 leadership changes, and the atmosphere before the new leader arrives is always the same. Each time, employees or members are hoping for a leader that will take their concerns seriously, improve conditions, and overall make the organization function better. However, the one consistency from one leader to another is change. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. McClain, and he succeeds Elizabeth Clark who held the position from 2001 until May 2013.

As a macro social work practitioner, I have always expressed concerns regarding clinical social work and licensure laws eliminating traditional social work roles and its focus on social justice. In the interview, I ask Dr. McClain some tough questions regarding his thoughts and assessment on the current state of the profession.

membershipMapAccording to the NASW’s website:

Dr. McClain joins NASW after serving six years as Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, a position appointed by Governor Deval Patrick. While there, he oversaw a budget of $850 million and a workforce of 3,500 employees to address reports of abuse and neglect for the state’s most vulnerable children, partnering with families to help them better nurture and protect their children.

Prior to that position, Dr. McClain was Vice President and Executive Director of Value Options New Jersey where he built and oversaw administrative, clinical and quality management program infrastructures that increased access to behavioral health services for children and youth, including those in the juvenile justice system. via NASW

I must admit that he is off to an excellent start just by making himself reachable. Since being in his new role, the NASW’s website has been updated with email addresses to executive leadership, and he agreed to answer questions for Social Work Helper about his vision for leading the organization into the future. NASW has seen declining memberships in recent years for various reasons. Will he be able to convince current members to stay with the NASW, and will he be able to re-engage members who have left as well other social workers? Here is what Dr. McClain had to say:

SWH: Can you tell us about your background, and what led you to choose social work as a profession?

CEO: When I was a child, my mother said that I ought to pick a job where I could help people.  Throughout my youth, I benefited greatly from the kind,  caring interventions from a number of professionals, which caused me to want to “give back” to others in similar need.  When I was being recruited to play college football, one of the recruiters asked me what I would want to major in if I went to college.  I told him that I wanted to help people, and he said that I could major in social work.

So began what has become a three-degree, thirty-year journey of helping people and helping social workers help people.  Throughout my career I’ve worked with, and learned from, some very talented professionals; I say to them, “Thank you, very much!”  My social work career journey has allowed me the pleasure of working in almost every field and method of social work practice, I bring all of those lessons and experiences to my CEO role here at NASW.

SWH: What will be some of your top priorities moving forward, and how do you plan to collaborate with other organizations in order to achieve your objectives and goals?

CEO: Our profession, and our society, is at a unique juncture. The world has changed a great deal and there are many opportunities and challenges facing NASW, and all professional associations. Thus, these times call for an ambitious grand vision.  Our grand vision revolves around strengthening America’s social safety net, by ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to improve their human well-being and are able to live free from social injustice.

We will do this by supporting social workers, advocating for the profession, and ultimately serving the millions of clients helped by social workers each day.  NASW is strong—and when we speak, over 600,000 social workers have a voice for achieving our collective human well-being and social justice goals. Most importantly, we can use our influence to make sure that the vital social services and resources that millions of Americans depend on continue to be valued and funded appropriately.

Collaboration with all of our stakeholders and allies is critically important to our grand vision. I firmly believe that in order for us to provide the best services, products, and advocacy for our members, and social workers throughout the country, we must partner and collaborate whenever possible. There are over 40 sister social work organizations and each one fills an important role.

I look forward to continuing to work with, and learn from, them so that we can collectively represent the breadth of the profession as well as cater to the professional needs of each and every social worker. This includes working effectively with our sister social work organizations, allied professionals and groups, and the people, families, groups, and communities served by social workers.

I’ve spent my first three months at NASW meeting with numerous organizations, including the Council on Social Work Education, the Association of Social Work Boards, the  North American Association of Christians in Social Work, the Association of Oncology Social Work, the Clinical Association of Social Work, Child Welfare League of America, National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and many others to determine how we can build on our collective strengths and work together in positive and meaningful ways.

I created the NASW CEO inbox ( to hear from members, social workers, and other stakeholders regarding the issues that concern them the most. This has been important because in order for me to effectively provide the necessary leadership, I need to understand the professional landscape and the day-to-day challenges and opportunities facing our colleagues practicing within all the fields and methodologies of social work.

SWH: NASW membership is comprised mostly of clinical social workers, academics, and administrators. What is your vision for continued growth and expansion?

CEO: NASW is the practice association that welcomes all social workers. We will continue to facilitate a “big tent” approach, and welcome all of our colleagues, understanding that the social work profession is much stronger when we stand together. That being said, one of our main goals is to serve a dual purpose of being a large, influential national professional association, as well as providing exactly what our members need in terms of professional resources to practice at the highest levels, to advance their careers, and to maintain a sense of professional fulfillment and well-being.

We want to have conversations with our colleagues, provide materials and resources that are relevant to their experience and expertise, and make their membership experience unique and beneficial to their specific field and method of practice.  Our goal is to delight our members, help them advance their social work practice with enhanced skills and knowledge, and ultimately to provide the best social work practice possible to the people, families, groups and communities they serve.

SWH: Many believe that social work has moved away from its social justice roots to only focusing on the clinical perspective as it relates to the individual and family. Do you agree with this assessment, and how do you plan to either expand it or create balance?

CEO: The strength of the social work profession is its breadth and depth; the profession has always, and still does today, focused on advancing human well-being and promoting social justice.  When one looks closely at the work of social workers in every field and method of social work practice, there’s ample evidence that our grand vision of improving human well-being and promoting social justice is very much alive; however, much more needs to be done before we can fully realize our grandest vision.  I see opportunities for enormous synergy when we approach our social justice and clinical practice goals with harmony and coordinated ethical responsibility.

The resulting synergy will help us achieve even better outcomes across these two perspectives—ultimately, we would do a disservice to the people, families, groups and communities we serve by artificially choosing between social justice and any particular field or method of social work practice.  Social workers not only can live in harmony with one another, but have an ethical responsibility to do so—NASW is excited about the possibilities it has to help lead social work towards its grandest goals.

Clinical and direct practice social workers cannot do their jobs without the efforts of advocates, organizers, researchers, academics, policy practitioners, and administrators.  Obviously, regardless of our field or method of social work practice; we are all in this together; each providing a valuable service to individuals, families, and communities in need and advancing the profession.

The NASW Code of Ethics outlines our primary mission as working to enhance human well-being and helping to meet the basic human needs of all people. We cannot realize that mission without an “all-hands-on-deck” approach of working together. The challenges facing our society are incredibly complex; thank goodness for the power of social work to define, address, and overcome societal injustices and strengthen the fabric of our great nation.

Photo Courtesy of

10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs


With the continued growth of the social work field comes increased opportunities for social workers and human service professionals to improve the lives of challenged individuals. Before entering the field of social work, it is important to consider the core skills that are essential for successful career as a social worker.

1. Assessment Skills

According to the National Association of Social Workers, a significant number of social workers spend half of their time in case management. In order to be successful in case management, it is important to complete quality assessments. The assessment process reveals which clients need assistance obtaining resources, and it also allows a social worker to re-evaluate clients periodically in order to ascertain whether or not services remain effective and necessary.

2. Communication Skills

Communication in social work involves written and verbal correspondence with clients and other professionals. As an example, social workers considering grant writing careers must effectively communicate with elected officials to advocate for their causes and obtain necessary funding for programs. In any social work capacity, effectively communicating helps a professional advocate appropriately, remain clear and concise, appear professional and avoid or overcome crisis situations.

3. Advocacy and Leadership

Social workers frequently advocate for their clients. Well-developed advocacy skills allow social workers to properly represent their clients and obtain the services communities need. Excellent advocacy skills lead to positive change, and this helps clients to live empowered lives. These skills are used on the local, state and federal level to fight for existing programs, create new programs and remove or revise outdated policies.

4. Problem Solving Skills

One goal of social workers is to empower individuals. In order to empower someone, professionals must help that person work through challenges. Excellent problem solving skills are crucial in finding solutions for individuals and communities. In addition, social workers often work with limited resources and tight budgets. Problem solving skills are essential if one hopes to overcome budgetary obstacles and fiscal constraints.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

Applying social work theories and making informed decisions helps professionals to best serve client needs. In addition, professionals must act in an ethical and educated manner in order to best serve their organizations. This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking involves searching for answers with an open mind and using information to best serve the present situation. When used correctly, these skills empower an individual during crisis situations and assist a social worker in best utilizing available resources.

6. Respect for Diversity

Social workers serve a diverse array of clients in many different sectors of society. Diversity offers many challenges, but it also offers strengths that can be utilized to overcome obstacles. A social worker who understands this can effectively serve clients, and this increases opportunities to improve communities.

7. Intervention Skills

Social workers regularly intervene in emergency situations to benefit the lives of their clients. Interventions are best offered in a way that empowers clients and draws on their available strengths. This allows clients to develop their own strengths and utilize them when future problems arise, so they can independently manage their lives.

8. Documentation Skills

All areas of social work require that professionals document findings about clients. As an example, many sources give a probation officer job description that includes the following: the ability to compile, analyze, evaluate and report to the court information obtained during an investigation. Without well-developed documentation skills, completing such tasks would be impossible. Social workers document assessment information, crisis interventions and any correspondence with their clients or other professionals. Documentation must be thorough, accurate and timely in order to benefit both the client and the organization offering services.

9. Organizational Skills

Social workers must keep resources organized, remain diligent in maintaining thorough and accurate records and utilize effective time management skills too. Excelling in organization requires learning how to simplify a work environment, prioritize tasks, use good decision making practices and keep a calendar of important events or projects.

10. Understanding of Human Relationships

Finally, social workers must understand that this field is about human relationships. Couples, families, friends and communities are all part of the support system an individual turns to in time of crises. If a social worker does not embrace relationship based practice, resources will be missed and problems often become impossible to resolve. Understanding this is key to becoming a competent social work professional.

Mastering important skills enhances a social worker’s abilities in this challenging field. Education, practice and personal discovery all assist an individual in excelling in these areas.

Amazing Social Workers Around the World

Everyday, social workers assist the poor, the sick, and the injured in order to assist them with accessing the services, resources, and information needed to better their own lives. In this way, every social worker in the field is doing amazing work.

However, there are several amazing social workers around the world who are doing some great work within the profession. These five particular social workers are among the many remarkable individuals who have contributed to the world at large as professional social workers. They have advocated far and wide, achieving results for entire communities while improving society and public opinion for social workers. For these reasons, I am spotlighting them as role models for social workers everywhere. Here are their stories:

Margaret Whitlam 

Margaret Whitlam, wife of the former prime minister of Australia, completed a degree in social work at the University of Sydney in 1938 and practiced as a social worker at Parramatta District Hospital while her husband served as the federal opposition leader. Even in the role of political wife, she still made the effort to visit nursing homes, advocate for social justice and reach out to her community. She was committed to speaking on behalf of underserved populations and courted controversy when she criticized others for “never contributing anything else but a smile.”  She was particularly outspoken about issues of women’s rights, including abortion.

Sudha Murty

Sudha Murty is an Indian social worker, author and literacy advocate. As a former computer scientist and engineer, she chose to pursue social work midway through her career so she could educate the underprivileged and provide better health facilities to women, especially those living in rural areas. Among her accomplishments, she has founded several orphanages, participated in rural development efforts, advocated for literacy and provided schools with computers and library facilities.

Maylie Scott 

Maylie Scott was a social worker who graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and later obtained her Master of  Social Work degree from the University of California.  According to the book The Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, “Maylie Scott described her primary teaching objective as empowering the sangha [community] by making sure she is the facilitator, not the ‘star.” As a socially engaged Buddhist and teacher, she worked in prisons and with the homeless. She was also a member of the Board of Directors for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Teresa Hsu

Teresa Hsu Chih was a Chinese-born social worker who became a known as “Singapore’s Mother Teresa.” As a retired nurse, she founded several charities for the sick and destitute. To her clients, she brought inspiration along with the food and medicine that she collected as donations from businesses, the community, religious institutions and friends.

Hsu was still actively involved in charity work even after turning 110. She credited her vegetarian diet, yoga and positive attitude towards life for her longevity, saying, “I prefer to laugh than to weep. Those people who cry to me, I always tell them it is better to laugh than to use tissue paper, as laughing is free but tissue paper still cost five cent.”

Nancy Humphreys 

Nancy Humphreys earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and has served as dean of the Michigan State University and the University of Connecticut schools of social work, and as assistant dean at Rutgers University. She was president of the National Association of Social Workers from 1979 to 1981 and also helped establish BSW and MSW programs at Yerevan State University in the Republic of Armenia. She founded and directed the Political Social Work Practice and is a lauded public speaker.

According to the National Association of Social Work Foundation, Humphreys initially earned recognition from the New Jersey, Connecticut and California NASW chapters and was the second woman to be elected national NASW president. Since then, she has served on more than 17 commissions and task forces, and was an appointee of two governors, as well as President Jimmy Carter. Through Humphreys’ work as professor and founding director of the Advancement of Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut, she has trained several hundred social workers to operate in political campaigns.

When the Hope of a Social Worker is Gone

Social Workers go where no other profession goes, and our primary job is to give hope to the hopeless. What happens when the hope of a Social Worker is gone? Social Workers don’t usually receive press unless a child dies or some sort of malfeasance occurs, but this is not the media’s fault. It’s the social worker’s responsibility to advocate and create opportunities to influence discussions occurring in the media. However, when an opportunity arises for a social worker to use a media platform to educate and inform, it often results in a missed opportunity. Instead, the megaphone is used to blame each other or shame the client for being poor, uneducated, homeless, and/or drug addicted.

In February 2013,, an online magazine, printed an interview with a young social worker entitled, “Social Work in the Tenderloin Will Kill Something Inside of You”. This article stirred a lot of reaction from the social work community. The magazine had to redact items and pictures from the original article which could have been a breach of confidentiality by the social worker who was the source for the article. However, I read the article in its redacted form.

The social worker described clients as having poor hygiene, not wanting to work, and drug addicted while relying on government assistance. Here is an excerpt:

Twenty messages from the same two or three clients who either scream their financial requests over and over, simply sit there and breathe, or tell you that witches are under their beds waiting for the next blood sacrifice. Paranoid clients like to fixate on witches, Satan, etc. Anyway, we get ready to open and hand out checks to the clients who are either on daily budgets, or who make random check requests. The budgeted clients are the most low-functioning, as they can be restricted to as little as $7 per day in order to curb their harm reduction. They’ll go and spend that $7 on whatever piece of crack they can find, and then two hours later they’re back, begging for more money. Clients will find some really brilliant ways to beg.

Has anyone seen Les Miserables?  The scene described above is just a modern day retelling except, today, government assistance provides enough of a morsel to keep poor people under control. In Les Miserables, poverty and disease drove people to rob the rich in order to have a decent meal or a comfortable place to lay their head. Poverty and starvation was the driving force behind the French Revolution. As a cautionary tale to all our government officials that want to cut needed social safety programs, education, and preventive services, you might want to rethink instituting austerity measures.

TiredAs for the burnt out social worker who did the above interview, I understand feeling burnout and being frustrated with clients. However, my client frustration was exacerbated by the poor work conditions and poor supervision that is often encountered while working in a social service agency. These agencies are poorly structured, lack checks and balances, and accountability with a poor grievance process for both the client and employee. If you have a complaint, there is no one to complain too.

They do not require accreditation standards like hospitals, schools, and law enforcement agencies. Yet, social workers are given statutory authority to make decisions that can affect a child’s life for the rest of their life. If a child dies, the social worker often gets the blame, but the Agency should vicariously be held liable. The job is set up for the social worker to fail from lack of resources, support, failure to institute minimum standards and training, and lack of nationwide paperless system.

Ninety percent of my time in Child Protective Services was spent doing paper work, and I had 10% left to handle a caseload of at least 15 families. Holy crap is the only writable term I can think of to express the increase in my caseload when each family had 3 to 5 kids often not in the same household or the same school.  Can you imagine trying to see all the kids and parents twice a month for medium to low risk and once a week for high risk? It is impossible to do your job correctly and being effective is not even a possibility under the poor work conditions and impossible standards. You are basically providing triage care which creates recidivism. There were many days I cried after work, so I opted for the anti-depressant to help me survive each work day.

Almost all of my co-workers were women who had therapists themselves, on some type of anti-depressant, and self-reported chronic health issues in which I believe were stress related. After dealing with the stress of work, many had their own families to take care of after leaving work. I learned a long time ago not to blame my client because one day I could be in their shoes. I am not saying that you need to be poor or experience oppression to serve others. However, if you lack the understanding of oppression and the ability to have compassion, social work is not the right job for you. For those social workers who do have the requisite skill set, many can attest to the horrible work conditions that is endured while trying to give hope to the hopeless.

Many social workers live in fear of losing their jobs on a daily basis because one mistake could cost your career and/or someone’s life. Once an administrator or supervisor status is achieved, there is very little turn over from supervisory positions. They no longer deal directly with the clients, and they are often protected by governmental immunity even if their supervision result in malfeasance.

In the United States, many direct practice social workers in the public sector are not supported by the National Association of Social Workers either because they may not have a social work degree or a clinical license. The National Association of Social Workers is pushing to prevent any social worker, with a social work degree or not, who does not have a clinical license from using the social work title. I completely disagree with this strategy because a clinical license should not be required for entry level positions that are not providing treatment. Many public sector social workers feel isolated and unsupported which is why so many leave the profession or turn into the burnt out social worker. Most Child Welfare social workers do not even know what the Child Welfare League of America does or who they serve. If not for the States who have unions, human services may not have any organizations advocating for their betterment.

Someone has to advocate for system changes, and someone has to hold membership associations accountable to their mission of uplifting and supporting social workers. If social workers are not meeting desired educational standards, what are we doing to identify the barriers and challenges preventing those standards from being met?

I understand the views I have expressed may not be accepted by main stream social work professionals. However, macro and public sector social workers are the minority in management and policy making positions despite being the majority of those in traditional social work roles.  Policy making positions are routinely held by clinical social workers or Phd’s who have only been in academia or providing individual/family counseling services.

Many social work change agents are undervalued and often overlooked because most can’t afford to spend over 100,000 dollars to obtain a social work graduate degree to work in a $35,000 to 45,000 dollar a year entry level job at a public agency. Unless you are privileged and money is not a concern, a social work advance degree is less accessible. By accepting  students primarily from privileged backgrounds, the social work landscape has moved away from social justice issues and traditional social work roles to an increasingly conservative ideology that ignores the challenges and barriers placed on vulnerable populations created by legislative and administrative policies.

We also conducted a live twitter chat on this topic  with the social work twitter community using the hashtag #SWunited. To view the tweet archive,  go to this link:

Some may have strong opinions about my assessment on the current state of the profession.  However, strong opinions are sometimes needed in order to start the conversation, and  I am ready to have the conversation if you are. If anyone has any thoughts on this article, I would love to hear them. There were several rebuttal articles and lots of tweets in response to Vice’s Tenderloin story. I will attach them all for you to read in order to come to your own conclusion.

Also View:
Social Work in the Tenderloin Will Kill Something Inside of You
Social Work in the Tenderloin is Not Hopeless

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