The Difference Between Micro, Macro and Mezzo Social Work

Sponsored by Aurora University

The social work profession is multifaceted, and the good news is these skilled practitioners are in high demand across all areas of practice. For instance, medical social workers have a projected growth rate of 20 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is about three times the average rate of all occupations and the highest for any social work specialty.

Another way to look at the profession is to consider it from the three divisions or types of social work: micro, macro, and mezzo social work. These terms help categorize virtually any type of social work that these human services workers perform.

Types of Social Work

The following sections explore micro, macro, and mezzo social work. Information on the work these types of social work cover and what education is needed to enter these areas is considered.

Micro Social Work

Micro social work is one-on-one counseling with clients. These social workers help individuals with social, emotional, or health-related struggles. This work could include helping a person who is homeless find a place to live or helping a veteran transition to civilian life.

Jobs that are considered micro social work include:

  • City social services caseworker
  • Crime victim advocate
  • Family therapist
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor

Most jobs that involve micro social work require education at the master’s level because those jobs are considered clinical work.

Macro Social Work

Macro social work involves working with whole communities. These communities can be defined by geopolitical boundaries, but often, they are not. They can be neighborhoods, religious communities, or political- or cause-driven groups. The macro social worker may make or shape policy, lobby for social change, or train others to do so.

Jobs that are considered macro social work include:

  • Community organizer
  • Lobbyist
  • Professor of social policy
  • Program developer
  • Researcher

There are jobs in macro social work that can be acquired with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but others, like a professor or most lobbyist positions, require education beyond the bachelor’s level.

Mezzo Social Work

Mezzo social work involves working with a group of people. Sometimes this group is as small and intimate as employees who need conflict resolution and mediation services. Sometimes it is a group of strangers in a support group who share a life experience, like a recent death, problem, or addiction.

Jobs that are considered mezzo social work include:

  • Business social worker
  • Community service manager
  • Group therapist
  • Parenthood educator
  • Support group counselor

As with macro social work, whether you can obtain a job with a BSW depends on the employer and the population with which you work. Some therapist positions, for example, are clinical positions and require a license, which necessitates a master’s degree and experience in the field. Other positions, such as a community service manager, typically require a BSW.

Interconnectedness in the Types of Social Work

It’s important to understand how social workers can provide assistance across all three types of social work. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate this idea.

A medical social worker who works specifically with babies receiving neonatal care begins meeting with a new mother. After her baby experiences some complications, the mother is stressed and begins receiving therapeutic sessions with the social worker. Because this takes place in a one-on-one environment, that type of assistance would refer to micro social work. The social worker is providing individualized help, as well as therapy.

The scope of practice would extend to mezzo social work if the professional begins assisting the family. For instance, perhaps the father could be struggling with parenthood and supporting his wife. Another scenario may be that another child in the family is having difficulties adjusting to a lot of time in the hospital. In either of these cases, the social worker may meet with the entire family and provide help, such as short therapy sessions or information on services that will help the family adjust. The family is often the smallest unit for mezzo social work.

Although it may not be as common in a situation like this, macro social work could be relevant. An example would be if the social worker helps advocate in the community or the state in some way. Perhaps the baby’s medical issues are quite rare, and support is lacking for families. Or, perhaps the family is struggling to help the other child at school, and the social worker can work with the district on supporting children in these types of situations. There are several ways in which the social worker may reach out to the community or beyond for helping clients. If change needs to happen on a greater scale, then the professional will engage in macro social work.

The example shows the interconnectedness of the different forms of social work. In this process, the medical social worker performs micro (the mother), mezzo (the family), and macro (the community/state) social work.

The Future of the Social Work Profession

There is an expected job growth of 16 percent by 2026 for the social work field, according to the BLS. An aging U.S. population and the booming health care industry are two of the factors that are likely to contribute to the growth. Like most job fields, this percentage varies by specialty. Employment of child, family, and school social workers, for example, is projected to increase 14 percent by 2026, and employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent. Both are growing faster than the average for all occupations, which is only 7 percent.

People with a BSW are especially qualified for positions in mezzo or macro social work. With courses like Social Work with Groups and Social Work with Communities and Organizations, the online BSW program from Aurora University Online can provide you with concrete skills that will help you support the community with which you want to work. Graduates with a BSW degree are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license.

Clinical social workers must have an MSW and two years of post-master’s experience in the field. AU Online offers Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online MSW graduate program, which includes four optional specializations: Faith-Based Social Work, Forensics, Health Care, and Leadership Administration. You may also pursue the dual MSW/MBA or MSW/MPA degree program.

SNAP Benefits Aren’t Enough to Afford a Healthy Diet

A new study from North Carolina State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet. The study highlights the challenges lower-income households face in trying to eat a healthy diet.

“The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of a paper on the study and an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State.

This can be a tricky question to answer, as federal dietary guidelines vary based on age and gender. SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and the number of adults and children living in the household. For the purposes of this study, the researchers used average monthly SNAP benefits for 2015.

To address their research question, the researchers looked at the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They calculated costs under a variety of scenarios. For example, what would it cost to comply with dietary guidelines if one only ate produce that was fresh, not frozen? What if one only consumed fruits and vegetables that were frozen? What if a household followed a vegetarian diet? The researchers also included labor costs associated with shopping and preparing meals, based on 2010 estimates produced by other economics researchers.

“We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes-Maslow says. “For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet.”

To place this in context, consider a four-person household that has one adult male, one adult female, one child aged 8-11 and one child aged 12-17 – all of whom qualify for SNAP benefits. They would need to spend $626.95 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits if they ate only fresh produce as part of their diet. That same household would need to spend $487.39, in addition, to SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet.

“Many low-income households simply don’t have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget,” Haynes-Maslow says.

The researchers did find that SNAP is sufficient to meet the healthy dietary needs of two groups: children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51. However, SNAP was insufficient to meet the needs of older children, younger women, or men of any age.

“Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food – it’s meant to be a supplemental food program – this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes Maslow says. “Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines.”

The Presidential Policy Series: Prescription Drugs

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

The Presidential Policy Series share where the Democratic and Republican nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, stand on healthcare policy.

This presidential campaign season, there has seemingly been more discussion about the perceived health of each candidate than their actual views on healthcare. The focus on healthcare policy has been unfortunately limited, except for one issue—the rising costs of prescription drugs.

Last year, Turing Pharmaceuticals, a New York-based pharmaceutical company founded in 2015, ignited uproar when the company raised the price of a 62-year-old drug from $13.50 to $750 per tablet, overnight. The company’s CEO Martin Shkreli rose to notoriety not only for his tone-deaf defense of the price increase but also for his thoroughly unedifying testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform earlier this year. More recently, the makers of the EpiPen have been under fire for raising the price of their life-saving allergy treatment from $100 to $600 over the course of the past decade.

Drug prices are rising to new highs despite displeasure from insurance companies, consumers, and lawmakers alike. In fact, pharmaceutical prices have risen nearly 10% on average in the past year. With the rising prices of prescription drugs, more patients are finding it challenging to manage their chronic conditions and pay for their necessary medications. According to a Consumer Reports survey, “one of out every four people facing higher drug costs were also unable to afford medical bills or medications; one in five said they missed a payment on a major bill.”

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that action is required to control prescription drug hikes, but they can’t quite agree on how to go about it. The 2016 candidates’ plans highlight the difference in party views.

Increased Regulation

In general, Hillary Clinton’s prescription drug plan calls for increased regulation. Clinton plans to use the government’s bargaining power to lower drug costs and promote competition. As part of her plan, Secretary Clinton will make drug companies accountable to lower costs. She plans to fine manufacturers that raise prices dramatically and vows to put a stop to excessive marketing and profiteering by denying tax breaks. Instead, she wants funds devoted to research and development and will incentivize companies to do so with taxpayer support.

To improve competition, Ms. Clinton wants to help bring more generic drugs to the market. Her plan states she will work with the FDA to clear out the backlog. Recently, application backlogs have led to the delay of up to three or four years before generic manufacturers can even win approval to make generic versions of drugs without patents. Hillary Clinton will also work to prohibit delay arrangements that protect patents and keep generics off the market, and she supports importing drugs from abroad.

Finally, Ms. Clinton plans to cap what insurers can charge consumers in out-of-pocket costs for medications. Under her plan, insurance companies will be forced to abide by a monthly limit of $250 on covered out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

Increased Competition

Most Republican’s had the same reaction to Clinton’s plan on prescription drugs, “more regulation, more controls, more restraints,” according to Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, which holds jurisdiction over many of the drug pricing issues.

In principle, Republicans are opposed to creating more government regulation. Rather than putting constraints on the private sector, the G.O.P. believes the key to solving the drug price issues is through initiatives that help to drive competition and improve the speed to which new drugs can enter the market.

Donald Trump echoes those beliefs. In his healthcare plan, he vows to remove the barriers to entry that prevent manufacturers from providing safe and cheaper products. Specifically, he notes that allowing consumers access to imported prescription drugs from abroad will bring more options to enhance competition. Mr. Trump also believes that to make any significant positive changes in addressing these issues, lawmakers need to step away from special interests.

While both candidates agree something must be done, the main difference separating Clinton and Trump is just how far they believe the government should go in controlling the costs of prescription drugs. We mind there are many causes behind the increase in prescription drug prices. We applaud efforts to make generics and prescription imports more widely available to consumers. One of the biggest impediments, however, to negotiating prescription drug prices is Medicare, which is prohibited from negotiating drug prices by an act of Congress.

The Presidential Policy Series: Affordable Care Act

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump clinched the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

In less than 18 months, the field of candidates vying to win the 2016 presidential election has narrowed from over two dozen contenders to two major opponents. Now, with fewer than two months before Election Day on November 8th (remember to vote!), we’re exploring the Republican and Democratic candidates’ positions on healthcare policy.

The Presidential Policy Series, we will share where the Democratic and Republican nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, stand on healthcare policy. In this post, we will be discussing the most divisive healthcare issue, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ACA, colloquially known as Obamacare, has been hotly debated for over six years. Advocates and opponents of the law often fall along party line. The law, which represents the largest regulatory change to the industry since Medicare and Medicaid were introduced in 1965, was designed to bring quality and affordable health care to everyone by transforming delivery to focus on value and expanding insurance coverage.

Budget Busting

From a party standpoint, the Republican Party platform views the plan as a “Euro-style bureaucracy to manage unworkable, budget-busting, conflicting provisions.” Many conservatives believe it has raised insurance premiums, increased deductibles, and inflated drug prices while limiting an individual’s access to care within narrow provider networks. Republicans have long called for the law to be repealed, and Mr. Trump, despite previously expressing support for the individual insurance mandate, has fully endorsed a repeal of Obamacare.

In the Trump healthcare plan, he vows to repeal the ACA during his first day in the Oval Office and work with Congress to implement reforms that follow free market trades. He’s specifically mentioned modifying the existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines, implementing health savings accounts and individual deduction for health insurance premium payments, requiring full price transparency, and letting states control Medicaid.

Rather than expanding Medicaid, Trump says he’d like to focus on policy that grows the economy and provides more jobs. As his health plan currently states, “the best social program has always been a job – and taking care of our economy will go a long way towards reducing our dependence on public health programs.”

Not Far Enough

Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, has vigorously defended the ACA and has expressed a desire to work with Congress to get legislation passed that would expand aspects of the ACA. Like most Democrats, Clinton believes the health law has been an important step toward the goal of universal health care, for which she has been a longtime advocate.

She introduced the unsuccessful Health Security Act in 1993, which was a comprehensive plan to provide universal health care to all Americans. She later helped create and pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, which now provides coverage to more than 8.4 million children.

In the Clinton healthcare plan, she vows to continue these efforts to improve healthcare access.  Clinton plans to work with governors to continue the expansion of Medicaid on the state level and enroll more eligible Americans. She wants to further enact policies that will expand access to affordable health care regardless of immigration status.

Clinton has also called for the funding of primary care services at community health centers to double over the next decade and has expressed support for President Obama’s charge to triple funding for the National Health Service Corps, the government program that aims to address physician shortage in areas around the country. To address health costs, Clinton supports authoritative action to block or modify premium increases, capping prescription drug costs, and limiting excessive out-of-pocket costs for families.

Finally, Clinton has stated that she will pursue efforts to make a “public option” of healthcare possible, and expand Medicare by allowing individuals above the age 55 being able to buy into Medicare program.

Social Innovation for America’s Renewal: Ideas, Evidence, Action

George Warren Brown School of Social Work

National experts, advocates, and leading academics will gather at Washington University in St. Louis as part of a timely policy conference designed to hammer out constructive solutions to pressing social issues facing the country and the next administration.

The conference, “Social Innovation for America’s Renewal,” will outline proposals for the presidential and other campaigns this fall and, notably, the second presidential debate, which the university will host on October 9.

it-takes-all-of-us-gcsw-social-graphicThe gathering will focus on evidence-based policy ideas for 12 Grand Challenges—from mass incarceration to economic inequality to family violence—identified by the American Academy of Society Work & Social Welfare.

Together, these challenges represent a bold and strategic agenda for social change. They focus on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping to create a more just society.

The conference, organized by the Center for Social Development, is at the Brown School of Social Work. Prominent conference speakers include:

  • Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and senior fellow the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities;
  • Mark Greenberg, acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families; and
  • Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social

This week’s Social Innovation for America’s Renewal: Ideas, Evidence, Action policy conference extends the Grand Challenges’ commitment to sharing our best ideas for tackling our country’s toughest problems. Even if you are not at Washington University, you can still see presentations from the conference (via Live Stream) and connect with thought leaders who are working on the 12 Grand Challenges.

Find complete information about the conference and policy briefs here:

Grand Challenge: Promote smart decarceration

Proposed: Remove Civic and Legal Exclusions

Should felons be allowed to vote in this fall’s election? That issue is being weighed in the courts in Virginia, an important battleground state, while nationwide, more than 40,000 laws revoke or restrict legal rights and privileges because of a criminal conviction, including voting and parental rights, housing assistance, student

loans, employment, and professional licensure. We can align public policies and rehabilitative practices to ensure that people with criminal convictions have the greatest possible chance of success. When these exclusions do not directly advance public safety and well-being, they should be revoked or curtailed.

Grand Challenge: Reduce extreme economic inequality

Proposed: Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit

Economic inequality has been called a threat to national security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has become the largest income-support policy for low-income households but does not cover all individuals and families in need. Reforms should include extending the program to individuals who do not claim dependent children, including noncustodial parents and low-income workers without children.

Grand Challenge: Achieve equal opportunity and justice

Proposed: Eliminate zero-tolerance policies in schools to address racial disciplinary disproportionality

African-American children and youth account for 18 percent of the U.S. public school population and there is no evidence that they engage in higher rates of misbehavior, yet they represent 48 percent of school suspensions, outpacing all other ethnic groups. “Zero-tolerance policies” and the resulting suspensions and expulsions lead to negative academic and social outcomes, increasing the probability of falling behind academically. We must develop policies and practice approaches that provide creative alternatives to zero- tolerance policies.

Grand Challenge: End homelessness

Expand access to housing subsidies, including Housing Choice Vouchers

Nearly 1.5 million Americans are homeless each year. The United States spends $50 billion annually on housing assistance for low-income households, but only one-quarter of eligible households receive this support.

Government-funded rental vouchers such as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) have proven to be a vital safety net for low-income Americans, but funding for low-income housing programs has declined by more than two- thirds since the 1970s. Providing HCVs to everyone who qualifies financially would cost $41 billion per year; this cost could be offset by reductions in tax breaks for affluent homeowners.

10 Rules for Dating in the Nonprofit Sector


Dozens of people have asked me to address dating within the nonprofit sector, and by dozens of people, I mean one drunk single person at a fundraising gala. This is not a topic that we talk much about, but it is important, because of self-care and blah blah, so I asked the brilliant and attractive people in the NWB Facebook community to help create a list of rules. Here is the list below. Please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. Rules may be changed, and new rules may be added.

10 Rules for Dating in the Nonprofit Sector

Rule 1, the Cardinal Rule of Dating in the Nonprofit Sector: Do not date other people from the nonprofit sector*. Yes, proximity is powerful, especially when so many of us work ridiculous hours and see each other all the time. But resist the temptations. First, because we deserve a decent car and house and occasional access to organic blueberries, and the chances for those things greatly decrease if we only stick with each other. But more importantly, our work depends on the rest of society understanding and appreciating the role that nonprofit plays, so we have to marry outward. It’s not gold digging, it’s thinking of the children.

Rule 2: No matter how radiant they are, never ask a program officer out who may fund your org. Sure, you may have kickass pickup lines like, “Does RFP stand for ‘Really Fine Person?’ You’re definitely an RFP to me” or “So, you’re a program officer, huh? Well, you better arrest yourself, officer, because you just stole my heart” (#nonprofitpickuplines, go make that trend on Twitter). But, you’ll only come off as creepy, and worse, you will jeopardize funding for your organization.

Rule 3: Hell, don’t date current coworkers, clients, donors, board members, auditors, and volunteers. Past volunteers are OK, but make sure they don’t work for a nonprofit, so you don’t violate the Cardinal Rule. Past coworkers may be OK, but only if they have moved outside the sector. Remember this phrase: “When in doubt, don’t ask ‘em out,” which has served me well and saved me from many, many dates throughout my life.

Rule 4: Weigh the potential benefits to your organization when choosing whom to go out with. Consider factors such as donation potential, skills that could benefit a committee or project, and whether the person works at company that matches donations or provides event sponsorships.  Remember, you’re not just dating for yourself, you’re also dating to make the world better. Don’t even consider dating someone who won’t likely volunteer at your organization.

Rule 5: Wait until at least the third date before asking someone to volunteer at your fundraising gala. To do so on the first or second date is ungentlemanly or unladylike. When it is the right time to take your relationship to this level, be respectful, thoughtful, and generous, especially if this is your date’s first time helping out at a gala.

Rule 6: Do not schedule dates on important days at your organizations. Avoid scheduling dates when grants are due, grant reports are due, there’s a board meeting, or it’s the monthly potluck karaoke teambuilding dinner at your ED’s place, since he has spent a lot of time practicing Foreigners’ “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Rule 7: Ensure your date has been trained on racial equity, gender identity, disability, heterosexism, cultural competency, privilege, power, and intersectionality beforelove2introducing them to your teammates. Don’t even think about inviting them to a team happy hour unless they’ve had time to reflect on their identity and role in undoing the dominant systems of oppression.

Rule 8: Take time for your romantic life. Sure, you’re committed to your work, but find time for yourself and your current or potential relationship. As a colleague puts it, “You are allowed date nights and the occasional missed morning…sheesh!” I agree. Get a romantic life! Sheesh!

Rule 9: Keep your romantic life off social media. Ew! Gross! Who wants to see you holding hands and leaning on each other’s shoulders and stuff?! Gross! Besides, it may decrease the morale of your single coworkers, and we need morale to be high, because thefundraising gala is coming up.

Rule 10: Consider the ramifications to your organization when considering breaking up with someone. If you’ve done a good job, your partner should be well invested in your organization. They’re probably even a donor by now. It is important then to consider the effects this may have on your org if you break up with them. If they don’t give much, then sure, whatever. But if they’ve become a major donor, and especially if they work at a place that has a really strong matching program…are they really all that bad? Come on, no one is perfect.

Send in your thoughts and other rules you think should be added.

*If you’re thinking, “Oh crap, I am with someone from the nonprofit sector, I’ve violated the Cardinal Rule,” well, calm down. You didn’t know. But now that you do know, there is no other choice: One of you has to quit the sector and become an engineer, doctor, lawyer, business owner, marketing exec, software developer, model, or oil tycoon. That’s the only way you can stay together.

The Governance Agenda: Black Lives Matter and Protest Politics

The Black Lives Matter Movement has inserted itself into the 2016 Presidential Election. From its initial confrontation with Senator Bernie Sanders to a private meeting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the movement has become a presence. Not isolated to the Democratic Primary process, the Movement’s presence is visible in the Republican Primary as well. In various interviews, the Republican presidential candidates are asked for a response to the demands of the Movement.

With any protest movement, the Movement is speaking truth to power — those who are able to create access or erect barriers — forcing it be accountable to those over whom it has dominion. However, holding the powerful (political elites) accountable and achieving policy objectives should not be the end goal of the movement. There has to be an effort to move from protest to governance. And this is where social work and allied professions can provide support. I suggest that social workers who practice in the policy and community arenas can do two things. First, support Black Lives Matters in creating political institutions that can run and/or fund candidates who embrace critical race theory approach to governance. Second, produce scholarship that challenges the notion that economic populism (or more broadly the traditional progressive agenda) sufficiently addresses racial disparities.

Bayard Rustin, in remarking on southern demonstrators and their efforts to curb police brutality stated, “The most effective way to strike at the police brutality they suffered from was to get rid of the local sheriff.” This type political action requires organization. We recognize this as the traditional community organizing process. We identify the target system, the person who is in charge of said system, mobilize community residents and secondary targets, and create a list of demands. The result of this community organizing usually is the creation of permanent community-controlled institutions. These new institutions serve as guardians of the political gains that the community has won. However, as effective as this process has been, we need to move from community organizing/protest tactics to developing a political, economic, and social philosophy that translates into a governing agenda.

This concept is not new. The formation of the Congressional Black Caucus resulted from civil rights era activists becoming political actors. What we need today is the same translation of policy grievances into political agency. The TEA Party has transformed conservative politics through primary challenges, grassroots activism, and political action. With support, the Movement can transform progressive politics. Social workers can support activists in developing policy statements and analysis, forming and funding of political action committees, starting ballot initiatives, and running for political office. This list is not exhaustive, only suggestive of how our professional training in social justice can lend support to the Movement in the political arena. Moreover, the political arena is not the only place where our skills are necessary.

An element of power is the ability to control the narrative. The Movement is challenging the current narrative around policing. Through our scholarship, we can support the Movement by supplementing their anecdotal evidence with case study and empirical analysis. As researchers and academics, we can lend objectivity to the truth that the Movement speaks to power. Essentially, we can transform their grievances into scholarly analysis. A lot of this work is currently done. Professors have included an analysis of the events in Ferguson into their syllabi and peer-reviewed journals have created special issues on racial equity. The question now is how can we further professionalize this work. Specifically, where can we expand critical race theory in social work practice?

Can we leverage communities of learning on critical race theory at various department, schools, and colleges into a respected think-tank on racial equity? The Movement is challenging mainstream society to see the challenges of those who are racialized as black (those excluded from full political, economic, and social citizenship) in the same manner that miners would see a canary i.e. a crisis in the black community is signal of imminent systemic failure. Our scholarship can assist that process.

The legacy of slavery in the United States is that the political elites used their power to create a racialized society. They allocated economic and social resources based on the biological fiction of race. In doing so, they rooted race into our social reality. If we are going to capitalize on the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, then we should embrace the call of the Black Lives Matter movement to make blackness visible in our society. By making race visible, where it is either willfully or unwittingly unnoticed, we can readily challenge its existence. We as social workers should engage in this process through political advocacy and/or scholarship.

Hillary Clinton Can Do Better on Race


Hillary Clinton is currently using a rhetorical device otherwise known as an attempt to be “honest”, and it’s a call for us to be reflective about our own indifference to the racial divide. The problem is, former Secretary of State Clinton reinforces an irrational fear, masked in a logical fallacy, to justify an unsustainable ego defense. She meant well in the context of a larger discussion on race.

But, she could have engaged the same discussion by demonstrating the fear as irrational rather than leveraging the fear to elicit an emotional connection. Let’s apply the Social Work Next perspective to evaluate the rhetorical device. Our central question is one of Politics. How can policy and politics support empathy?

Exploring the Rhetoric
This speech was delivered July 23, 3015 in South Carolina. Some are attempting to use the clip without context to manufacture a Clinton gaffe. Presenting this as a gaffe, it would set up a narrative pitting open-minded Whites against other Whites using Black lives as the key factor in the decision point. Many may fall into that pit, but Social workers cannot.

If you took this position, it argues for Whites to advocate for and acknowledge that Blacks deserve to be treated as equals. Then, the other Whites should join the open-minded Whites and their action in creating a more tolerant United States. What this does is maintain the privilege of Whites as the center of the debate—the decision makers and the one group whose advocacy and opinion matters.

It also limits the debate to an individual level debate, one where each person needs to step up. The danger is to ignore mezzo and macro levels that also need attention. The danger is to miss the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate how he/she will legislate with the empathy necessary to create change. Policy should be the center of this debate leveraged by Justice for all, informed by Appreciation for all.

Clinton states in multiple events over the past month, some version of the following:

“Let’s be honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports that poverty, crime, and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege” (June 20, 2015 speech to US Conference of Mayors).

It’s still an inappropriate line. It could have been better. It serves to justify fear of Black males even while highlighting privilege.

Breaking down the Conceptual Semantics

The Social Work Next approach to this begins with the awareness of multiple systems levels: micro, mezzo, and macro. The individual or micro level is where much of this rhetoric resides. Rather than justifying the fear as a reminder to reflect with empathy and action, let us explore the fear as irrational.

The individual assessment would ask what biopsychosocial-spiritual-meaning experiences support the fear of Blacks. Only by addressing those fears at their origin, can the individual address the fallacy (most often) or the trauma (less likely) that supports the fear. The point at the individual level is that YOU have a choice regardless of the past or fear of the future. The risk in this moment is equal to the risk is all other moments.

At the mezzo level, we deal with institutions. What institutions support the idea that being Black is somehow threatening or precursor to harm? The solution is to move away from prejudice and determine the content of a person’s character no matter their race or clothing. The number of Blacks has no impact on your level of fear during a board meeting even if they all wore hoodies.

Let’s be clear, alley ways are scary no matter who is standing around in them. Anyone walking into a convenience store with a hoodie pulled over their head is going to raise your fear level. Remove the “being Black” offense from the evaluation of safety in context. Let us promote institutions that utilize the best in social engineering to support collaborative outcomes. You do that by moving away from social control and toward social capital. You know what I mean. “Protect and Serve” community policing versus “Stop and Frisk” raids and harassment.

At the macro level, we discuss environmental practice—the home for our discussion of politics. This is where we get into the depth of empathy. Empathy can begin with guilt. The problem here is that the guilt-to-empathy construct works at the individual level. The task is to expand the construct to the macro level, to collectively reflect, then politically act. What Clinton got wrong is that we don’t make this choice because of our guilt about our privilege or our fear of Blacks. We make the choice to create a politic of justice and appreciation because it serves our ends. The first level of empathy is to see ourselves or our children as the potential victim of unjust policy. The second level is to care that any other person would be subjected to such unjust policy without our ability to successfully navigate the system.

Policy-JusticeANDAppreciationPolitics of Change
As citizens, we are counting on our politicians to advance policy solutions. As social workers, we must educate a populous addressing a politic that lacks empathy. Clinton discusses empathy that leads to action, but only after justifying irrational thoughts. Reflection on assumptions and privilege is not enough. Many well-meaning people don’t have the energy and commitment for true empathy–understanding how my history makes my choices reasonable. And, how your insistence on my conformity criminalizes my existence. That is the point of #BlackLivesMatter. Not a redress to your privilege, but the assertion of my right to exist, under my own terms.

Use policy to grant me that right. Structure institutions that promote and bolster that right. Make equitably available the tools to defend myself and navigate the system.

In your speeches, structure your rhetoric to ensure a movement of justice and appreciation leading to empathy. Go beyond the guilt of having more, living outside stop-and-frisk zones, and living within successful school districts. Create, support, and enforce policies that provide equity of opportunity without asking me to become like you or more safe for you. I can’t change my color, but WE can change policy.

Afterward to the Social Worker
If you want to explore rhetoric and semantics further, may I suggest the following article as a starting point.

Complex speeches aren’t better speeches. In fact, they’re worse.

The most memorable lines in modern rhetoric—”Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; —are remembered precisely because they’re simple enough to understand, memorize, and talk about. Practically every modern sage of language—George Orwell, Steven Pinker, William Safire, Strunk & White—advises non-fiction writers to express themselves with simple language. Even if you like purple prose in your long-form narrative non-fiction, you’ll agree that it’s pleasing to hear complex policy points in clear sentences and parallelisms. (It’s hard to rule out that the dense language of the 19th century was pleasing and cogent in its own time.)

Read More

If you would like to explore the implications and the next steps for social work thought, keep reading this site, or you can do both.

Getting Social Workers Involved in Social Justice: Who Will Take the Lead


If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu. This pithy bit of wisdom was offered as a reminder by University of Illinois Springfield social work professor David Stoesz in a discussion thread on a social work policy listserv about the profession’s paltry participation in policy and politics. Social workers on that listserv are concerned about our level of effort on social justice issues in order to bring about societal change as our code of ethics mandates. Helping people cope with policies that have disproportionately favored the wealthy over the past several decades is not enough.

However, we must do more to change those policies and create a more egalitarian society. Two interesting articles caught my attention last week. One that was posted on Social Work Helper’s Facebook page had appeared in the Guardian. The article featured young social workers in the United Kingdom who expressed concern about their futures and the future of the profession of social work. One young man, Justin, who became a social worker after serving in the British military in Afghanistan, worried about the absence of a strong voice to represent the interests of social workers.

The other article was published in Al Jazeera by Sean McElwee, a young Demos research associate, titled: “Inequality is a disease, voting turnout is the cure.” This is an idea I have been preaching recently. He provides research to support this hypothesis. The questions are: Can social work can be the x-factor that helps propel a movement leading to full voter participation? And who will be the leader(s) of that effort?

What McElwee is stating is quite simple. The 2016 election will not turn so much on who votes but on who stays home. Non-voters are more likely to be low income and lean significantly towards Democrats. Registering these potential voters and getting them to the polls could have significant effects on the outcomes of elections at all levels of government.

Unions traditionally mobilize voters and got them to the polls. However we have seen the number of members and the power of union decline in recent decades.

Will social workers help fill that gap? I believe we can. Social workers can help would-be voters break through barriers such as voter identification. Republican strategist Chris Ladd says it’s time Democrats stop whining about voter ID laws and begin to help people get the documentation they need. Sounds like good advice.

Mildred “Mit” Joyner proposed this idea several years ago when she was president of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). She believes this is something social workers at every level can participate in. Direct service workers can assist clients in understanding the particulars of voting regulations and ensure they have proper documentation when they go to vote. Administrators of agencies can make it a matter of policy to inform clients about exercising their right to vote.

However, according to WRAL News in North Carolina,

Local social service agencies are not giving poor residents adequate opportunities to file and update voter registrations as required by federal law, a letter sent by a group of voting rights advocates warned the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Department of Health and Human Services. Read more 

On the macro level, social workers can work with churches, tenant organizations, and other community-based groups to organize and implement voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Joyner suggests social workers engage the League of Women Voters for information and support. Agencies can learn more from organizations like Nonprofit Vote. Social work students can work with Rock the Vote to encourage young people to vote.

At the same time social workers can continue efforts to overturn misguided laws that restrict voting. We can continue to press Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Social workers have a responsibility to work for a more just society that permits and promotes the self-actualization of everyone.

Policies, laws and systems that restrict one’s ability to be all that one can be should be the object of intervention on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. While social workers must pay attention to licensing, research, and building reputation as a fully scientific profession, we also have a mandate to pursue social justice.

Richard Nixon galvanized a large swath of voters who he saw as being neglected and appealed to them as the silent majority. There is a new silent majority today—voters who have been demoralized by the vast sums of money that are gaming the political system. They see the rich getting richer and not much being done to expand opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans. They are turned off by the negative campaigning and believe voting is an exercise in futility.

Social workers should be participants in the effort to restore hope to these voters—to help them understand that staying away from the polls is exactly what those protecting the status quo wants you to do. Social workers need to be involved politically and be at the policy table. If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu.

The Persistent Stigma of Substance Use Disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language for addiction

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

Social Workers: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?


I became a social worker because I believe this profession has the greatest potential to create a more egalitarian society for all Americans and residents on the planet. We are taught the skills needed to organize and mobilize people and resources. We learn to do the research necessary to find solutions and policies to address our social problems, but we must be more political. That is the call of the 21st century for anyone not satisfied with the status quo. As Eldridge Cleaver once said: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

As Black History Month rapidly draws to a close, we are reminded how much life is different for the average American depending on the color of your skin. The wealth of the median white household grew to 13 times that of the median black household in 2013, up from 10 times the wealth in 2010. Minorities still lag in health outcomes and educational achievement and blacks—especially black men—are disproportionately under the supervision of state and federal criminal justice systems.

Singer/songwriter John Legend used the white stage—I meant bright stage—of the Academy Awards ceremonies to inform America of the startling fact that more black men are under criminal justice supervision than were in slavery at any given time. True a greater percentage was enslaved but the sheer numbers are startling. One in three black men in this country has a felony, and black women are being locked up at an alarming rate.

Many argue that blacks disproportionately commit crimes. However, black men and women face a system where the police are often predatory, quick to arrest and sometimes shoot, and sentences are for longer terms than whites for the same crimes. In the words of Michelle Alexander, the criminal justice is the new Jim Crow.

The American society has long been hostile to the aspirations of black men as witnessed by a new report on lynching released by the Equal Justice Initiative. All of this leads to the destruction of opportunity for African Americans and weakening their ability to create healthy families without which the cycle of failure continues. Some view all of this talk as an excuse for the inability of black men to capitalize on their opportunities. In their minds discrimination does not exist in any significant degree as to deter the conscientious individual from achieving his or her full potential.

Many who desire and are willing to work towards a more egalitarian society are not by nature socialists. There are those who appreciate the free market system’s ability to distribute goods in society in a reasonably fair way but are not satisfied with the unequal distribution we have seen in the past several decades.

There will always be the greedy among us who will seek unfair advantage and use their economic power to game the system. The fact that we have a political system that encourages the free flow of money is evidence that money matters. Why else would the Koch brothers be willing to spend one billion dollars to influence the presidential election? This system favors and rewards those with wealth. Both parties are held hostage to donors without whom winning elections seems unattainable.

Meanwhile policies are put in place—tax cuts, campaign financing laws and gerrymandering, that solidifies the advantages of the wealthy and insure the election of a critical mass of legislators who assist in perpetuating their advantage. It becomes easier if you are able to demonize the opponents of this plutocratic scheme as un-American, envious of success, and those who would want to take the crumbs left for the middle class and give them to the undeserving poor. The irony is those who are able to see through the charade often become discouraged and complacent. These jaded citizens give up on the one thing that could really make a difference—they stop voting. And they fail to organize other jaded citizens.

Our economic and political systems are certainly stacked against the average American. Without collective bargaining, without collective organizing, little can be done individually to increase the valuation of labor or make sufficient political change. It is no coincidence that wage stagnation correlates significantly with the decline and near demise of labor unions.

The only line of defense against oligarchy is democracy, but it requires full participation by all of society’s citizenry and not just the comfortable. I believe the only way to get to full employment and adequate wages is by full political participation. How much different our society would be if ninety percent of its citizens would vote?

Is Politics Failing Social Work or is Social Work Failing at Politics?


Current news events seem to be rife with stories relevant to social work while continuing to highlight our lack of presence in those conversations. Suicide, police shootings, more school shootings, corporal punishment, and domestic violence are issues that stick out on a very long list . Various articles on this website have challenged us to think about social worker’s role in these mainstream stories.

The ultimate gauntlet was thrown by Dr. Steven Perry and his speech on C-SPAN that we are “too silent” on issues of access and social justice.  We are in the trenches on the frontline, and we need to increase public awareness on the efforts of social workers in order to affect public policy making decisions.

Prior to listening to Dr. Perry’s speech, I honestly thought the answer to this question was that politics has been failing social workers, but Dr. Perry calls us out on how we can do more and should be doing a lot more. As social workers, we are interested in making a change, but it is how we go about it that is coming into question. What the above speech and article do (excellently) is get us to think about where and how we want to be involved. Social Workers need to be involved more in politics.

Where I struggle with politics is the much talked about notion of “Policy to Practice”. As people in the helping profession, we all have a notion of what helping others entails. We have the power to help heal individuals, families, schools, and communities yet our voice is not always heard by policy makers. Similar to Dr. Perry, I wondered why our expertise and knowledge continues to not inform policy. What gets in the way?

Social work is becoming more and more about the bottom line. We get messages to use programs that are “evidence based”, “increase productivity”, and “reduce cost”. Interventions that accomplishes all three of these things may get the funding or not. However, despite meeting this criterion, these programs don’t always appear to “make the cut.”  Here are some examples to illustrate this further.

First, lumping together both foster care and juvenile justice together to discuss prevention programs and increasing outcomes. There appears to be a lot of concern about the money we are spending on foster care, out of home placement, and juvenile justice centers. As someone who coordinates care with young people who are at risk for out of home placement, there is a lack of intensive preventive services. There are huge waiting lists for the small amount of slots available. We know prevention services work, however my observation is that these programs are actually getting cut. Are politicians aware of this?

Another example of failed policies and lack of evidence based interventions being funded can be seen in how homelessness is being addressed. According to a press release by The U.S. Housing and Urban development in 2010,

“When an individual or a family becomes homeless for the first time, the cost of providing them housing and services can vary widely, from $581 a month for an individual’s stay in an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa to as much as $3,530 for a family’s monthly stay in emergency shelter in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today released three studies on the cost of ‘first-time’ homelessness; life after transitional housing for homeless families; and strategies for improving access to mainstream benefits programs”

Services to prevent homelessness seem few and far between. For a homeless family, $3,000 per month can go a long way to finding someone permanent, stable housing. Social Workers are on the frontline, and we see what works as well as what our clients need. We apparently need to demonstrate to policy makers that what we do has “return on investment.”  Investing $3,000 a month to teach families to be more self-sufficient, knock down barriers to unemployment, and access to substance abuse and/or mental health treatment will save more money so individuals and families don’t need to become homeless in order to get services.

Are we ensuring policy makers know that we are fighting for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed on a daily basis to help improve their quality of life and to reduce dependency on government services? This is the challenge that we need to take head on, and Dr. Perry reminds us of how powerful social workers can be at the policy making level. To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding.

To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only a temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding. Social Work has power and let’s take up the challenge to find new ways to use it. Dr. Perry has called us out and please find your way to answer the call.

What is a Political Social Worker Anyway?


When people ask what I do, my reply is always, “I’m a political social worker.”  The response is usually, “what is that?”  There is a small but growing group of political social workers who work mostly in legislative offices.  I have the unbelievable opportunity to try to correct some of the social injustices that send many people to seek help from private practitioners and/or agency caseworkers.

When I was finishing up my M.S.W. and my fellow students were talking about what they wanted to do after graduation, I chimed in saying, “I want to work in a legislative office.”  “Your just saying that to start conversation, right?”, was the reaction.  “You’re not really going to work for them.”  “Oh yes I am”, I replied.  “When you start the revolution on the ground, you will be very happy to have a friend up there.”  Saying that  Martin Luther King could not have passed the Civil Rights Act without Lyndon B. Johnson is a favorite of mine when trying to help students make that connection.

I am the social worker in the Office of NYS Senator Liz Krueger.  My official title is Director of Community Outreach.  My portfolio of constituents consists only of seniors.  I develop and run programs for them as well as help them individually with issues around housing, health care, transportation, long term care, and end-of-life. This aspect of my job allows me hone my casework skills as I interact with constituents and their problems every day.

We need more social workers interested in doing the kind of work that I do.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our legislators were social workers rather than the attorneys that most of them are!  Right now there is a social work caucus in our federal legislature. A social worker’s world view is holistic and broad, while many of our legislators have a myopic view of the world where things are only black and white.

It would serve our profession well if all social work students were required to take courses in political advocacy.  When my social work interns leave this placement, I know that I have succeeded as their field advisor if they make the connection between the work that case workers do on the ground and the legislation that is proposed in the capital.  The root of many of the problems that our clients and/or constituents come for help with are a result of bad or non-existent legislation.

As an example, right now in New York City, I see many of our elderly constituents who are in jeopardy of losing their homes.  Most seniors live on a fixed income, yet their rent keeps going up.  For those who are struggling financially, there is a program that freezes their rent; but they have to be living in a rent regulated apartment to receive that benefit.  We now have 1000 seniors living in the NYC shelter system, a number that is growing every day.   Shame on us!  I am advocating for providing these older adults with a subsidy of no more than a couple of hundred dollars a month. This would keep them in their homes and is more economically prudent than the cost of keeping people in the shelter system. This is not to mention how inappropriate the shelter system is for the elderly.

I’m often invited to speak to social work classes about what I do and why social workers are uniquely trained for politics.  A number of years ago, NASW published an article entitled, “Putting the Profession in Public Office.”  I always hand this out for students to read.  It talks about how social workers in the political arena can have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Every staffer in our office takes constituent calls, regardless of their title; and we all have our niche knowledge of specific issues. My co-workers all use social work skills regardless of the fact that none of them are social workers.

When searching for a place to bring your social work skills and knowledge, consider putting some time in a legislative office.  You will be surprised at all the you can learn and all that you can contribute.  Those of us who do this work live with the hope that “moving one grain of sand can change the world”.  It is what gets us through even the roughest days.

Rothman Report Inspires a Student Led Movement

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

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

Macro Social Work Student Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University of Texas-Austin

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

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

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

Arizona State University and North Arizona University

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

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

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

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

University of Utah

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

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

The Rothman Report

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

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

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

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

Forty to None Launches Network For Professionals Working With LGBT Youth

NEW YORK – November 20, 2013 – The Forty to None Project, a program of the True Colors Fund, announces the launch of the Forty to None Network. The Network is a collective of individuals who are working to address or have the potential to impact the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth homelessness.

Forty to NoneRecent reports estimate that up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT, while only 5-7% of the general youth population does the same. The Forty to None Network seeks to reduce this disproportionate representation in part by facilitating a reciprocal information exchange among service providers, educators, researchers, advocates, government officials, health care professionals, philanthropists, and young people.

“Most street-based teens use the streets as a means to survive because they have no other way to survive and take care of themselves,” says ZiZi Phillips, youth advocate and formerly homeless young person. For ZiZi the Forty to None Network is a platform where young advocates can connect and educate the public about youth homelessness from their own experiences.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth are disproportionately represented among youth who experience homelessness,” said Network member Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “That’s why the Forty to None Network is so important. By working across sectors and in coalition with other organizations and agencies, Forty to None provides leadership and energy to help end the crisis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness.”

“We created the Forty to None Network in response to the feedback we’ve received from people around the country working on LGBT youth homelessness – that there is a missing consolidated, national network to facilitate the sharing of ideas and action,” said Jama Shelton, Director of the Forty to None Project. “It is our hope that the network will build bridges across systems that impact LGBT youth, and keep everyone engaged in this critical work informed and working collaboratively.”

Forty to None Network membership benefits include first looks at best practices, research and fundraising resources, and legislative and policy updates. Members will be invited to help shape the content distributed through the Forty to None Network by sharing their experiences, providing feedback, and engaging in ongoing dialogue via Network facilitated online communication and in-person networking opportunities.

“Joining the Forty to None Network is a no-brainer,” said Network member Blase DiStefano, Creative Director and Entertainment Editor for OutSmart magazine in Houston, Texas. “At my lowest point, I at least had a place to live. For those of us who are homeless, this network could be a lifesaver.”

Those working in social services, public policy, research, and other related areas on the local, state, and national levels, or those whose work impacts the systems that serve LGBT homeless youth may sign up to join the network at  The Forty to None Network is made possible through the generosity of the Yambao family in memory of Norman Miller Yambao.

About the Forty to None Project

The True Colors Fund’s Forty to None Project is the nation’s first and only national organization solely dedicated to raising awareness about and bringing an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth experiencing homelessness. For more information, please visit

Source: Forty to None

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Leaving Room For Change: Beyond Evidence Based Practice

Those of us in the social work profession have spent at least 4 years at university studying the intricacies of human behaviours, and thousands of hours analysing a myriad of models and theories that claim to provide the “solution” to people problems. Every model taught has undergone rigorous testing by suitably qualified professionals in order to prove validity, and to claim its stake in the world of “best practice” or “evidence based practice”.

We exit university feeling well equipped with an abundance of knowledge and an ability to adapt what we have learnt to any given client situation. Ethically, we’re bound to continue our professional development and keep ourselves up to date on the latest findings that add to, question or replace the strategies we were taught, and have started to use with our client groups.

prescriptiveHeading into the “real world”, we soon realize that the organisation (or its funding body) will regulate which models we will use with our particular client group. This may feel “prescriptive” for a while, but soon we’ll either be convinced, or told, that this is the latest and most effective evidence based method of intervention for your particular client group.  We may sprinkle in a portion of our own personality, and if particularly brave, insert a couple of our own ideas throughout the intervention process.  How and when this sort of “insertion of the worker’s own interpretation” occurs does not appear to be of much (if any) concern in overall evaluations.

The assertive among us may even go so far as to suggest CHANGE to some of the old “tried and true” strategies. But we’ll soon realize that we need a team of researchers and multitudes of clients willing to be guinea pigs, to provide that much-needed “evidence”. Time consuming. Probably cost prohibitive.  We’re probably already overworked and underpaid.  Perhaps it’s best to just stick to the existing  prescription.  After all, the “experts” have stated that all the research points to evidence that this works. Furthermore, organisational managers who have a management perspective (as opposed to a client perspective) start to adapt these models as “evidence”  to show they are following procedures which have a “proven” methodology. Models have measurements to gauge outcomes, and outcomes justify organisational spending.

Here comes the irony. Interestingly, we encourage our clients to embrace change. As social workers, we are often called “change agents”.  How then, can we justify a profession that is becoming “prescriptive” by the very nature of insistence on “evidence based practice”?

Now before I am bombarded by those proponents of evidence based practice who only read part way through a document – I urge you to read on.

changeBy no means am I inferring we do away with tried and tested models of intervention. Nor would the removal of “evidence” of effective practice achieve anything bar chaos. What I am suggesting is that “prescription intervention” has an inherent risk of the helping professional becoming complacent in his/her  practice. Take that complacency to its limits and we may well end up with workers who  place expectations on client responses. After all, if there is a generic “correct” model of intervention, then there must a generic “correct” client response.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth – we all know that client responses are as diverse as client circumstances.

So wherein lies the balance? The balance lies in perspective. It’s about how we view a particular model. The key is this – models are not meant to be prescriptive, they are a guide.  We value individual differences, so leave room in your practice to adapt, to be innovative, to be flexible according to your particular client needs and circumstances. Look beyond the prescription. Best practice is about best outcomes for clients.

Most of all, focus less on the need to be rigidly mindful on a model and start to use creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation and adaptability to ensure that any model of intervention remains relevant to client needs.  And if you think perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of complacency, consider the need for some time out to regain that sense of wonder, intrigue and sense of justice you once had in your early practice years. Why? It is important for social workers to retain the ability to function effectively as a “change agent”.

Let’s just look at those words again – creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation, adaptability. A little outside your comfort zone? Not quite sure where these things fit into social work?   Let me remind you of Einstein’s quote “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  If you are not creative, flexible, innovative, authentic and adaptable in your own practice, then how can you empower your clients to make change?  If you adopt one particular “modus operandi” in your practice, relying solely on what has been presented to you as “evidence based practice”, then where will new ideas come from?  If you view one particular model as the generic answer to your client group’s issues, how will innovative new practices ever evolve?

It isn’t simply a case of sitting in the status quo of a current model and insisting on its merits because it has “proven results”, or because the company that pays your salary insists that you utilize a particular method. If you see a need for change, then speak out. Act on it. Find others in the helping professions and discuss their experiences.  After all, isn’t that what we encourage our clients to do?

6 Ways to Avoid Facebook Misery

Ever feel jealous, angry, or sad after looking at someone’s Facebook updates? Ever posted something that you regretted later? Ever cringe when you see a friend post something way too personal for the whole world wide web to see?

I think we have all had some level of Facebook drama at one time or another, but social networking sites can actually cause significant mental health symptoms for some people. Check out this study that showed the more time a person spent on Facebook, the less happy and less satisfied they tended to be.

facebook dramaHere are some tips to help you avoid becoming miserable while using social media:

1. Monitor your overall use. Sounds simple, but you may be surprised by how much time you actually spend online. Over 3/4 of Facebook users login every day to check their account. Most spend at least 45 minutes a day.

2. Consider disabling Facebook on your smart phone. If your phone allows a Facebook app that sends you alerts, you are more likely to get sucked into Facebook activity, even if you aren’t sitting down at your computer.

3. Get your needs met in healthier ways. If you find yourself posting updates in order to get sympathy from others, you run the risk of being disappointed by a lack of a response or pushing others away. No one likes to constantly see pessimistic rants from their friends. Misery loves company, but it can also be emotionally draining to be around negative people.

4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, right? One of the main reasons people get down while spending time on Facebook is that it can be a constant arena for social competition. Cute babies, advanced degrees, new cars, fitness goals achieved and vacations are all happy occasions that people love to share. If we are prone to jealousy or self-doubt, it is easy to feel less-than by comparing how we stack up against others. A key sign that you are getting too much Facebook time is when you stop sharing in others’ joys and start feeling resentful or jealous.

5. Think before you post. Try to avoid posting when your emotional brain is active and your logical brain has taken the day off. If you anticipate an evening of drinking or drug use, disable your access to Facebook. Worst case scenario: you can always delete an unflattering post, but sometimes even a short-lived post can be damaging. Nowadays, many employers search Facebook to find information about job applicants or current employees.

6. Be careful who you befriend. My own policy is that I don’t accept friend requests from people I’ve never met in person and I never accept friend requests from current or former clients. In general, it’s a good idea to avoid those who hold positions of power over you, like your boss or supervisors. Facebook also allows you to block certain people from your posts.

Facebook can be a great way to connect with friends we otherwise don’t see because life just gets in the way sometimes. Just make sure it serves a positive purpose in your life and doesn’t cause you distress. If you find yourself getting irritable or bummed out due to Facebook, take a time out and connect with the real-world for a moment. Social media and networking sites can be great, but there simply is no substitute for sunshine, nature, physical exercise, and face to face connection.

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