We the board of the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers received the stunning news about the change to the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct that “slipped in” at the last minute at a request of Governor Greg Abbott. This bypassed the usual 30-day requirement for public comment and bypassed usual approval procedures because it was voted on and approved at a joint meeting of the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners (TSBSWE) and the Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC, TSBSWE’s governing body).
The governor personally strong-armed the board into approving this change, without opportunity for public comment. His explanation was that elsewhere in the Texas Code and legislation, this language is not used and therefore should be removed from the Social Work Code to align it better with the “usual” language. In other words, our state does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes (as we do race, religion, etc.) and therefore Texas social workers should not either. We are both horrified and speechless at the removal of the protections against discrimination for disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and gender expression from the Social Work Code of Conduct. This move appears to be an exertion of the governor’s power in both a professional and a deeply personal way.
Standing precedent is that political agents are not to dictate the Social Work Code of Conduct; this responsibility belongs to the TSBSWE. The state Code is also presented as a minimum and is not expected to be inclusive for every profession, area of practice, and population – governing boards are appointed to make rules, as deemed necessary and appropriate for their respective professions. The law should never sanction unethical practices and in fact, should do just the opposite.
As we are called by our National Code of Ethics to both, not discriminate or oppress any group or person, for any reason, and to speak out against systems that seek to do just this, we refuse to accept such dehumanization. The rule to protect the access of service for persons of all sexual orientations and gender expressions was added into our Code in 2012, without objection from the governor’s office. This language MUST be restored immediately. We must make sure that our VOTES are for representatives who will help us protect access to service for the most vulnerable. This is just the beginning.
NASW is mobilizing action steps to fight this. Members can call their state representatives and the governor’s office right now to oppose, but we will need something collective to beat back this oppressive action. Religious freedom must never come at the expense of serving the most vulnerable in our communities. Social workers must stand against removing any anti-discrimination protections from the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct.
Roy was my partner for most of our deployment with Red Cross on the Disaster Mental Health Team in Texas. We spent many hours on the road mostly on our own, with the exception of “ride to the office” or “back to the shelter” caravans, which could be quite crowded as there were few available cars to ferry us all from the staff shelter to Headquarters for the day.
Conversations stayed rooted mostly in the present, even with kids occasionally Face-timing us in the car when a signal would pop up. I know that he’s been a social worker since 1970 and that he has been married nearly as long. Getting to know each other on a disaster mental health deployment is a different way of knowing someone, but knowing them well regardless. Similar relationships are built with the people you sleep a couple of feet from in the staff shelter.
Roy: “Wasn’t there a band people used to like called the Dead Heads? People liked them but I think they’re dead.”
Roy, In response to a question about breakfast: “Right I’ll give you another rotten orange in the morning.”
Kristie: “No thank you; that coffee was sufficient.”
“Roy, just go ahead and get in the wrong lane again for this right turn.” (Texas “turnarounds” can be a nightmare).
There was the normalcy of the city center recovering, demonstrated through open shops and Home Depot’s parking lot was nearly at capacity. Starbucks opened, there was a carafe in HQ for one of the lucky teams.
Vulnerability and exploitation were visible not far from the city center. Compounding issues plague those who struggled prior to the disaster. Living paycheck to paycheck when there is suddenly no paycheck creates a domino effect of financial disaster. You can only call the companies to beg for mercy if your phone works, if there are enough bars available to connect you. The smell is rising in neighborhoods, and the question, “What is that smell?” was more frequent today. Mold grows rapidly, and you can smell it from the street. Weeks have passed since the initial disaster, but it is just beginning to unfold for many people do not have flood insurance.
I ended up making a call to the Attorney General’s office regarding landlords who are refusing to remediate damage and demanding rent from those who cannot pay (or live in their home), with the threat of their things being sent to the dumpster. The police were empathetic but said that it’s a civil issue and in a disaster needs to go to the AGs office. So the wet carpet stays with children living inside, and they lack healthy food- maintaining on what looks like a vending machine diet.
There are contractor company scams that further exploit the exploited, and many workers are being brought in from surrounding areas without protective gear (notable lack of face masks) and clearly without reasonable hours or meal contracts.
On the other end of helplessness and anger, I felt in awe of all of the volunteers and what they do. They respond at the crack of dawn to Headquarters to work with a team using colored post it’s on the wall to map progress and hot spots for the day. Knowing that it’s likely that at the end of the day, they will have gotten sidetracked from the need that was directly in front of them, feeling regret for not making it back to the places they know are in desperate need but are now blocked by factors beyond their control.
Headquarters experienced an evacuation- someone screamed, “Get out! Get out of the building!” It turned out to be some off-gassing cones, but everyone went right back to work outside while standing outside the building waiting for clearance entirely unfazed.
Volunteers will talk it out with each other back at the shelter late at night, eating cold leftovers from the ERV (feeding) vehicles. Informal meetings run from their cots which will make a difference the next day in how resources are allocated because drivers are sleeping next to mental health, nurses, and those doing communications assessments. If you end up both eating and securing a space in line at the shower trailer behind the civic center before it’s too late, it’s something of a miracle. With a lot of contamination and illness going around, it’s best to just throw away the shoes on your way out.
As for the people we served, we realized the depth of desperation that is held for those in areas without good water. Your clothes were washed away or were contaminated, and even if you could wash them, you can’t because your washer and dryer is flooded (one family had some kind of snakes in theirs) as is the laundry mat down the road.
We brought restaurant workers wearing their last items of clothing and shoes serving people in the only community restaurant to open back up in Port Arthur in a certain radius, knowing that those clothes too, would soon be dirty. So what then? How long will this all take? While you may see signs of recovery in the city center, it’s clear that this is going to take so much longer for others, and the rural areas are barely touched by “helpers”.
The depth of this disaster isn’t something that we are used to covering, Katrina taught us a few things that are applicable, but each disaster is its own, and this scale is unimaginable. Puerto Rico is now unfolding as we watch on our screens, in some sort of mass denial of scale.
Most of us can sit comfortably behind our devices and all caps “GET TRUCK DRIVERS!” and while I can personally imagine the barriers that they have in distribution as we just experienced them in Harvey, you just can’t know unless you’re there and are using all of your five senses.
Thousands of Texas residents, including nearly 2,000 residents of a correctional facility in located Brazoria County, are being forced to evacuate their homes as rising Texas floodwaters prompt local and state officials to continue issuing mandatory evacuations in several Texas counties.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has officially declared a State of Disaster for 31 Texas counties. In a press conference held after touring some of the state’s most flood-affected areas on Thursday, Gov. Abbott addressed state plans for aiding Texas flood victims and stressed the importance for citizens to listen to local evacuation mandates.
“Remember this, and that is your life is far more valuable than your property,” he said, directing his statements toward all Texans. “If you are told by a local official to evacuate, heed that warning.”
With the number of people displaced by the disaster, social workers can play a pivotal role in helping flood victims receive the services they need. In 2003, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) released a statement identifying social workers as “uniquely suited to interpret the disaster context, to advocate for effective services, and to provide leadership in essential collaborations among institutions and organizations.”
However, social workers should be mindful of state laws and statutes regarding the provision of social work services. In Texas, social workers are able to provide services to people in response to a disaster only within the limits provided by Texas statute.
Volunteers providing disaster relief services in Texas who do not hold a board approved Texas license, may not present themselves under the title Social Worker, use a title that implies current licensure in the state of Texas, or promote they are representing services as social workers.
Additionally, because of the successful work done by members in the Texas Chapter of NASW, a bill passed in the 84th Texas Legislative Session extending liability protections to licensed social workers and retired social workers, giving them immunity from liability in Texas when representing themselves as “volunteer health care providers”.
The American Red Cross has set up a number of shelters in affected areas in addition to providing flood victims with food, hygiene products, and other needed supplies. Social workers and other helping professionals are highly encouraged to volunteer. You can get more information by visiting redcross.org/volunteer or by calling 713-313-5491.
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.
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.
If you are not familiar with who Wendy Davis is, you should be! Wendy Davis was a single mom on government assistance who worked her way from a trailer park to a Harvard Law School degree, but she didn’t stop there. Social Work Helper did a story on Wendy Davis earlier this year for her heroic efforts to stand for women’s reproductive rights.
Wendy Davis, a state Senator representing Texas’ 10th district, made national news for her 11 hour filibuster of the Republican backed restrictive reproductive health bill that the Texas legislature’s leadership was attempting to railroad through the state senate. The bill Wendy said would have a “devastating impact” by enacting a 20 week abortion ban, and effectively closing almost all of the health clinics that provide abortive services, among other vital health services for women, across the state. Read Full Article
Wendy Davis made her announcement at the high school where she received her education, and she stated:
“We love Texas not only for how good it is, but for how great we know it can be,” she said. “We want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education, an education that can take them anywhere they want to go.”
In my opinion, Wendy Davis represents the epitome of the American Dream, and the hope we have for our children to triumph under difficult circumstances. In the history of Texas Governors, only two women have been elected to hold high office. The last to achieve this accomplishment was Ann Richards the mother of the current President of Planned Parenthood, Cecil Richards. If there is a slim chance for a third female governor, Wendy Davis is the right choice.
Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor from Louisiana and Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, stated that Wendy Davis will be good for fundraising, but she does not stand a chance of winning against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. This statement came in the wake of yesterday’s announcement by Wendy Davis to run for Governor of the Lone Star State.