Social Work for a New Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw a political system change but go unchanged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Workers to Launch Voter Empowerment Campaign

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There are a growing number of social workers who believe our profession can play a significant role in restoring confidence in our nation’s political processes by encouraging more people to register and vote. In the August 2015 Gallup Poll, 72 percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. They want change. Many lower and middle-income families have been feeling squeezed for years. So how does change occur?

Dēmos policy analyst Sean McElwee says more in the low- and middle-income class need to vote. In his report, Why Voting Matters, McElwee documents how lower-income voters’ failure to vote has resulted in policies that favor the well-to-do. He reported 26 million eligible voters of color and 47 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 annually did not vote in 2012. In 2014, the numbers were 44 million and 66 million respectively.

Many social workers are realizing the critical need for more of us to be involved in political processes. Nancy A. Humphreys, past president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and former dean of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, has been preaching this message for decades. The Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work (NAHIPSW) at the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next month and still going strong under the leadership of new director Tanya Rhodes Smith.

Although Dr. Humphreys retired recently, she has not abandoned her efforts to educate and organize social workers, social work students and faculty around the need to be more politically active. Her message is taking root and signs of increased activity are sprouting around the nation.

CRISP is joining forces with Influencing Social Policy’s outgoing chair, Kathy Byers, to launch a social work-led voter empowerment project designed to mobilize social workers to register, educate, and get voters to the polls so their voices will be included in deciding the direction of the country.

This nonpartisan campaign seeks to provide social workers with evidence-based information and tools necessary to effectively identify and engage nonvoters. Drawing on proven resources from successful voter registration and education projects such as the League of Women’s Voters, Emily’s List, Nonprofit Vote and Rock The Vote, this social work voter empowerment campaign will create and disseminate materials and toolkits designed specifically for social workers.

In addition, CRISP will soon formally announce the formation of a Student Advisory Council (SAC) that will focus on engaging millennial social workers in BSW, MSW, and PhD programs as well as recent graduates. CRISPSAC will focus on social entrepreneurship and using technology to advocate and influence policy. Led by Shauntia White, a second-year student at the School of Social Services at the National Catholic University of America, CRISPSAC, under the banner #YSocialWork, is recruiting representatives from schools across the country to be ambassadors and spread the message at their schools.

CRISPSAC communications coordinator Justin Vest, a recent grad from the University of Alabama School of Social Work, is spearheading an awareness campaign on Tuesday that will include a Twitter chat using the hashtags #CelebrateNVRD and #SWVote.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, a day to remind Americans to take advantage of our precious right to vote—a right that has never been fully accessible to all citizens of the United States. Women fought for decades to win the right to vote in 1919. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down many of the barriers that denied African Americans access to the polls. The National Voters Registration Act of 1993 sought to ease access to voting.

Yet, less than 50 years after the VRA of 1965, key provisions of the legislation were eviscerated by the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Roadblocks such as unduly restrictive voter identification requirements, polling places with inadequate resources to meet demand, and laws that create barriers to student participation all work to limit participation in our democratic process.

More alarming are the vast numbers of Americans who choose not to exercise their right to vote. According to the U.S. Census, only 92.1 million (41.9%) of 220 million voting-age Americans voted in the 2014 elections, meaning 127 million people did not vote. Nearly 78 million voting age Americans were not registered. Voter participation rates are significantly higher in presidential elections—almost 62 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in 2012.

A defining event in the profession’s expanding political focus was the founding of the Congressional Social Work Caucus (CSWC) by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns. It created a platform on the Hill for social workers and encouraged us to be more fully engaged with the federal government.

Now under the leadership of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), the CSWC continues to work in conjunction with social work schools and organizations. Plans are underway for a second Social Work Day on the Hill in March 2016. Empowering American voters is a critical function for which social workers are trained and equipped to be game changers.

Paving the Way for Change is #YSocialWork

B_R4dyFW8AAE9PsAs a social worker to my core, I love this year’s theme for Social Work Month, “Social Work Paves the Way for Change” which is why most of us became social workers in the first place. We believe whole-heartedly in the ability of people to change.

As much as I entered this field to try and save the world, over the course of many years it has been incredibly humbling to learn that it is the broken and lost who have provided the inspiration and motivation to continue to serve. In fact, my most precious education and understanding of humanity have been supplied by the countless children, families, elderly, and foster and adoptive parents I have been blessed to know.

In my role, I have the privilege of meeting so many amazing social workers. Each and every one of them continues to take on extremely stressful situations, and dedicate more hours in a day than most people know to protect children and adults and strengthen families. Their work is driven by a mission and commitment that is very much appreciated by those they serve.

Whether it is offering a comforting hug to a hurting child, or simply holding the hand of a 90-year old great-grandmother to let her know that she’s not been forgotten, social workers keep the fabric of our society held together. As a result of their willingness to do this, they serve as the foundation for change.

As a tribute to these remarkable individuals, I wanted to share words from a few of those caseworkers and social workers about why they chose social work, and what keeps them motivated to inspire change, no matter how small, every day.

#YSocialWork - Laura Hughes

#YSocialWork - Kristen Hamilton

If you want to be even more inspired, check out a great Social Work Month social media campaign from Social Work Helper, #YSocialWork, encouraging social workers to use social media to explain why social work matters. Visit the Social Work Helper website to download and print out a campaign sign to write your message. Then post your #YSocialWork message to Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram with the #YSocialWork hashtag.

Or, simply take the time to let the social workers in your community know how much they are appreciated.

Happy Social Work Month!

When Someone Asks #YSocialWork Does It Feel Like An Insult

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

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

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

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

#YSocialWork

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

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

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

How to Participate in #YSocialWork

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

Twitter Example:

Facebook Example:

 

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

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

Happy Social Work Month!

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