Is Social Work Failing at #Politics or is Politics failing Social Workers?

Q : How do you get a social work blogger to his end his summer slowdown? A: You make a speech about how social work is not living up to its full potential. That is what Dr. Stephen Perry did with this speech on CSPAN and the subsequent response by Social Work Helper

…I thought that the answer to the title of this blog was that politics has been failing social workers.  Dr. Perry calls us out to think that we can do more; A LOT more. As social workers, we are interested in making change. What the above speech and article do (excellently) is get us to think about where and how we want to be involved.  When thinking about this, I started to wonder about laws and where social workers sit in the “political arena.”

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 heal individuals, families, schools, and communities yet our voice is not always heard by policy makers. I am not clear on the barriers to our voice being heard, but they clearly exist.

My theory is that social work is becoming more about the bottom line. We get messages to use programs that are  “evidence based”, “increase productivity”, and  “reduce cost”. Interventions that do all three of these things seems to get the funding…or not. Despite meeting this criteria, these programs don’t always appear to “make the cut.”  I will give you two examples to illustrate my point.

First, I am lumping together both foster care and juvenile justice together to talk about prevention programs. There appears to be a lot 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 these services work, however my observation is that these programs are actually getting cut. Are politicians aware of this??

The second example is the problem of homeless families. 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

Again 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. Are politicians aware of this??

Dr. Perry and Social Work Helper ask, as social workers, are we making sure politicians know that we are fighting these fights on a daily basis? This is the challenge that we need to take on. Dr. Perry reminds us that our work is important. Not only is work is important, IT WORKS and is EVERYWHERE.  Let’s make our voice known; let politicians and funding sources know what works. Social work has power and let’s take up the challenge to find new ways to use it. Dr. Perry and Social Work Helper have called us out..Find your way to answer the call.


(I would also like to thank Social Work Helper, Political Social WorkerSocial Justice Solutions, and CRISP on the Hill for being at the forefront for us on social work and politics on social media. I think we do need to advocate stronger as profession and make our voice known.)


3 thoughts on “Is Social Work Failing at #Politics or is Politics failing Social Workers?

  1. Pingback: A Response to My Recent Blog Post On Politics by R.L. West Consulting | Stuck on Social Work

  2. kwonstein

    Yeah, this is definitely one of the biggest challenges in the social work field. I happen to think that more of social workers should become interested in participating politically. It’d also be nice to see more social workers enter the political and government arena, to have city council members, state representatives and senators, and federal political leaders, and perhaps even lobbyists who come from social work background. Tied to that another area that’s failing for social workers is the world of journalism and press. Many important areas in our profession do not get covered except very rarely by few of the more socially conscientious journalists. That I think is also a problem as well, both for the profession and for the clients we serve.


    1. I did not think about journalism, although the landscape of journalism is changing so quickly. Socialwork and Social Justice Solutions are loudest blogs reporting on social work issues but more mainstream coverage is needed.


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