I want to thank R.L. West Consulting (aka Political Social Worker) for taking the time and using her expertise to respond to my post Is Social Work Failing at Politics or Is Politics Failing Social Work? Please follow her on Facebook and Twitter and enjoy this well crafted response….
The balance between micro and macro has been out of whack for years. Actually it is not so much all of micro being focused on but specifically clinical practice. Starting in the 1980’s there was a real shift. Social work programs began moving more towards clinical course work. While programs began focusing more on clinical practice they also began to cut back on offering courses related to community practice (macro). This was most likely the result of wanting to make social work look more appealing to prospective middle class students. Specht and Courtney go into detail about this in Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Abandoned it’s Mission. Courtney also participated in a chat on radical social work along with Ron Chance that touched on some of these issues. You can watch it here. My favorite line from the discussion is “To be respected you have to get political.” In that one short sentence Ron Chance summed up why it is so vital for social workers to be involved in the political arena.
I have heard from students and practitioners who worry that the required social welfare policy courses are not doing enough to prepare or encourage students to participate in political advocacy work. Furthermore, outside of the required social welfare policy class many programs offer few opportunities for students to learn more about policy or community practice. As you wrote in your article:
Where I struggle with politics is the much talked about notion of “Policy to Practice”.
Social work students should have a clear understanding of this by the time they are ready to graduate. But, from what I see and hear, most do not. And that is the fault of the programs that are suppose to be teaching them how to be change agents. BTW I recommend picking up a copy of Affecting Change: Social Workers in the Political Arena by Haynes and Mickelson. It is a good intro to this topic. Melinda Lewis’s blog Classroom to Capitol is also a great resource.
A few years ago ACOSA sponsored a survey that was under taken by Dr. Jack Rothman that looked into the state of macro social work education. Many students in that survey reported that they were being actively discouraged by professors and administrators from pursuing macro practice. A large number of them also reported that their program did not offer enough learning opportunities with regards to community practice work. They just aren’t being given the tools and support needed to affect change on a macro level.
Another problem is that NASW is often MIA in public policy discussions. They employ (the national chapter) lobbyist but they haven’t been terrible transparent about the work they do. Every now and then they issue a brief. But their are many times where I do not see them taking a stance or submitting testimony on legislation that is of great importance to social workers. While they are not the only social work association in the US they are the most recognized, the largest, and the best funded. Further more the state chapters often fail to organize their membership into taking action outside of signing petitions.
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??
No, they probably aren’t. In truth this isn’t just a social work failing it’s that, much like social work, the nonprofit sector is often MIA from these discussions. Many nonprofits seem to be under the impression that they can’t lobby and that is false.Nonprofits are allowed to and should be lobbying.
We often work with populations that are referred to as “undesirable” or “invisible.” It’s not enough for us to work one-on-one with people. We need to be providing the tools for these communities to organize and to be heard. That means doing community organizing work. It means giving testimony at legislative hearings. It means communicating as constituents with our representatives. It also means that social workers need to run for public office or seek jobs with public officials.
For example, take welfare. The myth of the welfare queen is still very much alive. Social workers and nonprofits that work on this issue should be speaking up to help dispel this myth and to advocate for legislation that will actually help alleviate poverty.
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