Public Education Campaign

The National Social Work Public Education Campaign is a multi-year outreach effort led by the National Association of Social Workers and the NASW Foundation to educate key stakeholders, including American citizens, the media, policymakers, employers and social workers about the importance of this profession.

In 2004, NASW worked with Crosby Marketing Communications to complete Phase I of campaign development-public opinion research. We conducted several focus groups of social workers and average citizens in three cities: Anaheim, Calif., Atlanta and Baltimore. During these sessions, we found that the general public holds social workers in higher esteem than we initially thought. They recognize the intense pressures social workers face in their difficult work and agree that most are underpaid. In general, social workers are viewed as valuable to society.

But what most people in the focus groups didn't understand was how diverse the social work field is and that social workers are highly trained to do this complex work. Furthermore, few middle-class Americans believe that they, or their families, will ever need the assistance of a social worker. They think most social workers are employed in child welfare departments and other government agencies that only assist disadvantaged families. The general perception is that social work services are limited to those in dire circumstances-and few people want to think about being in these situations.

The goals of the public education campaign are to (a) increase awareness and respect for the social work profession; (b) educate the public on the depth and breadth of social work practice; (c) expand perceptions of who can benefit from social work services; (d) attract young people to the profession; and (e) improve employment opportunities for professional social workers.

To gain greater support for the social work profession, we must offer greater value to more of the general public. We need to build a widespread campaign that will resonate among American citizens, the media, policymakers, employers and social workers. Changing perceptions and behaviors is a complex process, and it will take time and significant funding to build awareness of our cause.

Hollywood big brains—executives, producers, directors and writers—seem to recognize only three occupations when they develop dramatic television series: doctors, lawyers and police officers. Hollywood needs to look to social workers for heroes.

Gregory Kane, Columnist, Baltimore Sun

While social workers are often featured in magazine and newspaper lifestyle and feature articles as credible subject experts, television news programs and other hard news media frequently limit coverage of the social work profession to negative child welfare cases.

Media audit, 2004

We've spent years helping others; we don't help ourselves. It's time for us to tell our own story—the story of social work. If we don't, who will?

Gary Bailey, MSW, Past NASW President
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