Social Work Caucus Forms in Congress

Ed Towns and Allyson SchwartzReps. Mel Watt (photo lower right), Ed Towns and Allyson Schwartz are founding members of the Congressional Social Work Caucus. All three attended a March 15 launch event for the caucus sponsored by NASW.

On March 15 — World Social Work Day — members of the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Congressional Social Work Caucus, coinciding with reintroduction of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act by Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Towns will chair the caucus, which is composed of members of Congress who are social workers and those who are advocates for social workers and their clients.

Mel Watt“I am excited about the possibilities for our newly created Congressional Social Work Caucus,” Towns said at the NASW-sponsored event formally launching the caucus at the Library of Congress’ Madison Building. “This Caucus will provide a platform in the House of Representatives where social work voices can be heard, social work concerns can be addressed and social work’s best and brightest can serve their fellow Americans in meaningful ways.”

As Towns suggested, the caucus will serve as an informal, bipartisan group of members of Congress dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the social work profession in the U.S. The caucus also will seek to educate other members on the issues most pertinent to the social work profession, social work education, social work research and the development of professionals to provide for the safety and welfare of Americans.

The founding members include:

  • Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif;
  • Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas;
  • Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.;
  • Barbara Lee, D-Calif.;
  • John Lewis, D-Ga.;
  • Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa;
  • Bobby Rush, D-Ill.;
  • Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa.;
  • Pete Stark, D-Calif.;
  • Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.; and
  • Melvin Watt, D-N.C.

Schwartz, who spoke at the March 15 event, remarked on the unique role played by social workers in Congress. “Being a social worker is great training to being a member of Congress,” she told the audience. “We understand and are involved in so many different aspects of everything that is important in our communities.”

Said Towns: “Social workers are at the frontlines of defending the old, the disabled, children and families at all economic levels. We are a critical part of the safety net that keeps people from falling through the cracks. And — in these times — our work is more important than ever. There are social workers in Japan providing trauma and crises interventions. There are social workers in Libya and Egypt and other volatile spots in the Middle East providing assistance to war-torn refugees.”

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said the caucus could not have been formed at a better time. Clark introduced Towns at the event and announced the reintroduction of the Social Work Reinvestment Act, H.R. 1106/S. 584. Among those gathered for the launch of the caucus were deans and students from schools of social work, heads of human service agencies, advocacy groups, social work organizations, lobbying groups and Hill staffers.

Nicole Williams, Joy Ernst, James ZaboraJames Zabora of Catholic University’s social work school talks with Nicole Williams, a staffer for Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and NASW member Joy Ernst (center) at the Library of Congress event.

“This caucus is being created at a time of considerable change for our nation, and of critical importance for the profession,” Clark said. “Social workers have expected a significant demographic change for quite some time, with the aging baby boom generation requiring increasing demand for their services. Additionally, the worst economic recession many of us have ever witnessed has renewed the need for a strong and stable social safety net, in which social workers are an essential component.”

Mildred “Mit” Joyner, president of the Council on Social Work Education, attended the event and later told NASW News: “I congratulate Congressman Towns for reintroducing the Social Work Reinvestment Act and also for launching the caucus. I think we — the social work profession and social work educators — are better positioned to ensure that the profession and, most importantly, its consumers have a voice in Congress. Congressman Towns will go down in history as a mover and a shaker and will go down in the social work profession as a pioneer who works for all people on the Hill, and social work thanks him.”

A major component of the act is the creation of a federal-level commission to conduct a comprehensive review of workforce challenges facing the social work profession. The commission would then make recommendations to Congress and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on ways to ensure that there are enough social workers to keep up with demand.

The act also would authorize grants to help fund workplace improvement, education and training, research and community-based programs to further test and replicate effective social work interventions. It further directs the HHS secretary to develop and conduct a public awareness campaign to promote the social work profession and establishes a national clearinghouse on best practices in the field of social work.


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