Efforts Continue on Social Work Reinvestment

NASW continues to broaden its strategies to encourage the creation of a social work reinvestment commission, including through passage of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 795, S. 686).

The proposal directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a Social Work Reinvestment Commission to provide independent counsel to Congress on policy issues associated with recruitment, retention, research and reinvestment in the profession of social work.

As of early April, the bill had 84 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and 12 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Besides an ongoing campaign to encourage more co-sponsors, NASW has met with HHS leaders and President Barack Obama’s staff to encourage creation of a social work reinvestment commission within HHS.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark and senior staff met with Justine Sarver, HHS’s deputy chief of staff; Pamela Hyde, administrator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Mary Wakefield, administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration; Bryan Samuels, commissioner for the Administration for Children, Youth and Families; Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of substance abuse treatment at SAMHSA; and Irene Hsu, special assistant for the Office of the Chief of Staff.

“Our meeting centered on the need for HHS to establish a time-limited, high-level commission to specifically look at issues facing the social work workforce across all the fields and roles that are critical to HHS,” Clark said. “Workforce issues are also important throughout HHS, so we discussed ways we could collaborate to address needs in each area.”

In a follow-up letter sent to Sarver, Clark noted that NASW is eager to work more closely with HHS.

“We have the ability to reach nearly 150,000 professional social workers with training and education, as well as information that might be important to their clients,” Clark said. “Our reach also extends in a variety of ways to the 640,000 practicing social workers in the U.S. and its territories.”

U.S. Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-N.Y., a social worker who introduced the Social Work Reinvestment Act to the 111th Congress, sent a letter in March to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Obama, urging the establishment of a reinvestment commission within HHS.

“Social workers are a key resource for the nation’s most vulnerable populations including older adults, children, the impoverished, veterans and people at risk for disparate health and behavioral health service access,” Towns stated in his letter. He pointed out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the current social work workforce is not sufficient for the increasing demand for services, and by 2016, an additional 130,000 social workers will be needed.

Towns pointed out that the federal government has previously invested in comparable professions, such as nursing and teaching, when they were faced with workforce shortages.

“We now must focus on social work by establishing this commission, which will help to ensure that America’s social workers can continue to serve individuals, families and communities with expertise and care,” he wrote.

NASW has also been working with House and Senate members on language placing the social work reinvestment commission in the fiscal year 2011 Labor, Health and Human Service appropriations bills.

In another development, NASW’s Clark and staff met with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in March to discuss his support of the profession’s reinvestment efforts.

Clark said Lewis told her he was a friend of Whitney Young Jr. and worked alongside him in the Civil Rights movement until Young’s death in 1971. She said Lewis was enthusiastic about supporting the reinvestment effort.

“This legislation is a testament to Mr. Young’s legacy, as well as, the indelible work of Dr. Height,” Clark said.

To learn more, visit: the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative.