2010 Congress: Call to Mentorship

Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHIn April, the second Congress of Social Work will be held in Washington, D.C. Convened and supported by 12 social work organizations, this invitation-only meeting will bring together 400 leaders in the social work profession. At the first congress in 2005, the participants focused on determining imperatives for addressing social issues and for setting goals for the profession in relation to health and mental health care, aging and child welfare. These imperatives can be reviewed at 2010 Social Work World Congress.

This year’s congress, however, will have a different focus. It will look at issues facing the social work profession itself. We will begin with a “diagnostic statement” drafted by the congress planning team. Then several relevant themes will be explored in more depth and, once again, imperatives will be selected by group vote.

One of the major areas of concern that will be addressed at the congress is transition of leadership. In 2005, the first national study of social workers found several factors closely related to the future of the profession. One was that the social work workforce is older than the civilian population. A second factor was that a rather large cohort of experienced social workers were planning to retire in the next several years. This includes many clinical supervisors, agency directors, educators and recognized leaders in the field. As a profession, we need to be certain that we have prepared the next generation of social work leaders to step into the roles and shoes of those of us who will be retiring in the next decade.

The congress conveners have taken several critical steps in this direction. First, 30 emerging leaders under 30 years of age have been selected to be participants, and another group of accomplished social workers between 31 and 45 have been invited. This will provide an important voice and viewpoint that may have been missing from the first congress.

The second component is that a virtual congress of 400 social work students will be held in conjunction with the Social Work Congress in Washington. The students will represent all levels of education from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level. They will be geographically dispersed and will include classes from historically black colleges and universities as well as other minority serving universities. As current social work leaders, we need to know what our students envision for their future in the profession.

When I completed my master’s degree in social work, one of my social work mentors was retiring at the same time. As a graduation present, she gave me a picture titled “Emergence.” She said my entering the profession as she was leaving her professional role gave her a sense of continuity. I have always felt quite honored by her acknowledgement that perhaps I “could fill her shoes.” As we current leaders plan for the future, I hope each of us will be as graciously able to transition our roles.

March is National Social Work Month. During the month, please take a moment or two to look for emerging social work leaders in your agencies and outstanding students in your universities, and then make a commitment to mentor and support them as they grow professionally. It’s up to each of us to be certain the social work legacy of community leadership and professional expertise continues.