Time to Reassert Our Critical Role

James J. Kelly, Ph.D., ACSW, LCSWFrom the President

Yes we can. No matter what one's political leanings are, most Americans would agree that we have witnessed one of the most historic elections in our nation. I think we can also agree that our country is facing an overwhelming number of challenges that will test our national character and perhaps push us to choose less wasteful lifestyles - for today and into the future.

I can't help thinking that the economic downturn, as painful as it is, can actually help more of us focus on what really matters. For social workers, that means focusing on vulnerable people. Amidst all the important and exciting talk of what is possible with a new presidential administration, social workers know that people are valuable and that the well-being of every person - from children to elders - is worthy of investment.

This issue of the News includes an article about the NASW transition documents sent to the Obama administration, including specific policy recommendations that affect social workers and their clients. These documents directly support some of the most visible 2008 campaign promises and provide complementary views of other less-promoted goals. Our recommendations, representing core social work values, put people first and encourage the new president's administration to do the same.

In addition to the NASW transition recommendations, we are aware of several accomplished social workers who have served on Obama transition teams; who have been appointed to critical government posts; and who are being consulted or considered for various special task forces. This is the time for the social work profession to reassert its critical role in championing the needs of those hurting the most in our society. We are very proud of our colleagues who are helping shape positive changes for the United States.

For those of us who have lived through more than a few presidencies, we know just how important the intersection of the government sector, corporate sector and social sector truly is. While the world is understandably fixated on the choices being made right now in American government (executive, legislative and judicial branches), we cannot forget how important the changes and successes in our country's businesses and non-profit organizations will be toward contributing to a healthy nation. Given the social work profession's leadership in the social sector, in particular, we are hopeful that social work voices will influence many different halls of power in the coming weeks.

Next month, members of the NASW executive team and leaders of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) will co-present a new leadership curriculum guide at the BPD conference based on the life and accomplishments of NASW past president and head of the National Urban League, Whitney M. Young Jr. By spring, this curriculum guide will be accompanied by an independent film produced by Mr. Young's niece, journalist Bonnie Boswell, which will help students better understand connections between government, business and community organizations - and to learn how to leverage power in each area for the benefit of those served by the social work profession. It's our privilege at NASW to be part of this extraordinary effort.

Among many things, the 2008 elections offer our profession an unprecedented time to lead, mobilize, and help shape the way "business" gets done at all civic levels to improve human lives. It's our time.