— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff
NASW has recently taken several significant steps in efforts to bolster the public's understanding of the profession through increased involvement with the entertainment industry and by leveraging the considerable communications resources of schools of social work to inform national media outreach.
These efforts also tie into the 2009 National Professional Social Work Month, held in March, which focuses on the theme "Purpose and Possibility" [see related story in this issue].
In one significant move, the NASW Communications Network has been incorporated as part of the NASW Foundation , a development that will allow the association's National Social Work Public Education Campaign to become a permanent entity.
The NASW Communications Network (NCN) was founded by past NASW President Suzanne Dworak-Peck to work with the media and entertainment industries to improve the public image of social work. It has been based in California, where Dworak-Peck lives.
NCN was designed to help producers and writers understand what social workers do and to ensure that social work issues are portrayed accurately in the entertainment media. NCN has advised media in television, print and radio and has worked with Hollywood personalities and celebrities. Dworak-Peck currently serves as the chair of the Public Education Campaign Advisory Committee.
"The strategies and connections that NCN has developed over the years dovetail perfectly with the goals of our public education campaign and will help us continue this important effort." said NASW Chief Communications Officer Gail Woods Waller.
"Rebuilding the NASW Communications Network as a brand for our strategic media outreach efforts will help us raise social work visibility among influencers in the creative community, as well as in the news media." Waller added.
Entertainment industry outreach
NASW recently participated in a number of meetings that will help promote and improve the public's understanding of social work through the entertainment industry.
Among NASW's efforts is to sponsor national forums through the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC). The forums bring together non-profit issue experts, stakeholders, and policymakers with television writers and producers working on stories that intersect with these issues. Following each forum, a document is produced that summarizes the information from the event and is distributed to hundreds of media representatives.
"These forums help us develop relationships in which we link with creative people and actively recognize their role as educators and entertainers," Waller explained. "It also allows these professionals to build connections with knowledge experts, including social workers."
Waller said that while NASW has participated in EIC forums before, the association is now taking the lead as a forum sponsor to ensure that social work expertise is promoted and available to the entertainment industry.
In addition to the EIC events, NASW also participated in a forum on "Hollywood and Health: Health Content in Popular Television," held in Washington, D.C., in September. The event, sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, explored the way content in popular prime time television programs has an impact on the health messages viewers receive.
At the event, NASW staff connected with Hollywood, Health and Society, a program of the University of Southern California's Annenberg Norman Lear Center, which provides content experts to shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order: SVU, among others. The program works to leverage the power of the entertainment industry to improve the health of individuals and communities.
NASW will also continue to serve as a national partner for the PRISM Awards, presented by EIC, and the VOICE Awards, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Both awards programs recognize the accurate depiction of mental health, drug, alcohol and tobacco use and addictions in film, television, and interactive entertainment.
"USC's Hollywood, Health and Society program in partnership with the Kaiser Foundation has produced valuable research on what kinds of entertainment people are watching, and how public attitudes and health behavior can be influenced by it," Waller said.
NASW is also a supporting organization of Divided We Fail, a coalition working to find bi-partisan solutions to ensure affordable, quality health care and long-term financial security for everyone. Divided We Fail has partnered with the Hollywood Radio and Television Society to bring together entertainment industry leaders to encourage them to use their influence to keep the national debate on the health care crisis moving forward.
Consortium of schools
NASW's public education campaign will also be strengthened through a consortium of schools of social work, drawing on the collective communications and marketing expertise of schools to collaborate on resources and tools for stakeholders in the profession.
"This is a win-win partnership. Many schools of social work have incredible resources for communications and outreach, and NASW can help them reach a national audience regarding their important programs and research. We can tap their expertise and strengths to help boost awareness and recruitment efforts for the profession," said NASW Foundation Assistant Director Jennifer Watt. "Working with these schools can be an enormous benefit for the public education campaign."
"NASW members and social workers understand the breadth and accomplishments of the profession," Waller said. "And through our public education campaign, we have been working for several years to strengthen the image of social workers among the general public."
"Bringing NCN into NASW and taking a leadership role in ensuring that the entertainment industry presents social work accurately in a way that reflects its strengths and enormous contributions will help us reach our broader public education goals," Waller said.