First Virtual Delegate Assembly Gathers

Paula Foster, Susan Gray, Bo Walker, Karen Franklin, and Vicki WilliamsClockwise from left: Tennessee delegates Paula Foster, Susan Gray, Bo Walker, chapter Executive Director Karen Franklin, and Vicki Williams participated in the Virtual Delegate Assembly. (Photo: Tennessee Chapter)

NASW's 23rd Delegate Assembly took a milestone step with members conducting business in an electronic virtual meeting for the first time.

Instead of having participants meet in Washington, D.C., the NASW Board of Directors approved a decision to have the association conduct a Virtual Delegate Assembly Aug. 8 and 9. Delegates were able to communicate with one another, vote and follow the requirements of parliamentary procedure using the telephone and an interactive Web site in real time. CommPartners, based in Elkridge, Md., provided the technology and assisted NASW in hosting the event at the national office.

NASW leaders have convened every two to three years since 1955 to review social work positions on a range of public policy issues as well as to assess and refine the parameters of the association's mandate, said NASW President James Kelly during his opening address.

He explained that advancements in technology allowed the NASW Board of Directors to utilize a cost-effective manner for this year's event. "We have an opportunity to show our members who elected us, and who continue to support the profession with their dues and volunteer time, that using technology to conserve natural resources, build our communities across borders and reduce association costs, is responsible association management," he said.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said the downturn in the financial market, along with the fuel crisis and escalating airfare and lodging costs, were among the reasons the Board of Directors chose an alternative method for this year's event.

"Whenever you do something as large and new as this for the first time, there are bound to be challenges," said Clark, who served as secretary of the Virtual Delegate Assembly. "With the help of our technical support, we were able to reach our core purposes."

Clark said the event marked a major advancement for the profession. "This is, as far as we know, the first time a virtual meeting using parliamentary procedure has ever been conducted on such a large scale," she said. "I think this shows that social workers are ahead of the curve in terms of technology. We intend to join CommPartners to write a paper on the experience because as technology advances, we expect to do more meetings in a virtual environment."

Richard Finstein, president of CommPartners, said he appreciated the opportunity to provide technology and support for NASW's initial Virtual Delegate Assembly. "Our work required us to create an online program that matched the parliamentary process that occurs at on-site assemblies, provide a facility for social networking and informal discussion, and manage the proceedings through our skilled event team," he said. "We learned a great deal through the experience and look forward to applying our knowledge to future programs with similar requirements."

Gary BaileyGary Bailey, former NASW president, presided at NASW's first Virtual Delegate Assembly at the association's national office.

Two NASW leaders who had previously presided at past Delegate Assemblies once again volunteered to act as presiding officers at this year's event. Gary Bailey, former NASW president and chair of the NASW Public Education Campaign, presided on Aug. 8, while Roseann Martinez, former secretary for the NASW Board of Directors, presided on Aug. 9. Bailey said this was his eighth Delegate Assembly. "It was thrilling to be part of a new way of hosting Delegate Assembly," he said, adding that using the new format became more comfortable as time progressed. "I think it's apparent that this will be the way of the future. There are lessons to be learned, but it's a very innovative and productive way to do business." Martinez said it was exciting to be part of organization that was conducting business on the cutting edge of technology. "Who knows how much we lowered our carbon footprint by doing it this way," she said.

Policy statements

Part of the work for this year's Virtual Delegate Assembly was expedited by using the NASW Web site in advance of the virtual meeting. Delegates were able to review and revise 23 NASW policy statements over several months prior to the event. The policy statements are guides for the association when considering stances on certain issues and for practitioners to address their concerns. They are compiled and published in Social Work Speaks.

The policy statements covered the topics of: adolescent pregnancy and parenting; aging and wellness; civil liberties and justice; deprofessionalization and reclassification; drug testing in the workplace; environmental policy; family planning and reproductive choice; family policy; genetics; health care; HIV and AIDS; housing; immigrants and refugees; international policy on human rights; language and cultural diversity in the United States; people with disabilities; poverty and economic justice; professional impairment; prostituted people, commercial sex work and social work practice; social work in the criminal justice system; technology and social work; transgender and gender identity issues; and welfare reform.

Two new policy statements were also approved at the Virtual Delegate Assembly. The first focused on slavery and human trafficking. In part, the policy reads: "NASW supports public awareness and advocacy for legislative and administrative change to end human trafficking and slavery in the U.S. and around the world, and supports public education efforts which ensure that this perspective has a strong presence in the media and legislatures."

The second policy focuses on professional self-care and social work. In part, it reads, "In light of recent and significant research indicating that social workers engaged in direct practice are likely to develop symptoms of secondary traumatic stress, it is imperative that the social work profession devotes greater attention and creates greater awareness of these issues." The delegates approved for future revision 18 of the 20 Automatically Referred Policy Statements that are eligible for revision at the 2011 Delegate Assembly. They refer to: adolescent health; capital punishment and the death penalty; community development; confidentiality and information utilization; crime victim assistance; employee assistance; family violence; foster care and adoption; hospice care; juvenile justice and delinquency prevention; mental health; parental kidnapping; peace and social justice; rural social work; school violence; social service; sovereignty and health of indigenous peoples; and voter participation. The following two were voted to be eliminated from Social Work Speaks: managed care; volunteers and social services systems.

Jeanne Harbor Porter, Steve Viehweg, Nanette Bowling, Kathy Byers and Lann ThompsonDelegates from the Indiana Chapter got into the spirit of the meeting. From left: Jeanne Harbor Porter, Steve Viehweg, Nanette Bowling, Kathy Byers and Lann Thompson.

Bylaws amendments

The delegates approved changes to the bylaws as well. The changes state: "Amendments to the bylaws shall be adopted by a vote of the Board of Directors in attendance at a regularly scheduled meeting provided that the bylaws amendment has been published and distributed to members and chapters at least 90 days prior to meeting. Bylaws amendments related to Delegate Assembly and the NASW national/chapter dues allocation shall be adopted by a majority roll call vote at the Delegate Assembly provided that the proposed amendments have been submitted pursuant to article IV.B.3."

Gender distribution

The delegates approved replacing the phrase "sex distribution" with "gender distribution" in several articles of the bylaws.

Program priority goals. The delegates approved eight program priority goals for the association. They include addressing the shortage of qualified social workers in the United States through combined efforts with allied groups in developing countries and implementing strategies for recruitment, retention and professional development. The membership goals are to increase membership in the next three years, with special attention to recruiting and retaining a more diverse membership including social workers new to the profession and social workers of color.

Also approved were two revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics. The first was to revise the four non-discrimination clauses to include gender identity or expression; the second was to revise the four non-discrimination clauses to include immigration status.

During the Virtual Delegate Assembly, the recipients of the Council of Chapter Executives annual awards were announced. The Outstanding Association Chapter Executive of the Year Award was given to Tamitha Price from the Missouri Chapter. The Gilman-Wells Award went to Johanna Byrd, director of Government Affairs and Special Projects, from the Florida Chapter.

Get more information: Delegate Assembly.