— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff
The NASW Foundation presented the 2007 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award to William C. Bell, president and chief executive officer of Casey Family Programs, at a ceremony and celebration in Seattle in April.
NASW Foundation President Elizabeth J. Clark and William C. Bell (Photo: Jennifer Watt)
The award is presented to an individual, group or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of social work with the aim of increasing public awareness and recognition of the value the profession.
"For more than 25 years, William Bell has been a tireless advocate for the welfare of children and an exemplary representative of social work values," said NASW Executive Director and NASW Foundation President Elizabeth J. Clark.
"His work has taken him from acting as a practitioner on the front line to providing management expertise to systems, and he is now leading the largest national operating foundation that is focused on providing, improving and ultimately preventing the need for foster care," Clark said.
Bell is one of America's leading experts in the foster care and child welfare community. He has served as president and CEO of Casey Family Programs since 2006. With his leadership, Casey Family Programs has initiated a long-term strategy, known as 2020. The 2020 strategy requires a comprehensive change in the foster care and child welfare systems and is aimed at safely reducing the number of children who come into foster care by 50 percent by the year 2020. The primary goal of this initiative is to ensure that every child has a safe, permanent family.
Before joining Casey Family Programs, Bell served as commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services in New York City, where he managed child protection, foster care, child abuse prevention, day care, Head Start, child support enforcement, financial services and legal services. He was responsible for a staff of more than 7,500 employees and a budget of approximately $2.4 billion.
Clark, NASW Foundation Assistant Director Jennifer Watt and NASW Communications Director Gail Woods Waller traveled to Seattle to present the award and meet with NASW Washington Chapter representatives, leaders at schools of social work and other social workers in the region.
"It was a great opportunity for us to meet social workers who are doing such impressive work in Washington State," Watt said. "Washington State Chapter President Celeste Carey and Executive Director Hoyt Suppes did a fantastic job of connecting us with their board and with leaders of other allied social work agencies and organizations." Clark, Watt and Waller met with Edwina Uehara, dean, and Nancy Hooyman, dean emeritus and professor, of the University of Washington School of Social Work. They also met with social work staff at the Harborview Medical Center and the Swedish Cancer Institute.
The award celebration was held April 22 at the FareStart Restaurant, which offers a job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged people. The event included welcoming comments from Clark and an address from Bell. It also featured a screening of the NASW Foundation's National Social Work Public Education Campaign video "On Any Given Day," which explores the breadth of social work practice and features Bell among the social workers profiled.
"As his work has taken him from direct service among New York City's most vulnerable children, to management of direct service organizations, to leadership at the national policy level, he has continued to use and value his social work skills and to champion the needs of professional social workers," Clark said in presenting Bell with the award.
In his remarks, Bell said that "what we are calling for in this society, in this world, is a group of people who will accept what I think is a great calling — a calling that says we must move to a place where every society can accept full responsibility for every one of its citizen, irrespective of that citizen's economic status, irrespective of that citizen's starting point in the world, irrespective of their family lineage.
"We must all accept what so many great people before us have said, and that is that we are connected to each other in a way that can never be broken no matter how much we may seek to deny it through our political platforms, no matter how much we may seek to deny it through funding cuts and diminishment of support for social work and those who are in the human services field," Bell said.
Retired clinical social worker Rhoda G. Sarnat and her spouse Bernard Sarnat established an endowment fund for the monetary prize in 1996. This year's award panel included Suzanne Dworak-Peck, Anne A. Abbott, Manuel Fimbres and Ronaele Whittington.