Celebrating Reinvestment

From the Director

Each March, we celebrate Social Work Month. We develop a unifying theme for two purposes. We use it to help the public better understand the contributions that social workers make to our society, and we use it to celebrate our profession, our workplaces and our social work colleagues.

The Social Work Month theme for 2008 is "Building on Strengths." It is drawn from a major tenet of social work practice — that we assess and begin with our clients' strengths and build on those to help clients achieve their goals.

In this column, I want to celebrate three social work luminaries and describe how we are building on their strengths to further advance the profession.

Dr. Dorothy I. Height is a social work pioneer. Her work on behalf of civil rights spans more than three-quarters of a century. Perhaps she is best known as chair and president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she now holds in emerita status. She was on the dais with Dr. Martin Luther King when he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In 2004, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her lifetime of working to eliminate discrimination and disparities.

At 94, she is an amazing woman and outstanding role model for all of us who care about others. I have had several opportunities to meet with Dr. Height, and it is a humbling experience to be in her presence.

Whitney Young, Jr., is also a social work pioneer. His name is most often mentioned in conjunction with the National Urban League, where he held the position of president until his untimely death while on a visit to Nigeria in 1971. What many people don't realize is that he was also president of NASW at that time and had been leading the association's efforts to combat the ills of racism and poverty in America.

Young earned his MSW in group work at the University of Minnesota. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Johnson in 1969 for his commitment to civil rights. He was an adviser on race relations to presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

Dr. Height and the family of Whitney Young have graciously agreed to lend their names to an important piece of federal legislation on behalf of social workers.

The "Dorothy I. Height-Whitney Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act" was introduced in Congress on Feb. 14 by Rep. Edolphus (Ed) Towns (D-N.Y.), another social worker lending his support to bolster the profession. Coverage will appear in the April NASW News.

Rep. Towns has long been a champion of social work issues and the causes important to us. Last year, during Social Work Month, he read into the Congressional Record a wonderful statement honoring our profession. He noted, "This month provides us an opportunity to highlight the essential role that social workers play in alleviating some of America's most difficult problems. . . . Social workers make a great contribution to the improvement of the quality of life for so many people in this country."

The goal of the "Dorothy I. Height-Whitney Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act" is to get the federal government to reinvest in the social work profession and its future by addressing challenges such as high educational debt, low salaries, lack of post-doctoral fellowships, social work safety and the need for reciprocity of state licensing laws.

It includes a Social Work Reinvestment Commission to provide independent advice and counsel to Congress on issues associated with recruitment, retention, research and reinvestment in the profession of social work. It also includes demonstration programs to address the need for workplace improvements as well as demonstrations of community-based programs of excellence.

Finally, it expands Social Work Month by urging the president to recognize National Social Work Awareness Month.

We are grateful to Dr. Height, the Whitney Young family and Rep. Towns for their support and assistance in this essential matter.

Getting the bill introduced is a huge accomplishment, one that deserves great celebration. But it will take all of our efforts to get the legislation passed so that we can assure the future of social work. We welcome your involvement.

Happy Social Work Month.