Profession must remain part of the solution

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWAm I part of the solution?

This is a question I have frequently asked myself during the past three months, watching the world around me taking on (or not addressing) the complex and demanding social issues of the day.

Some issues more directly impact our profession — workforce safety following the murder of a veteran social worker in Vermont, or equitably financing social work services in health and mental health care, for example.

Other issues span professional boundaries and include other disciplines or approaches to achieving human and social well-being, such as combat and refugee assistance or natural disaster response.

Regardless of the event, I have increasingly wondered how social work is, broadly, and I am, specifically, being part of the solutions to these issues.

Given the enormity of the challenges many people face around the globe, it is inconceivable that any one person or profession could resolve them all.

However, it is crucial for me to ask myself, “Am I being part of a solution and not a passive bystander or, worse yet, part of the problem?”

In my NASW role, I receive communications from members and social work colleagues from across the country and from many different nations. It is clear that social workers are thinking deeply about a wide range of issues.

More importantly, many of us are not just concerned about the issues but are actively mobilizing and engaging people to bring about meaningful and sustainable changes.

Social workers are everywhere, providing needed professional services in communities, with individuals and in policy arenas.

Despite these outstanding efforts, I still find myself asking what more can we do (and I do) to increase understanding of the essentiality of social work interventions and practices?

We must ask ourselves, “How are we collectively demonstrating to the world that without social work something essential is missing in society?”

I believe this is a defining question for the social work profession in these fiscally austere, social media-inundated, globally intertwined times.

Our association, comprised of more than 130,000 members in 55 chapters, is working diligently to build on a strong legacy that positions social work for the future.

For example, the work being done in NASW’s professional practice and public policy areas helps raise awareness and gain support among key stakeholders. Part of this is the work our chapters are doing to champion social work in the states and jurisdictions they represent. Our chapters are the arms, legs and heart of the association.

Through the process of modernization, chapter and national staff have an important opportunity to work together to further advance the mission of the profession while showcasing social work excellence.

It is my hope that the actions we take now will set the tone for the thousands of social workers who are coming behind us.

If we do this right, the next generation of social workers will look favorably on our actions and say “Yes, I am a proud social worker, following the tradition and spirit of those who challenged the profession not only to be strong and to remain relevant in changing times, but also to be part of solutions that change society.”

Contact Darrell Wheeler at