Focus in 2015 is on priorities that affect all

EDarrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWvery January I conduct my own “year in review” to assess and analyze my options, decisions and actions from the previous 12 months.

Aided by objective hindsight, I am critical of my strengths and limitations, and then use the information to develop a new road map for the current year. It is both a refreshing and illuminating process, and I’m sure many of you conduct a similar assessment.

Since beginning my term as NASW president in July, I have had the pleasure of hearing from hundreds of social work colleagues across the nation about key challenges facing the profession and our association.

Some of these observations will undoubtedly influence NASW’s agenda this year, so I would like to share a few reflections with you.

Inequality and Violence

Recent social unrest regarding jury decisions and police engagement with black men in the U.S. dominated many social work and social media communication channels in 2014. The blatant disrespect and devaluation of the lives of unarmed citizens at the hands of law enforcement, and the resulting acquittals, exacerbated already tenuous relations in many communities. Then we witnessed the equally senseless murder of police officers in New York City.

Social workers at many levels are promoting community campaigns to address the underlying social, political and emotional conditions that create environments susceptible to extreme violence.

We must mobilize our expertise, not merely to address crisis events but also to seek more lasting remedies to highly racialized and politically charged interactions in the communities we serve.

Health Care and Disease

Last year, global events such as the Ebola epidemic created widespread panic. The disease, which has ravaged several African countries, was also introduced to American shores. Despite fears, stories of families, communities and nations being decimated by this contemporary plague resulted in the mobilization of health and human service experts across the globe. In the United States, our social work colleagues joined forces with health and public health officials to provide needed services and education to families most affected by the outbreak.

The crisis also shined a spotlight on the chasm of health care in the U.S. and abroad. As expected, we saw the best services mobilized in some places, for certain individuals. But the absence of care meant certain death for many others.

The uneasy tension of a society grappling with the concepts of “health care for all” or “health care for the deserving” reared its ugly head once again. Social inequality in our health care system undermines the future for us all.

Politics and Money

Our political environment dominated much of the latter part of 2014 as we completed another midterm election cycle.

During a portion of this past fall, I found myself traveling to several states with contentious elections. What struck me most was the consistency in the negativity, blame-focused political attacks and rhetoric across jurisdictions, and the near absence of creative solutions.

In many of these campaigns the power of the dollar — manifest in media campaigns, special interest lobbying, and political rancor — drowned out any voices seeking true democratic and respectful debates. Based on communications I received from members, it appears that 2015 is shaping up to be another year of policy embargoes and political dueling. Many of you have called for NASW chapters and the national office to promote a different approach. Our colleagues in the Congressional Social Work Caucus certainly need our collective support to advance social work values and elevate social justice issues.

NASW members have many different perspectives. And different experiences shape our individual views on complex issues. However, our strength as one profession lies in our ability to focus on priorities that affect us all.

As we engage the many important issues facing us this year, let me reaffirm my commitment to working in an open, transparent and inclusive way to assure that all matters from policy and practice to modernization are shared with you in timely and efficient ways.

History has shown that when social workers work together, society benefits the most.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at