Helping social workers help people

Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSWWhen I was a child, my mother always told me, “Do something with your life to help other people.” If she were alive today, she’d be so proud to know that I’m CEO of NASW, a national organization of 140,000 social workers dedicated to helping people, families and communities.

I know that each of you has your own personal story about why you chose social work as your profession.

Maybe you were raised with privilege and want others to experience their share of social, economic and political justice. Perhaps you have suffered and want to help end all forms of pain, discrimination and oppression. Perhaps you have family or friends that struggle with mental health or addictions and you know that recovery is possible. Maybe you are fascinated with the art and science of helping others achieve their dreams.

Whatever your reasons for deciding to spend your career helping other people, please know that NASW is an organization of like-minded social work professionals who share your passion and stand with you as you pursue social justice for the people and communities you serve.

When I was named NASW’s CEO, people immediately began to ask me, “What do you plan to accomplish?” My simple answer, “I want to help social workers help people,” did not satisfy my friends. They wanted something more eloquent and profound, something more dramatic. But honestly, I want to see social workers and our profession be all that we can be —all that we must be if we are to fulfill our mission and live up to our Code of Ethics.

Leading NASW seemed a natural next step for me. In my role as commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, I advocated for 2,500 social workers to achieve important goals, such as passing a social worker safety bill; reaching a historic agreement with our labor union partners to lower caseloads; expanding the career ladder for department social workers; and establishing an innovative coaching model that helped social workers increase their skills and competencies.

Despite the economic crisis, we increased wages and obtained legislative reclassification of DCF social workers as first responders. This added five years to their tenure, allowing for earlier retirement. Given these and other successes on behalf of social workers, it felt like a natural fit for me to join NASW.

Thanks to Elizabeth “Betsy” Clark, NASW has not experienced a change in our national leadership for 12 years. I join the NASW family in thanking Dr. Clark and celebrating her many accomplishments.

As we transition our organization’s national leadership, we know that we live and practice in challenging times. We know that our national economic crisis leaves huge gaps in services that must be addressed; we need all forms of social work services restored to their prerecession levels.

We know there’s a pressing need to raise social work salaries to levels that allow retention of experienced social workers and incentives for students to enter the field. We also need to refocus energy on fighting for numerous social justice issues that have been delayed.

In order to achieve these goals, we must maximize our collective voice. These times require that social workers speak clearly and loudly about our priorities and what the people and communities we serve believe is important. In the last 30 years, together we have made tremendous strides — including passing licensure legislation and obtaining third party reimbursement — but further achievements will only be secured through a strong, united professional association.

NASW vows to continue being a strong pillar for social workers in their careers. As we recover from the recession and reclaim the profession’s leadership role in society, there are exciting new opportunities for social workers in areas such as integrated behavioral health care, care management, services to military and veteran communities, social media to reach youth and young adults, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

We will leverage NASW’s chapter and national resources to pursue and advance our collective social justice mission, and I will constantly look for ways to make us stronger and more cohesive.

I know that practicing social work during tough economic challenges adds stress and pressure on social workers to meet daily job demands in the face of diminishing resources.

NASW always has been and will continue to be the one organization advocating on your behalf to improve work conditions, and working to ensure that social work excellence is recognized and celebrated in every community.

To provide feedback to NASW CEO Angelo McClain, please contact