A resilient profession

Elizabeth J. Clark,  PhD, ACSW, MPHEach year for Social Work Month, NASW creates a theme that is timely and meaningful. For 2013, we wanted to focus on resiliency, an important concept for our clients, our communities and our profession. The special Social Work Month logo shows the interrelatedness of resilience and advocacy, highlighting how advocacy amplifies resilience.

When working with clients, social workers observe resiliency on a daily basis. We are often amazed at what individuals can overcome, how they can bounce back after adversities both small and large. Communities are also resilient. Whether facing a deadly and destructive hurricane or the tragedy of a school shooting of incomprehensible horror, communities work together to remain whole. Their citizens support and comfort one another, they start over, they rebuild. Likewise, our nation has endured challenges and has emerged stronger.

Social workers also are known for their resiliency and advocacy. We never give up on a person. We always believe positive change can happen. We are outstanding advocates for clients, cases, communities and issues. Social work has a rich history of advocacy for social justice causes.

From Frances Perkins, who developed the Social Security Act, to Whitney Young and Dorothy Height, who advocated for civil and women’s rights, social workers have consistently been at the forefront of ensuring that our clients and all citizens have the rights and opportunities they need to fulfill their potential.

What we are not always as good at is advocacy for ourselves. We need to become social workers for the profession. We are currently facing a host of challenges, including competing policy priorities, fiscal constraints, significant educational debt, comparatively insufficient salaries, increased administrative burdens, and unsupportive work environments. These challenges must be addressed or the millions of Americans requiring and receiving social work services may face compromised care.

NASW launched the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative in 2007 to begin to address these professional issues. This important workforce initiative seeks to secure federal and state investments in social work so that we can continue to enhance societal well-being. Each NASW chapter has developed a state-level reinvestment plan, focusing on areas such as loan forgiveness, licensure and title protection.

At the national level we’ve supported federal legislation aimed at addressing social work safety, training and research. We’ve also focused many of our efforts on the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, which is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to address the workforce challenges facing our profession.

Additionally, we’ve been pleased to partner with recently retired Congressman Edolphus Towns as he founded the Congressional Social Work Caucus. The caucus represents the interests of more than 650,000 professional social workers nationwide and serves as a congressionally approved bipartisan group of members of Congress dedicated to maintaining and strengthening social work services in the United States.

Through Capitol Hill briefings and events, the caucus educates national legislators and their staffs about issues of importance to the social work profession and the clients social workers serve.

We are excited that Rep. Barbara Lee from California will now lead the caucus. Lee has been a consistent progressive voice in Congress, dedicated to social and economic justice, international peace and civil and human rights. She has noted that as a social worker by profession, one of her top priorities has been advocating for people in dealing with the federal bureaucracy.

We invite you to join NASW and Lee as an advocate — not only for your clients, but also for your profession. If you do only one thing this month to recognize the legacy of social work, please sign on to our advocacy Listserv.

We already have more than 80,000 social workers and allied stakeholders on this advocacy network, and we hope you will add your voice as we work together to strengthen efforts to bring about positive social change and to assure the future of the social work profession.

Happy Social Work Month to you all.