LDF exemplifies advocacy

Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD,  ACSW, MPHAdvocacy is the cornerstone of social work. We do not merely wish for positive social change; we work for it. One of the core programs of NASW that exemplifies this activist philosophy is the NASW Legal Defense Fund.

LDF has a threefold mission: aiding NASW members with legal cases of importance to the profession; advancing social work in the courts while supporting cases that uphold social work values; and providing legal resources to NASW members.

The Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1972, in an era when social workers were under attack in their work and in society. NASW leaders wanted to have a viable system of financial support for members who experienced legal challenges. Job loss, elimination of social work departments, ethical challenges and discrimination in the workplace were some of the issues facing the profession and distressing NASW members.

LDF was created as a separate trust fund, managed by an NASW member board of trustees. In order to build the trust fund needed to finance the LDF program, the NASW board authorized a member contribution program through the dues renewal form. That checkoff of $5 is still the main source of LDF revenue. From my perspective, that $5 donation provides a hundredfold return to NASW members.

First, there is the availability of financial aid to assist with legal expenses related to social work practice issues. In its 40 years, the LDF has awarded more than $375,000 to members and NASW chapters. Having LDF as a financial resource and, sometimes, as a source of moral support, is important.

If you review LDF’s last annual report, you’ll see that a member in Maine received $5,000 in financial assistance to defray his legal costs in an employment discrimination complaint involving accommodations for a disability. Also, an Illinois member’s application was approved to receive $2,500 when she incurred legal expenses related to a report she filed on behalf of a client. And, the Kansas and Montana chapters received $2,000 and $1,500 respectively to address legislative and regulatory issues. This is a small sample of LDF awards.

Second, LDF carries out the advocacy commitment of NASW in the courts. The goal of LDF has been to ensure that a social work perspective guided by NASW policy statements found in “Social Work Speaks” is represented in precedent-setting appellate cases. We have all seen how change in social policy can be accomplished by the issuance of a precedent-setting court decision.

A recent example is the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a case in which NASW was represented on two amicus briefs. It is noteworthy that NASW briefs have been cited in several key opinions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court and several state courts. The LDF Amicus Brief Bank now contains more than 300 amicus curiae briefs filed by NASW or on behalf of NASW.

Third — and of use to all NASW members — legal staff are available for scheduled telephone consultations about information and resources. In order to assist members with legal issues common to social work practice, the LDF provides publications including the “Legal Issue of the Month,” which succinctly addresses current legal topics. The LDF “Law Notes” series addresses legal and ethical issues in more depth, including topics such as “Client Confidentiality and Privileged Communication,” “Social Workers as Expert Witnesses,” and the “Legal Rights of Children.”

There is more — a full array of LDF programs, products and benefits.

I hope each of you will join me in acknowledging the 40 years of LDF accomplishments with a special contribution of $40.00. Donations can be made online through [old webiste], by phone: 800-742-4089, or by check to: NASW Legal Defense Fund, 750 First Street, NE, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20002.