Social workers, NASW well represented at event

National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence

ice President Joe BidenVice President Joe Biden (photo right), gives the keynote address at the National Health and Domestic Violence Conference in March in Washington, D.C. The conference is a program of Futures Without Violence’s National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence. NASW serves on the steering committee.

Twenty years ago, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden — then a senator — was told he’d be breaking up families by introducing the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed into law in 1994.

At that time, most people refused to intervene in domestic violence situations; it was called a family affair, he said.

“Now it’s worthwhile taking a look back to see how far we’ve come,” Biden said during his keynote address at the 7th biennial National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence, held in March in Washington, D.C.

“All of you in this room who are doctors, nurses, researchers, social workers … the fact that we’re talking today about domestic violence as a public health epidemic is because of you … ,” he said. “We’ve come such a long way in our fight.”

More than 1,100 people from across the U.S. and internationally attended the conference and represented a variety of professional areas, including academic, medical, social work and research.

The conference is a program of Futures Without Violence’s National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and NASW serves on the conference steering committee.

NASW Senior Policy Associate Rita Webb said social workers, and NASW members, were well represented as speakers and attendees at the conference, and the multidisciplinary effort brought out the best results for conference-goers to understand the impact domestic violence can have.

“I was so pleased to represent NASW on the 2015 National Conference Steering Committee,” Webb said. “The conference’s success went beyond expectations.”

The event was a great reminder that domestic violence affects people’s safety, said Marylouise Kelley, director of the Family Violence Prevention and Services program in the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She added that since domestic violence is so widespread, every social worker will encounter it in their practice.

“Violence is everywhere,” Kelley said. “Social workers need to have the skills to respond to domestic violence and prevent it no matter where they work.”

Virginia Duplessis and Rita WebbVirginia Duplessis (photo right), left, the program manager for health at Futures Without Violence, talks with Rita Webb, a senior policy associate at NASW who is on the steering committee for the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence. The conference, a program of Futures Without Violence, was held in March in Washington, D.C. Webb said social workers and NASW were well represented at the event, both as attendees and presenters.

The purpose of the conference — especially for social workers — was to really look at domestic violence as a health disparity issue, said social worker Virginia Duplessis, the program manager for health at Futures Without Violence.

“In our everyday work we have an opportunity to respond to intimate and partner violence — no matter what our settings are — and talk about healthy and safe relationships, (and) help connect victims and survivors to services,” Duplessis said. “Especially for social workers, those working in direct practice have long-term, trusting relationships with clients. They have that opportunity to make those referrals for support.”

Rebecca Cline, an NASW member and former executive director of the NASW Ohio Chapter, said the conference covered many areas, from reproductive coercion and birth control sabotage to sexual assault on college campuses. She gave a presentation called “Riding Tandem on Our Pathway to Prevention,” which is a collaborative effort to prevent and end sexual and intimate partner violence at the Ohio state level.

“Part of our work at the state level is to figure out how we can create better collaborative systems to work across the multiple issues of violence and the other issues that impact violence — like drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues,” she said. “As social workers we also need to be politically active and help legislators in terms of economic policies and the distribution of resources that help everyone.”

Tricia Bent-Goodley, chairwoman of the NASW National Committee on Women’s Issues and professor of social work at the Howard University School of Social Work in Washington, D.C., gave a presentation at the conference on how universities can organize to develop campus sexual-assault programs that are trauma- and culturally informed. She said social workers do a lot in the effort to respond to domestic violence in their local communities — some in their paid employment and others through volunteer service. But, she said, there is still a lot to do to address domestic violence and its vast health implications in society.

“While we have made progress, we cannot rest,” Bent-Goodley said. “There is much more to be done, and social workers can and must continue to play a key role in developing new health and mental health interventions that are culturally and trauma- informed.”

Futures Without Violence works to prevent and end violence against women and children around the world.

By the Numbers:

  • Of the 72 conference workshops, about 76 percent included social workers as presenters.
  • Of the 14 preconference institutes, nearly 50 percent included social workers as faculty.
  • Two of the four plenary sessions included social workers as speakers.
  • Of the approximately 1,000 registered conference attendees, more than 10 percent identified as social workers.