Program links social work policy practitioners, students

Reading about social welfare policy from a textbook is one way to learn, but hearing about it from the people who actually do the work is an added benefit, say social work students.

NASW, the Council on Social Work Education, the Coalition on Human Needs, and Sunny Harris Rome, a professor at the George Mason University School of Social Work, are working together to link social work policy practitioners to schools of social work so they can serve as guest lecturers via Skype or another teleconference platform in policy classes.

Jane Hoyt-OliverStudents from Jane Hoyt-Oliver’s (photo right) social welfare policy analysis class at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, recently participated in the effort. They spoke via conference call with John Horejsi, founder and coordinator of the Social Action Linking Together organization.

Based in Virginia, SALT members work to educate lawmakers and shape fair public social policies that take into consideration the needs of the poor and powerless.

Student Ken Lancaster said talking directly with a policy practitioner offered him a different perspective that he could not gain from just reading a textbook.

“You hear the live voice and the passion,” Lancaster said. “You can hear what’s really involved and what steps have to be taken – it really helps out.”

Student Lisa Burns said one of the things she learned after hearing from Horejsi was how important it is to highlight your personal experiences when promoting your cause.

Meanwhile, student Suzi Pachmayer said she was impressed by how passionate Horejsi is in his work.

“I learned that without passion, there is no action,” she said.

Hoyt-Oliver said she was glad NASW offered the opportunity to participate in the policy exchange program.

“Students don’t come into (the class) feeling empowered,” she said, adding that after hearing from Horejsi, the students learned that they each had a story to tell about what brought them into the field of social work.

“It was a terrific opportunity for them to have contact with somebody who is a social worker who shows it is both manageable and possible to effect change for the better for our clients and for the community,” Hoyt-Oliver said. “I was very thankful that NASW participated in the process. I think it is a terrific resource for the profession.”

Deborah WeinsteinDeborah Weinstein (photo right), executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, has participated in talking with social work policy classes in the Washington, D.C., area for years.

She inspired the idea to broaden the program to a national level. CHN, of which NASW is a member, is an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations.

“I feel so strongly that social workers have a tremendous role to play in showing the nation and decision-makers like Congress the value of services and benefits that people need and showing the consequences of cutting those programs,” Weinstein explained. “I wanted students to hear about ways of doing that right from the beginning. So maybe they will continue to think about that when they go to practice.”

Weinstein said social work educators can show that the solution is not only individual but also through changes in government priorities and programs. She noted that many social work students graduate into clinical practice.

“But if they can get some extra information about participation in the advocacy area, they will be better social workers and they will be able to help more people,” she said.

Dina Kastner, NASW senior field organizer, is the contact person for schools interested in joining the policy exchange program. She said NASW and its chapters are using their resources to connect social work educators with policy practitioners.

CSWE has sent letters to its member educators announcing the program. At press time, more than 90 professors and lecturers had expressed interest in the program.

To learn more, contact Dina Kastner.