Conference aims to reinforce social work policy practice

Passing the Torch was the theme of the Policy 2.0 conference in May, where about 90 attendees — including former NASW President Nancy Humphreys and NASW member Linda Plitt-Donaldson — participated in presentations, workshops and roundtables.

Co-sponsored by NASW, the conference was a revival of the original Policy Conference held annually between 1998 and 2005, said Sunny Harris Rome, a professor in the Department of Social Work at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a member of the Policy 2.0 organizing committee.

“The purpose of Policy 2.0 was to bring together social work faculty, students and practitioners with a passion for policy so they could share their research knowledge, experience and practice wisdom in order to really bolster the social work policy community and get policy practice into the spotlight,” Rome said.

Humphreys, who was on the Pioneers Panel at the conference, said there are four clear social work practice methods that came on the scene as early as the 1920s. They are social work case/clinical work; group work; community organization; and administration. She said the Pioneers Panel spoke to advance the idea of making policy practice the fifth method.

“One of the things I want to do is develop a scholarly rationale for the position,” Humphreys said. “In order to make that case, I have to show that all social workers have an obligation to vote, know what candidates stand for and vote for candidates supporting social work positions.”

Plitt-Donaldson, associate professor in the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., presented a session at the conference called “What Does Survey Research Have to Tell Us About Social Work Policy Practice in the United States?”

She said in order to address human suffering, it’s important to get to the root causes. As a profession, to end suffering and help the people they serve, social workers have to get involved in policy conversations and work hard to get a seat at the table where legislative decisions are made.

“If we don’t have the social policies in place that address the injustices of our society, we will never be able to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized,” Plitt-Donaldson said.

She added that it can help NASW members and other social workers to see themselves as actors in the policy community if they know there is an independent conference, like Policy 2.0, that is focused on strengthening and building knowledge for social workers who care about policy practice.

“This meeting was important to generate awareness that policy practice is in and of itself an important practice area of the profession,” she said.

The conference was held in Austin, Texas, and Rome said another one will take place next year. The theme will be “Social Work as Action: Confronting Injustice.”

“Policies generally are the laws and regulations that create the climate in which people live and in which social workers practice,” Rome said. “It’s an important area because part of social workers’ responsibilities is to advocate for policies that will improve society and clients lives.”

Policy 2.0 was also supported by the George Mason University Department of Social Work; the University of Tennessee College of Social Work; the St. Edwards School of Behavioral and Social Sciences; the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work; the Indiana University School of Social Work; and Influencing State Policy.