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Creator of Erin’s Law, Erin Merryn Recipient of NASW Foundation’s Knee-Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award

Erin Merryn

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) has announced social worker Erin Merryn, MSW, as the recipient of its Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award for her nationally known work in preventing childhood sexual abuse.

“The NASW Foundation is proud to bestow this honor upon Erin Merryn,” NASWF Director Robert Carter Arnold said. “Ms. Merryn’s tireless efforts have been instrumental in trying to have all public schools in our nation implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program.”

The Knee/Wittman Award Program was established in 1990 to recognize those who represent the values, ethics, and approaches exemplified by two dedicated social work pioneers, Ruth Knee (1920-2008) and Milton Wittman (1915-1994).   The Outstanding Achievement Award recognizes an individual or group that has made a significant impact on national health and/or mental health public policy, professional standards, or exemplary program models.  The contribution may be in the development, interpretation, implementation, institutionalization, or expansion of health or mental health policy or legislation.

Merryn has long advocated for states to enact Erin’s Law, which requires public schools to implement a prevention-oriented program that ensures every child in kindergarten through twelfth grade receives sexual abuse prevention education. Curriculum topics include:

•           Differences between safe and unsafe touching.

•           Safe and unsafe secrets.

•           Identifying safe adults; and

•           Empowering kids to speak up and tell.


A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Erin has worked diligently to lobby every state to pass Erin’s Law, beginning with her home state of Illinois in 2009. The law has now passed in 37 states. In December 2015, President Obama signed the federal version of Erin's Law providing federal funding toschools to provide this education. Erin has traveled across the nation to testify before legislators in support of the law.

Erin's Law has been credited with encouraging hundreds of children to tell authorities about possible sexual abuse. A Maryland teacher was sentenced to 48 years in prison after a 12-year-old disclosed her abuse during an Erin's Law presentation and an Illinois man was convicted and given 42 years after a 9-year-old disclosed her abuse right after a presentation. Current and specific information can be found in the news section of

Merryn earned her bachelor’s in social work from Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, and her master’s degree in social work from Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois. Merryn is also the author of “Stolen Innocence,” “Living For Today,” and “An Unimaginable Act.” She serves on the board of directors for Children's Advocacy Centers of Illinois and has appeared on “Oprah,” “Today,” “Good Morning America,” CNN, HLN, MSNBC, and other channels. She has also been featured in hundreds of publications including, The New York Times, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, and Time Magazine. Glamour Magazine named her Glamour Woman of the Year 2012 for her efforts with Erin's Law.

She was recognized in People Magazine as one of the HEROS AMONG US in 2011, and one of 15 women changing the world in 2013 along-side Oprah and Hillary Clinton.

“Ms. Merryn has dedicated her life to making sure children are armed with enough information to protect themselves and have the confidence necessary to expose their abusers,” Arnold said. “Her commitment and dedication are evident in her caring and personable manner and her impressive body of work. And at just 35, she remains an inspiration to future generations of social workers.”

Visit the Knee-Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award for more information.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) is a charitable organization created to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through the advancement of social work practice.