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Social Work Leaders Adopt 10 Imperatives to Shape Professions Future

Key themes are leadership development, management skills, and educational support

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Four hundred social work leaders, ranging from age 22 to 85, met in Washington, DC, on April 22-23, 2010, to explore issues facing the 112-year-old profession of social work.  Participants debated challenges and offered solutions that included:

  • using technology to serve clients in an ethical and practical manner
  • adopting business and management practices to help sustain social services
  • improving recruitment and retention efforts with an emphasis on debt reduction
  • promoting  the unique benefits and valuable training provided by social work education
  • expanding public, government and industry influence through organizational collaboration
  • identifying the next generation of social work leaders among Gen X and Gen Y professionals 

At the conclusion of the two-day meeting, attendees voted for 10 imperatives to advance the profession over the next 10 years.  A simultaneous Virtual Student Social Work Congress included 400 social work students from 16 different schools who watched the proceedings online and voted on the presented imperatives.  Participating students emphasized a need to increase salaries, the number of educational grants and scholarships, and debt forgiveness programs. They also advocated for strong mentoring programs, career ladders, and succession plans. Both sets of voting results will be included in a final report this summer.

National speakers at the meeting included: 

  • Dr. Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden: “Society needs to express its appreciation for the valuable work social workers do through increased wages.  Demand for social work services is increasing, and salaries should reflect that.”
  • U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (CA): “If more of my colleagues in Congress understood social work principles, our national priorities would be different.”
  • U.S. Representative Ed Towns (NY): “Social work students should consider a political career, and learn to walk in the footsteps of social work pioneer Dr. Dorothy I. Height.”
  • U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz (PA): “A core American value is to provide opportunity and security for each other. Social workers know that people given an opportunity can help give others opportunities for success.”
  • U.S. Representative Carol Shea Porter (NH): “Volunteering after Hurricane Katrina changed my life. As a social worker, I was used to working with few resources, but this was the first time I had no resources.  That experience of seeing so much unmet need led me to run for national office.”
  • Mona Shah on behalf of U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD): “Social workers should be thanked for their constant advocacy for veterans, children and older Americans. They ensure access and services in every community.”
  • Kirstin Downey, author of Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins: “Our America is stronger because social worker Frances Perkins lived. Social workers should be proud of the fine work they do and re-imagine themselves as pioneers in our rapidly changing world. Experts say the economy is getting better, but make no mistake, we have tough times ahead.  The social conditions in Frances Perkins’ day are eerily similar to today.  Social workers, like Frances Perkins, can help explain problems and trends to policymakers and the public in concrete economic and social terms. ”
  • Daniel Brook, author of The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All-America: “Social work is in the crosshairs of trends. A series of poor public policy decisions has created a manufactured crisis which is fueling the decline of the middle class.  A social work career is an investment in society. It is 100% unreasonable that social work students should accept long-term debt as the price to be paid for contributing something valuable to society.  We must challenge the model. ”

Another theme that resonated during the Social Work Congress discussions was a need to collaborate among the social work profession’s nearly 50 specialty organizations.  At the close of the event, current and emerging leaders from each of the four co-convening groups provided comments on the future. 

  • Mike Daley, President, Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) “I am encouraged by discussions about moving to speak with one voice. Our numbers and united presence can really make a difference for the future of the profession.”
  • Amanda Scott, Association Manager, BPD “Understanding the business of social work and how the social work agenda is shaped were never emphasized in my educational training. I am inspired to encourage other young professionals to be involved in social work on all levels and to know their voice help shapes the profession’s future.”
  • Julia Watkins, Executive Director, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) “The real challenge to us as a profession is to act on the work we’ve done in the past two days—to conceive strategies and operationalize them as a systemic and integrated response across all sectors of social work practice and education.  The future is our opportunity.”
  • Meredith Eisenhart, Co-Director, CSWE Gero-Ed CenterRepresentative “I appreciate the emphasis the Social Work Congress has placed on emerging leadership; it recognizes that leadership development is a process that occurs on a spectrum. It can start early in your career and continue throughout it.”
  • Alberto Godenzi, President, National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work (NADD) “I agree that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.  We are mission driven, as we should be, but we are not often market savvy.  What we need is collaborative, decisive action to ensure that social work is not going out of business. Let’s provide social work innovation in a time when the nation needs us most. ”
  • Lucinda  Acquaye, Doctoral Candidate—Howard University School of Social Work, NADD “I see us doing a better job in disseminating social work knowledge—connecting academia with the practice realm.  As a future researcher, it is my responsibility to ensure that the work I do is instrumental in supporting the work of social workers in the field and can be utilized in their everyday practice.” 
  • Jim Kelly, President, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) “We must take up the challenge of transitioning leadership—mentoring new social workers, and passing on our knowledge to them.  I doubt that any of us would be in this room without experienced social workers guiding us along the way. Now, it is our turn to continue that social work tradition.”
  • Elizabeth Hoffler, Special Assistant to the Executive Director and Lobbyist, NASW “I envision a future where all social workers—micro, macro, and clinical, lobbyist, educator, psychotherapist and community organizer—value one another’s worth and recognize that we must work together to succeed.”

NASW Assurance Services is the presenting sponsor. Event supporters include the Association of Oncology Social Work, the Association of Social Work Boards, Clinical Social Work Association, Association of Black Social Workers, National Network of Social Work Managers, Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care, Society for Social Work and Research, and the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work.

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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with 132,000 members. 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.