Paving Our Path to the Future

By Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Kathryn Conley Wehrmann

As I am writing this column it is mid-June, and I’m thinking about all that has happened since I wrote my last one.

Certainly one of the highlights was being asked to offer a “Welcome to the Profession” message to students at the Loyola School of Social Work’s commencement in Chicago. It was a wonderful occasion to speak to the students and to renew my acquaintance with Dean Goutham Menon and Associate Dean Jim Marley.

My message to the students included encouragement to realize their full potential as leaders and to remind them of all the ways we have stepped up to respond to issues through advocacy in our practice settings and with our elected officials. I spoke to them about how social workers are identifying and moving into new areas of practice, bringing with us the core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity and competence as we work within the context and the complexity of the human experience.

I also challenged them with Brené Brown’s compelling quote: “Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.”

Following my visit to Loyola, I headed to Reno, Nevada, to speak at the NASW-Nevada Chapter conference. I had the pleasure to see Kyle Hillman, who is serving as chapter director, and to meet both the Nevada chapter president, Jacqueline C. Jones, and president-elect, Dr. Novia Anderson.

It was a great conference to be a part of, to encourage social work leadership, and to explore the workforce challenges and opportunities confronting social work in the state. It also was an opportunity to celebrate Nevada as the first state to have a legislature that is made up predominantly of women. No other legislature has achieved this milestone in history.

A quote by Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson—also a social worker—sums it up: “The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada. Carson City may never be the same.” (The Washington Post, May 17, 2019.)

Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. In Nevada, policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices. This is in contrast to what we have seen recently in Alabama, which at the time of this writing enacted an almost complete ban on abortion. It is important to note that women make up just 15 percent of its legislators.

In addition to working actively in the legislative arena, what does our future hold? It will certainly involve confronting the challenge of racism along with the many other “isms” that are impeding our progress toward being a just society.

At a recent gathering of social workers—100 Social Work Voices, coordinated by visionary social work leader Dr. Mildred “Mit” Joyner—participants focused on thinking and talking specifically about what we as social workers can do to make change in our country, and then committing to what we could accomplish in one year toward bringing about that change.

I think Mit and her Social Work Voices team made it clear that we need to be intentional in our respective roles and honor our professional commitment to work at all levels: micro, mezzo and macro. We also need to proudly claim our social work identity if we are to make the impact we wish to make. No one left the gathering without having heard the call to action and making a plan in response.

We can’t forget that we are a profession of hope, possibility and reinvention. Social workers are key to our society’s future, as our leadership, values, knowledge and skills will be needed to bridge the divide between policy and practice; in responding to needs in the health care sector; in enhancing business and fundraising skills, in demonstrating social return on investment, and in guiding the ongoing impact of technology on social work practice.

Speaking of the future, I recently attended a meeting of the NASW Innovation and Resource Development Task Force. It was an invigorating day of idea-spinning focused on creating NASW’s next chapter in meeting the multiple practice, policy and fiscal challenges that lie ahead.

Task force chair, Dan Shea (board member, Region X), is leading a 12-member team charged with providing NASW with strategic recommendations to expand and enrich resources for its members and strengthen the financial position of the association.

The next steps for the task force and designated NASW staff members will be to carry out a systematic analysis of the ideas and determine the best ways to move forward. I anticipate the task force’s continuing efforts to help us create our path to the future.

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at