Leverage Your Extraordinary Problem-Solving Expertise

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

I am often asked, “What do social workers do?” After taking a deep breath -- because I’m always concerned that my response might not encompass the depth and breadth of the profession -- I say, “Working with individuals, families and communities, social workers help find and implement solutions to problems, challenges and crisis.” I add, “In addition to our extraordinary problem-solving skills, we are experts in identifying upstream opportunities for growth, development and improvement.”

The nexus of three pandemics-COVID-19, racism and the resulting economic crisis-has presented an overabundance of challenges in the many social work practice arenas that meet the health, mental health and social care needs of our clients and communities.

Social workers quickly and effectively pivoted to respond to the emerging crises brought on by the pandemics-often with insufficient resources and supports. We found ourselves having to over-rely on our problem-solving capabilities, which unexpectedly made it clear to the broader public the value of social workers’ extraordinary expertise in this area.

Social workers’ problem-solving skills are now in great demand for integrating social care into health care delivery; addressing social isolation in senior care centers; safely reopening schools; meeting the health, mental health, and social care needs of the 430,000 children in foster care; meeting long-term mental health needs; operationalizing social distancing in congregate care settings; and responding to the call for racial justice.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, housing, food and economic insecurity plagued the lives of millions of Americans. Social workers know these problems hit some communities harder than others. For instance, Black workers are disproportionately represented in the 40 million COVID-related unemployment claims.

Congressional and White House impasse on passing a second CARES Act for COVID-19 assistance exacerbates the already precarious situation for vulnerable children and families. NASW is pushing for an array of resources and protections, including emergency rental assistance and eviction-prevention assistance, a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, extension of federal unemployment benefits, relief for small businesses, and extension of workforce tools such as telehealth and audio-only telehealth that support the social work workforce.

Social workers have leveraged their problem-solving expertise to meet the challenges and opportunities of living and working through the stress, struggles and chaos resulting from the pandemics. Our person-in-environment understanding, social and racial justice perspective, and passion to solve problems positions the profession for leadership in today’s society.

Contact Angelo McClain at naswceo@socialworkers.org