Public Education Campaign Makes Strides in Social Work Understanding

NASW Foundation at 20

The National Social Work Public Education Campaign, a multiyear outreach effort that NASW launched in 2005 in collaboration with the NASW Foundation, aims to educate key stakeholders — including citizens, the media, policymakers, employers, and social workers — about the importance and scope of the profession. The project has elevated awareness about the many ways people of all walks of life come in contact with social work services.

a woman holds a person in her arms, headine: A social worker brought her back from cancer to the arms of a very special family; woman in business suit, headline: Social workers, help starts here

This important initiative has included telling compelling stories about the diverse individuals and families who benefit from the services professional social workers provide. These stories have been communicated in magazine and newspaper ads, in materials sent to journalists across the country, through myriad partner organizations, and on radio and TV programs.

Survey Findings

To aid in the campaign, NASW worked with a marketing firm to conduct several focus groups of social workers and average citizens in three cities. During these sessions, NASW found that the general public holds social workers in higher esteem than initially thought. The public recognized the intense pressures social workers face in their difficult work and agreed that most are underpaid. In general, social workers are viewed as valuable to society.

However, NASW found that most people in the focus groups did not understand how diverse the social work field is or that social workers are highly trained to do complex projects. Few middle-class Americans believed that they or their families would ever need the assistance of a social worker. They thought most social workers are employed in child welfare departments and other government agencies that only assist disadvantaged families. The general perception was that social work services are limited to those in dire circumstances and few people want to think about being in these situations.

“More Americans need to know that social workers are valuable resources for anyone who needs help navigating complex support systems like patient education, end-of-life planning, substance abuse treatment, crisis intervention, mental health counseling, and employee assistance, among other services,” NASW said at the start of the initiative. “Social workers are everywhere, in every community, and they are helping all types of people every day.”

The campaign conducted surveys, placed advertisements and public service announcements, and developed print, broadcast and digital tools to educate the public about the value of the profession. Tools created to support the effort include:

screenshot of Social Workers Speak website

Help Starts Here is a blog for consumers searching for information and guidance on issues affecting themselves and their families

Social Work Career Center is a website where social workers can search national job listings and find professional development and career resources that span the duration of a social worker’s professional career. The Career Center also is a resource to social worker employers, who can find and recruit qualified, credentialed, and licensed social workers across the country

Social Workers Speak allows social workers and the general public to critique and improve the way social workers and social issues are covered in the news media and portrayed in the entertainment industries.

NASW Social Work Pin Program is managed by the Foundation and instills pride in the profession. The pins distinguish social work from other programs on campus, and build loyalty to social work schools. All proceeds from pin sales are spent on NASW Public Education Campaign activities.

Special Projects

In addition to the Public Education Campaign, the NASW Foundation has collaborated with NASW and outside partners on special projects that encourage commitment to enriching the social work profession and empowering social workers to be leaders in social policy and practice

The Foundation administers a variety of educational, research and training programs. In many of these efforts, NASW and the Foundation have partnered with outside organizations, including other foundations and the U.S. federal government, that provide funding for the initiatives.

One of the major actions was the NASW HIV/AIDS Spectrum: Mental Health Training and Education of Social Workers Project, also known as the NASW HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project.

It has offered education, training and technical support to health and behavioral health care providers on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the mental health and wellness of individuals, families and communities affected by HIV/AIDS. The project has worked in collaboration with federal and state agencies, universities, community-based organizations, NASW chapters and other professional associations.

It provided necessary practice skills on mental health, substance use, trauma, end-of-life care, ethics, long-term health impact of HIV/AIDS, and medication adherence to enhance and promote culturally competent practice. Program content has been presented via knowledge-focused, skill-based training that addressed mental health and HIV/AIDS within a strengths-based, bio-psychosocial–spiritual perspective. The HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project also offered the following skill-building workshops, each using a lecture, case studies, and small group exercises:

Partners In Program Planning. NASW and the NASW Foundation collaborated on Partners In Program Planning for Adolescent Health (PIPPAH). In the second of two five-year cooperative agreements ($500,000 grant) with the Maternal Health Bureau of the Health Resources Services Administration, NASW continued to promote adolescent health issues with its members and as part of a larger multidisciplinary effort

Bereavement Training Curriculum for Social Workers in Emergency Departments was implemented through a one-year $95,000 grant awarded by the Health Resources Services Administration, Maternal and Child Bureau and its Emergency Medical Services for Children Program. The purpose of the curriculum was to prepare social workers in emergency rooms to assist families who experience the loss of a child due to accident or illness

Practice Research Network sought to expand the research knowledge base about social workers and social work practice. The initial PRN initiative focused on clinical social work practice and substance abuse. The results of a survey of practitioners filled gaps in knowledge about identification, treatment and referral of substance-abusing clients who present for treatment in private practice and agency settings. Subsequent PRN initiatives were tailored to capture information on critical social work service or policy issues.

As the NASW Foundation celebrated its 20th year in 2021, Social Work Advocates highlighted its many programs and projects. The Public Education Campaign and other special projects are examples of how donations to the NASW Foundation support the growth of the social work profession.

To donate and learn more, visit

Foundation Donations

The NASW Foundation extends its thanks to all NASW members and friends who lend their financial support, with special thanks to the following for their contributions of $100 or more through October 15, 2021. All donors are listed at

NASW Foundation General Fund

Anthony Bibus

John Condie and Wanda Ellingson via Fidelity Charitable Donor-Advised Fund

Lorenzo Ellis

Judith Elkin

Kathleen Kuhlman

Barbara Shank

Katherine Spilo

Lynn Spector

Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly)

Stanley Weinstein

NASW Public Education Campaign

Naomi Pollock

Judith Elkin

Lynn Spector

Joanne Cruz Tenery (monthly)

Kristi Wood

Dale Wright

Professional SW Pins

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Howard University

Mississippi Valley State University

The University of Alabama

University of Southern Mississippi

NASW Social Work Pioneers® Fund

Betsy Vourlekis

NASW CA Chapter Grant

Special Projects Fund of the Walter S. Johnson Foundation

NASW Hawai’i Grant

Hawai’i Community Foundation-CHANGE

NASW IA Chapter Grant

Volunteer Iowa/AmeriCorps

cover of December 2021 / January 2022 magazine

Social Work Advocates Flipbook

NASW members, sign in to read the December 2021 / January 2022 issue as a flipbook

Social workers are everywhere, in every community, and they are helping all types of people every day.