As president of the National Association of Social Workers, I celebrate the work of social workers around the globe. Thank you for your professionalism, and I hope you have a joyous Social Work Month. A special thanks to our membership, the NASW boards, the CEO, executive directors, the staff, and the countless volunteers who assist chapters and the national office in carrying out the goals of the association. NASW’s 55 chapters and the national office, in spite of these tumultuous times, have worked diligently to offer useful programs and deliver pertinent information throughout the pandemic.
People across the world wonder about the new, bright future that will free us from the pain and suffering we have experienced and witnessed since the pandemic began two years ago. What will that time look like? When will it happen? When will we be free of masks, vaccines, and social distancing? Parents yearn for a tomorrow when children can go to school to learn and play, and adults can go to work without the constant worry that something catastrophic may happen at any moment. Vacations, hugs, family gatherings and errands that take us outside among others have been replaced by social isolation, Amazon deliveries and Zoom calls.
Along with other impacts of the pandemic, we predicted in 2020 that America would face the largest mental health crisis in its history. Now, we are in the midst of intersecting crises. Violence, homelessness, anxiety, depression, and suicide have skyrocketed, and behavioral health professionals cannot keep up with the high demand for mental health services. The “great resignation” leaves employers short staffed (for a myriad of reasons) and less effective. The nation’s new focus on wellness and self-preservation in addition to the realization that all of our relationships are time-limited and precious, have caused many to reimagine how they spend their time.
The stock market continues to rise, allowing increases to the financial portfolios of those with privilege, while the economically vulnerable find themselves struggling against the pull of poverty. Despite jobs being added to the economy, many of the clients we serve may not have benefited in the same ways as the general populace. Meanwhile, those who are vulnerable are continually faced with the demands of inflation.
Even more troubling, another prediction made is that the pandemic will gravely affect our children’s education. Unfortunately, schools in the United States have maintained the status quo and not thought seriously about the educational needs of our children. Our society missed the opportunity to collectively address educational gaps, in large part because the political landscape for rational school board discussions and decisions (that reflect what is in the best interest of children) has ceased. Even sadder still, Americans agree on very few things these days due to polarization and false news.
Despite all of this, I look at this time as a period filled with opportunities for social work to dramatically impact inequities. During this historic period, NASW must pay careful attention to the culture that is unfolding in America. Social work must abandon patterns of naivete and stop ignoring the signs of the dark days that are almost certain to unfold in the very near future. We cannot afford to practice social work as usual. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. NASW must urgently convene social workers to develop and execute a plan of action to protect our democracy and the nation’s safety nets.
We, as social workers, must also set the example. We cannot mimic the oppressors’ tactics. We must use knowledge and be prepared to debate the facts with dignity and respect. We must ask relevant questions, be guided by the research, and develop viable innovative community solutions. And we must not spread false narratives to influence others and tweet out simplistic solutions that are based on misinformation.
Social workers who use the strengths perspective uplift and restore communities with hope. Those who fail to do the due diligence and lead with unsubstantiated information are no different from those who believe that only their oppressive voice matters. NASW must mobilize the profession to take deliberate steps and reject all plans that deny the constitutional rights of citizens.
All social workers must take actions to achieve social justice for all. As president of NASW, I will continue to advocate and do what is necessary for the passage of legislation that guarantees the right to vote for all Americans, to end voter suppression and gerrymandering, and to demand that every vote cast be counted and not nullified. To deny any eligible American the right to vote in a democracy is unacceptable. The social work profession must hold all 52 Republican senators — and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a social worker — accountable for denying the passage of legislation that would have protected voting for all eligible citizens. The time for social work is now!
Contact Mit Joyner at firstname.lastname@example.org