Empowering Others Means Empowering Ourselves, Too


By Barbara Bedney, PhD, MSW

Barbara Bedney

As I write this column, we have a lot to celebrate. A few days ago, Kansas became the seventh state to enact social work interstate licensure compact legislation, prompting the next step in Social Work Interstate Compact implementation, a process that will facilitate interstate social work practice and access to critical social work services. While there is still much to be done, passing this hurdle is a huge win, and we congratulate all of our chapters and members who participated in the advocacy that brought us to this exciting juncture.

Speaking of celebrations, I hope many of you were able to enjoy the webinars, conferences, award ceremonies, and other events held across our association in honor of Social Work Month. Our theme this year was “Empowering Social Workers: Inspiring Action, Leading Change,” and President Biden even joined the celebration by thanking social workers “for their incredible service to our communities.”

But as we celebrate these accomplishments, the question remains: What does empowerment mean? According to the Social Work Dictionary (5th edition), in social work practice, empowerment is “the process of helping individuals, families, groups, and communities increase their personal, interpersonal, socioeconomic, and political strength and develop influence toward improving their circumstances.” It encompasses both the activities we undertake to promote that strength, and the goal of ensuring people have the resources they need to use that strength to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities. As a vital national resource, our calling is to empower others—to strengthen those who have been disempowered by trauma, racism, discrimination, poverty, violence, fear, and other social and economic injustices—and to work together to eliminate the disparities that keep people from achieving their full potential. To do those things well, we also need to empower ourselves.

We need to empower ourselves with the confidence and the leadership skills, for example, to advocate for appropriate salaries, equitable reimbursement, and student loan forgiveness, and with the ability to fight for the removal of any institutional and/or historic barriers to achieving those goals. I continue to be proud of the work NASW does on these issues. NASW recently served on the Biden-Harris Student Loan Debt Committee on negotiated rulemaking around student debt cancellation, and advocated to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services around incorrect payments social workers received for telehealth services. We also reached out to Optum Health to resolve recent overpayment issues, co-sponsored a congressional briefing on Medicare coverage for substance use disorders, continued to advocate for the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, and hosted a Facebook Live session on social work salaries and reimbursement issues.

As always, however, there is more to do. So, we will continue these discussions at our national conference, which begins with an advocacy day on Capitol Hill and includes a Juneteenth celebration, presentations, and a wide variety of breakout sessions—all to help us empower ourselves with the tools, ideas, innovations, and networking we need to meet the challenges ahead. I look forward to seeing you there and to hearing your thoughts about how we can continue to empower ourselves while we empower others.

Barbara Bedney is chief of programs at NASW. She can be reached at bbedney.nasw@socialworkers.org.

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