Social Work Month matters

Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHFrom the Director

NASW carefully considers slogans and campaigns to use while celebrating Social Work Month each March. Sometimes we highlight a particular practice area, such as children and families, aging or community organizing. Other times we have focused on a concept, such as ethics or social justice. This year’s theme, Social Work Matters, celebrates the profession of social work as a whole — and acknowledges the importance of our chosen work.

Many social workers have gained great historical prominence. Counted among these would be Jane Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, civil rights activists Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. (also a past president of NASW), and Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a Cabinet member, as secretary of labor in 1933. We are grateful for the paths taken by social work pioneers like Del Anderson, who transformed services for veterans; Bernice Harper, who led the field in hospital and hospice social work; Joan O. Weiss, who helped establish the field of genetic counseling; and Dale Masi, who is credited with developing the employee-assistance field.

We watch television commentator, economist and social worker Jared Bernstein explain economic policy, and we watch TV celebrity Suze Orman help people understand personal finance by using her social work skill set.

We take pride in the successes of the seven social workers in Congress as they lead the Congressional Social Work Caucus and champion equality and improved quality of life for our citizens.

We have social workers who serve as college presidents and as university deans and faculty; others who head foundations, corporations and independent businesses; still others who run government and community agencies, and who hold elective office. Social workers can be found in military theater and responding to every disaster.

Social workers provide the vast majority of mental health services in this country and are sometimes the only providers in rural areas. Our breadth is far-reaching. We work in schools, prisons, courts, community health centers, mental health clinics, addiction recovery programs, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, hospices, and private practice.

We form the front line and weave together the threads of society’s social safety net. Social workers help people when they face emotional, difficult and seemingly insurmountable obstacles and challenges. These include poverty, inequality, insecurity, fear, violence, trauma, loss and pain. These are the “matters” of social work, what we do and how we do it does matter. We are the helping profession and the profession of hope. The world would be radically different without the contributions of the current work force of 640,000 professional social workers.

Sometimes during our very busy lives, we forget the impact that our own efforts have and can have on the millions of lives we collectively touch every day. We tend to overlook many of the significant achievements and outcomes brought about by our interventions at the individual, organizational and community levels. We might even question why we chose this professional path. The challenges seem so great; the resources seem so few.

When this happens, take a moment and step back. Listen to the speech given by Leymah Gbowee, a young social worker and peace activist from Liberia who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize for her organization of a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

She is an inspiration to us all.

Then think about your own work — your commitment, your dedication and the fact that you, too, are an inspiration to many of the clients and families you assist. And when doubts creep in, remind yourself that the profession of social work has great historical significance. Social work does matter. So do you. Happy Social Work Month.