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SUSTAINABILITY & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
The Committee on Environmental Justice was officially launched in February 2015 and is jointly sponsored by the CSWE Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice (CDSEJ) and the CSWE Commission on Global Social Work Education (CGSWE). Many environmental justice issues are intrinsically, and increasingly, connected with social and economic justice issues, which the social work profession has championed since its inception. These issues are global, national, and local in nature. Environmental social work is global in nature and therefore tied to global social work.The Committee on Environmental Justice will explore the history of “green” social work, current work on environmental social work, and social work practice related to environmental issues. The charge of the committee is to make recommendations to the commissions about the ways in which social work education should consider integrating issues of environmental justice into the social work curriculum. These recommendations will be completed and shared with the commissions and the CSWE community in fall 2016.
The original mission of social work had much to do with championing the rights of society’s most vulnerable members, from children to homeless people to the physically disabled. That mission remains the same over 100 years later.
Social workers continue to carry the torch for those who need help to succeed in our society. Indeed, while only a small percentage of the nation’s half a million social workers count advocacy as their primary job duty, all social workers carry a philosophical charge to protect and empower the vulnerable and disadvantaged. They do so through a variety of means including writing op-ed pieces, lobbying, organizing local protests, and helping to change laws that adversely affect vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society. Today’s social workers employ a full range of techniques for advocacy ranging from protests and sit-ins to harnessing the power of the Internet to network with others to affect change.
The knowledge, values and ethics base of social work education uniquely equips social workers to take on advocacy roles. For one thing, they see first-hand the difficulties faced by clients who lack the resources for maintaining the basic human needs for themselves and their families. Social workers will work with social service agencies to facilitate economic maintenance, protect a social safety net or ensure the availability of health and mental health services.
Mobilizing resources, public opinion, interacting with agencies whose responsibilities are to serve the needs of vulnerable populations are ways social workers champion the rights of individuals, communities and society at large through active participation in the political process. Whether concerned about an individual’s needs or social policy reform, social workers are most frequently the voice for change and social justice.
Often, the needs of individuals and policy overlap. Here is an example: A social worker works for an organization dedicated to serving homeless and low-income families. Several of her homeless clients tell her they are unable to receive emergency food stamps. When she explores why, she finds a bureaucratic glitch: Because homeless families have no address they are not considered residents and are therefore ineligible for the aid.
In the following weeks, the social worker meets with area service providers and state legislators, who agree to clarify the state policy and implement new regulations allowing homeless people to receive food stamps. The social worker continues her advocacy efforts at the national level, providing testimony that eventually helps to pass the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-435).
Social workers advocate in many other ways as well. These include:
- Media involvement: Social workers help educate the public by writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces that clarify misinformation about social programs and point out social injustices that may otherwise escape public attention.
- Community organizing: Social workers have long worked to empower citizens by helping them plan activities that address social problems, improve services and enhance social well-being. In 2000, for example, social work students helped organize local grassroots activities as part of a national campaign to end gun violence.
- Demonstrations: Social workers continue to use this organizing tool to empower citizens. An example is a social worker who learned that one of her clients was living in a housing complex that was in terrible disrepair. All reasonable efforts to get the landlord involved had failed. The social worker helped to organize the tenants, who attempted to meet with the landlord to discuss improvements. When he didn’t respond, they picketed his house, showing up every day for a week. The social worker arranged for the media to cover the event and eventually, the landlord made the repairs.
Social workers also work continuously to improve legislation to benefit those in need. They are now engaged in efforts to protect Social Security recipients, for instance, and to protect vulnerable members of our society from hate crimes.
CHILD WELFARE PRACTICE:
Child welfare social workers are advocates for America’s most silent minority: our nation’s youths.The social worker’s job is to help ensure the health and well-being of children, primarily by supporting and strengthening their families. Often, timely services to a family can forestall a crisis.When Child Protective Services receives a report of a neglected or abused child, social workers investigate, attempting to determine if it is safe for the child to remain in the home. If so, they may provide support services to the family in their home and link parents with community services such as child care, temporary income maintenance, job training, substance abuse treatment, counseling, or parenting classes.In cases where families can’t or won’t protect their children, social workers may recommend temporary foster care. When longer term arrangements are needed, the social worker will work with lawyers and the courts and may give testimony in the child’s behalf. Child welfare agencies provide services to these children and their families to reunite them if possible. If a child cannot return to the parents, the social worker seeks another permanent home, placing the child with relatives or recommending the child’s release for adoption.Intervening when children are abused or neglected, when a family is in trouble, or when parents have problems is difficult and challenging, requiring training, skill, and sensitivity. Often a social worker’s intervention makes a critical difference at a key moment in a child’s life.
The Social Work and Integrated Care Project is a partnership initiative to infuse integrated behavioral health and primary care in master’s level social work education. The initiative began as a collaborative project between CSWE and the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work and has continued with leadership from the National Council for Behavioral Health. Funding for the first phase of the project came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Health Resources and Services Administration Center for Integrated Health Solutions. The second and third phase funding has been provided by the New York Community Trust.Since the initiative was launched in 2012, more than 30 schools of social work have agreed to offer a course in integrated care. Beginning in the fall of 2013, 28 social work students across the country were placed in integrated care sites, and hopefully established long-term relationships between the agencies and schools. More details about the initiative follow, including resources to start teaching integrated care in your program.
Phase 2: Launch of a Learning Network of Faculty and Students Using the Course Materials
In spring 2013, 13 social work programs participated in a learning network while teaching the draft integrated care courses. Faculty and students participated in a series of webinars and conference calls to discuss their experiences with implementing the courses, including feedback on the content and materials. The project team will use the findings from the spring learning network to make edits to the curriculum materials.
Phase 3: Development of Field Placements in Integrated Care (#WestCoMSW will be awarding one of these scholarships —> CHECK OUT THE AWARDEES LIST)
Funding was provided for 28 students to establish integrated care field placements which began in fall 2013. Funding included $10,000 per student with an allocation of $5,000 to the field placement site, $2,000 for the administrative costs at the graduate school, and a $3,000 scholarship for the student. Each team (student, field supervisor, and faculty) also participated in a learning network and evaluation activities this fall. You can find a list of awardees here.
Social workers in community development roles often engage in economic development activities. Where might a social worker work who is interested in economic development? • Economic development councils, departments, corporations • Government or politics • Extension services • Banking, financial institutions • Foundations • Micro-enterprise development programs • Redevelopment corporations • Housing organizations What might the job title be? • Director of economic development • Project manager/officer/project associate • Project administrator • Executive officer • Community development specialist • Director of special projects
What are some of the job functions of a social worker in economic development? • Prepare economic development plans for and market under-invested neighborhoods • Recruit and retain business and industry; address tourism • Oversee preparation of abandoned sites: clear titles, deal with environmental issues • Promote and provide technical assistance on micro-enterprise • Advocate and facilitate home ownership and insurance coverage • Teaching economic and business skills including money management • Staff public/private partnerships, facilitate groups • Write grants • Manage public relations
Social workers in economic development should possess skills in: • Evaluation of community assets and barriers to improvement including formal and informal systems • Management and finance relative to land use, home ownership, small business development, banking, and loans • Consensus-building with community coalitions, grassroots groups, public/private collaborations • Counseling, consultation, and technical assistance • Group facilitation and training/leadership development • Policy development that integrates social and economic development efforts • Communication, information, and referral/media relations
What personal characteristics should a social worker in community development have? • Ability to facilitate the shaping of a vision for the community • Skill in establishing trust in order to gain acceptance in the community • Positive, upbeat attitude • Patience and organization with attention to detail