Making the Connections: Social Workers and Policy Advocacy

This is a guest blog post from Appleseed child welfare intern A.J. Miller.

 

Appleseed child welfare intern A.J. Miller

Appleseed child welfare intern A.J. Miller

March is Social Work Month and I am a social worker. When most people hear that, they ask me about direct service. “So are you a therapist?” “Do you work for Child Protective Services?”  “My dad’s a social worker at the hospital. Are you a caseworker, too?”

Although many social workers do amazing work providing services in areas like foster care, adoption, and rehabilitation, the profession has always gone beyond direct engagement. Jane Addams, one of social work’s Founding Mothers, ran Hull House where members of the surrounding Chicago neighborhood could receive individual assistance, but were also encouraged to organize for change. Jane Addams, herself, became a charter member of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), demanding progress at the policy level. Today, most social workers specialize in either micro (clinical or individual and family) or macro (organizations, communities, and policy) work.

Social workers help drive Appleseed’s work. James Goddard, attorney and Director of the Economic Justice and Health Care Access Programs, received his Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Becca Brune, BSW, is our Child Welfare Program Associate. I personally began social work practice in clinical environments; however, frustration with the barriers my clients faced drove me toward community and policy work. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a BSW, I remained there to pursue a Master of Social Work, concentrating on macro practice. Since then, I have interned with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Central Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and now Nebraska Appleseed. Here, I have had the opportunity to learn about child welfare policy–a brand new field for me!–and am helping to develop civic engagement programming.

We want to hear from those of you in direct service. As one VCU professor was fond of saying: the best social work happens when practice informs policy and policy informs practice. We also believe that social workers at the micro level have untapped potential as policy advocates. Those of you who serve on the front lines have powerful stories of how the existing system empowers and disempowers clients and of the challenges and help policy gives you as a social worker. You are also in a unique position to educate clients as advocates for themselves. For example, you may include voter registration forms with each intake.

Social work’s dual defining values are service and social justice. Whether we work in macro, micro, or a mixture of capacities, social workers must strive toward justice for members of vulnerable populations. Our grounding in systems theory and understanding of intersectional oppression give us insight lawmakers may not have. As social workers in micro practice, you have the clearest, closest view of what policy means for those in need.

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