NASW Sets Social Justice Priorities for Coming Year

socialjustice1The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has set five social justice priorities to address over the next year — voting rights, criminal justice reforms, juvenile justice, immigration reform and economic justice and equity.

Within this set of social justice priorities are four sub-priorities – health and behavioral health equity, racial and population-based discrimination, matters involving courts such as U.S. Supreme Court and federal judge nominations and environmental justice.

“These are social justice issues NASW wants to make progress on by working with our members and chapters and collaborating with other organizations through coalitions and working groups,” said NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson, MBA, LCSW. “However, our priorities are flexible and can change if a social justice issue emerges that NASW and the social work community must immediately address.”

Click on this link to read the full report NASW Social Justice Priorities 2016-2017: nasw-social-justice-priorities-2016-17

For instance, NASW is working with other organizations to urge Congress to restore voting rights protections struck down by a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. If Congress passes such legislation NASW will turn its attention to another social justice concern.

NASW is already active with coalitions and working groups that are pressing for social justice reforms, including those under the umbrella of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, The Open Society Foundation/Justice Roundtable, the Criminal Justice Coalition and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

NASW chapters worked the association’s Social Justice and Human Rights department to develop the priorities, which were then reviewed by the NASW Board of Directors. NASW will create steps to review and refine the priorities each year.



  1. After reading “No Riders Coalition Statement” I have to agree with Beth that this initially came across as derogatory and offensive. The timing of this post is interesting, in that I have been contemplating writing an article for publication about this very “political” topic. While I personally prefer not to label myself either a democrat or a republican, rather a person who votes based on what I believe is good and right in my opinion. Having said that, I admittedly acknowledge that my values are more conservative by nature.

    The point being, as social workers we should be open and respectful to all points of view, regardless of what side of the political spectrum we fall on. (This has clearly not been the case this election season, not only have I personally experienced it, but I have watched and continue to watch the demeaning over and over again). I find it offensive that I am condemned for my lack of support for Hillary Clinton and whether the NASW wants to own up to it or not, they have demonstrated during this election the very far left focus of this organization. There is a part of me that only hopes the outpouring of support showered on Hillary was based more on the belief that the NASW’s agendas would be more successfully passed, as opposed to support based on her image as a “role model” to the organization.

    I was most sickened when receiving emails from NASW Chapters requesting that I volunteer my services to help college campus’ provide counseling to the students unable to deal with the effects of the election outcomes. Really??? All of this because Donald Trump was elected through a “Democratic” voting process. The NASW should have instead focused its attention on a public statement acknowledging the upset and encouraging the need to come together in healthier forms of advocacy. This is where I will acknowledge my more conservative leaning values. I believe that if we want to create a generation of healthy and well-adapted children then we need to assist them in better understanding reality. That is, life is full of disappointments – we never lose unless we quit trying. I’m not sure that there was this much of an outpouring of support consoling victims of the 911 attacks in New York.

  2. Regarding defunding Head Start and the ACA, I have read several times that Head Start does not provide academic results in elementary school achievement, although I think that the socialization would be helpful to low-income children. I would prefer that low-income children attend preschool and socialize with children of diverse incomes. Also, the ACA is failing. It needs to be repealed and replaced with a better model – not single-payor Medicaid. I have also heard social workers state that social workers should not be Republicans, although the current Democratic Party has moved far left. This is no longer the party of John Kennedy.

  3. Thank you, Shannon. NASW needs to lead research as to the efficacy of these tax payer-funded social safety nets. This research should lead to more cost-effective ways to serve the populations in need.

    It would be hoped that NASW’s Board would publish a Social Justice brief that explores alternatives to providing these services (including funding) rather than pointing fingers at one political group for the myopic focus on cutting funding (versus the bigger spending black hole existing in the U.S. today).

    I have been teaching the NASW Code of Ethics around my state for over a decade and have served on NASW’s National Ethics and Chapter Ethics Committees. Over the years, MANY social workers have stated in these workshops that it’s “unethical” for a social worker to be a registered Republican…to which I have challenged them from the Code itself.

    Despite my egress from NASW membership, I pledge to continue to advocate for the clients we serve, with regard to provision of services that are effective, efficient and client-centered.

  4. “No Riders Coalition” is an ad hoc national economic justice coalition
    that is active in ensuring that funding for safety-net programs in the
    federal 2016 budget are protected from “poison pill” riders by
    conservative members of Congress.”

    Why is NASW targeting conservative members of
    Congress? What does NASW mean by “poison pill riders”?

    This document from the 2016 NASW Board of Directors has clearly defined that NASW is now exclusively as the National Association of Socialist Workers. They now need to change the NASW Code of Ethics to reflect that discrimination against people (including professional Social Workers) based on their political beliefs is now removed from the Code. If not done, then NASW needs to file an Ethical review against itself. Otherwise, the Board and Delegate Assembly need to affirm that only Democrats, Socialists and Communists are welcome as members.

    We know that Delegate Assembly has never considered any of the comments from the position statement review period. In my three times at DA, they never considered any voice that offered a different opinion from the floor, including the absence of the Southeast Coalition’s opposition to the revised Professional Sex Worker Statement in 2002. This opposition noted in the meeting as requested to be printed in Social Work Speaks, but never made it in the meeting minutes or the publication.

    “Social Justice”?

    • Beth,

      I was not sure if you are asking what “poison pill riders” are or specifically, which “poison pill riders” NASW is specifically referring to, so I will answer both questions in addition to addressing your concern about the ideological stance of the organization.

      First, a “poison pill rider” is an addition to a large bill, such as a budget bill that means to circumvent the traditional process that bills require to become law, specifically because the riders could not pass on their own merit. They are often very destructive to systems vital to the populations the social work profession serves. Specifically, there are several riders in the GOP budget passed by the House Budget Committee. So, the riders are actions of the conservative leaders within the House of Representatives; hence, wording in the social justice issue that specifically mentions conservatives.

      The specific concerns and reason NASW has found it necessary to address this budget issue is because it includes very damaging initiatives, including a proposal to cut half of federal resources for low-income assistance, cuts to Head Start, Title I education for low-income and special education, repeals the Affordable Care Act, and turning Medicaid into a Block Grant. I believe we can agree these would be horrific for the populations we serve.

      In terms of changing the code of ethics, an ethical review, or the like, because one of the social justice action items specifically stated “conservative members of congress” is simply absurd. The action item is in specific response to the GOP drafted “poison pill riders”. So, yes, it would make sense to respond to the authors and supporters of the riders, which happen to be conservative members of congress. What would be the purpose of approaching liberal members of congress who are already in opposition to the riders? After all, our profession ethical standards state: “Social Workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”

      On a last note, NASW speaks to our professional ethics and practice. It does not dictate a personal political ideology. That is a choice left up to each of us. Nonetheless, if political leaders of any designation seek to remove funding for programs that inhibit social justice or basic human needs, it is our professional duty to act on behalf of our clients, regardless of how this may be contrary to our personal political beliefs.

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