The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and University of Michigan have released a paper, The White House as a Field Placement Reflections on the Past and a Future for Policy and Political Practice, that features a speech by social worker and White House Fellow Harold Richman. The paper explores macro policy field placements, political social work, and policy practice roles for social workers.
One of the early “policy social workers” was Frances Perkins, who was Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She was perhaps the embodiment of the “policy influencer” and instrumental in developing the Social Security Act.
This tradition continued in the first class of White House Fellows, founded in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, when Harold Richman from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago became a member of the inaugural Fellows class, and was assigned to Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor.
To date, Richman is the only social worker to serve in the program.
Almost 20 years ago, University of Michigan social work professor John Tropman, a colleague of Richman’s at SSA, asked for permission to use a speech about the fellowship in a doctoral policy course Tropman was teaching.
Tropman felt that such “policy and political social work” should be encouraged. This began the idea to reprint Richman’s speech, with analysis and commentary by University of Michigan School of Social Work professors and supported by NASW. Harold’s speech reveals the inner workings of a “policy manager” and also points to the importance of the social work profession in increasing its presence in the policy machinery at the federal, state, and local levels.