Exercise Your Ethical Responsibilities as a Social Worker: Advocate!
The recent anniversary of our country’s independence reminds us that as Americans we have certain duties that we owe to our country. Most particularly, citizens have a responsibility to be involved in the political process through voting and can participate in various other forms of activism, such as campaigning, contacting Members of Congress, and joining political organizations.
Social workers have an additional professional responsibility to engage in political activism that stems from the NASW Code of Ethics, which calls for social workers to advocate and challenge social injustice. This requires social workers to not only engage in civic political activities, like voting, but also in advocating for marginalized persons and other similar actions.
Social workers in the United States have a dual responsibility to engage in political activities, and the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative (SWRI) provides several opportunities for social workers to advocate for their profession and their clients, including the Social Work Reinvestment Act and the Congressional Social Work Caucus. The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S. 584) is designed to address challenges in the social work workforce, including low pay, high educational debt, and low retention rates, to ensure that millions across the nation continue to receive competent care.
The Congressional Social Work Caucus (CSWC) consists of social worker Members of Congress and those who support the social work profession and society’s social safety net and creates a platform on Capitol Hill to represent the interests of social workers throughout the United States.
As the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S. 584) continues, it remains in need of cosponsors. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-8), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA-14), and Delegate Gregorio K. C. Sablan (D-North Mariana Islands) have recently signed on to cosponsor this act, bringing the number of cosponsors to 52 in the House and 8 in the Senate. To fulfill your ethical duties as a professional social worker, consider contacting your Representative and Senators today and encourage them to join the CSWC or to co-sponsor the Social Work Reinvestment Act.
Capitol Hill Briefing about Family Reunification
NASW staff attended a child welfare policy briefing hosted by the American Humane Association that focused on the importance of reunifying children in out of home placements with their families. Federal policy requires that reunification be the primary goal and about 50% of these families are reunited nationally. Presenters included three families who had been reunited and a caseworker that worked with one of them, Amie S. Gladfelter, a 14 year veteran of the York County Office of Children Youth and Families in Pennsylvania. Ms. Gladfeler has proactively worked to reunify families for over 14 years and used family decision making and safety training to prevent the trauma and other issues that arise when children are separated from their loved ones. Zoe Bush, an Associate Judge at the D.C. Superior Court, spoke about her efforts to reunify children with their families, stating that 35% of out of home placements in Washington, DC are reunited. While reunification is the preferred outcome, the frequent obstacles to achieving this are drug addiction and mental illness. Some families she encountered also needed assistance obtaining housing, telephone service, and school uniforms.
Family reunification is the primary focus of federal foster care policy which is consistent with NASW’s long standing position that the placement of choice should be within the child’s family of origin, who can provide a more stable environment for the child during a crisis.
Congress Holds Hearing on Child Deaths due to Maltreatment
The House Committee Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on child deaths due to maltreatment on July 12. This hearing coincided with the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) release of a report on child fatalities from maltreatment. The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths (NCECAD), of which NASW is a part, provided verbal testimony. NASW also provided written testimony.
Chairman Geoff Davis (R-KY) opened the hearing with a statement about how death from maltreatment does not always get the attention it deserves. Kay E. Brown, Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security at GAO testified that national data about child maltreatment could be strengthened. The GAO found that more children likely died from maltreatment than reflected in Health and Human Services data. Tamara Tunie, actor for Law and Order: SVU testified for NCECAD that an estimated 2,500 children die each year from abuse and neglect, seven children a day.
The coalition is working to have legislation introduced that will create a commission to look into child maltreatment deaths.
Roundtable Discussion about Transitioning Youth to Adulthood
NASW attended an event hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum to discuss different aspects of transitioning youth to adulthood. Key note presenter Frank Furstenburg, Zellerbach Family Professor of Sociology and Research, Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania, spoke about the “long and twisting road to adulthood” and the challenges for vulnerable youth. Key indicators that youth are making a successful transition include: economic autonomy from their family, residence independence from the natal family, family formulation, mental and physical health, and civic participation. He stated that the transition to adulthood in the second half of the 20th century has become more protracted as youth have difficulty achieving economic self-sufficiency because of declining wages. Gordon Berlin, President, MDRC, elaborated on this point stating that the transition to adulthood has been directly affected by labor market conditions. He pointed out that nine out of ten of the largest occupations in 2010 pay far less than the U.S. mean wage, which is $21.35 per hour. For example, retail positions pay $12.02 per hour, customer service representatives earn $15.76 per hour, and food preparation workers earn $8.95 per hour. The only exception he cited were registered nurses, earning $32.56 per hour.
NASW supports the panel’s public policy recommendations which include: strengthening the capacity of community colleges to offer training to vulnerable youth, such as those in the mental health system, foster care, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, youth with disabilities, and runaway youth. Also it was recommended that policy makers increase resources for youth mental health, housing, and job training programs.
Congress has been roundly criticized in many circles for passing so few bills this term. In fact, they have generated even less legislation than the famed “Do Nothing Congress” of the late 1940’s. While such an approach hardly creates a robust policy agenda, there are inherently political reasons for this particular tactic. With fundraising and campaigning constantly on Members’ minds, they don’t want to do anything that gives ammunition to opponents or voters. Similarly, the White House is concerned about the 2012 election, with Obama’s approval ratings consistently hovering in the mid-to-upper 40’s. This all leads to a cautious political calculus throughout Washington.
When you add in that Republicans control the House while Democrats hold a Senate majority, there’s even less reason for both parties to expose themselves to potential political risk. The GOP does not want to be seen as handing Obama or his party any victories, however minor. The Democrats, meanwhile, are concerned that any gains made by conservatives will only inspire voters to elect more Republicans next November. The result is a focus on re-election rather than legislation. Only 16 bills became law between January and November, as opposed to 50 in a comparable timeframe last year. With the next election cycle looking in the distance, we can only expect the pace to remain sluggish at best.
The Obama Administration is initiating another effort to alter America’s immigration laws, despite some opposition in the Republican party. President Obama met with Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss meaningful ways to reform the nation’s immigration system. The President promised a renewed effort to persuade Congress and the American public to support proposals which would combine stricter enforcement of current immigration laws while engendering a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
NASW believes that initiatives such as the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act as well as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 will help to determine reasonable balance between security and human rights, while also addressing the social service necessities of an underserved immigrant population.
Advocacy Blog Roundup
Advocacy Alert Roundup
Advocacy Listserv Activity
In the months of May and June, 1,826 activists sent 4,095 advocacy messages to Congress through Capwiz. The most active alerts were about protecting Medicaid and protecting struggling Americans. Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action! To see all alerts, go here.