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Frances Perkins

Social Work Must Be Political

by Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
The Political Social Worker

Last week I posted a video from UW-Madison School of Social Work, Radical Social Work’s History & Future: Our Field, Our State, Our Year. During the answer and question section panelist Ron Chance makes the comment “to be respected you have to get political.”  Mr. Chance and his co-panelist, Mark Courtney, where responding to a question about the welfare system and the current threats to safety net programs, which led to a discussion about the history of the social work professions response to such threats.  Mr. Chance points out that social workers are too often apolitical and that is a problem.

A couple of weeks ago there was a Senate Committee hearing on the state of America’s mental health system that was convened in response to the Newtown tragedy.  Out of all the witnesses giving testimony not a single one of them was a social worker; despite social workers being the number one providers of mental health services in the United States.  Why didn’t the National Association of Social Workers, who have lobbyist working on Capitol Hill, ensure that the profession had a representative on this panel?  Where are the social workers?

Ron Chance made another interesting observation in that discussion.  He pointed out that when Franklin Roosevelt presented his New Deal legislation Frances Perkins, a social worker, was standing behind him.  These days, when President Obama makes a speech about welfare it is not a social worker but rather someone with an MBA standing in the background. Social Workers are supposed to be change agents and advocates.  Can we truly live up to that mission if we are not involved in the political process?

The disengagement of social workers from politics is a discussion that I have participated in many times.  Social Work Chats and socialworkhelper.com has covered this topic on numerous occasions including last weeks Twitter chat.  Another popular discussion topic is the lack of respect the profession of social work has been shown by other helping professions, our employers and the general public.  I happen to think that our lack of political engagement and this lack of respect are tied together.  How can we expect to be taken seriously as a profession if we are not involved in politics and actively seeking a place in the public discussion on key issues?

Social work can not afford to be politically disengaged.  The health and survival of the profession depends on social workers being political.


Photo Credit: This work is in the public domain because it is a work of the United States Department of Labor under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code and the DOL copyright policy. This applies worldwide. See Copyright. via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Fcperkins.jpg



Posted by Rachel L. West

In addition to being the founder of The Political Social Worker blog, I am a consultant. My consulting practice offers advocacy and community outreach solutions to nonprofits, social good organizations, and private practitioners. Additionally, I offer career coaching to macro social work students and professionals.

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