The world doesn’t know enough about our profession, except for that some us probably work for CPS. People have less of a clue that policy work is a huge part of social work’s mission and its values. In the NASW Code of Ethics there is even a section called “Social and Political Action” (6.04). As social workers it is our responsibility to “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” and “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” (NASW Code of Ethics 6.04).
Even if you plan to work in a micro setting, you still have the responsibility to advocate for your clients whether that will be to make efforts to expand Medicaid services in your state or talking to your local school district officials to make policies on hiring social workers so we can put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. Whatever you have a passion for, I am sure there are policies that need to be improved or need to be implemented to help whatever cause you are passionate about. It is crucial to remember that policy is a part of social work!
Being politically engaged is critical tos our roles as social workers. Being politically engaged can vary in many ways, ranging from simply going to your local voting booth (very important) to running for office. Being engaged can also include: talking to your legislators, registering people to vote, tracking bills, watching debates, going to civic engagement events, doing policy research, writing policy briefs, bringing awareness to social issues, etc.
I have never been so involved (besides voting and keeping up with the media) until this past semester. Here are some highlights of my recent advocacy experience:
- I went to several Policy Insiders events, where I got informed about current issues such as, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) and the Syrian Refugees arriving to the U.S.
- I went to a workshop of how social workers can get political engaged, and I got tips on the process of running for office. This workshop got me thinking about running for office someday.
- I followed the Houston Mayoral election and the Presidential Primaries election, which was the first primary I voted in.
- I tagged along with UH GCSW, UHCL and UHD Social Work students to go visit the capital for Social Work Advocacy Day.
- I talked to my district’s Texas State Senator, Sylvia Garcia, for the first time at the Texas Hispanic Senate Caucus’s Latino Summit (held at the GCSW) and I got to know her agenda for the upcoming legislation session.
- For my Advanced Social Policy Analysis class, I wrote a policy brief about the gap of post-release services for unaccompanied minors and I have sent it to fellow congressmen and congresswomen that their district is a part of Harris County, which is the county that is receiving most of the unaccompanied minors.
- Lastly, last week I attended the Policy 2.0 Conference at St. Louis. At this conference not only did I learn many new things about social policy, but I also got to present my policy research, which was a comparison analysis in between the American and Canadian immigration system in regards to their policies towards unaccompanied minors.
If you are unhappy with how the system is set up or that your current legislators don’t appropriately represent your community, stop complaining about who is at the policy-making table. Bring yourself to that table! Don’t wait to be invited because that is less likely happen. You don’t have to be in office to influence social change, although it would be great to have more social workers in public office. You can write letters to your legislators and meet with them. You can attend public meetings within your community. Just put yourself out there, so you can be political involved.
As a student, there are several opportunities to be politically engaged, especially when the UH GCSW offers these opportunities just a few steps away from your classroom. So what are you waiting for? Go out and be involved! Go do some political social work!