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OPED: Lauding the contribution of social workers

Stuart Horowitz
National Association of Social Workers

When I am asked what kind of work I do and I tell people that I am a social worker, I am no longer surprised to hear the questioner’s response. Most people do not realize the many hats social workers wear. Our training and education enables us to provide services to various populations. In order to use the title of social worker, one must hold either a Bachelor or Master Degree in Social Work. Most social workers also hold a license to practice.

President Commissioner Susan Byrnes turns to applaud Terry Clark, director of York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, at a press conference announcing the office receiving its full license. (Photo by David Weissman/ The York Dispatch)

The interaction between person and environment is essential to social work. This requires social workers to understand how the environment impacts the person and how the individual impacts the environment. Environment can be understood to be more than the natural environment, but the surroundings or conditions in which a person lives.  We view the person holistically.

Social workers can be found in hospitals, clinics, private practices, insurance companies, colleges and universities, government agencies, nursing homes, and a variety of settings. They are the largest group of suppliers of mental health services in the United States and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Social workers are present in times of crisis, helping people overcome issues such as death and grief and communities to recover from disasters such as floods and hurricanes. Therapists treat people with mental illness and may assist physicians with mental health care needs of their patients.

As advocates, we help people understand and navigate different social systems, like health care and insurance. Social workers as case managers help clients find the resources they need in the community. Social workers assist groups and families. They intervene to help families in conflict that may include marital discord, dysfunction, domestic violence and child abuse. Group work can include providing support for people with chronic or terminal illness. Social workers advocate to change laws and policies on issues such as child welfare, aging, drugs and alcohol, and human trafficking.

The profession has helped bring about some of the most profound, positive changes in our society over the past century, including voting rights, improved workplace safety, minimum wage and social safety net programs that help prevent poverty and hunger. Social workers have pushed for decades to ensure rights for all, including women, African Americans, Latinos, people who are disabled, members of the LGBT community and various ethnic, cultural and religious groups.

According to the National Association of Social Workers; social workers act as advocates, champions and leaders who make our society a better place to live. National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity for social workers across the country and their allies to turn the spotlight on the profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society. Our Code of Ethics requires us to stand up for those whom are in need and those whom are oppressed.

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We address the social ills that face our neighborhoods, cities, states, country, and the world through social justice. The tie that binds us together and distinguishes social work from other helping professions is our focus on social justice. The common denominator is our mission; to seek to enhance the effective functioning and well-being of individuals, groups, families, organizations, communities, and government through our work and advocacy.

There are 650,00 Social Workers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the profession is expected to grow 16 percent by 2026, faster than the average of all occupations. As we grow, social workers will continue to engage and bring together individuals, communities, agencies and government to help society solve some of the most pressing issues of the day. This will include immigration reform, protecting the environment, equal rights, and affordable health and mental health care for all.

— Stuart Horowitz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the President of the National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter.