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Article

Abolitionist Social Work  

Noor Toraif and Justin C. Mueller

Abolitionist social work is a theoretical framework and political project within the field of social work and an extension of the project of carceral abolitionism more broadly. Abolitionists seek to abolish punishment, prisons, police, and other carceral systems because they view these as being inherently destructive systems. Abolitionists argue that these carceral systems cause physiological, cognitive, economic, and political harms for incarcerated people, their families, and their communities; reinforce White supremacy; disproportionately burden the poor and marginalized; and fail to produce justice and healing after social harms have occurred. In their place, abolitionists want to create material conditions, institutions, and forms of community that facilitate emancipation and human flourishing and consequently render prisons, police, and other carceral systems obsolete. Abolitionist social workers advance this project in multiple ways, including critiquing the ways that social work and social workers are complicit in supporting or reinforcing carceral systems, challenging the expansion of carceral systems and carceral logics into social service domains, dismantling punitive and carceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, implementing nonpunitive and noncarceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, and strengthening the ability of communities to design and implement their own responses to social conflict and harm in the place of carceral institutions. As a theoretical framework, abolitionist social work draws from and extends the work of other critical frameworks and discourses, including anticarceral social work, feminist social work, dis/ability critical race studies, and transformative justice.

Article

Advocacy  

Diane R. Bessel and Erin Carman

Social work is different from other helping professions in that its mission and ethical standards require members to not only serve persons in need, but to support their empowerment and work for the amelioration of harmful social conditions and inequities through advocacy. Social work advocacy has taken many historic and contemporary forms, reflecting the broad spectrum of social work practice and related knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes. Given increasing diversity and complexity in the world today and the continuing need to advance human rights, as well as social, economic, and environment justice, ongoing commitment and attention to social work advocacy is needed, especially as it pertains to social work education, practice, and operational approaches.

Article

African American Social Welfare History  

Iris Carlton-LaNey

This article discusses the African American social welfare system that began to develop during the early 20th century. This social welfare system, designed by African Americans to serve African Americans, addressed needs that were not being met by any other formal social services while the nascent social work profession was emerging. The myriad programs included settlement houses, boys and girls programs, training schools, and day nurseries. The women’s club movement played a critical role in the development of this social welfare system and provided much of the impetus for change and inclusion. Through formal organizations, including the National Urban League (NUL) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and an array of clubs and social groups, social services were extended to urban and rural communities throughout the United States.

Article

African Americans Overview  

Larry E. Davis, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and John M. Wallace Jr.

Since their arrival 400 years ago, African Americans have endured 246 years of chattel slavery and 100 years of apartheid followed by decades of systematic racial discrimination and injustice. Nevertheless, Africans and their descendants have contributed significantly to the building of the United States and have greatly influenced every sector of society. To document this tenuous position, we summarize key demographic, economic, and social trends as well as the potential role of macro social work to improve outcomes. Present-day racism in the United States is persistent and frequently underestimated, so combatting anti-Blackness and White supremacy at structural and societal levels is essential.

Article

Age Justice  

Steve Burghardt, Joseph Dibenedetto, and Bobbie Sackman

As baby boomers enter their later years, it has become apparent that ageism is a primary cause of much of the social marginalization and economic inequity experienced by older people. It is thus important to understand that ageism has both structural as well as cultural causes that require collective mobilization to correct. As such, anti-ageism and the fight for age justice fit within the intersectional movements of the 21st century seeking systemic change. This attention to systemic issues of ageism and the call for collective forms of action and organizing have become the foundation for an age justice movement. Therefore, an age justice organizing approach to the problems of older Americans is necessary and its solutions to aging-related problems are similar to solutions in other social justice movements. The historical context of aging and ageism informs present models of age justice organizing and issues addressed in age activism. For example, older workers have experienced workplace discrimination, and in the early COVID-19 pandemic, older people were marginalized. Looking to the future, an age justice framework that consistently addresses ageism as the systemic issue it is can be developed in micro, mezzo, and macro settings for all social workers and the older people with whom they work.

Article

United States Social Security System  

Eric R. Kingson and Nancy J. Altman

Social Security—the American people’s most important insurance—does more to maintain living standards and prevent poverty than any other social welfare policy or program, public or private. This entry discusses why our nation’s Social Security system was built, what it does, how it evolved and how it continues to do so. Contemporary challenges and related policy options are identified regarding program financing and the public’s need for expanded protections—retirement, disability, survivorship, paid family leave, and paid sick leave, among other protections. The analysis highlights messaging and political strategies used by those seeking to diminish the role of Social Security and those seeking to expand its protections. The entry suggests that the values and objectives of the American Social Security system comport well with social-work; and that both opportunity and need exist for social workers to shape Social Security’s future through application of policy analysis, advocacy, organizing and administrative skills.

Article

Reducing "Extreme Economic Inequality": A Social Work Grand Challenge  

Laura Lein, Jennifer Romich, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and Dominique Crump

The Social Work Grand Challenge to reduce economic inequality is one of 13 Grand Challenges guiding future practice, research, and education. This article on the Grand Challenge to reduce extreme economic inequality documents the problem, probes the mechanisms by which inequality continues and deepens, and proposes approaches for addressing this problem so interwoven into our economy and society. This article describes economic inequality in the U.S. context as well as social work–oriented responses. It briefly compares the inequality level of the U.S. with that of other countries. It explores the distinctions between poverty and economic inequality and the particular ways in which economic inequality is maintained and grows in the U.S. It also explores the kinds of policy and program initiatives addressing this grand challenge, the barriers to and potential benefits of such ideas, and the roles for social workers and the social work profession in reducing extreme economic inequality in our society.

Article

Asset Building: Toward Inclusive Policy  

Michael Sherraden, Lissa Johnson, Margaret M. Clancy, Sondra G. Beverly, Margaret Sherrard Sherraden, Mark Schreiner, William Elliott, Trina R. Williams Shanks, Deborah Adams, Jami Curley, Jin Huang, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Yunju Nam, Min Zhan, and Chang-Keun Han

Since 1991, a new policy discussion has arisen in the United States and other countries, focusing on building assets as a complement to traditional social policy based on income. In fact, asset-based policy with large public subsidies already existed (and still exists) in the United States. But the policy is regressive, benefiting the rich far more than the poor. The goal should be a universal, progressive, and lifelong asset-based policy. One promising pathway may be child development accounts (CDAs) beginning at birth, with greater public deposits for the poorest children. If all children had an account, then eventually this could grow into a universal public policy across the life course.

Article

Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Immigrants in the United States  

Miriam Potocky and Mitra Naseh

This article presents introductory information on asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants in the United States, including distinctions among them, major regions of origin, demographic, and socioeconomic characteristics, challenges in social, economic, and cultural adaptation, and best practices for social work with these populations.

Article

Black Lives Matter  

Mildred Delozia and Charles M. S. Birore

Black Lives Matter (BLM), which led to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLMM), has been described as a movement with a global following. The movement is aligned with the social work profession’s purpose and values. The social work profession is a human rights profession and has a history of involvement with movements, beginning with the settlement house movement in the late 19th century. The BLMM frames its narrative based on human rights and espouses an agenda that calls out injustice in all facets of social justice. Therefore, a central aim is to understand the BLMM from multiple perspectives. Definitions, theoretical perspectives, and types of social movements are presented, and then the framework of social movements is used to understand the BLMM. Finally, the BLMM is examined in relation to historical social movements, advocacy organizations, and criminal justice reform.

Article

Capital Punishment  

Sondra J. Fogel, M. Dwayne Smith, and Beth Bjerregaard

Capital punishment, the administration of death as a legal sanction, is a criminal-justice response to a restricted class of criminal activities that involve the killing of another human being. As a legal process, capital punishment has been modified by several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Yet, it remains a controversial penalty with factors of race, gender, socio-economic status, mental health status of the defendant, and other extra-legal factors often attributed to the sentencing decision. Social workers are increasingly used as mitigation experts or in similar types of roles for the defense team. As a profession, social work opposes the use of capital punishment. The purpose of this entry is to provide an overview of the death penalty as it is currently practiced in the United States and to review current issues and controversies surrounding its administration.

Article

Child Labor  

Usha Nayar, Priya Nayar, and Nidhi Mishra

The paper presents a global scenario of child labor by placing the issue in a historical context as well as comparing current work in the field. It specifically explains the psychosocial, political, and economic determinants of child labor and the prevalence of different forms as well as its magnitude in the different regions of the world. It features innovative programs and actions taken against child labor by local governments, civil societies, and United Nations bodies—mainly the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The paper also highlights multilateral collaborations among the UN and other international agencies that stand against child labor in general and the employment of children in hazardous conditions. It illustrates the cooperation among local governments, civic organizations, and child-rights movements that have brought gradual changes over the decades toward ending child labor. Further, it suggests that social work, relevant professional schools, and associations working in various disciplines should be engaged in research-based advocacy and find innovative solutions to control child labor.

Article

Children and Armed Conflict  

Susan Mapp

The United Nations has defined six grave violations that occur in war that impact children: killing or maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction of children. These violations have a myriad of negative impacts on children, including biological, psychological, and social effects. Culturally appropriate support and care provided at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels can help alleviate these impacts and help children recover from these experiences.

Article

Civil Rights  

Tanya Smith Brice, Denise McLane-Davison, and Tyler A. Brice

Civil rights is the protection of citizens from infringement by governmental entities and the extension of basic rights. Civil rights are based on citizenship status. The 14th Amendment establishes U.S. citizenship that has been extended throughout history to different groups. Civil rights legislation is grounded in this question of citizenship. As social workers, it is important that we understand this relationship and advocate to continue broadening the constitutional promise of “equal protection under the laws” to all who reside within the United States.

Article

Civil Society  

Kristin M. Ferguson

Considerable definitional vagueness exists regarding civil society, in part due to the concept's long history and multiple underlying schools of thought. Issues of multiculturalism and social justice are central to the term. Civil society is also a global concept, referring to the supranational sphere. The social work profession can benefit from collaborative action with local civil society associations in working to dismantle structural inequality and enhance opportunities for disadvantaged populations.

Article

Climate Change and Macro Social Work  

Kelly Smith

The compounding and escalating effects of environmental degradation, which include climate change, threaten the human-earth system with severe implications for the future of macro social work. Systems of power and oppression, including racial, economic, and gendered inequities, are exacerbated by environmental changes with significant impacts on human rights, public health, and various measures of well-being. While climate change is often not the root cause of inequality, it compounds existing inequities, making it substantially more difficult for marginalized populations to rebound from escalations of the myriad acute and chronic consequences due to climate change and environmental collapse. Experiences of environmental change consistently highlight the expanding resource and resiliency gaps among vulnerable populations, leading to disproportionate repercussions felt initially and, to an arduous degree, by marginalized groups. Simultaneously, these circumstances create opportunities for social workers to intervene and advance the causes of social justice. Macro-level interventions and climate solutions can emerge from social work development and support of policies and interventions that overcome short-term thinking to produce beneficial outcomes for populations and the environment by building capacity in the human-earth system and economic policy systems. Social work is ideally situated to confront climate change by balancing immediate needs with long-term ecological sustainability and relying on its historical understanding of systems to improve policy development and practical climate change mitigation approaches.

Article

Community Economic Development  

Steven D. Soifer and Joseph B. McNeely

The basic concepts and history of community economic development (CED) span from the 1960s to the present, during which there have been four different waves of CED. During this time period, practitioners in the field have worked with limited resources to help rebuild low-to-moderate-income communities in the United States. There are particular values, theories, strategies, tactics, and programs used to bring about change at the community level. The accomplishments in the CED field are many, and social workers have played a role in helping with community building at the neighborhood, city, county, state and federal levels.

Article

Community Organizing  

Geoffrey W. Wilkinson, Lee Staples, Ashley Slay, and Iliana Panameño

Community organizing centers the leadership of community members in developing and controlling organizations created to express, sustain, and build community power through action for social justice. It is distinguished from other forms of community practice by the ethos, “nothing about us without us,” and may combine elements of community development, direct action, popular education, and community action research. Community organizing promotes individual and collective empowerment. It is practiced in communities of geography, identity, shared experience, and other arenas. In the United States, organizing takes three major approaches to building sustainable bases of community power—organizations formed through individual membership, institutional networks, and coalitions. Innovations in community organizing arising particularly from the leadership of women and people of color—known as transformational organizing—take an intersectional approach to addressing racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of systemic oppression while also addressing the personal and social needs of community members. Organizing increasingly takes advantage of internet technology and is effective for influencing legislation and electoral politics, as well as a wide range of community-based issues.

Article

Community: Practice Interventions  

Anne Williford and Marie Villescas Zamzow

This article offers an introduction to macro social work practice interventions. Specifically, it seeks to: (a) identify the difference between direct service (micro) and macro practice; (b) describe historical and contemporary foundations for macro practice; (c) establish a connection between macro practice and core social work values; (d) describe specific examples of macro social work practice using 21st-century social justice issues as exemplars; and (e) identify roles needed for macro social work practice. This article emphasizes the need for macro social work practice to create much needed change in the areas of social, environmental, and economic justice. It will examine the trend in social work that has increasingly placed emphasis and value on micro practice, which has marginalized macro-level social work as a result. Society continues to confront seemingly intractable social justice issues and is, in the early 21st century, experiencing a critical reckoning of how systems of oppression continue to exact violence against vulnerable populations. This article uses examples of social, environmental, and economic justice issues with specific recommendations on how to adopt an anti-oppressive macro practice framework.

Article

Conflict Theory for Macro Practice  

Susan P. Robbins and George S. Leibowitz

Conflict theory encompasses several theories that share underlying assumptions about interlocking systems of oppression and how they are maintained. The relevance of Marx’s theory of class conflict, C. Wright Mills’s power elite, and pluralist interest group theory are all important to understand and address social and economic gaps and informing policy for macro practice. Conflict theory can provide an understanding of health disparities, racial differences in mortality rates, class relationships associated with negative outcomes, poverty, discrimination in criminal justice, as well as numerous factors that are broadly associated with inequality embedded in social structures. Social workers play a significant role in addressing disparities in research, curricula, primary and secondary intervention, and public policy, and conflict theory can provide the framework necessary to enrich this understanding.