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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

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

Economic Justice  

Louise Simmons

Social work often refers to economic justice but rarely considers what economic justice truly entails. This article discusses the rationale for social workers to be knowledgeable of and involved with economic justice initiatives. It specifies several areas that comprise an economic justice agenda. Examples of advocacy and organizations which lead the campaigns are discussed. Six realms of economic justice are discussed: Inequality, workplace rights, living wage levels and minimum wages, immigrant rights in the workplace, community–labor partnerships, and social programs that support working families and individuals.

Article

Human Rights Overview  

Joseph M. Wronka

At the heart of social work, human rights is a set of interdependent and indivisible guiding principles with implications for meta-macro (global), macro (whole population), mezzo (at risk), micro (clinical), meta-micro (everyday life), and research interventions to eradicate social malaise and promote well-being. Human rights can be best understood vis-à-vis the UN Human Rights Triptych. This consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, increasingly referred to as customary international law; the guiding principles, declarations, and conventions following it, such as the Guiding Principles to Eradicate Extreme Poverty, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and implementation mechanisms, such as the filing of country reports on compliance to conventions, the Universal Periodic Review, thematic and country reports by special rapporteurs, and world conferences. This powerful idea, which emerged from the ashes of World War II, emphasizes five crucial notions: human dignity; nondiscrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and solidarity rights. The hope is that every person, everywhere, will have their human rights realized. Only chosen values endure. The challenge is the creation of a human rights culture, which is a lived awareness of these principles in one’s mind, spirit, and body, integrated into our everyday lives. Doing so will require vision, courage, hope, humility, and everlasting love, as the Indigenous spiritual leader Crazy Horse reminded us.

Article

International Aid, Relief, and Humanitarian Assistance  

Carmen Monico, Karen Smith Rotabi, and Taghreed Abu Sarhan

International development, humanitarian aid, and relief are at the heart of international social work practice. They have evolved historically and globally; shaped by world markets, social and environmental forces, including natural disasters. Considering this context, the authors cluster relevant social-work theories and practices as (a) human rights perspectives and (b) ecological, feminist, and cultural theories. They discuss both micro and macro practice, with an emphasis on the latter. Case studies are presented with the overlay of relevant international conventions, guidance, and international private law. A continuum of humanitarian assistance is presented considering different countries. Guatemala is a prominent example in addition to Haiti’s massive earthquake of 2010 with recent revelations of sexual abuse and exploitation by humanitarian aid workers, post-conflict community-based practices in Afghanistan, and the largest cross-border forced migration in modern history of Iraqi, and Syrian refugees with this second group being of particular concern given their mass displacement. Capacity building as related to social work training is emphasized. This entry concludes that much remains to be accomplished with regard to capacity building among humanitarian assistance organizations so that the principles and practice strategies of international social work are institutionalized.

Article

International Child Development Accounts  

Michael Sherraden, Li-Chen Cheng, Fred M. Ssewamala, Youngmi Kim, Vernon Loke, Li Zou, Gina Chowa, David Ansong, Lissa Johnson, YungSoo Lee, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Margaret M. Clancy, Jin Huang, Sondra G. Beverly, Yunju Nam, and Chang-Keun Han

Child Development Accounts (CDAs) are subsidized savings or investment accounts to help people accumulate assets for developmental purposes and life course needs. They are envisioned as universal (everyone participates), progressive (greater subsidies for the poor), and potentially lifelong national policy. These features distinguish CDAs from most existing asset-building policies and programs around the world, which are typically regressive, giving greater benefits to the well-off. With policy innovation in recent years, several countries now have national CDA policies, and four states in the United States have statewide programs. Some of these are designed to be universal and progressive. Evidence indicates that true universality can be achieved, but only with automatic account opening and automatic deposits. In the absence of automatic features, advantaged families participate and benefit more. Today, momentum for universal and automatic features is gradually gaining traction and accelerating. At this stage in the emergence of inclusive asset-based policy, this is the most important development.

Article

Poverty  

Mark R. Rank

Poverty has been a subject of concern since the beginnings of social work. Three fundamental areas are of importance in understanding the nature of poverty in the United States. First, the extent and dynamics of poverty are examined, including the measurement of poverty, patterns of cross-sectional and comparative poverty rates, the longitudinal dynamics of poverty, and poverty as a life-course risk. Second, reasons for poverty are discussed. These are divided into individual- versus structural-level explanations. The concept of structural vulnerability is offered as a way of bridging key individual and structural determinants to better understand the existence of poverty. Finally, strategies and solutions to poverty are briefly reviewed.

Article

Social Policy: History (Colonial Times to 1900)  

Phyllis J. Day

American social welfare began in the colonial period with the adoption of the Elizabethan Poor Laws as the basis for treatment of society's poor and deviant. By the beginning of the Progressive Era (1900), immigration, the Women's Movement, scientific investigation of social problems, and societal growth produced significant innovations in both public and private perceptions, programs, and treatment in such areas as poor relief, mental and physical health, and corrections, and led to the beginnings of professionalization of social work.

Article

Social Policy: History (1900–1950)  

Iris Carlton-LaNey

This entry traces American social welfare development from the 1890s to 1950. It also includes social work's participation and response to need during two critical times in American history: the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Social reformers were instrumental in the development of social legislation, including the establishment of the Children's Bureau as well as the development of a public welfare system at the state level. America's response to human suffering left many groups, such American Indians, African Americans, and Asians, marginalized. In response, African Americans established a parallel system of private relief through organizations such as the National Urban League, unlike the other racial groups.

Article

Welfare Rights  

David Stoesz and Catherine Born

American social and economic justice advocates, social workers included, have struggled to establish a national mindset that welfare is a right, a duty owed to the people by government, not a privilege that can be revoked at will. Industrialized nations with a universalistic, rights-based philosophy have strived to provide citizens with some measure of a basic, minimum income; the United States has not, yet. The United States has been hobbled by ideology; a two-tier system consisting of assistance and insurance; and cultural misgivings about direct, ongoing public payments (welfare) to the poor. Revitalization of a national welfare rights movement, early signals from the Biden administration, and awareness that major social policy changes most often happen at times of crisis offer reasons for a degree of optimism. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath are a moment in time—an inflection point—when social workers, because of their training, ethical codes, skill sets, and appreciation of the lessons of social welfare history, could play a key role in charting a new course of action suited to 21st-century needs and realities.