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Article

Megan Meyer

Since the Progressive Era, social workers have played important roles in political struggles and social movements for social justice. They have advocated for, designed, and implemented an array of domestic and international social policies and have increasingly campaigned for and held political office. Even so, there has been considerable ambivalence within the profession about the extent to which social workers should engage in political action, considered by some to be “radical” social work. A major challenge facing the profession during the 21st century is to ensure that social work programs and associations prepare students and practitioners to understand the impact of political processes on their and their clients’ lives and to develop the skills to identify the forms of political intervention that are effective for different goals and different political, social, and economic contexts.

Article

Jason A. Ostrander, Kerry Kelly, and Patricia Carl-Stannard

Social work sets itself apart in the “helping professions” in recognizing the significance of its students and practitioners engaging with the theoretical knowledge and practice experiences sufficient for fluency across macro to micro settings. This practice integration assures comprehensive understanding of person-in-environment, from casework to complex systems work, and is raised to an ethical standard in the National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics and in the International Federation of Social Work Principles. Yet macro-oriented scholars have accused social work educators and professionals of abandoning their obligation to social justice and policy participation and of focusing their energy instead on micro practice. This literature is helpful in addressing how integrated practice can be achieved and informs the development of social workers who solidly embrace a commitment to macro knowledge and participation.

Article

Lorraine C. Minnite and Frances Fox Piven

Compared to other rich, capitalist democracies in the contemporary era, the United States has a record of low voter turnout. Even as the right to vote was finally won by African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement a century after racial discrimination in voting was formally banned by the Civil War Amendments, voter turnout has failed to reach levels achieved in the late nineteenth century. Scholars offer two strong explanations for this. Some argue that the voting process has been encumbered by procedures that make actual voting difficult. Others favor an alternative explanation that voters must be mobilized by political parties and other activist groups. The dynamic interplay of electoral rules and political action have mobilized and demobilized the American electorate since the 1970s. Recent collective initiatives of social work faculty and practitioners in promoting nonpartisan voter registration campaigns are central to social work’s core values and social justice mission.

Article

Jason Anthony Plummer

The political process refers to how individuals and groups make their concerns known to political actors. The animating force of the political process is social power. To that end, social workers should acquire political knowledge (e.g., factual understanding of voting rights) and critical analysis skills (e.g., an awareness of how social inequalities affect political outcomes) in order to support their clients’ and communities’ engagement in the political process.

Article

Suzanne Pritzker and Shannon R. Lane

Political social work navigates power in policymaking and politics to elicit social change. It is grounded in core social work values and ethics, including the professional responsibility to challenge systemic discrimination and institutional inequalities through political action. Political social workers address systemic barriers to social, political, economic, and racial justice, and engage in political action to promote individual and communal well-being through policy processes and outcomes. This article discusses the five domains of political social work: engaging individuals and communities in political processes; influencing policy agendas and decision-making; holding professional and political staff positions; engaging with electoral campaigns; and seeking and holding elected office. It also examines social workers’ political activity in the United States and globally, the role of social work education, and challenges for political social work, including the profession’s legacy of supporting injustices and tensions around the role of political social work, and identifies opportunities to address these barriers.

Article

Michael Reisch

Harold Lewis (1920–2003), social worker and activist, was Dean of Hunter College School of Social Work for twenty years. He published widely on social work values and ethics, epistemology of practice, child welfare, social welfare administration, and social work education.

Article

Marilena Dellavalle and Carlotta Mozzone

Paolina Tarugi (1889–1969) is considered the founder of Italian social work. Her experience started with the struggles for women’s emancipation at the beginning of the 20th century and continued with social welfare work as a feminist political philanthropist. In the early 1920s, she was instrumental in introducing social workers in factories. Thenceforth, she worked unceasingly in many political settings to legitimize the social work profession and promote quality training programs until the end of her life.

Article

Australian research on intercountry adoption in Australia is reported with particular reference to social work, divergent and competing interests of various stakeholders, and the highly political and contested nature of its practice in Australia. The practice of intercountry adoption in Australia is examined from its diffusion into Australia in the 1970s to contemporary times. Government approved Australian intercountry adoption programs began operation in the 1970s and although always small in number, the recent decline is consistent with global trends. Intercountry adoption in Australia is regulated by state and federal governments and social workers are integral to its practice. Controversies surrounding intercountry adoption in Australia have historically been linked to pressure from lobbyists and the support of some politicians. In 2014, Australia was at a crucial juncture with changes to how intercountry adoption is structured under review by the federal government.

Article

The social, political, and economic features of Central America are summarized and the impact of economic and political processes on the region is highlighted. Predominant global, historical, cultural, and political events are weaved together, in an attempt to understand the realities of the region. The challenges for social work profession and practice are presented, as well as their implications for new approaches to intervention and education.

Article

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

Sadye L. M. Logan

Nancy A. Humphreys (1938–2019) was Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and founder and director of the Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. She was a pioneer who served with distinction, and left a rich legacy in advocating for women rights, social justice, and the development of political social work.

Article

Sadye L. M. Logan

David M. Austin (1923–2008), who served as Bert Kruger Smith Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work (now University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work), has left an outstanding legacy in the students and colleagues whom he has mentored and inspired. He was a tireless leader, practical researcher, and brilliant scholar in the field of social work.

Article

Black people number about 46.8 million or 14% of the U.S. population. Throughout U.S. history, regardless of social class, Black people have had to remain cognizant of their race. The COVID-19 pandemic and police shootings of unarmed Black people have revealed that American racism toward Blacks is as virulent today as it has always been. Because of purposeful structural inequality, Black people in America suffer disproportionately in every sector of human activity. They are still facing social issues such as racism, substance abuse, mass incarceration, poverty, police brutality and police murder, infant mortality that is twice as high as among whites, residential segregation, racial profiling, and discrimination. And yet the strengths of the Black community have allowed it to thrive amid these arduous circumstances.

Article

Karene-Anne Nathaniel

Audrey Layne Jeffers (1898–1968) was an early feminist of African descent with a commitment to the advancement of Black women, education of girls, services to children with disabilities, and government responsibility for social welfare. She mobilized young women to form the Coterie of Social Workers in Trinidad that began a meal program for underprivileged school children in the 1920s, which shaped the National School Feeding Program that today offers free meals to all school students. This led to the establishment of other similar facilities in other parts of the country, as well as the opening of homes for dispossessed young women, the elderly, and the blind, and daycare facilities to help working women. These facilities form the backdrop for the practice of social work in the Caribbean. She was instrumental in the hosting of the first women’s conference which made numerous recommendations including equal opportunities for women and women in the police service. She was the first woman to be elected to local government, and later nominated to the legislative council by the governor. Jeffers was a champion for disadvantaged women and girls, but notably opened the door for women in politics in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Article

Jennifer C. Greenfield, Heather Arnold-Renicker, and Amanda Moore McBride

Civic engagement is the backbone of the social work profession. Through our civic mission, we have long organized and empowered citizens in common pursuits to address social, economic, and political conditions, although this mission may conflict with social workers’ roles in maintaining and implementing systems of oppression and social control. In the United States, social and political engagement are receiving increased attention, particularly as emerging research demonstrates a range of effects for participants, their communities, and the broader society. The challenge for social work is to increase the capacity of communities and the nonprofit sector to promote and maximize engagement, especially among historically oppressed and disenfranchised individuals, through theory-driven, evidence-based interventions, while also ensuring that these efforts center the goals, expertise, and voices of those who are marginalized and minoritized.