Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Politics and Social Work – Why Social Workers Need to Focus More on Policy

It occurred to me recently that it might not be obvious why SJS focuses more on politics rather than social work content. SJS is not against social work content, we think it is important and try to work it in as much as possible. I come from a point of view that asks what isn’t social work. After almost 3 years of studying for my MSW, I can easily rattle off what is being taught as “social work”, but I have come to see that the ideology of the profession extends far beyond the artificial boundaries it has created for itself. This is especially true in politics.

Stony Brook’s School of Social Welfare is an excellent program. Politics and Policy are at the heart of the curriculum. Anyone who has taken a Class with Dr. Farrington Or Dr. Blau can attest as much, but I want to take this deeper. I have heard that in the good ole’ days social workers could choose a path to concentrate on. Yet, even at the School of Social Welfare, micro classes and micro internships, outweight the time spent on politics and policy. There is no option to swing the balance toward an education that prepares social workers for a career in the macro arena. Why is social work dominated by micro practice?

In New York,  the social work  licensing board requires students to complete a certain curriculum in order to obtain said license.  In addition, there simply are not enough macro social work positions. Who should be held accountable for this; should we blame New York State? I am afraid the blame falls squarely on top of the profession itself.  I understand the need for the licensing board, but social work has allowed itself to be defined by outside bodies, leaving its internal advocacy efforts at a minimum.  Have we forgotten that this is a profession started on the ideals of macro practice? It’s sad that social workers need to advocate just to obtain the autonomy to define their own profession, but this is the harsh reality.  Social work leadership is far removed from the lives of its practitioners. Although the NASW is identifiable, it is not a daily part of the lives of social workers or their practices. There is no movement with which to identify, nor a centralized structure to creates the power needed to define the profession internally.

There has never been a time where social workers were more needed in the political landscape. The parties are polarized and stagnant; the platforms are outdated and failing. SJS concentrates more on Policy and Politics because we recognize that social workers already have outstanding training in micro practice and will generally continue to sharpen their skills throughout their careers. What we are missing is the forum to enhance our policy skills post graduation even as we continue to grow into our micro practice. These are not mutually exclusive goals. Micro and macro practice continually intertwine with each other. To concentrate on one without addressing the other leads to our current crisis; social workers have the skills  but not the capital to realize our lofty ideals. If SJS becomes a destination for news about social work, our mission has completely failed. Our vision of SJS is news BY social workers, because we continue to believe that there is no aspect of human life that does not involve the principles of our profession.

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