Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet

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There has been much talk recently about who can legitimately call themselves social workers.  What training is required?  Which licenses are needed?  And, there have been many discussions about the variations of social work licenses that exist in different states.  License or no license, we know that many social workers are “hiding” in non-clinical environments and in places where it doesn’t seem much social work is happening.  Places like Congress, the World Bank and federal agencies such as the departments of Labor, Housing, Education and Health and Human Services (HHS).  In many of these settings, social workers operate under cover.  They often do not identify themselves as social workers and they have little or no connection to professional social work organizations.  Yet they are trained social workers with a B.S.W, a M.S.W., or a Ph.D. from an accredited social work school, but you would never know.

Hiding in ClosetThe subject arose this week during my lunch with three very special social workers who are at the forefront of promoting greater emphasis on macro social work practice.  Darlyne Bailey, dean of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Terry Mizrahi, a professor at Hunter’s School of School of Social Work, are co-chairs of the Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice formed by the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA).  With us was Jenifer Norton, a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr who provides administrative support for the commission.  The commission’s mandate is to examine the state of macro social work practice and offer recommendations on how to strengthen the macro dimension of social work.  To date, 46 schools and departments of social work and two organizations have donated funds to support the commission’s work.  In addition to 21 commissioners, there are about 50 allies who are participating in the effort by working with one of five workgroups.

The ACOSA group was in DC for a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to discuss the current state of macro social work practice.  It is encouraging these major social work organizations are finally paying more attention to macro social work practice.  This new found interest in macro social work practice was triggered by a 2011 report by Jack Rothman that concluded macro social work practice was being marginalized at many schools of social work.  He and Mizrahi followed that report with a published article quantifying students who are pursuing macro practice.

While discussing the working group I have joined—Promotion and Public Support of Macro Leaders and Practitioners—Terry suggested that identifying social workers in macro settings is often difficult because many of them are hiding in the closet.  Whether this is intentional or just a byproduct of being in a non-social work setting, we need to know who these social workers are, where they are plying their trade and how they are providing leadership.  Many are operating at high levels and have very inspirational stories that need to be told.  Why?  Because many are in the closet because they feel their work might be devalued by colleagues who may not appreciate the value of social work.

My favorite example is Jared Bernstein who I have written about on several occasions.  Bernstein is the former chief economist for Vice President Joseph Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team.  Bernstein earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and chose to hone his economic skills and practice in that arena.  He proudly self-identifies as a social worker but when he is introduced on television programs and in settings where he is discussing fiscal and monetary policies, he is introduced as an economist.  Would listeners value his input if he were identified solely as a social worker?  His commentary would have the same value, but I doubt that his audience would give it the same weight if they thought his ideas were those of a social worker and not an economist.

We need to identify more social workers like Bernstein.  NASW has agreed to work on identifying social workers in these settings.  That should help much.  If you know of social workers in macro settings—working at the Supreme Court, leading corporations, working in the media and other arenas—please shoot me an email at

The post Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet appeared first on Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.

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