Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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What Would Jane Addams Do?, The State Of Macro Social Work

There is no time but now, people often forget that. The plans we make for the future are tenuous, our understanding of the past is murky. Social work finds itself at a crossroads. In the last thirty years there has been a wonderful blossoming of the field in regard to client service. We have been challenged to be more evidence based and we have taken up that challenge. There is no doubt that micro social work practice has become more ethical, scientific, and more or less universally presented to social work students. Yet, social work remains unaware of the cost of putting so much emphasis on micro while allowing our roots in macro to be put aside.

From a strictly economic perspective, having a work force trained and geared toward evidence-based practice makes sense when the economy is thriving. It made sense before managed care emerged, because the market was free, people had money, and the only party who dictated what constitutes ethical practice was those who were trained to do so.

The time for social work to act was when managed care emerged. When managed care began driving up co-pays and dictating what treatments are covered regardless of ethical concerns, social work should have responded. We should have known that this threat to our autonomy would leverage away the control that we have over our own profession in terms of compensation, licensing and treatment. We should have known that the time to start emphasizing macro practice had arisen the very instant the authority over our own professional was being challenged. Social work had the tradition and curriculum to mount this fight then; the inaction of the time has left the profession facing the seemingly insurmountable challenges it faces today.

Twenty years later, an MSW is finding it difficult to make ends meet with a Master’s degree, some cannot find jobs. A social work student is required to make enormous payments just to get that degree; they face the prospect of being burdened with major student loan debt and a profession that is not unified enough to fight  for fair pay.

There are still classes on policy and macro social work in every school across the nation, but the infrastructure to practice macro professionally is scarce. One major search term for SJS is “macro social work jobs”, the searcher is met with the realization that to practice macro social work he or she must create a job, or work inside the structure of another profession i.e. politics.

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior spoke about the “Urgency of Now”, reminding us that procrastination has consequences. It had consequences when social work remained quiet, hoping to reap the financial rewards that micro practice presents. It has consequences when we remain silent and inactive today for fear of being denied even the scraps thrown our way.

Social action is in the collective consciousness of our profession, students and social workers alike marvel at giants like Jane Addams. Her example instills pride in our profession, every generation of social work should begin by asking, “What would Jane Addams do?” and go from there. I have a hard time believing she would remain silent now, and I have hard time believing she would have remained silent as managed care began its decimation of ethical direct social work practice.

It falls to us to embrace this tradition and fight for our profession. It is time to recognize that one social worker out of work and one social worker that is underpaid affects all social workers. When one of us needs support, the responsibility falls to the rest to bear that weight. Macro social work is not a job, it is a duty that all social workers accept when they add their names to the roll of our unique profession. We find ourselves in this position because we have forgotten that we will find the solutions to our problems when we embrace them.

The Social Work Reinvestment Act is one step toward that solution. We at SJS urge you to read the petition and if you feel it is in the best interest of social work to sign and share it below.

Social Work Reinvestment Act


23,600 signatures

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By: Matthew Cohen, MSW
SJS Staff Writer


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