So many of the things that social workers do rely on social policy -- from laws surrounding the confidentiality of clients to grass-root efforts to evoke change for your clients. It is important for social workers to be abreast of legislation that could impact your practice, your agency, and your clients, as laws and policies change all the time. The issues facing macro-social work practitioners eventually will trickle down and affect the way that you practice, your colleagues, and the consumers that you serve.
This is a good thing! With social policy comes the potential for growth and possibility of change in the way that society addresses issues that impact social work practice such as homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and even teen pregnancy.
Some of the ways that policy impacts the work of social workers are:
Advocacy. Advocacy is an important role of the social worker, whether advocating for a client or speaking up on behalf of a population that you represent. Advocacy typically involves community organizing, media involvement, and public speaking or demonstrating to improve legislation for those that you serve and to better assist the individual client.
Efficacy. Laws and legislation impact the effectiveness of any social worker. For instance, if budget cuts prompt the closure of area agencies that you frequently refer clients to, this could affect your efficacy in moving the consumer forward.
Outreach. Social policy impacts the way that social workers reach out and connect with those in need. For instance, visiting schools and mentoring others could be proposals passed with advocacy for community programs. Extending service offerings and resources happens through outreach, as well as approved policies that are funded and approved by state agencies and governing bodies.
Community response. There are always hot-button topics that will come up and evoke a strong community response, and these are often centered around social policy issues. Crime, homelessness, and drug abuse are just a few of the social issues that stir the most reaction. People should feel passionately about these community problems and what is being done about them; the job of the social worker is to support and assist those affected to overcome and prosper under adverse conditions. Networking with social service agencies, researching area resources, and providing therapeutic care are some of the ways a social worker may respond and help.
It is clear to see why effective social workers need to stay abreast of social policy issues and changes that could impact the way that you practice. Stay informed; information is power when it comes to social work:
- Start watching the news. Try to get a gist of what is going on in your community and what common problems are manifesting. Follow local politics and learn a little more about candidates for national office.
- Pay attention to social media. If you want to know what issues are plaguing the country, check out social media. The news feed and national posts will keep any reader informed of new information.
- Network and engage. Start talking to colleagues and other professionals to further understand the obstacles that they face in serving their clients. Many are happy to speak up about these challenges.
- Show up. Join a chapter or group of professionals that show up and advocate or demonstrate for policy change. Many social worker organizations charge a membership fee or professional dues, but keep in mind that these are typically tax deductible.
- Get smart. Seek out any educational opportunities that you find related to social work policy and community organization. These courses can provide some political insight, but also can serve to inspire you to get more involved in the issues that are important to you.
Social policy goes beyond who is in office or what the state’s fiscal condition is. In social work, the repercussions of lapsed policies or strained budgets are seen on a daily basis, from elderly clients that don’t have enough money for medication to the homeless teen struggling to graduate. The issues that impact consumers impact the overall field of social work, and the effective social worker is careful not to ‘take sides’ and may learn to adopt a bi-partisan mindset: liberally promote and embrace change, while conservatively assessing progress and where resources are best utilized.
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