A review of today’s headlines will reveal we are living in a time of tremendous challenge. These challenges include, but are not limited to, accessing quality healthcare, reducing the persistent stigmatization and disparate funding for mental health treatment, the intensifying needs of an aging society, continuing oppression and discrimination of minority groups and vulnerable populations, social disconnection and isolation, the increasing gap between those living in poverty and the wealthiest among us, increasing rates of incarceration, and disturbing rates of child neglect and maltreatment. I propose that social workers need to expand their reach and become actively involved in more interdisciplinary teams tasked with addressing society’s most complex challenges.
We are charged with protecting and advocating for the most vulnerable among us; therefore, social workers should be involved in the critical conversations that lead to structural and social change. The NASW Code of Ethics 6.04b states, “Social workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups.
Our person in environment view of individuals provides an approach that needs to be integrated into these complex discussions about how to genuinely improve the society in which we live. In addition, the strengths-based, resiliency perspective has merit when considering how to increase protective factors while mitigating risk for individuals. A primary benefit in the training of social workers is the integration of human potential and resiliency in our view of society. This must not be mistaken for an extreme idealism, which is not based in reality; rather, this is a difference in focus, which looks for solutions to problems in those who are over-comers.
In addition, social and behavioral scientists have long believed that there is more to improving health than simply providing basic medical care. We assert that a more holistic approach is necessary to address the complex health issues our society is facing such as obesity, chronic illness, and mental health. Social scientists, especially social workers, must be among the most highly trained and respected researchers who utilize scientific methods to uncover valuable insight into human nature and the social environment.
Cultural competency and acceptance of differences allow social workers to hear the voices of the disenfranchised that are not invited to the table for high-stakes discussions. In this manner, social workers can give voice to the silenced by becoming a part of the trans disciplinary team and speaking for those who are oppressed and misunderstood. We must insist that research dollars investigate a multicultural perspective instead of allowing the one-size-fits-all mentality to remain.
Those who are assertive in their field and see the place for the social work discipline in the public discourse concerning the monumental challenges facing our society are poised to meet this challenge. We must step out of the limited boxes created for social workers and take our place in the greater conversations. Who is willing to join me?