Putting Grand Challenges into Action to Support Healthy Futures for Seattle Youth

A new report, published in the “Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research,” examines how the University of Washington School of Social Work, in partnership with community agencies in Southeast and Central Seattle, adopted a model youth development program—created initially by the School’s Social Development Research Group—and implemented it at the local level.

“Translating Grand Challenges from Concept to Community: The Communities in Action Experience” is the first report issued on implementing the Grand Challenges in Social Work. The Grand Challenges initiative, launched in 2016 by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, advocates for social progress powered by science and provides an innovative approach that builds surprising partnerships and works across sectors to address 12 key areas—from stopping family violence and closing the health gap to ending homelessness and harnessing technology for social good. The Journal article describes a local project focused on supporting the first of the Grand Challenges: Ensuring healthy development for all youth.

As outlined in the report, faculty and students from the School of Social Work, along with a broad coalition of community-based agencies, government partners and funding agencies, tailored the School’s Communities That Care program, a successful national model with a proven track record of promoting healthy youth development, to meet the specific needs of the local community. The coalition named the local project Communities in Action.

Centered in Southeast and Central Seattle, Communities in Action uses a five-step process that supports strong behaviors and helps reduce negative ones. Each step of the process is evaluated for its effectiveness in reaching coalition-identified goals that focus on decreasing risk factors and building positive dynamics within the community, using proven interventions delivered in partnership with local agencies. “It’s critical to expand the reach and impact of agencies that have deep roots in the communities,” says Margaret Spearmon, who leads the project for the School of Social Work. “To support that effort, we’ve created an innovative approach that integrates our MSW students into community-based agencies where the students can enhance agency capacity while honing social impact skills.”

“This article illustrates how Communities in Action exemplifies implementation for the Grand Challenges,” said Kevin Haggerty, the report’s lead author. ”Our work provides important lessons learned that can be applied to other grand challenge efforts, including the importance of creating transparency around goals, mutual benefits and collective impact.” The university-community partners saw great value in building community trust through long-term commitment, and by providing meaningful learning opportunities on-site to social work students interested in prevention science. Haggerty goes on to note that this work demonstrates how schools of social work are well poised to lead the way in promoting and implementing the Grand Challenges in Social Work across the country.

The School of Social Work has been at the center of the Grand Challenges initiative since the beginning, when the idea grew out of a 2012 conference co-sponsored by the School. At the meeting, participants began developing this national approach to capture the public’s imagination, mobilize the profession and spark breakthrough findings in the field.

In addition to Margaret Spearmon and Kevin Haggerty, the report’s other authors are: Edwina S. UeharaVaughnetta J. Barton, Richard F. Catalano, all from the University of Washington School of Social Work; Edith C. Elion, Atlantic Street Center; and Raymonda C. Reese, Therapeutic Health Services.

Grand Challenges for Social Work Invites You to Go•Grander!