Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Social Work Matters -- The Power of Linking Policy and Practice (2012)

Social Work Matters: The Power of Linking Policy and Practice (2012), edited by Elizabeth F. Hoffles, MSW and Elizabeth J. Clark, PHD, ACSW, MPH, is a collection of essays by over 50 authors who demonstrate how social work matters to the healthy functioning of society. This statement supports that argument: Social justice is the fuel that drives social workers and what sets social work apart from other professions. Social workers with practice experience make excellent advocates, organizers, and policy-makers. The two goals of this book were to 1) portray what social workers accomplish in different fields on a daily basis because the professional is often misunderstood and undervalued, and 2) link traditional, direct practice with the critical policy and advocacy components of the profession.

In the introduction, the editors highlight famous social work trailblazers--Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, Dorothy I. Height, and Whitney M. Young--who were the key architects on groundbreaking social initiatives in the twentieth century. The editors also highlight how social workers provide the majority of mental health services in the United States and work on a variety of social issues, such as poverty, inequality, insecurity, fear, violence, trauma, loss, and pain. Thus, it is important that social workers not only know what is happening at the agency level but also have a good understanding of social policies that influence their practice. According to the editors, social workers are trained to "acquire resources for clients, organize communities for causes, and coordinate grassroots advocacy campaigns."

“Social work is more than just a ‘value added’ service,” says Hoffler. “It is essential to ensuring that our country continues to provide opportunity, promotes equity, and help millions of individuals fulfill their potential. Readers of this book will understand that truth as never before.” The chapters of this book illustrate what different kinds of social workers do on a daily basis, and how macro action can be applied to help individuals, communities. Each chapter explores the transition from micro-level service—working directly to improve the lives of individuals—to the macro-level work of altering our social systems and institutions through broad social action and advocacy. The authors describe a real-life social issue, argue why this issue matters in social work, provide implications for policy and practice, and conclude with discussion questions for further exploration.

In this 325-paged book, the chapters focus on the following topics: administration, advocacy, children and families, communities  corrections and the courts, direct practice, education and loan forgiveness (my favorite chapter, which is usually ignored in most social work career books), equality and social justice, finances, government programs, health, HIV/AIDS, parity (mental health/substance abuse), and research. I loved the education and loan forgiveness section because the chapters focus on the importance of exposing macro practice to students, educating students on student loan forgiveness programs, and social work opportunities in higher education administration. As a joint degree student in social work and higher education, it is satisfying (I can't say this enough) to hear about other social workers' experiences working with college students (the clients).

Overall, I highly recommend this text to social work (especially macro practice) students, educators, and practitioners who want to link their practice experience with policy developments. It is promising that NASW produced this much needed text; now, if only the leadership will expand their membership base beyond clinical social workers. If the social work profession truly promotes social justice and advocacy, then NASW needs to provide better support (networking, educational resources, and continuing education opportunities) for macro social workers.

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