Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Social Work Problem #1: Lack of Professional Support for Macro-Practice Social Workers

This month will focus on four major flaws that undermine the profession's ability to meet its mission. While I feel blessed to be an alumna of a top-ranked program that supports macro social work practice and research (Michigan), many students attending under-resourced and clinical-only MSW programs (the majority of MSW programs) lack access to macro content in the curriculum. This is detrimental to the students' learning as well as the social work profession's mission. It is critical that social workers recognize these setbacks and find ways that improve the profession's capacity to help everyone and not just a select few.

The first major problem is the lack of professional support for macro-practice social workers. When I browsed the titles for the upcoming social work conference in Michigan, a majority (~80%) of the sessions focused on mental health, pain management, health care, and psychotherapy. Since my MSW concentration was management and community practice (in educational settings), it was both frustrating and disappointing to see how social workers continue to ignore topics focusing on community organization, management, and policy practice. When social workers ignore its legacy of social activism in the early- and mid-twentieth century, the profession is not meeting its social justice mission.

What is macro social work? Macro social work focuses on changing larger social systems (i.e., communities, organizations, and society). It involves three broadly defined areas: community organization, management, and policy practice. Spectrum of practice includes outreach and recruitment, planning and program development, project management, community organizing, political and social advocacy, program evaluation, dialogue facilitation, grant-writing and fundraising, and internal organizational change. Social work graduates plan, implement, manage, and evaluate social welfare policies and programs in public and non-profit settings.

Since I began this blog, I have posted a lot about macro social work to inform readers and visitors that there is more to the social work profession than mental health, child welfare, and case management. One of the things I find most frustrating of all is the lack of continuing education courses (CEUs) addressing topics in community practice for licensed social workers. Licensed macro-practice social workers must often waste their time and money on CEUs that have nothing to do with his or her current employment. Macro-practice social workers also have to be entrepreneurial (networking among non-social workers, using alternative job titles such as outreach coordinator or policy analyst, and justifying how an MSW is valuable in a non-clinical setting) during their job search since most non-profit and public sector employers have no clue about our versatile (administrative, people-oriented, and social justice values) skills. This is due to neglect and marginalization of macro social work in the profession.

Schools of social work are required to teach clinical (working with individuals, families and small groups) and macro content in the foundation curriculum. Yet, students who want to concentrate in macro social work find themselves in the minority because clinical practice is the dominant (and in some cases the only) concentration. The fact that most students enter social work with clinical training in mind is also disappointing due to the poor visibility and absence of macro practice. It can also be difficult for social work students to find macro field placements due to the lack of qualified licensed macro-practice social workers. Some MSW students also pursue a second graduate degree (law, public policy, public health, education, etc.) to remain competitive in the eyes of employers. Finally, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) primarily offers content and support to clinical social workers. Macro-practice social workers should ignore NASW and register with the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) and other professional associations related to their practice area (since my background is higher education, I have membership with ACPA--College Student Educators International because I want to pursue a career in academic and educational affairs). 

Bottom line: The social work profession cannot continue to act like it advocates for the disadvantaged when it does not offer professional support for macro-practice social workers. State boards of social work should recognize macro practice as a licensure option so that more social work students can receive field placements with macro-practice professionals. The social work profession needs macro-practice social workers, who work with communities and organizations to organize people, gather data, and present policies that improve society.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:

1 comment:

Deona Hooper said...

Hi Michigan Girl,

I would love to connect with you reference your thoughts on macro social work practice. You can reach me at My name is Deona Hooper.