Time may seem like an illusion lately, considering we are about a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and it all feels both shorter and longer than it has been in reality. We have all experienced a massive amount of change since the halcyon days of 2019, and that change is especially felt by social workers, who spent the early days of the pandemic in the field as essential workers, and continue to help their clients adjust to the changes. And, on top of the pandemic, social unrest has been prevalent as events related to racism and policing captured national attention.
The bottom line? Social workers have a lot to contend with as they work to help their clients flourish. As we close in on the end of 2021, let’s get a snapshot of the current issues in social work and how leading social work organizations are calling on national leaders to participate in creating lasting change.
Identifying the Issues
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has identified priority issues to address in their 2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities. These priority issues are:1
- COVID-19 recovery
- Supporting the essential social work workforce
- Eliminating systemic racism
- Ensuring access to health, mental health and behavioral health services
- Addressing economic inequality and promoting financial asset building
- Preventing violence
- Reforming criminal justice and policing
Working to address the above issues while aiming to create lasting social change is no small feat. Let’s take a deeper look at several of these priority issues that have been addressed in the 2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities.
Many social workers were and are on the front lines as the pandemic continues on. While progress has been made with vaccinations, there is still work to be done as we work toward recovery. We explored the experience of a social worker and 3rd year PhD candidate at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work during the early days of the pandemic, and the small ways we can make a difference in the lives of others during this difficult time.
Grand Challenges for Social Work, an initiative from the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare (AASWSW) to champion social progress powered by science, compiled a myriad of resources for social workers around COVID-19. The resources address everything from ensuring social workers’ health, helping ensure healthy development for youths, closing health gaps where there is great economic disparity, preventing abuse during the pandemic and much more.2
Supporting the Essential Social Work Workforce
NASW notes in its Blueprint that there are 700,000 professional social workers who make up an essential workforce that serves the needs of many in terms of mental and behavioral health and social care. The demand for social workers is rising, especially in the areas of aging, child welfare, mental and behavioral health, veterans’ issues, health, education, and corrections, yet the workforce is not expected to keep pace to meet these needs.3 NASW does not foresee the demand being met without changes to policy and Federal investment in the profession and social work education.
Low salaries and student loan debt are two of the major barriers NASW sees when it comes to building an adequate workforce to address the needs of the population. Safety is another hurdle that needs to be addressed. Finally, NASW states that, for clinical social workers (CSWs), there needs to be changes in the state and federal regulatory landscape to better reimburse CSWs under Medicare, to better define the scope of their practice under the Social Security Act, and to create permanent interstate licensure portability.3
New and current social workers need to understand the current issues of the profession in order to advocate for themselves as they advocate for their clients.
Eliminating Systemic Racism
In the 2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities, NASW and the Grand Challenges for Social Work line up in the goal of eliminating racism. NASW states, “Racism impacts people of color in nearly every facet of their lives from where they live, to where they go to school and work, to where they shop and feel safe. Racism and its legacies are at the root of the conditions in today’s communities of color that drive disproportionately poor health and mental health outcomes.”3 As such, NASW calls on national leaders to encourage dialogue on how modern racism works and how it can be intentionally overcome. In the Blueprint, NASW lists multiple recommendations to national leaders.
Grand Challenges for Social Work shares multiple publications on the subject and shares a 5-year impact report—“Progress and Plans for the Grand Challenges: An Impact Report at Year 5 of the 10-Year Initiative”—on the successes and goals for the next five years moving forward. Grand Challenges for Social Work created the Eliminate Racism network in 2020 to identify interventions to challenge discrimination and rectify the negative effects on the health and well-being of the nation due to racism.4
Make a Difference with a Master’s in Social Work
Here, we have only touched on a handful of the current issues in social work. Take your education to the next level with the Master of Social Work (MSW) online program offered by Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work and get the clinical education and field-based knowledge to build lasting social change as the issues continue to change over time.
With a variety of specializations and a CSWE-accredited curriculum infused with ethics, tolerance and cultural receptivity, our online MSW program will boost your earning potential, broaden your social impact and help turn your passion into a successful professional practice. Learn more about where you can take your career in social work with our online degree program.
- Retrieved November 12, 2021, from grandchallengesforsocialwork.org/grand-challenges-for-social-work/4772/
- Retrieved November 15, 2021, from grandchallengesforsocialwork.org/covid-19-resources/
- Retrieved November 15, 2021, from socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=KPdZqqY60t4%3d&portalid=0
- Retrieved November 15, 2021, from grandchallengesforsocialwork.org/resources/eliminate-racism-five-year-impact/