Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Rachel West, MSW LMSW, Founder of the Political Social Worker from Long Island, New York. Rachel received her MSW from Adelphi University, and she focus her practice on community organizing and macro social work. Rachel also does consulting in advocacy and legislation for nonprofits and grass roots organization.
SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work?
Rachel: I did a lot of course work on topics like the civil rights movement, women’s history, and of course US government and policy. So, I always had an interest in social justice and policy. After graduation I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do for a career. For a while I toyed with going to law school but that didn’t seem right for me. I wanted a career with meaning, something that involved social justice and activism, where you could do things a little outside the box. I felt like there was a chance to do that with an MSW.
What really sealed the deal for me was that wonderful preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics. Plus it is a very broad degree, although that has its pluses and minuses. Still there are a lot of different things you can do with a social work education.
SWH: How do you define macro social work and its integration with politics?
Rachel: I think community practice is a better term. Too often the term macro is associated with being a manager and that’s about it. There have been a number of occasions where I’m having a discussion with other social workers, and when macro social work is being discussed they think of it only in terms of being a supervisor in a mental health setting, but it encompasses so much more than administration and management.
Probably the most succinct definition I have come across is that community practice encompasses community organizing, social planning, human service management, community development, policy analysis, policy advocacy, evaluation, mediation, electronic advocacy and other larger systems interventions.
SWH: How did the Political Social Worker Blog come about, and What types of issues do the Political Social Worker report on?
Rachel: I was discouraged by the lack of blogs and articles focusing on community practice issues. There are very few resources for a non-clinical social worker to turn to for career advice. It can be disheartening. There’s not much support at the academic level or from the NASW. Just trying to find continuing education classes is frustrating. This is a particularly bitter pill for a community practice social worker who is licensed in a state that has CEU requirements. They wind up having to spend a lot of money and time on courses that have little to no relevance on what they do.
In 2011 I was unemployed. I needed something to keep myself busy as well as maintain my skills and provide me with networking opportunities. So I thought ‘OK. There is a need for information about community practice social work, so I guess I’ll start a blog about that.’ I figured that it was something constructive and it would help me meet other like minded professionals.
The Political Social Worker Started on Tumblr in January 2012. Initially, it was focused on gathering a list of resources for other community practice social workers; things like articles and websites that they would find useful. I have to say there are a lot of young social workers, or social workers in the making, on there who are very interested in advocacy and politics. It told me that there really was a need for this within social work.
SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their political activities?
Rachel: They can email me at email@example.com. This year my goal is to spotlight other political social workers and social justice organizations. I am particularly interested in interviewing other community practice social workers about their work. There is a need to share information about how a new social work graduate can get into this field of practice. There is a ton of info on how to become a clinical social worker or how to start a private practice, but there is very little on community practice.
SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?
Rachel: I would like to see more focus on community practice. The Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) recently released a report, The Rothman Report, on the state of macro social work and it is sobering. Basically it found that community practice is being pushed out of the way by social work schools that are instead focusing on micro practice. They also discovered that students interested in pursuing macro work were being discouraged by professors and administration from doing so.
As a profession, I think we have moved too far away from community organizing and public policy. I would like to see social work standing front and center when it comes to crafting and passing policies impacting the communities we work with. The social work voice is missing from the national conversation on key issues and that is more than unfortunate because we are on the frontlines delivering services and seeing how laws and social programs are affecting people.
In the future, I not only want to continue working and developing as an advocate, but I also want to encourage and support other social workers in pursuing community practice and politics. This was my thought process when the political social worker was born. I want to help get social work on to the national stage. I know you have taken this up on SWH, but how often do you watch the news or attend a panel discussion on politics and see a social worker joining in the discussion? There are political scientist, sociologist, even historians weighing in on these matters, but where are the social workers?