I recently had the opportunity to interview Maggie Rosenbloom, LGSW founder of Social Workers for Reproductive Justice. SWRJ is a budding organization working to uphold the National Association of Social Works Code of Ethics by advocating for reproductive justice. Maggie will also be our guest for Social Work Chats on Monday March 25th.
Can you tell us about Social Workers for Reproductive Justice?
It’s still in its development stages but we want to be an organization that fosters knowledge of reproductive health issues for social workers. Our mission statement is: Educating social workers to advocate for reproductive justice and promote client self-determination in reproductive health care options. We use the term reproductive justice as it has been described by groups like Sister Song to mean the right to have children, to not have children and to parent the children we do have in a safe environment.
Although other professional reproductive justice groups exist for physicians, lawyers and nurses, no such organization for social workers has been established to date. While the National Association of Social Workers has policies that support reproductive health services that include abortion, it has done little to educate social workers on the importance of full-spectrum family planning or to advocate for increased abortion access in the United States. I hope that SWRJ can fill that gap.
How did SWRJ get started?
It was an idea I had for an assignment in my Resource Development class during my last semester of the MSW program. It was to do strategic planning either for an existing agency or to come up with an idea for an agency of our own. My first field education internship for my Master of Social Work program was at a low-barrier emergency homeless shelter for women that was run by a faith-based agency. The agencies policies stated that employees and interns of the agency were prohibited to discuss contraception and abortion with the shelter residents, and were actively discouraged from referring clients who may have asked for such resources to outside agencies. SWRJ came out of that conflict I saw between social work practice at some agencies and the NASW Code of Ethics; particularly, the section on client self-determination. I had been involved with reproductive justice movement and had worked for the National Abortion Federation hotline, was aware of DC Abortion Fund and knew of groups like Med Students for Choice and saw that there was not a relative group for social workers. After completing the assignment and receiving my MSW I continued to work on the development of this organization.
What are your goals for SWRJ?
The goals are twofold 1. To educate social workers about reproductive health including abortion access and 2. To motivate social workers to advocate for reproductive justice and social equality. I want to develop a Standards of Care in Reproductive and Sexual Health for Social Workers that NASW can endorse. I also want SWRJ to develop continuing education workshops on reproductive health and family planning for continuing education units for social workers and work to develop curriculum for Schools of Social Work so they can include family planning information in classes and create a forum for social workers to discuss any legal or ethical issues that arise in their practice related to reproductive health. I hope that SWRJ can work with NASW, and other relevant organizations, to hold accredited social work schools responsible for the omission of such courses and work toward a uniform expectation that social workers will be responsible to allow their clients freedom in the full range of reproductive health options available.
What has the response been from social workers and social work organizations?
Very encouraging and supportive. There are already social workers and students focusing on reproductive justice and doing research. And I’ve spoken with a lot of social workers and students who have had similar questions about working at agencies that they felt had policies that went against the NASW ethical imperative for client self-determination.
I have been working with a dedicated group of 20 social workers, including students and faculty, from DC to Hawaii who have been volunteering their time to assist in the development of this organization. Many of them are well known in the reproductive justice field, and all are passionate individuals willing to donate their time and resources to establishing a national organization and state chapters and school chapters for students.
What is social works role in the reproductive justice movement? How does this fit into the code of ethics?
For me the issue has always come down to self-determination. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2008) states that social workers are ethically obligated to respect their clients’ right to self-determination in decision-making. However, some social workers refuse to provide evidenced-based information to their clients for family planning and abortion services to their clients based on their personal beliefs. Additionally, the Council on Social Work Education, the body responsible for accrediting schools of social work, regularly accredits schools that teach biased and nonscientific policies on reproductive health and family planning. To my knowledge, there is no campaign to only accredit schools of social work that adhere to the NASW code of ethics for issues of sexual and reproductive health.
Omitting such important issues as reproductive health and justice from social work curriculum harms the mission of the profession. SWRJ will improve social work’s commitment to social justice by seeking to make reproductive health a mandatory aspect of social work curricula with the goal of producing social workers who are knowledgeable about the breadth of reproductive health issues that affect their clients.
Is SWRJ working on any projects or campaigns that you can discuss here?
Right now we are just in our start-up phase, but hope to be registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in the coming year.
How can social workers get involved?
They can find our contact information on our website www.swrj.org and follow us on twitter at @socialworkersrj. They can also make sure to raise the issue of reproductive justice with their colleagues and in their classrooms!
Update: Below is the link to the transcript from Social Work Chats with SWRJ.