Q: What is Social Work appreciation month?
A: March is recognized as National Social Work month. It was first organized in March of 1963 by the National Association of Social Workers as a way to encourage public support for the profession. As a social worker, I love to recognize this month and all my colleagues for the amazing work they do.
The official first social work class was offered in 1898 at Columbia University. Since then, social workers have led the way in addressing social problems in America. In fact, many benefits we take for granted today were pioneered by social workers. Social workers were integral in securing civil rights, unemployment insurance, disability pay, Social Security, and advocated for systems to prevent child and elder abuse, as well as better treatment for people with mental illnesses.
The social work profession is varied, which sometimes makes it difficult to define. You may have encountered social workers in your own life at a community-based organization, a school, in a hospital, a treatment facility or while looking for support services. Generally, social workers help people with challenges in their lives.
For this reason, the theme this year for National Social Work month is “Social Work Breaks Barriers.” Social workers aim to break the barriers that stop people from living full and enriching lives. This can mean different things to different people, and it’s what makes the profession so varied and critical.
In my experience, social workers think outside the box to find ways to help people. They may be helping people individually by guiding them to secure safe housing, find food resources, apply for benefits, or giving information on caregiving resources. Often a lot of what a social worker does is provide a safe, supportive listening ear to help someone through a difficult situation.
Social workers can also work on the macro level, meaning they work on systems to advocate for laws and policies that allow everyone access to the services they need.
The profession comes with a Code of Ethics to abide by. Social work’s core values of service are social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. I often refer to this code of ethics in my own work and know that its principles guide me in my decision making.
Even though I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), I still rely on social workers in other roles to support me. I often call colleagues who have expertise in a different field than myself to ask for referrals and information. Most recently, my father had a health emergency in another state. I found an LCSW who works there and called to get local resources and support for my family.
Social work is now one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 715,000 social workers in 2020. That number is expected to grow to more than 800,000 by the end of this decade.
I am fortunate to be a part of this field, and privileged to know many social workers who truly care about helping people through crisis and empowering them to find ways to help themselves in future situations.
The next time you need support and help breaking the barriers in your life, look for a social worker to be your advocate. And if you have been fortunate enough to have that help, now is a great time to say thank you for all they do.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.