The Most Influential Social Workers Weigh in on the Challenges that Face Social Workers Today

Social workers across the United States tackle a myriad of important issues every day. Their dedication to helping the most vulnerable members of society makes social work one of the noblest professions, but it can also be one of the most challenging. What are the most important areas of focus for social workers today?

The most influential social workers on the college

Some of the country’s most influential voices weighed in to Social Work Today magazine on the future of the industry of helping people in an age when it seems like more and more people need their services. Whether it’s issues of poverty, mental health, substance abuse, or child abuse, these social workers have been trying to change the world, and they’re paving the way for the next generation of leaders.

1. Jack Register and Legitimacy

Jack Register, MSW, LCSW, is the director of advocacy and legislation for the NASW in North Carolina, as well as a professor of social work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, all-around activist, and grassroots organizer. He’s worked across many fields of social work and has a history of working with HIV/AIDS patients and teens addicted to drugs and alcohol. To Register, one of the important things social workers must do in the future is unify their identity, which is often difficult when the field helps so many people in so many different ways. He says that doctors and lawyers are respected for their training, but each have a specialty, and that social workers need to become the same way in order to legitimize the profession. Education, further licensures, and more opportunities for social workers to use their research skills and knowledge can help the public understand more about what they do.

2. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and the Elderly

Barbara Mikulski has served the nation as the senior Democratic senator from Maryland since 1987, making her the first social worker ever to be elected to that body. Before she entered politics, Milkulski focused on child welfare and worked for Catholic charities. Her main concern for the future of social work is how to provide mental health care to the elderly in nursing homes and remote rural areas. These seniors have no other access to counseling besides social workers. Before Mikulski’s bill, the Clinical Social Work Medicare Equality Act of 2007, these social workers were unable to bill Medicare for their services. Now, they have a chance to be reimbursed, and the issue opens up a discussion of discrepancy between classes and what kind of social work services Medicare is willing to pay for.

3. Jane Bierdeman-Fike and Violence

A psychiatric social worker with a career spanning four decades, Jane Bierdeman-Fike has served in many capacities. She distinguished herself as the director of social worker at Fulton State Hospital in Missouri from 1962 until her retirement. Retired since 2000, she continued to receive honors until her death in March 2012. Bierdeman-Fike’s legacy rests in her profound belief that social workers have a unique ability to recognize the origins of violent behavior. Social workers confront all kinds of violence and abuse, especially violence rooted in poverty, discrimination, or mental illness. Social workers have the unique opportunity to develop innovative approaches that reach the most disenfranchised in society and sources that perpetuate violence. Bierdeman-Fike was a proponent of the idea that social workers can do more than change the lives of their clients, they can change the world.

Social work is full of brilliant educators, innovators, and humanitarians who have made a profound difference in the field. Nobody can predict the future, but social workers individually and collectively can set goals and come together to work towards them. No matter what the specialty, social work is about helping people when they need it most. It’s no wonder the industry is filled with such pioneers.

Writer Robert Neff blogs for sites on public service. Interested in social work as a future career? You may like to review the social work degree at Case Western University.

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