At the same time that our recession-weakened nation experiences slashes in public services, social work graduate students at Fordham University are being trained to identify and implement low or no-cost ways to help the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers have become an important force in supporting and protecting at-risk populations, with services that translate into benefits to our society, despite the Great Recession.
David Yassky, Taxi and Limousine Commissioner and former City Councilmember, spoke recently to students in one session of the course that I teach, Advocacy and Public Policy, at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. “It’s always hard to get social changes approved, but I don’t think it’s any harder now to get change, as long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money. And you, as social workers, through your daily experiences, can identify such solutions and fight to get them adopted,” Yassky told my class.
In the 1980s, I led the adoption of New York City’s law requiring posters in bars and restaurants warning about drinking during pregnancy–which resulted in national legislation–and another law preventing job discrimination against recovered alcoholics. Several years ago, I was also instrumental in establishing a state law requiring mentoring programs to inform parents about whether or not they did background checks on the mentors. I am most proud that these laws have become national models.
Each one of my second year graduate students in the course Advocacy and Public Policy, is required to identify and advocate for a new, small public policy that can improve society at little cost. Although the recession affects all of us, the demands on specific individuals have become greater, and the need for social services grows even greater, My students have had no problem finding these issues and their public policy solutions.
For example, here are some of their concepts:
-Mental health seminars in high schools so students can identify warning signs in themselves and others and prevent violent behaviors
-Requiring people who are HIV positive to inform those they are sexually active with
-Have public TV and radio regularly post social indexes on how well or poorly society is solving its social ills and invite public involvement where changes are most needed
-Offering affordable transportation for low-income cancer patients, who now may be late or even miss appointments
-Stopping users of suboxone, a methadone-like drug, from selling their supply to get others high
-A requirement that public housing conditions that cause asthma be fixed within a month, rather than a year;
-Allowing pregnant women to avoid going through school metal detectors.
As someone who has who led nonprofit agencies for over two decades, I understand that social workers are required by their profession to identify solutions to public problems and advocate for their implementation. For the disadvantaged, who are most affected by the Great Recession, the initiatives developed by social workers offer a balance in these challenging situations, and proves that optimism for the future is still possible.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the position of ‘social worker’ is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country. However, social workers starting out today have high tuition bills, are faced with a high cost of living, and are concerned that their charitable employers may be cutting back. So there is pressure on them to just do the work they are employed to do and not go beyond to pursue changes in public policies.
The goal of the Fordham program is to show my second-year graduate students that they are one vital counterweight to the Great Recession.