BPD Update Online, Fall 2008

Some Thoughts on BPD and Unification

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In June 2007, CSWE hosted a meeting sponsored by the Johnson Foundation entitled: Social Work: Future of the Profession.  Participants included CSWE, NASW, ASWB, NADD, GADE, BPD, SSWR, IASWR, and the St. Louis Group.  The avowed purpose was to discuss the profession’s unification.  At the meeting’s conclusion the following statement was approved by all present except for two SSWR members who abstained:

"Leaders of 10 professional social work organizations convened at Wingspread to address the future of the profession. Participants signed a resolution: We resolve to create a unified profession with one social work organization by 2012. This historic agreement sets the stage for an organizational structure inclusive of all sectors of social work. It reflects the diversity of our profession and addresses the concerns of the United States and the global society.

"The social work profession requires a strong unified voice to enhance its ability to serve, to educate, to develop research and to influence social service, social policy and social change. The challenges of the 21st century, identified by the Social Work Congress of 2005, compel a vibrant, proactive, nimble, flexible organizational structure that reflects collective vision and ensures impact. A transition team will address implementation issues and will be guided by the Leadership Roundtable with ongoing input from constituents over the next five years."

            Subsequently, both CSWE and NASW Boards of CSWE and NASW endorsed the statement.  The Unification Transition Team (UTT) met at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting in San Francisco (October 2007) to begin identifying unification barriers.  In the past year, unification has been discussed in various forums at the annual meetings of most of the participating organizations.  The discussions highlighted both the potential benefits of unification and the ways it could harm each organization.  These discussions have also considered barriers to unification and forms that unification might take. A few of these ideas are discussed below.

Arguments for unification include the points made in the second paragraph of the position statement quoted above.  The profession could benefit from “a strong unified voice” and a “vibrant, proactive, nimble, flexible organizational structure that reflects collective vision and ensures impact.”  While one could argue that in most areas, social work does speak with a unified voice on matters of social policy, the advantages of an organization with the above characteristics are obvious.  An organization that represented all of social work might be more influential in various venues including legislative and other decision-making situations. 

Those with concerns about unification note it has the potential to merge all organizations in a large, more bureaucratic body that would be unresponsive to its members.  The fact that large numbers of social work educators do not belong to either NASW or CSWE is cited as evidence that these individuals do not see the organizations as providing any benefit to them.  Undergraduate faculty and program directors have often stated that they do not see NASW as providing any particular benefit to BSW graduates. 

Others argue that each of the separate organizations was created to address specific needs  that were not satisfied by existing bodies.  This is certainly true for BPD, NADD, GADE, and SSWR, among others.  As these organizations evolved, they created their own conferences, newsletters, and forums responsive to their members’ needs and interests.  The idea that a single organization could meet the extremely diverse needs of these disparate bodies is criticized as unworkable and undesirable.

A prime example of the challenges to making an organization responsive to the needs of all of its members can be found in the controversy around adoption of the new Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS).  Numerous arguments were made to CSWE in opposition to portions of the draft document, both verbally and in writing.  The BPD Board made a concerted effort to collect and share its members’ opinions with those drafting the EPAS.  Despite this feedback, both the drafters and the CSWE Board ignored that input. The result has reduced trust in CSWE to a level not seen since the mid 1980s and perhaps irreparably damaged the prospects of unifying the profession under a single structure.

As one who has participated in BPD since its second conference, I am deeply troubled by recent events.  If BPD does elect to pursue unification I would suggest that a confederation model be adopted in which all organizations maintain their identity, purposes, and services to members.  A confederation allows such a unified structure without harming the underlying needs of the individual participating organizations.  This model may be able to produce the single voice sought by those proposing unification while avoiding the less desirable consequences of a single organization purporting to represent all of social work.

Another Article on Unification is on the next page...

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 30, No. 3, Fall, 2008

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning