BPD Update Online, Spring 2004
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By Robert Schneider

Social work faculty are required to respond to two important documents as they educate students for future practice: 1) The NASW Code of Ethics that requires its members to:

"Be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet human needs and promote social justice (National Association of Social Workers, 1996, 604(A);" and

2) The current Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (2002) from the Council on Social Work Education and the section, "Social Welfare Policy and Services" that states

"Programs provide content about the history of social work, the history and current structures of social welfare services, and the role of policy in service delivery, social work practice, and attainment of individual and social well being. Course content provides students with knowledge and skills to understand major policies that form the foundation of social welfare; analyze organizational, local, state, national, and international issues in social welfare policy and social service delivery; analyze and apply the results of policy research relevant to social service delivery; understand and demonstrate policy practice skills in regard to economic, political, and organizational systems, and use them to influence, formulate, and advocate for policy consistent with social work values; and identify financial, organizational, administrative, and planning processes required to deliver social services." (Council on Social Work Education, 2002)

Social work educators are challenged to design a curriculum and courses that produce professionals with the commitment and skills needed to address a myriad of problems ranging from health and mental health care, juvenile crime and rehabilitation, long term care, people with disabilities, children at risk, racial bias, economic injustice and poverty, family and gender related violence, and so on. They must meet these mandates in an environment where: 1) human services programs face daily attacks from conservatizing forces who challenge their mounting costs; and 2) the "New Federalism" is shifting more responsibility and decision making for social policies to the states and localities.

In 1997, a group of 30 social work faculty created Influencing State Policy (ISP), whose mission is to "assist faculty and students to influence effectively the formation, implementation, and evaluation of state-level policy and legislation." Its goal has been to provide resources to increase social work "efficacy" in influencing state-level policy making. Today, ISP has over 800 liaisons in the 585 BSW and MSW social work educational programs in the USA. These individual faculty members (liaisons are appointed by deans/directors or self-affiliated) promote and explain ISP's mission and activities in their programs. ISP has also produced a four-part video series, "Policy Affects Practice." These videos are both inspirational and instructional, helping students (and faculty) overcome unnecessary fears and providing basic knowledge of legislative processes and policy advocacy. ISP has a website that recently passed the 38,000 visitors mark. The website has linkages to multiple policy sources, examples of student projects, announcements of key events, and ISP videos fully streamed for viewing by students.

In 2002-03, ISP helped to promote over 6,669 student visits to 40 state legislatures. It has sponsored 6 national contests for students and faculty whose winning proposals demonstrate what "even" students can do to influence legislation and law making. All winning projects are on the ISP website. Awards are given at a national conference each year. ISP is trying to encourage programs to put more students in field placements directly with state legislators and has developed guidelines for such placements. It gives $2,000 annually to a Ph.D. student whose dissertation analyzes some aspect of state policy. ISP helps co-sponsor national and regional policy conferences. Its newsletter, INFLUENCE, has been published 14 times and disseminated semi-annually to over 2,500 readers each time. Some ISP liaisons state that they have modified their course assignments because of ISP materials and others even say their school curriculum has been altered.

ISP provides guidelines on organizing an annual "legislative rally day or forum" that frequently makes a deep impression on students, many of whom have never visited a legislative body. This includes making appointments with their elected representatives, providing a personal, self-enhancing experience, and tracking a bill during the legislative session. ISP provides examples of assignments that require students to formulate, analyze, or advocate for a bill. These activities often create a new learning environment for policy education.

Has ISP made a difference? Is it assisting faculty by providing relevant resources? Here are quotes from recent BSW and MSW graduates: "Social policy is accessible to social workers. We must work together to empower ourselves and make our voices heard above the political clamor." "I am finding my resolve. [Attending the legislative rally day] showed me how advocacy applies not only to my clients, but also to me. It was peeling another layer off of my insecurities." "Just imagine the positive change that students could effect if they organize and coordinate their lobbying efforts on a large scale in each state!"

For more information on ISP, visit the website, http://www.statepolicy.org or email Dr. Robert L. Schneider at rlschnei@vcu.edu or call him at 804.828.0452.
Annual membership dues are $25 and they entitle members to all videos, newsletters, networks, and occasional advocacy papers. Join now!!!

Click here to visit the Influencing State Policy (ISP) Website:

Click here to send an email message to Robert Schneider:

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BPD Update Online, Volume 26, No. 2, Spring 2004

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