It’s an obvious obsession of mine, this question of how to help social workers in direct practice integrate policy advocacy and social change work into their busy, sometimes draining, clinical practice.
I spend a fair amount of time, not just reading and thinking about how to overcome this divide, how to build the skills, and how to create structures that support such “case-to-cause” advocacy, but also conducting trainings and presentations for social workers, working with students at all levels of social work education, and consulting with nonprofit organizations interested in involving their direct service staff in advocacy.
And then I found a statement that has such appeal, such clarity, such imagery…that I believe it has real potential to change not just how I talk about these challenges with practitioners, but, really, how we all approach them.
The idea, which I read in a report somewhere that I honestly can’t remember, but immediately scrawled on a sticky note and carried around with me, came from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and goes like this:
Every time, in our work with people in need, that we encounter a brick wall, we’ve just found our policy agenda.
So, then, whether we’re working with those with mental illness, or children in poverty, or recent immigrants, or survivors of domestic violence…and whether our ‘brick wall’ is an unduly strict eligibility rule or a burdensome verification process or tragic gaps in service or discriminatory treatment…
we’ve just been shown where we need to focus our advocacy efforts, at knocking down those brick walls so that we, and our clients, can make it through to the other side.