Decades of racial, educational, health, and income disparities have negative effects on the people who live, work, and learn in our communities. Solutions to these inequalities often focus on the individual and familial levels. Social workers and the schools that educate them to be leaders can help identify larger policy and structural issues that contribute to opportunity gaps and work toward long-term change.
The industry-setting standard for social work education recently awarded a grant to Tulane University School of Social Work to expand opportunities for its field education program. The Policy Practice in Field Education Initiative from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) seeds innovation and develops new models for an integrated approach to enhance the policy skill set of all social work students regardless of specialization.
Project Directors Coleen Cicale, PhD, LMSW and Maurya W. Glaude, PhD, LCSW-BACS will lead a faculty and staff team to implement the proposed program called Putting Policy in its Place (PPIP). “We hope to teach social work students to look for the ways that policy shapes their clients’ lives, understand how policy impacts their practice, and more effectively utilize policy to inform their practice,” says Dr. Cicale.
PPIP is a three-part initiative where school-wide, all-student trainings bookend a six-student fellowship.
A fall kick-off event provides students the opportunity to hear from a panel of professors and community members about the importance of policy and how they use that in their social work practice, participate in a two-hour “Undoing Racism” training from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISB), and go on a walking tour.
The “Undoing Racism” training is based in anti-racism principles where participants analyze structures surrounding policy formation and preservation and identify the negative impacts of power and privilege on social policies.
The walking tour of Downtown New Orleans identifies services available for those experiencing homelessness. After the tour, students will reconvene in classrooms to work in small groups, identifying and reporting their findings on city-level policies that impact homelessness.
“Participants are challenged to identify their own biases in order to identify the biases, prejudices, and racist tactics impacting policy creation and continuation,” says Dr. Cicale. “The activities in this kick-off intend to increase the students’ aptitude in understanding the intersections of race, ethnicity, and poverty, while simultaneously enabling them to clearly identify the impact of racism and white supremacy on the creation and continuation of poverty.”
During the same semester, interested students will complete a competitive application and interview process to be included as one of six fellows participating in activities and projects outside of their classes to further develop their policy analysis and advocacy skills. The students will receive monthly training, as well as a daylong in-depth advocacy training. “They will also conduct extensive advocacy efforts within their community-based field sites and with identified policy decision makers,” says Dr. Glaude.
“This focus will amplify their policy analysis skills, put community organizing and policy advocacy into direct action through an advocacy training intensive, and provide for ongoing mentoring and monthly training where the fellows present drafts and receive feedback,” says Dr. Cicale.
Near the end of the second semester, which is also the first semester of field placement, the PPIP will conduct another day-long event for all students. The policy symposium will include speakers who are making an impact in the policy realm, and the fellows will present their projects.
“We chose this approach because too often our communities witness the collateral effects of decades of racial, educational, health, and income disparities and have histories of gentrification, trauma, and substance use,” says Dr. Glaude. “Our current program is designed to support classroom teaching, extend the field education experiences, and engage our TSSW students in collaborative social work practice that is informed by the impact of policies on the lives of our clients’ and communities.”
Several of TSSW’s faculty provided support for the program’s development and grant application. They included Joan Blakey, PhD, LMSW, Heather Gillis, PhD, LCMS-BACS, Samantha Francois, PhD, and Lauren Terzis, PhD, LMSW.
“As social workers, we are bound by ethical standards, and we are guided by the tenets of social justice,” says Dr. Cicale. “Policy work on multiple levels has the power to destroy the structural inequities that exist throughout our communities, governance, and society. Work in this arena is beautifully filled by social workers because we are committed to serving our clients.”