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May 23, 2017

Amanda Toler Woodward: Graduation day

May 24, 2017

(originally printed May 5, 2017)

Amanda Toler Woodward is an associate professor in the MSU School of Social Work. Her goal is to share reflections on a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia and whatever else catches her fancy. Learn more about her and read her other blogs on her website.

It’s graduation weekend at my university and this morning we had our School of Social Work recognition ceremony. It’s a happy day. Faculty parade around in funny robes and hats. Family and friends come to applaud and honor the hard work their graduate has done. There’s no parking anywhere, but the usual campus hot spots (like my office which is typically a dance party all day long) are ghostly quiet.

I’m proud of our social work students and what they’ve done to get here and look forward to see the great things they will do moving forward. And let’s face it, the work that social workers do is more important now than ever.

To me, that’s obvious, but I recently read some research that made it very clear that most people don’t actually know what social work is or what social workers do. Unless you know someone who is a social worker or have been on the receiving end of social work services, why would you? So, for this Graduation Day edition of #justthefactsfriday I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the social work profession and the types of things our graduates will be doing in the world.

  • Social work promotes social justice and social change, works to enhance human well-being, and helps meet the basic needs of all people, particularly those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.
  • Social workers work with individuals, organizations and communities. They provide individual and group counseling, case management (which basically means helping connect clients with resources they might not otherwise know about or have access to) and a whole host of other services.
  • They do this in a variety of settings from hospitals and primary care offices to substance abuse treatment facilities and social service agencies to schools and private practice. They work with children, families, and older adults, people who are homeless, people struggling with mental health and substance use issues, veterans and people with disabilities of all kinds. If you’re thinking to yourself “Wow, social workers are everywhere,” you’re right, we are.
  • Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, with almost 650,000 jobs in 2014. This is expected to increase by 12 percent between now and 2024, a rate of growth that is faster than the average for all occupations. At the same time, the funding for many of these jobs is shrinking. As I type.
  • Social workers are one of the largest groups of mental health service providers and about 54 percent of social work jobs are in health care. A third of social workers are employed by states or the federal government.
  • In addition to working directly with people, social workers advocate for change. Think Jane Addams who was the first American woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and a badass community organizer. Think Frances Perkins who was the first woman to be appointed to the cabinet of a U.S. president. She was Secretary of Labor for Franklin D. Roosevelt and drafted much of the New Deal legislation. And many, many more we’ve never heard of who work for change in policies and practices across the spectrum. Sometimes social workers are loud, on the streets and in your face. Sometimes we’re quiet and behind the scenes. Sometimes change moves fast. Sometimes it moves painfully slow. But it moves.

Today we sent more social workers off into the world. Keep an eye out for them. They’ll be doing good stuff and shaking things up.