What We Do
LINKING RESEARCH TO POLICY
Social work researchers in academic and other settings produce volumes of research that can inform policy and legislative deliberations on the Hill. Social workers approach research from the perspective of seeking evidence that solutions we promote are in fact helping people. While acknowledging the salience of benefit-cost analysis, the focus of social work research is finding interventions and policies that benefit people.
Although social workers are frequently invited to committee hearings and briefings in Congress, it is doubtful that much of the research being done by social work scholars gets considered during the process of drafting bills in Congress. Much of that work is done by lawyers who are not likely to scour the social science literature to support the theses of their legislation. Social work research is often incorporated in bills to identify the scope and magnitude of human problems, but not often included to highlight desired outcomes in social welfare legislation.
As social work researchers produce findings that are relevant to policy deliberations in Congress, those findings must be packaged in the form of legislative briefs and disseminated to the appropriate congressional staffers. Social work researchers must also stay aware of legislative trends and be prepared to produce research, statistics, and information that might enlighten the discussion.
EXPANDING INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS
CRISP will act as a broker between schools and departments of social work and congressional offices to increase the number of students who are able to fulfill their field placement obligations as interns in congressional office—both on the Hill and in local districts. While there are challenges due to supervision requirements for social work students and the need to tailor the intern experience to meet the educational requirements of field placements, these challenge can be overcome.
Internships in congressional offices are valuable experiences where students learn first-hand the workings of the federal legislative processes. They become knowledgeable about how bills are drafted and become laws, they observe congressional committees at work, and they participate in many activities that enhance their knowledge and skills about the federal legislative process.
Social work students make great interns for congressional offices because they bring with them a breadth and depth of knowledge about the issues and concerns of constituents. Social work students receive training in developing rapport with individuals, working with groups, assessing problems, and utilizing problem-solving skills which are useful when engaging district residents and groups.
Creating Public Intellectuals
Looking for great social work communicators! Having something important to say and saying it in a manner that captures the attention of the public are quite different ideals. Social workers know more than anyone the struggles of individuals and families coping with physical, mental, and economic challenges because we work on the front lines of these battles. Social researchers have made many groundbreaking findings in research that often dispel misconceptions about people receiving assistance, document the strengths and resilience of vulnerable populations, and confirm that given opportunity, people can find their way out of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
Yet we are often absent from these conversations in congressional settings, on public affairs programming, and in public events. In a 2010 article published in the journal Social Work Research titled “Social Workers as Public Intellectuals,” Matthew O. Howard identifies a number of forces that work against social work scholars taking stage in the public sphere—lack of reward by tenure-granting universities, adoption of the generalist perspective, and a retreat from a strong social justice advocacy. In a 2004 article by Howard Jacob Karger and Marie Theresa Hernández in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare titled “The Decline of the Public Intellectual in Social Work”, the authors flat out state: “social workers have little influence on the pressing social issues of the day.”
So, who are our public intellectuals? Jared Bernstein certainly qualifies. Former chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden who earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University School of Social Work, Bernstein uses his blog, “On The Economy” to address social issues from early childhood education to economic inequality and everything in between. He is a regular on many of the network and cable public affairs and news programs and lectures across the country and internationally. But he is just one person. We need more.
There are many coming up the ranks with the personality and presence to be public intellectuals but they must be cultivated. They must be given opportunities to hone their skills. Our aim is the find them and groom them.