One of the mandates of social work is to advance the interests of social justice, particularly on behalf of populations or groups that have been disadvantaged, disempowered, or discriminated against. This web site is designed to help you influence social policy (including governmental decision-makers) for the purposes of advancing social justice. The School of Social Work does not affiliate with any particular political party and believes that social work students and practitioners, regardless of political affiliation, can contribute to the advancement of social justice.
The International Federation of Social Workers states in its definition of social work, "The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work" (http://www.ifsw.org/f38000032.html) Similarly, the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics provides, "Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice."
Ways to Influence Social Policy
The following points describe some ways that social workers and their constituencies can influence social policy for the advancement of social justice. If you have any other suggestions for us to include in this web page, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Encourage people to register to vote: Participation in political processes is vital to the functioning of a free and democratic society. Disenfranchised groups are often underrepresented as registered voters. As social workers, we can work with community groups to remove barriers to registration - providing information to people who do not have information, translating information about registration into the languages of people who are not fluent in English, providing information orally to people who have low levels of literacy, providing transportation options for people who do not have cars or other forms of transportation, explaining the importance of voting to those who do not think it is important, and countering misinformation about registering to vote for people who come from countries where governments used this type of information to punish those who did not support a particular party, etc.
- Providing Forums for Constituents to meet with Government Officials and Candidates for Office: Open town hall meetings or more private meetings are useful for creating an exchange of information between government officials and their constituencies. Just asking questions about social justice issues informs officials that people are concerned about these issues. Often, the best time to influence government officials is during a political campaign, when candidates are vying for support. Meet the candidates meetings ensures that attendees have better information to base their votes upon and that candidates understand the views of their constituents.
- Organize Coalitions of People: Although the voice of a single person is important, the voices of many may help ensure that a particular viewpoint is heard. Encourage people with like interests to work together, and help disparate group see their common interests so that they can work together to promote social issues (e.g., people who are trying to eradicate racism and people who are trying to eradicate sexism have a common interest in promoting human rights generally - both groups can work together on one another's causes).
- Provide Groups with Alternatives for Promoting a Social Justice Cause - Find out what type of actions might be most effective to advance the cause - e.g., a low-level meeting with specific government bureaucrats, a media campaign, a letter writing or email campaign, a public nonviolent demonstration, or a research project to gather information that can be used to inform decision makers based upon objective data.
- Make information Available - As Paulo Freire contends, information is power. People who are in less powerful positions can gain power through information. Ensure that the groups you are helping have access to quality education, literacy programs, computers and Internet access, newspapers and other media. Simply providing people with the names of their municipal, state, or national representatives can help people make their voices heard. Also, provide people with information about political and decision-making processes (e.g., how a city makes decisions about zoning or how a police department establishes its hiring policies). Note that Florida's Sunshine Laws require most government meetings to be open to the public.
The following information is intended to help you help others promote positive social change. We give credit to Influencing State Policy for some of the information contained below. As its web site states, "Influencing State Policy (ISP) assists social work faculty and students in learning to effectively influence the formation, implementation, and evaluation of state-level policy and legislation." The ISP web site contains excellent information, links, and news. While ISP focuses upon state policy , the information below also pertains to national and local policy.
- Broward County
- Miami-Dade County
- Palm Beach County
- West Palm Beach
- Boca Raton
(for other municipalities, use your Web Browsers using the following key words - "City of ____ government information")
(see www.stateline.org for other states)
- State Legislature Page
- Homepage of the Governor
- Florida Information
- Community Resources and Programs
National Links (Washington, DC)
- House of Representatives
- White House
- Social Security Administration
- US Department of Justice
- Census Quick Facts
Resources for Information on Voter Rights
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a website (http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/state-vote981.aspx) that provides state information about voting laws and a user-friendly map (http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx) defining voter identification requirements for each state.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law produced an analysis of voting law changes (http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/2012_summary_of_voting_law_changes/) and recently released a paper analyzing the challenges faced by voters in obtaining valid voter identification (http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/the_challenge_of_obtaining_voter_identification).
The Pew Center on the States provides information on voting and elections more generally (http://www.pewstates.org/projects/election-initiatives-328601).
Social Advocacy Groups - Links *
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Antidefamation League (combating anti-Semitism)
- Human Rights Campaign (gay and lesbian issues)
- Human Rights Watch (international)
- NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
- National Association of Social Workers (includes great links for current issues, how to contact legislators, and position papers)
- National Center for Lesbian Rights
- National Coalition for the Homeless
- NOW (National Organization for Women)
- TASH (people with disabilities)
Another way to contribute to social justice is through volunteering with charitable and social agencies. The following links provide information on volunteer opportunities in south Florida:
- Broward County Volunteer Clearinghouse
- FAU Volunteer Center
- Martin County Volunteer and Community Resource Center
For most people, our tendency is to communicate with only those who have similar political ideologies. For the purposes of social action, it is important to communicate with people of diverse political ideologies.
* If you have any other advocacy groups or political parties you think we should list, please let us know (email@example.com); the School of Social Work does not officially support any of these organizations - whether or not you agree with their positions on different issues, we hope you will find this information useful. These listings are not intended to be either exhaustive or exclusive.
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