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In a passionate call to action for social workers to get more engaged in NASW policy priorities, new NASW CEO Anthony Estreet, PhD, MBA, LCSW-C, urged Virginia and Metro DC social workers to boost their personal involvement in advocacy that advances the profession and fights for social justice against extremists.

“Where has the social work voice gone?” lamented Estreet, who spoke March 22 to 180

attendees during the NASW Virginia and Metro DC Annual Conference in Norfolk. He noted that although active advocacy is “built into the Code of Ethics,” the social work profession has “divided itself” through macro and micro labels that have left an erroneous impression that unless a policy problem affects a social worker directly, they have no professional obligation to advocate for its resolution.

In response, Estreet quoted former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, “Politics is social work with power,” and noted that he tells all congressional members he meets that they should have a social worker on their staff.

“Better yet, social workers should run for office,” Estreet says. Five social workers currently serve in Congress, but two are retiring, and two face tough election challenges this fall, he cautioned.

In addition, while the Public Health Emergency of COVID-19 is over, the post-pandemic world has dramatically changed, leaving people feeling more isolated than ever, weakening communication skills, increasing divisiveness, and growing the influence of extreme ideologies.

“There’s a new pandemic,” Estreet said. “It’s politics…. And social work is political.”

He pointed to Alabama’s just-passed bill that bans schools—including social work

schools—from mandating reading related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“This is a threat to how our social work students are learning and how they’ll practice in the future,” said Estreet, adding that many other states are proposing similar measures.

He also voiced alarm at skyrocketing numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills in federal and state

legislatures—70 of 550 recent bills have already been enacted. In 2024, just between January and March, state lawmakers introduced 478 anti-LGBTQ bills, so the battle for LGBTQ rights and protections has intensified.

One bright spot is progress on creation of a Social Work Licensure Compact that would ensure license mobility to qualified social workers who want to practice in compact states. The Virginia Chapter has worked closely with bill sponsor Sen. Ghazali Hashmi (D-Sen. District 15) to help successfully usher compact legislation through the General Assembly and onto the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin for signature. Youngkin has until April 8 to veto, sign, propose amendments, or let the bill pass as is.

According to Estreet, four states have signed onto the compact as of March 2024, but seven to10 are needed to start drafting formal practices. Estreet hopes to attain that by summer, with drafting of the language tentatively scheduled for fall.

Twenty-seven states now have compact bills in progress, which would improve mental and behavioral health access in rural areas and serve communities with severe workforce shortages in particular.

“This is no longer a spectator sport,” Estreet concluded. “You have to be involved. We do a good job educating social work students on social justice issues, but we don’t do a good job explaining how to get active in social justice…. All social workers must use their voice” for the good of their clients and profession.


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