Abstract: Building Policy Practice & Social Justice Competencies to Address Racial and Economic Inequality (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Building Policy Practice & Social Justice Competencies to Address Racial and Economic Inequality

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Treasury, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Zita Dixon, MSW, doctoral candidate, Brandeis University, MA
Mary Collins, PhD, Chair and Professor, Social Welfare Policy, Boston University, Boston, MA
Trudy Zimmerman, MSW, Assistant Dean for Field Education, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose:  Although there is substantial agreement about the importance of policy practice to the profession of social work, there is less agreement about the scope of this practice area and educational efforts within social work programs to train on these skills.  This presentation uses data collected as part of an assessment of a project aimed at advancing policy practice skills of foundation year MSW students.  Specifically it aims to address two questions:  (1) what is students’ understanding of policy practice activities?  (2) how do students’ incorporate social justice issues related to racial, ethnic, and poverty inequity within their understanding of policy practice? 

Method: This analysis used data collected to evaluate the impact of a policy practice assignment on attainment of student competency in policy practice.  One hundred sixty one (161) students completed a field based policy practice assignment during the academic year 2017-2018.  Each of the student projects were coded in several areas:  type of policy practice activity, status of project, perception of the project’s impact, and students’ perception of how the project contributed to social justice in areas related to race/ethnicity/poverty.  A report form and template to guide the collection and presentation of this information was provided to students to record their efforts.  Quantitative descriptive analysis of student reports was conducted as well as qualitative thematic analysis.

Results:  Review of student products identified their engagement in the following types of policy practice activities: creating an informational flyer/fact sheet about policy (8%); meeting with legislator (3%); writing testimony (3%); writing individual letter to policy maker (18%); organizing letter writing campaign with other stakeholders (3%); producing position paper or policy brief (4%); conducting background research to understand a policy (4%); conducting background research to inform a product (policy brief, fact sheet, training workshop) (3%).  The remainder of projects focused on case advocacy rather than policy advocacy or were aimed at agency or school policy.  Our examination of student responses regarding how the project addressed social justice in the areas of race/ethnicity and poverty, identified that 65% of projects were explicit about this focus.  For example, students who addressed these social justice issues explicitly might identify that in their field settings they work with youth who are primarily youth of color.  The remainder indicated more implicit attention to these issues.  For example, a student may indicate they are working with a population dealing with opioid addiction and that the population is majority white. 

Implications:  This analysis identified that students had highly variable understanding of policy practice activities and were often challenged to highlight specific efforts to address social justice issues related to race, ethnicity, and poverty within their policy practice activities.  Findings suggest increased clarity is needed to guide students on relevant policy practice activities that may have policy impact.  Furthermore, findings inform our efforts to ensure that students attend to the social justice issues relevant in the field settings and that these efforts are increasingly explicitly in their emphasis on race, ethnicity, and poverty regardless of the practice setting.