Methods: Study aims were achieved with two data sources: (1) All CSWE-accredited MSW program websites (N=309); and (2) Syllabi of “ecosocial work” or environmentally-focused courses taught in MSW programs (N=10). In our website review, we read course catalogs, course descriptions, and program handbooks to identify all courses with a focus on environmental justice or ecosocial work. Member checking was used to discuss any courses in which the website information provided was unclear. Courses were designated a “no,” “yes,” or “maybe – need more information”. Other information gathered included the number of ecosocial work courses offered in each program, whether each course was required or an elective, and the topics of focus for each course. Then, GIS mapping software was used to map all programs with an ecosocial work course; additionally, descriptive and bivariate analyses examined patterns in course availability by location, topic, and program size. For the syllabi review, content analysis was used to identify patterns in focal topics and teaching methods.
Results: Preliminary findings from the website review suggest that a minimal number (5%) of U.S. MSW programs offer courses focused on environmental justice or ecosocial work, and programs covered the U.S. except for the Midwest. Additionally, all courses were electives or part of certificate programs, therefore not required for graduation. Topics included: Human rights, sustainable development, climate change, environmental justice, and global practice to name a few. The syllabi review indicated courses focused on introductory issues, and validated ecosocial work within wider social work practice and scholarship; course objectives were achieved through classroom activities, policy analysis, service learning projects, and reflective journaling.
Conclusions and Implications: This study highlights significant shortcomings in U.S. MSW program curricula for preparing future practitioners to engage in increasingly imminent environmental justice practice. A cross-national comparison with an Australian study (Harris & Boddy, 2017) reveals that the U.S. is lagging significantly behind other westernized nations. Implications for educators include a clear call to action to develop ecosocial work courses which emphasize the important role that social workers should and do play in addressing environmental injustices. This should not be a niche role within social work; rather it is time to embrace a professional mindset that “ecosocial work is everybody’s thing.”