Abstract: Re-Envisioning Social Work Curricula: Ecosocial Work Is Everybody's Thing (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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566P Re-Envisioning Social Work Curricula: Ecosocial Work Is Everybody's Thing

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Nicole Mattocks, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Melissa Singh, EdD, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, Doctoral Student, Sacred Heart University, CT
Meredith Powers, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Lauryn Smith, BA, Clinical Research Assistant, University of Maryland School of Social Work
Kelly Smith, DSW, Adjunct Professor, Adelphia University, NY
Background and Purpose: The impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are experienced and recognized globally. Vulnerable populations (e.g., racial and ethnic minoritized populations, the global poor, and individuals with disabilities) are disproportionately impacted, creating environmental injustices. Although the social work profession has long embodied the person-in-environment approach, evidence suggests limited focus on environmental justice in social work curricula, which is critical for newly trained social workers, taking up the call to co-create ecosocial wellbeing for all through direct practice and advocacy. The purpose of this study was to examine current U.S. MSW course offerings to (1) Identify “ecosocial work" courses being taught in MSW programs, (2) Determine geographical clusters and gaps through course mapping, and (3) Identify patterns and gaps in course content based on program websites, and syllabi review.

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.”