Social Work seniors observe Maryland policy in the making
Most of McDaniel’s Social Work majors have entered the field to work with people not policies. Still, professor Jim Kunz knows that policy informs practice — just as practice informs policy — and so he takes the seniors, in small groups, to Annapolis on Monday evenings to see the legislature in action and to learn how to use their real world experience to influence those policies.
“The idea of social work is to help people fit in their environment,” Kunz says, explaining that sometimes that means to change the environment by improving programs and services that help people fit into their environment. “Social workers need to understand how state laws are passed and how to influence them.”
Along with the field placements that serve as their capstone projects, the seniors have observed Maryland’s lawmakers as well as participated in the Feb. 22 Social Work Student Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD), better known as Social Work Student Day in Annapolis. They say the experiences have opened their eyes and will someday enrich their practice.
Senior Mark Gales’ aha moment came when he discovered in a LEAD workshop the difference between follow up treatment of cancer patients and that of recovering opioid addicts.
“The comparison between cancer patients and opioid addicts was eye opening for me. No one expects to see the opioid addict again after treatment — there’s a lot of stigma and lack of understanding which affects the outcome — as compared with regular follow-up care for cancer patients,” Gales of Lancaster, Pa., says, explaining that these kind of policies will have an impact on his practice in behavioral health after graduate school.
The students learned from a budget analyst that it makes it harder to cut programs if he hears social workers tell the stories of the real people they are trying to help. They learned that the procedure was not very formal and in fact a bit like the high school lunch room with legislators and aides roaming around, getting coffee and then all at once, everyone was ready to vote.
Hearing and understanding both sides was important to senior Valentina Hollinger of York, Pa.
“Micro social workers (those who work directly with people) can help macro (policymakers) understand — one informs the other,” says Hollinger.
Senior Ray Doh, who plans to work with young athletes after graduate school, found it interesting to see where all the money is going and to learn the role of social workers in influencing policy.
“I’m heading more into one-on-one practice but I think macro practice — advocating — is important too,” says Doh, who is a member of the Green Terror football team. “I can see advocating for mental health for athletes and making a difference in the policies that affect them.
“Sometimes hearing the other side can broaden your horizons — after all we are all trying to find common ground to help people.”