Social Justice and Social Work: Rediscovering a Core Value of the Profession

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Edited by: Michael J. Austin

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  • Front Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: The Humanities Perspectives: The Moral Imperative—Shouldn't We Do Something?

    Part II: The Social Science Perspectives: Social Empathy—What Do We Need to Understand?

    Part III: Social Injustice Outside and Inside Human Service Organizations

    Part IV: Embedding Social Justice in Social Work Practice

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    About the Editor

    Michael J. Austin, PhD, is the Milton and Florence Krenz Mack Distinguished Professor of Nonprofit Management and director of the Mack Center on Nonprofit and Public Sector Management in the Human Services at the School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley. He is the former dean of the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work, and teaches graduate students in the area of nonprofit management, community planning, and the social environmental dimensions of human behavior and the social environment. He received his doctorate in organizational research related to nonprofit human service organizations from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work (1970). He holds two master's degrees, one in community organizing and social service administration from the University of California, Berkeley (1966), and the other in public health administration from the University of Pittsburgh (1969). He has taught at Florida State University (1970–1976), the University of Washington (1976–1985), the University of Pennsylvania (1985–1992), and the University of California, Berkeley (1992–present).

    Since 1992, he has served as staff director of the Bay Area Social Services Consortium (BASSC) that is a collaborative composed of 11 county social service directors, five deans and/or directors of social work programs, and two foundation executives. Its primary activities include an applied research program, an executive development program, and a policy analysis–implementation program. The research program has completed 25 studies since 1995 related to child welfare and social services. The executive development program has graduated 400 participants in its first 18 years of operations, and the policy implementation program has produced eight reports over the past 4 years. The most recent BASSC research reports relate to evidence for child welfare practice (Evidence for Child Welfare Practice, Routledge, 2010). Since 2006, he has served as the staff director of the Bay Area Network of Nonprofit Human Service Agencies (BANNHSA) and recently published a Mack Center research report on pioneering nonprofit human service organizations (Organizational Histories of Nonprofit Human Service Organizations, Routledge, 2013). His work on management practice includes (with K. Hopkins) Supervision as Collaboration in the Human Services: Building a Learning Culture (Sage Publications, 2004) and (with R. Brody and T. Packard) Managing the Challenges in Human Service Organizations: A Casebook (Sage Publications, 2009).

    His publications reflect a long-standing interest in the management of nonprofit and public sector organizations. He is the author or coauthor of 19 books, over 100 articles, and numerous reports. He serves on the editorial boards of seven journals and is the associate editor of Administration in Social Work.

    List of Contributors

    • Sarah Accomazzo
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Michael J. Austin
    • PhD, Mack Professor
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Christina Branom
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Brian Cahill
    • MSW, former executive director of Catholic Charities
    • Catholic Youth Organization, San Francisco, California
    • Mary E. A. Caplan
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Charity Samantha Fitzgerald
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Jaclyn Grant
    • MSW, research assistant
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Anupama Jacob
    • MSc, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Leah A. Jacobs
    • MA, MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Bryn King
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Hyun Soo Kwon
    • MBA, MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Amanda Lehning
    • PhD, postdoctoral fellow
    • School of Social Work
    • University of Michigan
    • Kelly LeRoux
    • PhD, assistant professor
    • University of Illinois, Chicago
    • Megan Moore
    • PhD, assistant professor
    • University of Washington
    • Jennifer Price Wolf
    • MPH, MSW, PhD
    • Alcohol Research Group
    • Oakland, California
    • Katherine E. Ray
    • MSW, research assistant
    • School of Social Work
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Beth Glover Reed
    • PhD, professor
    • School of Social Work
    • University of Michigan
    • Juliene Schrick
    • MSW, psychiatric social worker
    • Department of Psychiatry
    • University of California, San Francisco
    • Jasmin Serim
    • MSW, research assistant
    • School of Social Welfare
    • Siroj Sirojudin
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Richard J. Smith
    • MFA, MSW, PhD, assistant professor
    • Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
    • Jenny Ventura
    • MSW, research assistant
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Kelly Whitaker
    • MPA, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Elizabeth White
    • MSW, MPP, research assistant
    • School of Social Welfare
    • School of Public Policy
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Wendy Wiegmann
    • MSW, doctoral student
    • School of Social Welfare
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Rhonda Y. Williams
    • PhD, associate professor
    • Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

    Foreword

    This morning, I met with the mother of a murder victim. We spent nearly an hour talking about the tragic, sudden end to her son's life nearly 20 years ago, her dashed dreams as a parent, her feelings about the man who shot her son to death, and her fragile mental health ever since the murder. This was one of the most poignant conversations I have had in my social work career. And it forced me to think hard about what I believe about justice.

    This was no ordinary social worker–client conversation. Since 1992, I have served as a member of my state's parole board. My seat on the board, as defined by state statute, requires that one member have expertise in social work and the field of corrections. It has been my privilege to bring my social work perspective to this daunting task, including my beliefs about both justice and social justice. These concepts—justice and social justice—are remarkably relevant to my work. As the essays in this rich collection amply demonstrate, social workers need a keen understanding of what it means to be just and, as well, promote social justice.

    Let's take a closer look at these terms and their implications. As this anthology's authors observe, the terms justice and social justice lend themselves to multiple meanings and purposes. In a narrow legal sense, justice is what we seek in the criminal justice system and in the resolution of civil disputes. In principle, for example, police officers, prosecuting and defense attorneys, juries, judges, and parole board members serve justice by treating suspects, defendants, and inmates fairly. Those involved in administering criminal justice act justly when they weigh all evidence as neutrally as possible and do not knowingly discriminate. In this sense, justice is fairness.

    Justice as fairness applies in many other social work domains as well, of course. Clinical social workers who serve people struggling with addictions, mental illness, chronic disease, and aging often find that they do not have enough staffers to help all those in need and, thus, must make decisions about the fairest way to allocate limited resources. Practitioners' decisions about whether to serve people based on first come, first served or degree of need or affirmative action criteria raise important justice and fairness issues.

    Social workers who serve as community advocates and organizers also encounter justice-as-fairness issues. They may face difficult judgments about whether it is just to participate in acts of civil disobedience to protest discrimination against same-sex couples or undocumented immigrants.

    But viewing justice only as issues of fairness seems too narrow. Indeed, social justice connotes justice issues that extend beyond one-on-one relationships and individual concerns. Justice issues with a “social” element involve the commonweal—the public good. As this anthology's essays make clear, social work has a long-standing commitment to the public good. The profession's earliest scholars and practitioners articulated their unique understanding of social work's preoccupation with social justice. When Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889, she understood the vital importance of social justice and reform to address the needs of that city's most vulnerable citizens. When Julia Lathrop began serving as the first director of the U.S. Children's Bureau in 1912, she understood how important it was for social workers to address broad social justice issues affecting children. When Octavia Hill dedicated herself to urban and housing reform in London in the late 19th century, helped found the Charity Organization Society in England, and in 1905 joined the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, she served as a role model for social workers who devoted their lives to social justice. When Sophonisba Breckinridge developed the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy in 1903, she became a lodestar among social work's earliest practitioners concerned about social justice.

    Since these early days, social workers' pursuit of social justice has traveled a complicated path. Social workers' earliest concern about social justice focused especially on the problem of increasing poverty and inequity in the distribution of wealth. For many years, social workers addressed the nagging problems of inadequate housing, health care, and income, particularly the impact of persistent unfairness in the allocation of social and economic resources and wealth. During some periods, however, social workers as a group have focused more narrowly on mental health and behavioral challenges posed by individual clients and families, many of which are the by-products of daunting discrimination, oppression, exploitation, and other manifestations of unfairness in society. Throughout social work's history, focus on justice issues—both narrow and broad—has ebbed and flowed.

    Social work's enduring and admirable preoccupation with issues of social justice is particularly evident in codes of ethics adopted throughout the world. For example, the International Federation of Social Workers' publication Ethics in Social Work—Statement of Principles features several principles pertaining directly to issues of social justice, particularly related to confronting negative discrimination, recognizing diversity, distributing resources equitably, and challenging unjust policies and practices. The British Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics includes multiple references to social justice issues, especially related to the fair and equitable distribution of resources, fair access to public services and benefits, equal treatment and protection under the law, and nondiscrimination. The Canadian Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics emphasizes social workers' duty to promote “social fairness” and “equitable” distribution of resources.

    Several of this volume's authors highlight, in particular, language in the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW's) Code of Ethics pertaining to social justice. They acknowledge the prominence of social justice content in this code and its influence on the profession. And, these authors note, quite fairly, that the code's multiple statements concerning social justice are relatively abstract and do not provide explicit, detailed guidance for the ways in which social workers should pursue social justice.

    I was privileged to have chaired the national task force that introduced, for the first time, these ambitious social justice principles in the NASW Code of Ethics. I clearly recall sitting in the spacious conference room at the NASW headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1994, staring out the room's large window at the majestic U.S. Capitol located a handful of blocks away and suggesting to the task force members that it was time to include bold social justice language in the new code, language that would highlight the very issues that are so often debated in the Capitol building down the street. The group quickly agreed, and we spent months reviewing relevant literature, discussing social work history and the profession's core values, and crafting with great care the precious words that ultimately found their way into today's ethics code that concern social work's mission and several core principles related to social justice, nondiscrimination, and fairness in the allocation of social and economic resources. We agreed that our aim should be to identify key social justice concepts and construct inspirational statements. We also agreed that a code of ethics should not be a practice manual; rather, social work educators and practitioners should draw on the code's broad conceptual guidance and develop practical frameworks and protocols designed to pursue social justice. In fact, the essays in this volume exemplify this very notion.

    Of course, social workers did not invent the concept of social justice. Rich discussions of justice have ancient historical and philosophical origins. Plato's Republic begins with the question, “What is justice?” In his Politics, Aristotle highlights the importance of nonarbitrary, consistent treatment of people according to morally relevant attributes. In the 17th century, the English philosopher John Locke explored fairness and social justice issues in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, and Karl Marx stirred considerable debate about distributive justice in his 19th century classic, the Communist Manifesto.

    Contemporary moral philosophers have done much to sustain focus on issues of social justice, with compelling implications for social work. For example, since its publication in 1971, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice has shaped countless discussions of fairness in modern society, as has Robert Nozick's 1974 publication, Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

    Several hours after I met with the mother of the murdered victim, I presided at the inmate's parole board hearing. As I sat in the prison hearing room, I asked the inmate about his early trauma-filled life, struggle with drug addiction that led to the murder, insights, and impressive efforts at recovery, and future plans. During and immediately after the hearing, I thought long and hard about justice and social justice. I struggled to understand what justice-as-fairness means when balancing the interests of a deeply traumatized victim and the man who committed her son's murder (an offender who now demonstrates impressive insight and for nearly two decades has worked very hard to address the demons in his life).

    And I thought about the meaning of social justice. As I deliberated, there was little doubt in my mind that the inmate's chronic challenges stem in large part from broader issues of poverty, abuse, discrimination, and social inequities that greatly increased the chances that he would struggle in life. Social injustice does not excuse heinous conduct, of course, but I am convinced that social workers' efforts to address social justice in the broad sense, in addition to our earnest focus on clients' personal struggles, enhance our ability to prevent this world's darkest challenges related to poverty, violence, mental illness, addiction, and so on.

    Social work's principal virtue is its understanding of the complex relationship between private troubles and public issues. The public issues that most concern social workers are permeated with matters of social justice that demand attention. As Jane Addams wrote in her 1910 autobiography Twenty Years at Hull House, “In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.”

    Frederic G.Reamer, Professor, School of Social Work, Rhode Island College

    Preface

    This book reflects a process of self-reflection that spans six decades. The roots of my interests in social justice can be traced to a young boy's discovery that he is the son of immigrant parents who fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. The injustice of this genocide took years to understand. New forms of indignation arose in my expanding consciousness as I watched one of my high school teachers in Berkeley, California, get summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee that traveled around the country looking for Communists in the 1950s. Simultaneously, my involvement in social action activities through my Jewish youth group helped to draw clearer lines in my mind between moral outrage and the democratic freedoms to speak and act upon one's convictions.

    As I entered the university in the early 1960s, I became increasingly interested in understanding the seeds of the civil rights movement and the words and convictions of Reverend Martin Luther King. My rabbi, Sydney Akselrad, marched with him in Selma, Alabama, thereby creating another personal connection with the struggles for social justice. As a first year master of social work (MSW) student in 1964, I decided to focus my social policy paper on the newly enacted 1964 national Civil Rights Act as a way to learn more about the array of injustices that this law sought to address. My second year fieldwork experience in a community action agency (created by President Kennedy's War on Poverty legislation) sensitized me to the implications of one of its key concepts, namely, “maximum feasible participation of the poor.” This service goal also evolved to include the hiring of people of color into paraprofessional staff positions in human service organizations, a topic that led to my doctoral dissertation on professionals and paraprofessionals in community action agencies.

    As a master's student at the University of California, Berkeley, I frequently heard the claim that social justice was a core value of the social work profession. When I asked about literature on this core value, I was directed to the works on Jane Addams and her social justice activities at Hull House in Chicago. Despite dutifully reading about her work and being impressed by the issues of immigration, acculturation, and advocacy, the historical and theoretical roots of social justice still evaded me.

    Some time later, as a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, a student approached me with a social justice question that she was formulating as chairperson of our graduate student association. Her concern focused on the desire to mount a campaign in support of a unisex bathroom in our school building. Given the complexity of such a change project, I encouraged her to consider an alternative campaign such as honoring the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January that received little attention in the School of Social Welfare. I urged her to think about some type of student-sponsored social justice event that would honor Dr. King's contribution to the civil rights movement, respond to student interest in social justice, and identify future content for inclusion in the MSW curriculum. Her efforts along with other students led to an annual day-long Social Justice Symposium where community social activists lead student-designed workshops. The students recently celebrated their sixth successful symposium based on raising their own funds, designing and evaluating the program, and completing their first comprehensive report to the faculty regarding the need to incorporate more social justice content into the curriculum.

    My earlier interests in social justice were reignited as I watched the 2009 inauguration of our first African American president whose earlier experiences with discrimination and community organizing gave him a profound understanding of social justice. Based on this significant development in national politics, I sent an e-mail to the doctoral students in our program at the University of California, Berkeley, to inquire about their interest in a group independent study on the role of the humanities in understanding social justice. Eight students responded, and their work is reflected in the first section of this book. While I had originally assumed that this group effort would be a one-time event, the students encouraged me to keep going. A second group of doctoral students was recruited to focus on the social sciences, and a third group of master's and doctoral students responded to a call for examples of social injustice. Their work can be seen in sections two and three. And finally, several faculty members and master's students help to frame the practice and educational implications drawn from the various concepts reflected in the social sciences and humanities.

    Acknowledgments

    Without the contributions of a very talented group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, this book would not have been possible. I am inspired by the depth of their interest and commitment to find ways to address social injustice along with a deep interest in exploring the sources of moral indignation and social empathy. I am also grateful to several of my academic colleagues for contributing chapters to this volume. The multi-year project that led to the completion of this book benefited greatly from the valuable administrative assistance of Leanna Lok, the editorial assistance of Susan Austin (aka my wife), and the talented publications staff at SAGE Publications. A special note of appreciation goes to one of our leading scholars on social work ethics, Professor Frederic Reamer, for his contribution of the Foreword.

    This book is dedicated to all those embarked on the life-long journey to understand social justice and to address social injustice wherever they find it, at home or abroad.

    Michael J.Austin, PhD, Mack Professor, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley

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