A Time to Focus on Advancing Social Work Values

Published on : January 18, 2021

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) welcomes the inauguration of Joe Biden as our 46th president and the historic inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20, 2021.  

This inauguration marks an opportunity to set ambitious goals to work with the administration to advance social work education and improve access to higher education.  

In November 2020, CSWE outlined policies for the Biden‒Harris administration that would seek to advance social, racial, and economic justice. These principles would ensure, among several things, quality and accessibility in higher education, protect underserved and marginalized populations with health care policy, and position social workers as champions to address behavioral and mental health and substance use disorders. We look forward to working with the administration to execute these policy principles. 

The inauguration ceremonies also remind us of the challenges our nation faces and the work needed to overcome racism and injustice. On January 13, 2021, President Donald Trump was impeached for a second time. Seven days earlier, violent rioters stormed the Capitol building after being incited by the president. We have seen Trump and his administration allow racism and hatred to grow as Congress failed to sufficiently serve as a check on the presidency.  

CSWE condemns the actions of the mob that raged into the Capitol building and their racist rhetoric. The actions taken by rioters on January 6, 2021, have rightly been called seditious in the mainstream press and sadly resulted in five lives lost. These deaths add to the ravages of the pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. As a result of ineffective action taken by the previous administration, more than 386,000 people in the United States have died because of COVID-19. Black and Brown lives are lost at a higher rate than White lives from the virus, which highlights just how the pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted inequities. Furthermore, unarmed Black people continued to be killed by police in 2020, adding to the terrible loss of American lives.  

This year’s inauguration comes just 2 days after the national recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Fifty-seven years ago, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Yet the work that led to that momentous legislation began several years before. Many lives were lost in the pursuit of equality and the work did not end when the Act was signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson. It continues today. 

So, while we welcome President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and his administration, we would be foolish to overlook how much more work there is to do to unite the country and achieve equitable access to all its promises. We all have a role in making sure that happens. Social workers, educators, and students have a great deal to offer in ensuring that we make progress in addressing racism and racial injustices. Accredited programs of social work can help prepare our country to dismantle racism in our institutions and systems. Social workers promote individual, family, and community well-being in behavioral health care, child welfare, schools, hospitals, local social services agencies, community agencies, advocacy organizations, and with veterans across the United States. 

Social workers are vital to health care in the United States and in some specialties, like mental and behavioral health, social workers are estimated to be one of the largest providers of care. In fact, social workers were deemed essential workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and worked with medical providers to connect patients with needed care.   

CSWE will continue to urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to strengthen funding for Pell Grants and other programs that help make college more affordable and accessible. Cost is a barrier for too many college students, particularly those who are Black. Those students, according to CSWE research, reported $21,000 more debt than their White counterparts. The high cost of education is also true for low-income communities or the 46% of MSW graduates who reported being the first in their families to earn a college degree.  

We look forward to pursuing these legislative priorities with the 116th Congress and the Biden‒Harris administration over the next 4 years.  

Please note, CSWE’s office will be closed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day. While our office doors are closed—as has become a common spirit for celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday—we will reflect on the tragedies from this past year, the work to address racism that has been done so far, and the work ahead of social workers, educators, and students.