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NASW responds to negative column on social work and policing

A protestor at policeman greet at a rally in Raleigh, NC to protest the murder of George Floyd. Photo by NASW North Carolina member Chris Budnick.

A protestor at policeman greet at a rally in Raleigh, NC to protest the murder of George Floyd. Photo by NASW North Carolina member Chris Budnick.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, a resident fellow at the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute penned, an egregious June 8 column in the Wall Street Journal that called into question the practice of police departments hiring more social workers to help bring about policing reforms.

Riley relied on the well-worn stereotype that social workers are ineffective in the child welfare system, so therefore could not help law enforcement better serve their communities, including people who are African American, homeless or living with a mental illness. This issue is especially crucial now considering the widespread unrest that has occurred after the police murder of George Floyd and the deaths of other unarmed people who are African American at the hands of police.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW) CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, said Riley is wrong on all counts. This is how he responded to her in a letter posted on the Wall Street Journal today. For those who do not have a WSJ subscription here is the full letter:

AngeloMcClain

NASW CEO Angelo McClain

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and many of our 110,000 members were deeply disappointed with a June 8 editorial from the Wall Street Journal titled “Are Social Workers the Answer?”

The author, Naomi Schaefer Riley, responded to calls to defund police departments and tap social workers to fill some roles currently served by police following the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. The op-ed criticized professional social workers and used the stereotype that social workers are ineffective in Child Protection Agencies to discredit the many skills and contributions of the social work profession.

Social workers already work alongside and in partnership with police departments across the nation. Strengthening social worker and police partnerships can be an effective strategy in addressing behavioral health, mental health, substance use, homelessness, family disputes and other similar calls to 911 emergency response lines.

In fact, social workers are playing an increasingly integral role in police forces, helping officers do their jobs more effectively and humanely and become better attuned to cultural and racial biases. And studies show social workers help police excel in fulfilling their mission to protect and serve.

Protests are happening across the nation and around the world. Protesters are demanding police treat people who are Black more fairly and end this pandemic of unarmed Black people dying while in police custody. We at NASW know social workers will play a vital role in helping law enforcement better serve their communities; the social work profession can help our nation achieve better public safety outcomes.

Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW
CEO, National Association of Social Workers

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