The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, in partnership with Social Current and Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), has launched a new organizational diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI) certification that aims to help youth and family-serving organizations approach their DEI efforts with intention and ensure that equity is deeply embedded in their culture, reflected throughout their policies and practices, and can endure through leadership and administrative changes. The DEI certification leverages Social Current’s organizational assessment tools, DEI trainings and consultation, and standards of practice.
Set to begin May 20, this 12-month certification will include online trainings, peer learning, individual and group coaching, and guidance on a capstone project. The capstone project will include individuals served in its design and implementation and demonstrate the organization’s implementation of the DEI principles covered in training, coaching sessions, and Social Current’s DEI standards of practice. The certification will culminate with an in-person convening at Georgetown University, where the capstone projects will be presented.
- To deepen the principles of DEI into the organization’s culture, policies, and practices
- Demonstrate a commitment to developing an equity journey within the organization for sustainability to achieve certification status
- Gain a better understanding and strategies for implementing core principles, methods, and techniques in building an equitable organization
- Assess where leaders may be on their learning and commitment continuum to equity through assessment tools and education
- Deepen a leader’s knowledge and competence in equity through coaching, peer-sharing, and learning
Each organization must commit at least two staff to engaging in the certification process that will include coaching and training over a 12-month period. The cost for this certification is $19,000 per organization, which can be paid in two installments. The certification will be valid for two-years after completion of the program.
You can learn more about the DEI certification and schedule online, or join us for an upcoming informational webinar:
- Dec. 14 (Noon-1 p.m. ET): Virtual information Session #1
- Jan. 17, 2024 (3-4 p.m. ET): Virtual Information Session #2
- Feb. 20, 2024: (11 a.m.-noon ET): Virtual Information session #3
To start the registration process, please click here. Applications are due March 29, 2024, and participation will be confirmed by April 19, 2024.
If you have any questions, please contact Undraye Howard, vice president of equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement at Social Current.
On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Social Current applauds the ruling in the Haaland v. Brackeen case because ICWA is regarded as the “gold standard” in child welfare by experts in the field, creating much-needed reform on practices that separated Native children from their families.
“The Indian Child Welfare Act is consistent with best practice and child welfare’s shift towards strengthening families and promoting family preservation,” said Social Current President and CEO Jody Levison-Johnson. “By prioritizing the placement of children within their families, communities, or Tribal Nations, we also prioritize stability and the opportunity to maintain continuity in schools, health care, and community participation. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms this and ensures that we carry forward the practices and policies that we know create better outcomes for children.”
- Protect ICWA Instagram Carousel @ProtectICWA
- The Law That Protected My Daughter’s Connection To Her Culture Is Under Threat Romper
- A Can of Gasoline Under Indian Law The New York Review
- The Indian Child Welfare Act: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals Fact Sheet Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Resource Collection Child Welfare Information Gateway
- ICWA Reporting Recommendations Native American Journalists Association
For more information about ICWA and the Supreme Court case, watch our on-demand webinar featuring Jody Levison-Johnson and Sarah Kastelic (Alutiiq), executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA).
2023 will mark the third year Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday, and an increasing amount of employers are including it on their holiday calendars. According to a new report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plan, 30% of private employers are offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday to their employees, up from just 8% in 2020.
In addition to honoring Juneteenth as a paid holiday, organizations can recognize it with dedicated time for education and connection. Some resources with ideas and inspiration include:
- How to Celebrate Juneteenth This Year, By Chelsea Candelario, PureWow
- Remembrance, Reflection, And Celebration: How To Celebrate Juneteenth At Work In 2023, Vantage Circle
- 25+ Juneteenth Ideas for Work: 2023, by Akila McConnell, Unexpected Virtual Tours
- 15 Juneteenth Celebration Ideas for Work in 2023, teambuilding
- How Businesses Can be a Force for Good in an Era of Employee Activism, America’s Charities
- Top 10 Black Nonprofit Organizations, Goodera
Although recognizing Juneteenth is one step toward promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), organizations should look to create an EDI-enriched organizational culture in meaningful and strategic ways as well.
“It is good to see that more organizations are now closing their offices for Juneteenth, but it’s not enough. To truly move the needle, leaders should be assessing their organizations and looking for how they can support their employees and communities in more substantive ways that meaningfully address inequities,” said Undraye Howard, vice president of equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement at Social Current.
Comprehensively addressing EDI is a powerful strategy for increasing belonging and is inextricably linked to foundational pillars of workforce resilience, including psychological safety, creating space for difficult conversations, and increasing brain science awareness.
However, if an organization doesn’t have a plan or a multilevel commitment from staff, efforts can fall short and negatively impact staff engagement and morale. In a recent report released by WebMD Health Services on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging: Uncovering What Employees are Offered, Want and Need, 62% of workers surveyed say Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEI&B) programs aren’t effective, and nearly half (46%) say the programs had failed them personally.
To help equity efforts gain momentum and have lasting impact, Social Current recommends that organizations address it at the individual, organization, and systems levels. In addition, it is critical to engage all staff as important in this work, but also create measurable goals and clear accountability.
Effective Strategies for Advancing Equity and Workforce Resilience
Given that most organizations are feeling the strain of shrinking resources, increasing costs and demands for services, and significant workforce challenges, concurrently addressing equity and workforce resilience is strategic and increases the potential for impact. Organizations must partner with staff and prioritize advancing equity as core to how they look to advance workforce resilience.
“Nurturing a positive and supportive culture that aligns with our values does not happen overnight. Learning and building capacity around the concepts and interconnected strategies for EDI and workforce resilience, developing individualized plans, and putting plans into action and course correcting along the way is the surest way to make progress toward their goals,” said Karen Johnson, director of the Social Current Change in Mind Institute. “This work requires us to be innovative, curious, and courageous, but it is doable, and our workforce is worth the investment.”
Free Resources from Social Current
How organizations can help their staff to support their coworkers of color:
- Uncovering the Traps of Implicit Bias. (on-demand webinar)
- Psychological Safety and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: How Embracing Discomfort Leads to Growth. (on-demand webinar)
- Black Women in Leadership Presents: It’s All Good…But It’ Not. (on-demand webinar)
- Are We Ready to Confront the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap? (on-demand course)
- Special Juneteenth Reading List. This reading list was curated by librarians in Social Current’s Knowledge and Insights Center.
In-Depth Training and Networking Opportunities
- Workforce Resilience Webinar Series. Starting in September, this series, will offer concrete steps and strategies for supporting staff. Sessions cover topics from utilizing brain science to fostering psychological safety to creating culture and community. Register by July 14 to save with the early bird rate.
- SPARK 2023 In-Person Event. This conference, Oct. 16-17 in Bethesda, Maryland, will have a dedicated track for EDI, Belonging, and Justice, as well as a pre-conference session Oct. 15 that delves into the intersection of equity and brain science.
- Advancing EDI for a More Perfect Union. This three-part virtual workshop, Nov. 1, 8, 15 from noon-4 p.m. ET, will provide a safe environment for participants to explore their relationships with equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and make progress their EDI action plans with the support of experienced facilitators.
Advancing equity takes sustained commitment from leaders and organizations and at the same time, needs to begin somewhere. This Juneteenth, affirm your commitment to your workforce and advancing EDI.
As societal and political forces escalate to limit access to and exercise of the ballot, eliminate the teaching of Black history, and work to push us back into the 1890s, we can only rely on our capacity to resist. The enactment of HR 40, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Breathe Act, and the closure of the racial wealth gap is not the end. They too will require us to mobilize our resources, human and material, and fight for “freedom, justice, and equality”; “self-determination”, and/or “social transformation.” (ASALH, 2023)
This year’s theme for Black History Month—Black Resistance—recognizes the increasingly bold public efforts to minimize or reverse the hard-fought rights and assets of African Americans in a culture that continually upholds the tenets of white supremacy. Whether at the ballot box, in the classroom, at the bank, in the grocery store, or at a health clinic, Black and Brown people incessantly face the interconnected, intersecting inequalities intentionally baked into systems and structures for no other reason than to exploit, curtail, and devastate their families.
As evidenced in the extensive and disparate effect of the three-year pandemic on Black and other communities of color, health and well-being remain some of the starkest indicators of how society values BIPOC children, youth, and adults. But through resistance and resilience, many communities have effectively found incremental ways to improve the social determinants of health, such as embracing ancestral traditions and healing modalities through a decolonization of thought and practice. Another way to break down barriers to medical and mental health resources is through reinforcement of federal protections and guidance to service providers.
Health and Well-Being Civil Rights
Nearly 60 years ago, the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) was created to desegregate hospitals shortly after the passage of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and creation of the Medicare program. OCR has deep roots in enforcing federal civil rights laws that ensure nondiscrimination based on race, color, and national origin. Recent priorities of OCR in enforcing federal civil rights laws that ensure nondiscrimination include revised policy rules with the Affordable Care Act, newer service guidance with vaccine equity and access to telehealth, and promotion of reproductive health care.
Strengthening Nondiscrimination in Health Care
OCR issued a proposed rule revising Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which is one of the federal government’s most powerful tools to ensure nondiscriminatory access to health care.
“Strengthening Section 1557 supports our ongoing efforts to provide high-quality, affordable health care and to drive health equity for all people served by our programs,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “This work will help eliminate avoidable differences in health outcomes experienced by those who are underserved and provide the care and support that people need to thrive” (HHS, 2022).
Additional Resource: Civil Rights for Providers of Health Care and Human Services
Ensuring Vaccine Equity
Vaccine equity is when everyone has fair and just access to COVID-19 vaccination. But there are many social, geographic, political, economic, and environmental factors that create challenges to vaccination access and acceptance, and that often affect racial and ethnic minority groups. In light of this, OCR issued guidance to providers about their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to ensure non-discrimination in administering COVID-19 vaccination programs.
Additional Resource: Best Practices in Equitable Vaccine Administration
Ensuring Equal Access to Telehealth
OCR, with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, issued guidance on nondiscrimination in using telehealth. It provides information to health care providers about their service obligations and practical tips about how to provide accessible telehealth.
Additional Resource: Health Equity in Telehealth
Promoting Reproductive Health Care
After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overruling Roe v. Wade came out, HHS launched reproductiverights.gov. Recognizing the high maternal mortality rate of Black women and how the Dobbs decision exacerbates these inequities and disparities, OCR issued multiple guidance documents so that health care providers understand their obligations and patients understand the protections of federal laws.
“If you’re an African-American… your risks of dying in childbirth are three to four times higher than if you’re white…. It’s not tied to income. It’s not tied to education…. It’s something about the lived experience of being African-American,” says Dr. Neel Shah, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and obstetrician/gynecologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. (ABC News, 2018)
Civil Rights Laws Are Necessary, but Not Sufficient
Despite gains from decades of legislation and policy rules to reduce discrimination and increase access to services and resources, it’s clear that health care for racial and ethnic minorities remains separate and unequal in the United States.
Health policy and legal experts acknowledge the challenges to reducing discrimination and health inequity through existing civil rights laws and consider whether enforcing more of the existing civil rights legislation could help overcome these challenges. A common conclusion is that stronger enforcement (e.g., through executive orders to strengthen enforcement of the laws and congressional action to allow private individuals to bring lawsuits against providers who might have engaged in discrimination) would improve minority health care. But this approach is limited in what it can achieve, mainly due to the challenges for underserved communities to access enough financial and legal resources required. Rather, complementary approaches outside the legal arena, such as quality improvement efforts and direct transfers of money to minority-serving providers (pay-for-performance initiatives) might prove to be more effective.
Commitment to Health and Well-Being Practice and Policy
Social Current’s commitment to a healthy and equitable society is evident in our social sector partnerships focused on bridging historical barriers and persistent challenges with contemporary solutions and best practices to end racism, inequity, and poverty. This commitment recognizes BIPOC families as the experts in what is important to realizing their full potential, as well as the importance of cross-sector approaches to advancing equity, partnering with purpose, and building on successes in improving health equity and the social determinants of health.
Here are some ways to join our work on equity, diversity, and inclusion today:
- Participate in workshops, learning collaboratives, and consulting services
- Connect with peers and industry experts with SPARK Exchanges
- Enroll in learning opportunities on building community health and well-being
- Subscribe to policy and advocacy updates
- Get health equity research and resources from the Knowledge and Insights Center
People across the country will recognize Jan. 16, 2023, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating his life and legacy with days of service, marches and parades, and celebrations of Black culture.
The King Center will honor the day with its strategic theme: ‘Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.’ “This theme defines the 2023 King holiday observance events and programming while serving as a compass for all the work we will do this upcoming calendar year and beyond. The pioneering work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated that Kingian Nonviolence (Nonviolence365™) is the sustainable solution to injustice and violence in our world, ultimately leading to the creation of the Beloved Community, where injustice ceases and love prevails.”
It is important that we take the time to remember Dr. King’s enduring fight for justice and equitable systems. We also must challenge ourselves as leaders to renew the spirit and intentionally lean into our equity journeys in ways that honor the legacy of Dr. King.
Although we have come a long way in making King’s dream a reality, we still have much work to do to create a truly equitable and inclusive society for all. As our country experiences staggering division in our ideologies and disparities in outcomes, we need to remember that we are stronger together. Though the current climate may make our vision feel elusive, we’re reminded of Dr. King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must embrace the discourse, have the difficult conversations, and work together to help all people thrive. Social Current is committed to serving as a convener and helping leaders conduct necessary, yet difficult, conversations. We are committed to the work that will realize our shared dream—an equitable society where all people can thrive.
Community-based organizations, which serve a critical purpose within communities and systems, can play a large role in realizing Dr. King’s dream by advancing equity within their programs, practices, and workforces. While a long-term strategy that requires dedication and commitment, building equitable workplaces is a key strategy an increasing belonging, resilience, and innovation.
In addition to resources from Social Current, these articles offer helpful suggestions for advancing equity in the workplace:
- Questions to Further Your Group’s Racial Equity Journey (Creating the Future)
- How Can Organizations Improve Workplace Equity? (SHRM)
- Race, Equity, Access, Diversity, and Inclusion in Everyday Practice (Nonprofit AF)
How We Can Support Your Equity Journey
Social Current’s SPARK 2023 conference will focus on critical topics including EDI, belonging, and justice. Save the date to join us Oct. 16-17 in Bethesda, Maryland. If you’d like to share your expertise, submit a workshop proposal by Jan. 27.
Social Current’s experts help leaders advance their equity journeys and embed equitable practices and strategies at the organizational and systems level. In addition to focused equity, diversity, and Inclusion consulting, our workforce resilience consulting is rooted in equity and psychological safety. Our Jan. 24 webinar will give an overview of four cores strategies for workforce resilience.
In a statement from Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of Social Current, she commented on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:
“While many reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade after nearly 50 years of precedent have illuminated our nation’s political divide, our concerns focus squarely on the impact this decision will have on equitable access to health care, which fosters the health and well-being of all people in our nation.
Prior to the trigger laws going into effect across numerous states, the U.S. already had the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. Researchers point to our nation’s relatively low numbers of maternity care providers and comprehensive health care, including postpartum supports, as the cause.
Then consider the multiplying effect on communities of color. A study just this week from Duke University suggests a total ban on abortions could increase maternal deaths among Black women by 33%.
Some 26 states are expected to pass some form of abortion restriction, many not even offering exemptions for the life of the mother, rape, or incest. These statewide bans will disproportionately affect the health and well-being of women of color who already face disparities in health care access and outcomes.
These states also lack significant resources to support pregnant people, including access to affordable health care services, childcare services, behavioral health care, and paid family leave.
Studies also show a link between lack of access to abortion and poverty. The Turnaway Study followed women for a decade and found that those denied an abortion were four times as likely to be living in poverty years later, and that trend continued to impact their children. For people living in poverty, this ruling represents a glass ceiling of economic disparities they may never overcome.
We can see the looming future of generations of people being forced to carry pregnancies resulting from rape or incest to term and the impact of that on their emotional well-being. We see generation upon generation of adolescents and young people facing mandated births without adequate resources to lift themselves out of poverty. We see a future of greater divides across America—not political divides but a division of haves and have nots, as only families of means will have the ability to travel across states or to other countries to access safe abortions and reproductive health care services. And we see a potential future of more erosion of rights, as other rulings linked to Roe v. Wade that protect access to contraception and same-sex marriage are challenged and possibly eroded.
We work at the nexus of community and government to support policies that advance equity, improve health and well-being, and increase economic opportunity and mobility so all people can thrive. This Supreme Court ruling strips away the fundamental rights that provide equitable access to health and economic opportunity. It is a setback for our whole society and we pledge to work across our sector and across our nation to ameliorate its impacts and support the right of all people to have self-determination in the most critical and life-changing decisions that impact their health, their families and their lives.”
The views expressed by Social Current are grounded in and aligned with our mission, vision, values, and policy agenda principles and do not necessarily reflect those of our entire network.
2022 will mark just the second year Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday. Given the latency of many to commemorate the ending of slavery in the U.S., companies are now struggling to appropriately recognize the holiday, which encapsulates both joy and pain. While there are some meaningful observances planned, some organizations may be silent.
“While many organizations are now closing their offices for Juneteenth, it’s not enough. Leaders should be assessing their organizations and looking for how they can support their employees and communities in more substantive ways that meaningfully address inequities,” said Undraye Howard, vice president of equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement at Social Current.
It’s no secret that employers across the country – and across industries – are currently struggling to support the mental health and well-being of their employees. Organizations in the social sector are certainly feeling the constraints of escalating costs and rising needs for services, coupled with the pressures to invest in and retain employees.
Today, we are faced with many new and longstanding challenges to workforce resilience. The ongoing stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges around advancing inclusion and equity, and secondary stress that some staff experience on a regular basis are a few of the many obstacles to creating a positive staff culture, which is the core of a resilient organization.
A recent post on the CompassPoints blog puts it candidly, “We need to talk about how tired folks are. After the last two years, it seems like everyone is feeling the strain of burnout in a deep and long-lasting way. For many Black leaders and leaders of color, the demands to support their communities through turbulent times, keep organizations running, and tend to life amidst multiple crises has taken an especially heavy toll.”
Recent research from the Building Movement Project validates this assessment. Their report, Trading Glass Ceilings for Glass Cliffs: A Race to Lead Report on Nonprofit Executives of Color, explores the added burdens facing leaders of identity-based organizations, the challenges that BIPOC leaders encounter when taking over leadership from white predecessors, and the common realities of being a leader of color in the nonprofit sector. The report found:
- Leaders of color need supports, not more training.
- Leaders of color take on added burdens, without additional compensation.
- Leaders of identity-based organizations face distinct demands.
- Unique challenges come with taking over leadership from white predecessors.
- Too few white leaders factor race equity into their succession plans.
“It is clear that people of color face additional barriers and burdens in the workplace and it is up to us, collectively, to advance equity at the person, organization, and systems levels,” said Howard. “It is critical that we not only recruit and hire people of color but that we create workplace cultures that ensure they are supported, feel valued, and can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work each day.”
Embedding Equity in Your Workforce
Organizations must partner with staff and prioritize advancing equity as core to how they look to advance workforce resilience. By building self-awareness, psychological safety, and a shared accountability, organizations will foster the beginnings of both workforce resilience and a culture enriched by equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
“Nurturing a positive and supportive culture that aligns with our values does not happen overnight. Learning and building capacity around the concepts and interconnected strategies for EDI and workforce resilience, developing individualized plans, and putting plans into action and course correcting along the way is the surest way to make progress toward their goals,” said Karen Johnson, director of the Social Current Change in Mind Institute. “This work requires us to be innovative, curious and courageous, but it is doable, and our workforce is worth the investment.”
For leaders looking to partner with staff to improve their workforce cultures and increase well-being and job satisfaction, Social Current is now offering participation in a yearlong learning collaborative. This unique opportunity will provide sustained support and connection through a cohort with others working to advance similar goals.
EDI is at the core of this learning collaborative’s curriculum, which will advance understanding of brain science, build psychological safety, prioritize positive workforce culture, and increase connection. And in addition to this workforce resilience learning collaborative, Social Current is also offering a learning collaborative fully dedicated to advancing equity, with applications due June 30.
For organizations that are looking to move quickly into action, Social Current’s three-part virtual workshops lay the foundation for building an EDI-enriched organization and offer dedicated worktime for building an EDI action plan with the help of experienced facilitators. This workshop is ideal for investing in your EDI taskforce or other staff leading equity efforts.
Advancing equity takes sustained commitment from leaders and organizations and at the same time, needs to begin somewhere. This Juneteenth, affirm your commitment to your workforce and advancing EDI.
While there are many ways to build your organization’s capacity for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), they all require an overarching commitment and investment. With limited resources and many priorities, some may wonder if there is really a tangible ROI to EDI efforts.
Well, just look at the data.
Research compiled by the Performance Excellence Network shows that investing your organization’s time and resources in EDI strategies can support your business, in addition to your mission. Highlights from that research include:
- The top quartile of diverse companies is more likely to financially outperform national industry means – 35% for ethnic diversity, 15% of gender diversity (McKinsey)
- Employees in highly diverse and inclusive organizations show 26% more team collaboration and 18% more team commitment than those in non-inclusive organizations (CEB/Gartner)
- Inclusive companies are three times more likely to retain millennials for more than five years (Deloitte)
So now what?
To ensure that your investment leads to real change at your organization, make sure you receive the right level of support you need. One unique opportunity that can help you build and sustain momentum toward your goals is our upcoming EDI Learning Collaborative. Participants will collaborate with peers at other organizations in a supportive environment and receive guidance from EDI experts in developing, implementing, and advancing their equity work. This collaborative offers continual support over a 15-month period.
Apply by submitting the online application by June 30.
Our three-part virtual workshop offers learning and support to participants over the course of a month. It combines valuable information, facilitated discussions, reflection opportunities, and focused work time to begin developing an EDI action plan. We recommend sending multiple staff who serve on your EDI committee or advance EDI in other ways. This workshop will provide the tools, guidance, and dedicated time they need to be successful.
Register now for our upcoming June session (June 9, 16, and 23). Additional sessions are being offered in September/October and November.
In March, Social Work Month is often observed by highlighting the positive impact of social work and social welfare on people’s lives and in their communities, including a history of promoting social justice, civil rights, and more societal change efforts. It’s also important to acknowledge the whitewashing of social work history, like the National Association of Social Workers did by apologizing for racist practices in past and current social work.
The historic harm created by social work is minimized in the history that is taught about the field. Concurrently, the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) social workers are often overlooked or excluded in this history. These omissions center whiteness into social work education and practice and perpetuate the myth that BIPOC people are mostly passive and the users of a majority of services, while white social workers are the innovators and heroes who provide those services.
In reconsidering history, we must acknowledge the role of social work in perpetuating racist systems and beliefs in order to make amends and cease doing unintentional harm. Likewise, we must educate ourselves as a field about the contributions of BIPOC founders and community leaders in the development and positive gains of social work.
The Colors of Privilege and Inequity
Social workers are often heralded as change agents, problem solvers, critical thinkers, facilitators, advocates, counselors, clinicians, organizers, and activists. But what happens when social work as a field causes harm? It’s important to first acknowledge that the systems everyone relies on for access, well-being, and the ability to thrive reflect the dominant white culture and the privilege it affords for some and not others. As a result, it is difficult for white social workers to partner authentically in a trauma-informed manner with BIPOC community members who try to navigate those unbalanced and inequitable systems.
When the modern field of social work was in its formation in the 1800s, it predominately signified neo-American, European, and Middle Eastern beliefs and values. Individuals and communities with other cultures were labeled “primitive,” and their existing practices of social support were ignored or appropriated. Social work arose at the same time that so-called “racial sciences” were attempting to prove that Black people were deficient compared to white people. Social welfare workers were responsible for determining who was worthy of help and capable of change. Racialist theories also intersected with emerging social welfare policies to establish a racialization of poverty. White people were considered victims of circumstances who could be educated and helped. Black people and other cultural groups were labeled as inherently inferior and needed to be “saved” from their culture.
When social work practices from BIPOC groups were adopted in the wider field, the white social workers who introduced the ideas were celebrated as “innovators” while the originators of the practice were largely ignored. Black people were strategically excluded from areas where decisions were being made that affected them, including the development of social welfare and juvenile justice policies.
Social workers have also actively participated in numerous racist practices, such as the Indigenous children’s residential schools, segregated settlement houses, involvement in eugenics theories, propagation of the Tuskegee experiment, participation in intake teams at Japanese internment camps, and more. The intersection between white supremacy and social work amplified power differentials that were already present in many of the practices for the “social good.” White women were considered heroic for sacrificing part of their white privilege to their social service efforts, while Black leaders risked their lives and safety advocating for change in their communities.
Seeing All Shades: Past, Present, and Future
Today, there are many professional groups and educational efforts focused on achieving social justice and equity for BIPOC communities, such as for Indigenous Peoples in ways that respect their ancient cultures and sovereign rights and enhance the quality of life for people of African ancestry through advocacy, human services delivery, and research. Yet much of social work education continues to downplay or omit the contributions of BIPOC leaders, early community builders, and activists. This undermines important contributions in the social work profession and perpetuates the myth of white saviorism and supremacy.
This social work month, let us not simply reflect on those who sacrificed a small part of their privilege in the name of helping communities. Rather, we should unite the dominant historical legacies with the contributions and innovations of our BIPOC colleagues and founders. It is the duty of each social worker to ensure that they are educated on the history of the profession from diverse cultural perspectives—this is how to address and make amends for the harm that our profession has done. We must address the generational trauma caused to those we partner with and learn to challenge the institutional racism that continues to create additional barriers for BIPOC community members.
Whitewashing in social work and how to challenge it:
- The Whitewashing of Social Work History
- Undoing Racism Through Social Work
- Indigenous Social Welfare: Decolonizing Social Work
- Advancing Social Work Education Among the Latino Population
Historical perspectives on harm and how to do better (video collection):
- Social Work and Race: A Historical Perspective
- Reducing Disparities Through Indigenous Social Work Education
- Black Reformers and White Supremacist Beliefs
A legacy of influential BIPOC social workers:
- Social Workers Past and Present Who Shape the Profession
- Black Brilliance in Social Work and Beyond
- Those Who Lead the Field in Research and Practice
- Hispanic Pioneers in Social Work
Every person, family, and community is more likely to achieve their full potential when they have a strong foundation that enables them to weather life’s challenges and thrive, no matter their current situation, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. These building blocks are essential for creating and sustaining the well-being of every family and community:
- Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that prevent and mitigate the impact of trauma through quality care options across the lifespan
- Equal opportunity employment that provides a living wage, economic mobility, and comprehensive workforce supports
- Affordable, preventive, quality health care that provides parity for behavioral health and addresses the social determinants of health
- Affordable, livable homes in safe, vibrant neighborhoods that have accessible healthy food, transportation, child care, and other fundamental services
- Education that begins with nurturing and supportive families and continues with early childhood development through post-secondary advancement
Building the Essentials of Financial Well-Being
Because so many of these building blocks are tied to financial well-being and opportunity, Social Current has collaborated with the Washington University Brown School’s Center for Social Development (CSD) and its partners to publish new research in Social Current’s peer-reviewed journal, Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. In recognition of Black History Month, the issue is freely accessible without a subscription through February 2022.
The special issue, Building Financial Capability and Assets in America’s Families, was guest edited by Jin Huang, Margaret Sherraden, Jenny Jones, and Christine Callahan. Articles were developed from presentations made at a national conference hosted at CSD and the Financial Social Work Initiative at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
“We began this project to develop a better understanding of how financial well-being has become elusive for families,” explained Margaret Sherraden, a research professor in the Brown School at Washington University and a faculty lead of CSD’s Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) initiative.
Many families and communities, especially communities of color, face hurdles that they alone did not create or control that obstruct their ability to flourish. “Counteracting multigenerational disparities and trauma resulting from systemic racism and oppression requires intentional interventions aimed at addressing root causes. Otherwise, those conditions may be insurmountable and will impede social change and justice that can benefit all Americans,” according to Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of Social Current.
Helping Families Overcome Barriers
For families in crisis, guidance from community-based organizations and social services professionals can be critically important. “Financial and economic issues underlie many of the problems that bring families to social services,” the editors write in the issue introduction. “Intake interviews … often reveal insufficient income and assets, overwhelming debt, lack of emergency savings, limited access to public benefits and social assistance, challenges obtaining a bank account or credit, and worries about their future financial well-being.”
Jin Huang, professor of social work at Saint Louis University and a faculty lead of CSD’s FCAB initiative, noted takeaways: “This collection shows that families who bring financial struggles to social workers can find guidance on operating in an increasingly financialized society and on improving financial security. It also shows that those outcomes – financial capability and financial security – require a broader framework of supportive programming and sound policies.”
Building Financial Knowledge in Social Services
As dean of the Whitney Young Jr. School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University, Jenny Jones brought to the project her insights from training students for financial capability practice. “I began incorporating financial content into social work classes to introduce students to issues related to families that are referred to social service agencies for various services,” Jones said. “Students embraced the skills when they saw how pivotal these issues are in the lives of their clients.”
Christine Callahan, research associate professor with the University of Maryland’s Financial Social Work Initiative, also came to the project through her efforts to develop social workers’ capacity for guiding clients in their financial struggles. “Social workers recognize that a better understanding of financial matters and addressing financial distress to a greater degree would enhance their work with individuals, couples, and families who often are dealing with complex, intertwined psychosocial and financial problems and stressors.”
Advancing Equity and Economic Freedom
It’s clear that all people need to be supported by families, who in turn fuel vibrant communities and economies. “Families and communities today are experiencing both acute and persistent needs that are varied and interconnected. That’s why it’s so critical that solutions focused on building well-being are evidence-informed, diverse, and cross-cutting through the lens of advancing equity,” notes Undraye Howard, senior director and special advisor to the CEO on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement at Social Current.
More practice and policy innovations, training and education, and research are necessary to ensure that all families—and particularly families of color with added burdens resulting from America’s long history of systemic racism and a culture of white supremacy—have the “opportunity to generate new collective narratives of genuine economic freedom where they can realize their hopes and capabilities” as envisioned in the essay by Devin Fergus and Trina Shanks.
Special Issue Articles
Articles in this issue can be accessed through Black History Month 2022 without a subscription.
- Building Financial Capability and Assets in America’s Families [Issue introduction]
Margaret S. Sherraden, Jin Huang, Jenny L. Jones, and Christine Callahan
- The Long Afterlife of Slavery in Asset Stripping, Historical Memory, and Family Burden: Toward a Third Reconstruction
Devin Fergus and Trina R. Shanks
- Family Self-Sufficiency Program Outcomes for Participants Enrolling During and After the Great Recession
Anna Maria Santiago and Joffré Leroux
- Household Language Barriers, Community Language Resources, and Asset Ownership Among Immigrants and Refugees in Western New York: A Mixed-Methods Study
Yunju Nam, Sarah Richards-Desai, and Yingying Zeng
- Help When You Need It: Sources of Advice for Student Loan Borrowers Across the Life Course
Julie Miller, Alexa Balmuth, Samantha Brady, and Joseph Coughlin
- A Process to Identify and Address Barriers to Providing Financial Capability Programming to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence
Sarah Myers Tlapek, Leslie Hannah Knott, and Rachel Voth Schrag
- A Financial Social Work Certificate Program for Community and Family Practitioners
Christine Callahan, Jodi Jacobson Frey, Rachel Imboden, and Seanté Hatcher
- Financial Capability and Asset Building With a Racial- and Gender-Equity Lens: Advances from the Field
Christy Finsel, Mae Watson Grote, Margaret Libby, Cathie Mahon, and Margaret S. Sherraden
- A Century of Family Budget Counseling
Paul H. Stuart