Almost 750 social workers and social work students convened at the Massachusetts State House yesterday, March 25th, for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) –MA Chapter’s Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (L.E.A.D.). Wheelock’s students were not only among those who attended, but one Wheelock graduate student, Alisa Stefanelli, was integral in organizing the event and was a speaker in an afternoon workshop.
L.E.A.D. is an annual event that brings hundreds of social work students and professionals to the State House with a goal of furthering social workers’ knowledge about policy issues in substantive areas of social work practice, teach participants about legislative advocacy, and provide an opportunity for social workers to lobby on behalf of specific legislation.
Speakers addressing the crowd of social workers included Governor Deval Patrick, State Treasurer Steve Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley. Key legislative allies to the profession participated in the event throughout the day, including State Rep. Ruth Balser, State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, State Rep. Carl Sciortino, State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, State Sen. Pat Jehlen, State Rep. Kay Khan, State Sen. Mark Pacheco, State Sen. Daniel Wolf, State Rep. Gloria Fox and many others. The Governor told the crowded room of social workers that they deserved a raise and more technology to support their work. “You do the Lord’s work,” the Governor said. “I think about it: mental health, substance abuse issues. You’ve got a scourge of opiate use and abuse all over the Commonwealth – all over the region, for that matter – domestic violence, poverty – which is the compounding and maybe unifying issue among the people we serve.”
Keynote speaker Kate Audette, Director of State Government Relations at Boston Children’s Hospital and a leader within the social work community, shared her personal story that lead her to the profession. She called on the audience to not let their challenges define them, but drive them as they work tirelessly on behalf of their clients every day.
During a panel on advocacy, participants learned about the importance of raising their voices to legislators and making themselves visible to their elected officials. Sen. Jamie Eldridge highlighted that he had not heard from social workers in his district about legislation currently in the House Ways and Means Committee that proposes the creation of a loan forgiveness pilot program for social workers – an issue of great importance to the many students in the room. The legislation won’t advance unless legislators hear from constituents about its importance, highlighting the need for social workers to more to make their voice heard within the State House.
Attendees participated in a number of afternoon workshops that covered the depth of NASW’s legislative agenda, including legislation impacting LGBT populations, student loan forgiveness, criminal justice, older adults, child and adolescent mental health and education and economic justice. Following a “Lobbying 101” workshop, social workers were dispatched around the State House to practice what they had learned throughout the day, meeting with legislators to advocate for the profession and its agenda to improve the lives of children, youth, families and vulnerable populations/communities across the Commonwealth.