Elizabeth Clark is the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), headquartered in Washington, D.C. Those choice of the nation’s capital, the seat of the federal government, was no accident. Many organizations and professions maintain either headquarters offices in Washington, D.C. or, at a minimum, government affairs offices to represent the organization’s interests in the city where the nation’s laws are made and where policies affecting hundreds of millions of people are developed. The importance of maintaining a headquarters in Washington, D.C., therefore, lies in the office’s proximity to the U.S. Capitol and the 535 senators and congressmen/women who work there. The purpose of this preface to the answer to the question regarding Clark’s use of the word “advocacy” in Policy Practices for Social Workers, a textbook for prospective social workers, is to illuminate the context in which she uses the word. Clark’s job is to advocate on behalf of the social workers she represents and, as importantly, to advocate in support of changes to existing laws and policies that she and her colleagues believe would benefit the people they seek to help – the indigent, the addicted, the children of dysfunctional and broken families, etc. In an interview with the Hospice Foundation of America, the link to which is provided below, Clark states the organization she represents’ mission:
“NASW was established in 1955 with a dual purpose: One goal is to further the field of social work, and the second goal is one that focuses on social justice, including social policy. The Association is committed to education and professional development for social workers. We are also just as strongly committed to advocacy—social workers are bound by our Code of Ethics to serve as advocates for those they serve.”
In the opening chapter of Policy Practices for Social Workers, by Linda K. Cummins, Katherine V. Byers, and Laura E. Pedrick, Clark is quoted as stating the following:
“Advocacy is the cornerstone upon which social work is built. It is so important that it is framed in three sections of our Code of Ethics. Advocacy for individuals, communities and systems is not just a suggested activity for social workers. It’s not a ‘do it if you have some extra time’ or a ‘do it if the inequity and disparity are very great’ activity. It is a requisite.”
Clark, and the authors of the textbook that cites her, understand that, absent a strong sense of purpose and a willingness to advocate for one’s position, social workers will be subject to the legislative whims of those less knowledgeable and, in many instances, less sympathetic to the needs of the poor and to the environmental factors that influence socioeconomic conditions within which social workers struggle on a daily basis to improve lives. Clark speaks both of self-advocacy – the need for the sick and indigent to advocate with the institutions of government on their own behalf – and of the need for social workers themselves to agitate for social justice and for the resources needed to effect positive change. Lobbying the legislative branch of government, for example, is a sine qua non of effective advocacy, as is the building of coalitions of like-minded organizations out of recognition that greater numbers and coordination means greater results.
To reiterate, Elizabeth Clark’s job is to advocate on behalf of the needs of social workers, and to agitate for changes deemed necessary to improve the conditions that create endemic poverty and the myriad social conditions that inevitably follow. She views her organization, the NASW, in effect, as the advance guard in the struggle for social justice and as the representative for the interests of the nation’s social workers. That her views are included in Policy Practices for Social Workers is indicative of the fact that herviews are consistent with those of the authors of the textbook that cites her.