Now More Than Ever, Social Workers Need to Continue Breaking Barriers


by Mildred “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, BSW, LCSW

     Once again, Social Work Month is upon us! As we celebrate the myriad contributions of social workers worldwide, we should remember that now, more than ever, we need to be proactive about breaking barriers. We must continue to advocate for those striving for justice on local, state, and national levels.

     Each March, social workers are invigorated by the appreciation and affection shared, not just from fellow social workers, but from the many people who hold our profession in high esteem. It can, however, be difficult to celebrate how far we have come when we must still conquer the many challenges communities and people face daily.

     Racism, transphobia, homophobia, and the erosion and violations of reproductive rights and LGBTQIA+ rights continue to rise. And although it can be daunting, social workers are tireless advocates for those in need, no matter where they are.

     Despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, and the increased attempts by state legislatures to pass laws barring people from effectively accessing reproductive health, we remain hopeful justice will prevail. On February 21, 2023, governors from 20 states launched the Reproductive Freedom Alliance. This non-partisan coalition aims to work together to “strengthen reproductive freedom in the face of an unprecedented assault on abortion access and other forms of reproductive health care by states hostile to abortion rights and judges who are advancing their ideological agenda,” states a press release from California Governor Gavin Newsom.

     While we are  heartened by this action, it is up to social workers to join this fight, as well as those surrounding parental rights bills cropping up in states nationwide that prohibit educators from discussing with children sexual orientation and gender.

     We must also advocate against attempts to ban education surrounding critical race theory, an academic and legal construct showing that systemic racism is part of American culture—from healthcare and housing to education and employment. Social workers need to advocate and take action against schools and universities that are rewriting history by eliminating the history of Brown, Black, and Indigenous persons. Now, more than ever, social workers must heed the call to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to address these and other important issues.

     Like policing.

     And when it comes to policing, interactions between the police and the communities they are duty-bound to serve and defend remain tense. As it has throughout the history of this country, the abuse of authority, lack of compassion, and horrendous disregard for human life persists. The repulsive murders of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols and countless others at the hands of those sworn to protect is reminiscent of the battles nearly 70 years ago during the Civil Rights Movement. Enough is enough. Social workers must be on the frontlines of these issues. We should also be proactive in encouraging legislators to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform bill introduced by social worker and former U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass. The bill would hold police accountable for their misconduct, restrict the use of certain policing practices, enhance transparency and data collection, and establish nationwide best practices and training requirements.

     In February, NASW welcomed its new Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Anthony Estreet. He intends to create a new blueprint for the association during a time of significant polarization in our country, in the halls of power, and in the communities affected by the policies made within their borders. Dr. Estreet has pledged that NASW will employ forward thinking innovations and take deliberate and collaborative action to ensure that new perspectives, ideas, and voices are heard and recognized. In trying to address and fight racism and hate, Dr. Estreet said the association must “look internally, have a clear message to the profession and society at-large, and continue to educate and highlight the voices focusing on ending structural racism.”

     With an eye toward the future, social workers are well aware of the obstacles ahead, both personally and professionally. We need to feel supported and a part of something bigger than ourselves. That includes improvements in social worker safety and salaries, for which we are also advocating. It is the part the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) plays in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of social workers who represent our profession. It requires a consistent understanding of the present state of affairs with an eye toward the future.

     And it is why advocacy and action are so vital.

     This is a monumental task for our profession, and I believe we are up for the challenge.

     NASW lives by our Code of Ethics and we are committed to providing our members with the resources, data, knowledge, and action items required to help them break barriers and participate in evidence-based practices in their communities that would aid those in need.

     We are asking social workers to share what actions they are engaging in to address the eradication of racism; or what actions they are taking against the uprising hate against the LGBTQIA+ community; or how they are advocating for reproductive rights individually, in their communities, or in the nation. What we intend to do is take purposeful actions and develop a compilation of achieved action items social workers can engage in over the next year.

     Do so by emailing me directly at

     The work required to ameliorate these problems is complex and broad. You can help by joining us.

Mildred “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, BSW, LCSW, is President of the National Association of Social Workers and Vice President of IFSW-North American Region. 

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