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Though all times are challenging, most would agree the last few years have seemed to open a door to a new era in our shared world. A world of disruption, discontinuity and in some ways, disorientation. As famous futurist William Gibson once said, "The future is here...it's just not evenly distributed." Together, we observe and feel the world changing rapidly - and as social workers, we understand that our practice may itself need to evolve more quickly to be impactful and relevant in a world that is in transition.
This presentation will examine the historical roots of the social work (SW) profession as seeking community-based responses to the needs of the poor and other marginalized groups. The increased privatization and professionalization of the SW field has shifted the focus of the most educated members of our field toward individualized approaches to care for those who are insured, employed, and able to access mental health care. This professional shift intersects with a post-pandemic world in which unprecedented levels of mental health distress are being reported. This moment of historic need forces us to question the cost-effectiveness and utility of individually-focused interventions as a realistic pathway out of this current mental health crisis. We will explore the confluence of challenges facing our nation at this time and ask tough questions about the SW profession’s readiness and role in facing these. Some of the challenges to be explored include: a toxic culture that isolates us from the natural supports needed for healthy development; a shrinking social safety net; a shortage of mental health providers; the demographic cliff (a declining number of college-aged young people); a growing sentiment that a college education is not a worthwhile investment, especially in pursuit of “low wage” professional areas of study. This session will ask critical questions about the role of the SW profession in addressing the needs of the next generation of societal problems.