The Role of Social Workers in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
As the 2016 Presidential Election nears, candidates and reporters will continue to place emphasis on the issues impacting American citizens today. While the economy and foreign policy have long been a traditional issue for political consideration, social policies and equality have progressively become a key topic for political debate. With social policies gaining more political and public attention, it is the role of social workers to assist and bring attention to the major issues afflicting public health.
Social Work & Presidential Elections
Although they may not always receive major media attention, social workers play a pivotal role in presidential elections. One of the most important things that social worker can do is to not only address problems and issues afflicting society, but also encourage individuals troubled with these issues, and the public in general, to vote. Voting is, in and of itself, an act of social work as with a vote individuals are empowered to speak on what they believe is best for their community and country.
Key Social Issues for the 2016 Presidential Election
The Heroin Epidemic
One of the most reported social issues as of late has been the heroin epidemic. The media attention is much needed as America’s opioid issue has progressively worsened due to individuals switching from prescription pain medication to cheaper street drugs. Just this past August, there were 26 heroin overdoses within a 4-hour span in small city Huntington, West Virginia (population 49,000). This striking occurrence aligns with our nation’s progressive misuse of the drug, as since 1982, the number of Americans overdoses has increased by 425%.
To help with the heroin epidemic, many are advocating for safe drug sites where heroin users can use the drug under medical supervision. While governmental support of heroin use may seem contradictory, advocates say that these sites help fight illegal crime and promote the safe use of the drug. As of late, heroine distributors have been mixing the drug with the more lethal fentanyl, much to the oblivion of the drug user or dealer. Advocates say that it’s the impurity of street heroin that often results in the massive number of overdoses America has seen as of late. Once in these programs, users are then encouraged to slowly transition off the drug through medical support and supervision.
Improving Access to Mental Health
With an estimated 42.5 million Americans suffering from a mental illness each year, mental health has become a key issue of the 2016 presidential election. One of the main topics relating to mental health involves treatment as many who struggle with mental illness are unable to seek treatment due to accessibility or affordability issues. In fact, a press release for the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 states that “half of Americans with mental illness did not get any mental health care in the past year.” Currently, mental health care is not properly covered by most insurance plans which is why social policies, such as the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, are essential to helping our nation address the need for mental health care and improve our overall health care system.
Whether its protecting the youth or assisting families, social workers have long been essential figures within our nation’s child welfare system. Today, the need for social workers is as important as ever. For example, in 2014 there was an estimate 702,000 children suffered malicious or insufficient care, with the children’s most common age being under one-year-old. With the 2016 election, there are a number of social policies concerning child welfare that are of top concern. Some of the most important include:
● Advocating for the use of Title IV-E for bachelor’s and master’s in child welfare workforce (President Obama mentioned this in the President’s Fiscal 2017 Budget Request).
● Address the need for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) as it may soon face a substantial amount of budget cuts which could threaten to eliminate SSBG entirely.
● Expand programs that aim to assisting children and families. Examples include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant Program, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program and Head Start.
● Encouraging students with a bachelor’s or master’s in social work to assist with child welfare services by providing them with incentives such as student stipends and loan forgiveness programs.
Stand Up and Encourage People to Vote
Whether it’s the heroine epidemic, improving access to mental health or America’s child welfare system, social workers will continue to play a critical role in the 2016 Presidential Election by addressing the social policies and issues afflicting America today. And while attending demonstrations and rallies is great, social workers should also encourage citizens to take the next step by voting. Remember, voting is both a privilege and an opportunity to begin the construction of an improved society and a better quality of life for each and every citizen of the United States.
Social work is a profession dedicated to enhancing the quality of life, the pursuit of social justice, and helping a wide range of individuals to reach their full potential. The University of New England’s Master of Social Work online program represents these ideals and encourages students to continue in their pursuit of social justice while expanding their compassion and understanding of human dignity, diversity and self-determination.