TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – There won’t be a post-spring break re-acclimation for a small group of social work students at The University of Alabama.
Instead, they’ll sit before members of Congress on Capitol Hill to advocate for three bills related to social work during the first University of Alabama School of Social Work Policy and Advocacy Washington, D.C., Fly-In on March 21-22 in Washington, D.C.
The program will provide UA BSW and MSW students with the opportunity to analyze and advocate for one of three bills: S 3434: Violence Against Women Veterans Act; HR 1290: Improving Access to Mental Health; and HR 253: Family First Prevention Services. Ohio State University asked UA to join the event, and 50 students were selected to participate.
The Fly-In will mirror one of the components of UA’s long-running D.C. MSW internship program, which provides field education, policy practice and advocacy opportunities. UA’s School of Social Work added a BSW D.C. program in 2014.
“The Council on Social Work Education put forth an initiative to incorporate more policy and advocacy experiences in our curriculum, so we decided it would make sense to work with what our school has done in D.C. for the last 38 years,” said Carroll Phelps, field coordinator for the Washington, D.C., internship programs. “We wanted to give students an experience of policy and advocacy in Washington for those who couldn’t participate in our BSW and MSW DC internship programs.”
The DC Fly-In is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two prominent schools of social work, said Dr. Vikki Vandiver, dean of the UA School of Social Work.
“Led by each institution’s field education program, this event will provide students a rare opportunity to mix and mingle in a close-up and personal way with key politicians and national leaders in the social work profession — doing so in the very heart of government,” Vandiver said. “I have no doubt this experience will be transformative for our students not only now but for their future.”
Students will have a full slate of events with speakers from policy and advocacy agencies, training at the National Association of Social Workers, tours, a panel discussion on social work careers led by MSW DC alumni, receptions with members of Congress and policy practice training, particularly in the points of emphasis and how to communicate effectively.
“They’ll all be involved in advocacy at some point, whether it’s for a individual client to get services or for a group of clients to be able to have access to resources,” Phelps said. “Teaching them on this national level, where they go before members of Congress, will prepare them to do that on any level.”
Alexi Bolton, a sophomore BSW and business student from Madison, was assigned to HR 253: Family First Prevention Services, which would restructure the funding requirements for family interventions. Current law provides more available funding when a child is removed from a home and placed in foster care than funding for preventive measures, Bolton said. Bolton said she is looking forward to working with the current students in D.C. to craft a strategy for presenting this policy.
Bolton hopes to have a career in nonprofit administration and already has experience implementing service projects, both through an art camp in her hometown of Madison and through 57 Miles, a UA Honors College development program in Perry County. Her previous experiences in those projects have shaped her interest in policy analysis.
“Someone once said to me that the problem with policy is not that it’s poorly written, it’s that policy makers don’t understand the field,” Bolton said. “So doing the service work and giving back allows me an avenue to see what this policy is directly affecting.”
Jonathan Harrell, a MSW student from Birmingham, participated in the undergraduate Washington internship program. He, like Bolton, is interested in how policy changes as it moves from the ground level to the House floor.
“In reading and understanding laws, things jump off the page, and you begin to apply them to real-life situations at the ground-level to determine how effective it can be,” Harrell said. “Do people have a realistic chance to get the resources? Reading it is one thing — but what are the true outcomes? I’m interested in becoming a health policy analyst, so this is a great opportunity for me.”