TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — More than 45 University of Alabama social work students will meet with 30 U.S. Congress members March 20-21 to advocate for legislation regarding opioid abuse, human trafficking and children in foster care.
The Washington, D.C. Policy and Advocacy “Fly-In,” launched in 2017, is part of the UA School of Social Work’s Washington, D.C. Internship Program, which turns 40 years old in 2019.
The Fly-In is a unique crash course in policy research, strategy and advocacy. In addition to meeting with Congressional members, students learn from approximately 15 speakers, including experts from policy and advocacy agencies, and train intensively for the presentations they will make.
There are 70 participants this year from UA, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama at Huntsville and the Ohio State University, and they will be advocating for the following four bills:
- HR 2512: Foster Youth and Driving Act
- S 1795/HR 3740: Fostering Success in Higher Education Act of 2017
- HR 1865: Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act
- HR 2938: The Road to Recovery Act (opioid abuse)
“The four bills students are working on this year really reflect important current issues in our world. They embody what social work is about,” said Carroll Phelps, instructor and field coordinator for UA’s School of Social Work. “If our students can advocate on Capitol Hill with federal lawmakers, they can advocate on any other level. As social workers, they will be advocates throughout their careers, whether they’re influencing local, state or national policy or helping a client get access to resources.”
Of more than 600 schools of social work in the United States, UA’s School of Social Work is the only one outside the Washington, D.C., metro area that offers students pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees a semester-long internship in the nation’s capital. Because these D.C. programs are highly competitive, some students are unable to spend an entire semester in Washington. Phelps and Allison Curington, director of field education for the School of Social Work, developed the Fly-In to offer an experience in Washington to more students.
“It really was life changing,” said Fredericka Brinkley, a bachelor of social work student who attended the 2017 Fly-In. “I was 19, a sophomore, going to Washington and meeting with these powerful people, and they took the time out of their busy schedules to sit down and listen to what we had to say. It surpassed what I thought I could do with my social-work degree and with advocacy.”
After meeting with students, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., agreed to co-sponsor HR253: Family First Prevention Services Act, a bill that would invest in “family services to help keep children safe and supported at home, and to ensure that children in foster care are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like, and appropriate settings.”
“To have a member of Congress say, ‘OK, I’m going to co-sponsor this bill,’ or ‘I’m going to vote for this bill,’ or ‘I see a different perspective now, and I’m going to consider this,’ that is total success,” Phelps said. “Those results mean mastery of policy analysis and advocacy, which brings students so much confidence.”