April 24, 2024 10:50 pm
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Local News

‘Empowering Social Workers,’ in March and beyond


Danielle Smith, Public News Service

Social workers are in the spotlight in March for National Professional Social Work Month. They play a crucial role in addressing society’s most critical challenges from mental health and addiction, to child welfare and elder care.

It is estimated Pennsylvania will need at least 12% more social service workers by 2030, including social workers.

Sierra McNeil, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said the theme is “Empowering Social Workers,” so they can serve their communities more effectively.

“If there was any message that I would love to give to social workers, is continue to empower yourself,” McNeil emphasized. “I think it’s important to look inside and see how I can be the best social worker that I can be. But don’t forget, we do this work because we want to empower our communities.”

McNeil pointed out social workers operate in a variety of settings, from hospitals and mental health facilities, to schools and federal and state agencies.

Sean Lazarus, program director for JusticeWorks YouthCare, said they help families involved with Children and Youth Services and the juvenile justice system, through in-home programs like parenting education, housing support and coaching.

Securing funding is a challenge, he explained, along with families facing housing insecurity.

“The lack of stable housing and affordable housing is a huge issue,” Lazarus pointed out. “We work with a lot of families, and we see those challenges very much present in their lives – where they’re housing insecure, they don’t have access to affordable and timely services and treatment.”

Lazarus oversees services in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and Fulton counties. In addition to individual support, they advocate for community resources and social justice for families.

Amanda Harlacher Wagner, caseworker field coach for JusticeWorks YouthCare, said she collaborates with the Children and Youth agency in Adams County. She supports caseworkers and supervisors, helping them better understand and handle complex situations involving kids and families.

“I get to lead a monthly group where I bring in community presenters, and they might train them on trends like medical marijuana’s happening in two months, or services we use,” Wagner outlined. “They’ve talked to programs that work with pregnant moms and how we can better team.”

Wagner added the discussion topics can range from poverty to the “GROW Model,” a social work framework aimed at understanding others’ realities and why they might differ from your own perspective.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.