The Role Of Social Workers In Policy Advocacy - SACAP
Social Work & Community Development

The Role of Social Workers in Policy Advocacy

Mar 19, 2024 | By Saranne Durham
A group of social workers in an advocacy meeting
Mobile Curve
Mobile Curve

Social workers have an integral role within communities. They literally work at the coal-face of what really challenges and hinders community members from flourishing and succeeding. As a result, the inherent knowledge and know-how of a social worker is an invaluable resource. Especially, when it comes to policy advocacy and social justice. Thus, incorporating them, such that a social worker’s role in social justice is assured, is key to finding sustainable solutions. One of the ways to accomplish this is through policy advocacy.

What does Social Justice Mean?

Social justice works from the starting point that everyone is equal and should be treated as such. This specifically means equal economic, social and political rights as well as access to opportunities. A lack of social justice causes social inequality.

Social Inequality

Circumstances and policies can give rise to social inequality. The result of which is that the benefits that should be accessible to all within a society aren’t. Social inequality can be direct or indirect.

Direct social inequality is a result of a group of people being deliberately treated unfairly. This is often due to government policies and/or inter-social practices. These two factors are usually entwined. Examples of these are racial segregation in public areas and the refusal to serve women in a restaurant.

Indirect social inequality is the unintended consequence of a policy or action. Therefore, while the intention wasn’t to marginalise, the result is discrimination against a specific group of people. For example, the renewal of vital documents at a specific urban location. This can result in rural-based people not being able to access services due to transport costs. Or alternatively, the purchasing of goods or services made cheaply by using below-living-wage labour. Which would keep a group of people below the poverty-line.

What is Social Justice in Social Work?

Social workers aim to better ensure social justice. As such they work towards opening “doors” so that people can access opportunities. Most often they focus on those who are marginalised and disenfranchised. In other words, those who have the least access to equal rights and ability to take up opportunities available to other members of society. Very often the reason for lack of access and infringements of equal political, social and economic rights is circumstantial. Therefore, not necessarily due to choices an individual has made. Policy advocacy is an effective mechanism through which social changes can be made and social justice enacted.

What is Policy Advocacy?

Policy advocacy takes place through the representation, promotion and defending of an individual, group or community’s interests. It’s concerned with creating dialogue amongst key role players so as to bring about change. Thus, policy advocacy is used to correct social inequality which has come about through, for example, unequal government regulation.

6 Areas of Government Regulation

  1. Access to Health Care
  2. Availability of Quality Education
  3. Labour Parameters
  4. Environmental Laws
  5. Law-enforcement
  6. Voting rights

Each of these 6 areas can create equity or foster social injustice. This is because government regulations relating to these areas can dictate people’s opportunity and access to resources. As well as how well a community is able to voice their needs to those who can catalyse change.

How do Social Workers fit into Policy Advocacy?

Social workers are privy to how government regulations play out. They see how things actually impact a community and its members. This means that they understand the unintended as well as intended consequences of government policy in action. Ideally, social workers are also part of local government structures, non-profit organisations and public forums or groups.

Practically, policy advocacy requires a marginalised group to have a voice within key role player’s arenas. The ideal person to represent a community is one who understands the internal dynamics and needs of the community. And has access to discussions within government and regulation sectors. Given these requirements, a social worker is ideally placed to fulfil this role. Thereby a social worker has an important role when it comes to the effective and sustainable promotion of social justice. This is because they can make the difference between a government having strategic and impactful policy or creating policy with adverse or unintended consequences.

Thus, policy advocacy by a social worker is essentially about successfully mediating and negotiating a dialogue within influential networks. Such that the right people hear an accurate message from an affected group of people. And thereby, change for the better of individuals and communities is possible.

Communities and Social Workers

Sadly, too often, the role of a social worker as well as their potential within policy advocacy is side-lined. However, it does not have to be like this. Active community support of a social worker can make a difference. With an expressed community mandate, a social worker has added authority to represent a community as a policy advocate. It also creates a stronger communication channel between a community and policy makers. All of which enable sustainable change and the strengthening of social justice. Additionally, policy maker’s growing recognition of the importance of a social worker’s role in social justice further assists advocacy processes.

How to Promote Social Justice

One of the most effective ways to promote and improve social justice is to become a social worker. Are you passionate about promoting positive change in other’s lives? If you are, then enquire about studying a Bachelor of Social Work at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP). This degree is an honours equivalent professional degree. It will give you the opportunity to also explore multiple national and international academic pathways for a master’s degree in various specialised fields of social work, the social sciences or related fields.

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