by Rob Block
I have been working in the office of State Representative Jessica Farrar as part of the Austin Legislative Internship Program of the UH Graduate College of Social Work. Representative Farrar represents the 148th district in the Texas House of Representatives. The district includes the Northside, Heights, Garden Oaks, and eastern Spring Branch. I have worked and lived in this district for a number of years, so working in the office of the State Representative who represents me and my community is exciting.
I have worked on a number of different projects: analyzing bills for expected major session issues, monitoring assigned committees, meeting with constituents and stakeholder groups, and doing office administrative tasks such as answering phones, writing sections of the newsletter, and making coffee.
One task that has been interesting is working bills. Representative Farrar has proposed more than 20 bills; a handful of which I am in charge of working. This means doing research and writing to make a strong case for bills that my Representative has filed.
One bill that I believe will be of interest to social workers is House Bill 233, which the office has dubbed the “School Social Work Bill.” HB 233 is a bill that adds a brief description of the role of a school social worker to the Texas Education Code. There is currently no definition of the services school social workers may provide in the Education Code. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has reported that school social workers from across the state have contacted them with concerns that school administrators do not properly utilize them. A lack of a clear explanation of the profession is one factor that contributes to misunderstandings of how social workers can and should be used.
Will Francis, LMSW is the Government Relations Director of the Texas chapter of the NASW. He explains that: “HB 233 is important because it would add school social workers to the Texas education code. There are currently a lot of issues out there, such as domestic violence, truancy, homelessness, hunger and school violence that affect young people in schools. The social worker will be able to step in and work closely with the family and the child in bringing resources to support these students. School social workers will really be able to get to know kids and be able to support the counselors and nurses in the schools and be able to work as part of a holistic team around issues related to kids.”
State Representative Jessica Farrar explains her rationale behind introducing this legislation; “This bill aims to increase the use of school social workers by ensuring that school administrators understand their role. While many students face challenges that can prevent academic success, school social workers can facilitate students’ access to resources to address those challenges.”
The NASW Code of Ethics includes our ethical responsibility to broader society as one of social worker’s ethical standards. This responsibility includes promoting the general welfare of society as well as social and political action. Section 6.04 of the Code of Ethics describes our ethical obligation to “engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”
If you think this issue is important, I would encourage you to do your civic duty by helping to build support for HB 233. You can look up who your representative is and contact them to communicate your support of HB 233. Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso has introduced companion legislation in the Senate as SB 675; please tell your State Senator to support this. You can also contact the Texas chapter of NASW to ask how to support this bill and related legislative efforts of the association.
The hope is that this legislation will make utilizing social work resources in schools easier to benefit children and the educational system. Will Francis summarized the benefits from the perspective of NASW: “Our whole purpose of bringing school social workers into the school is to bring more resources to the classroom so that kids can focus on education, and schools can really be in the business of educating kids because we’ve really got those other mental health professionals there providing the support services on the side.”
Working on this bill made me decide to finally join the NASW. To make changes in policy that will help support social work, our clients and socially just society takes collective action. NASW is an organization that is fighting these fights. Joining the association shows my support.
I am excited to be able to participate in this unique internship program to help push for changes that will benefit the social work profession and the social welfare of residents of the state of Texas.