The U.S. has more than 700,000 social workers across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and while that may seem like a significant number, evidence shows that it is woefully inadequate. Numerous studies indicate that a massive deficit exists — perhaps more than 200,000 — in the number of social workers needed across various areas of expertise. This workforce shortage is reflected in the heavy caseloads many social workers must bear. While the ideal caseload is considered to be around a dozen cases, many social workers have upward of 15 to 20 at a time. Social workers provide critical support to many different populations in need, including children, the elderly, and those struggling with substance abuse or health issues. Evidence suggests that overloaded social workers are more likely to burn out and leave their jobs, while more manageable caseloads lead to greater retention, more time with clients, and ultimately, better outcomes for those who need social work services.
Social Work Month, celebrated each March, provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the important contributions of social workers. First organized in 1963 by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), National Professional Social Work Month was officially recognized in 1984 by a joint resolution of Congress and a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan.
The month serves as a moment to acknowledge, promote, and advocate for social workers through activities, events, and other outreach and awareness efforts. Following a difficult year in which their work was more crucial than ever, NASW has chosen “Social Workers Are Essential” as the central theme for Social Work Month 2021.
Resources for Celebrating Social Work Month
Numerous opportunities are available to honor social workers during Social Work Month and beyond. NASW has been marking the occasion for nearly 60 years and has a number of tips and strategies for those looking to recognize social workers and the work they do.
Use Promotional Materials to Create Awareness
NASW provides several resources to boost Social Work Month awareness, including a sample press release and letter to the editor. Jim Coleman Ltd., the official supplier of promotional products for Social Work Month 2021, offers advertising materials such as posters, banners, and balloons, plus commemorative products such as headphones and coffee mugs.
Use Social Media to Increase Awareness
Learn from Past Social Work Months
Those interested in commemorating Social Work Month can gain inspiration from previous years’ themes, such as 2020’s “Generations Strong,” which spotlighted past accomplishments in social work, or the 2019 theme of “Elevate Social Work,” which emphasized raising the profession’s profile and advocating for higher pay.
Engage the Community
NASW provides many tools and resources to increase community awareness about social work, including a media training program to help get social work stories in the news and a video public service announcement that can be used in presentations or on websites. Recruiting local students for volunteer work, publishing articles or op-eds in local newspapers, getting involved in community groups, and securing endorsements from key institutions such as churches and hospitals are other great ways to promote social work.
Resources for Promoting Social Work Month
- NASW Ohio Chapter, March Is Social Work Month: The Ohio chapter of NASW offers several suggestions for ways to celebrate the month, some of which can be done virtually, including networking events, information sessions, and lunches.
- NASW, Social Work Month March 2021: NASW’s main hub for Social Work Month 2021 has links to promotional materials, a sample press release, logos for social media, and more.
- NASW, Social Work Month Archive: Here are links to hubs for Social Work Months from the past decade, including associated promotional materials and other resources.
- International Federation of Social Workers, World Social Work Day 2021: World Social Work Day on March 16 presents another opportunity to recognize social workers’ contributions across the globe. The IFSW provides posters and information about events all over the world.
Social Work Month Activities
Community education and engagement help social workers enhance their profile, and Social Work Month provides an opportunity to inform the public about their contributions. Here are some events and activities social workers can organize to promote their work and how it benefits the community.
Community Outreach Activities
Social workers can organize information sessions or public information nights — with an option to provide door prizes to attendees — to discuss the role of social work in the community. Another opportunity for engagement is participation in career day at a local school. Outreach efforts may also include fundraisers and food drives to support vulnerable community members. These efforts have become even more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activities for Social Workers
While COVID-19 has made hosting in-person activities difficult, social work groups have continued to hold virtual events. The Pennsylvania chapter of NASW has a litany of events and activities for members, including webinars, classes, and movie nights. The Ohio chapter also has a full calendar of events that includes committee meetings and networking opportunities.
Celebrate Social Workers’ Involvement in Social Justice Issues
Social work has a long and storied history of advancing key social justice issues, such as voting rights, immigration reform, racial equality, and environmental justice. Social workers can promote their contributions to social justice issues in many ways, such as:
- Organize a voter registration drive.
- Hold a virtual town hall with community members to discuss social justice issues.
- Host a charity event, such as a bake sale or ticketed dinner, to raise money for a worthy cause.
- Hold a community-wide cleanup day at a local park or a recycling drive.
Another way to publicize the importance of social work is to seek an official proclamation. NASW’s online toolkit includes a sample proclamation for social workers to share with officials at the local and state level that highlights the importance of the profession and the many ways social workers contribute to the betterment of society.
Resources for Social Work Activities
- NASW Chapters: The main NASW website contains more information about its 55 chapters across the country, with chapter highlights and event calendars.
- Ohio University Student Organizations: Enrolling in a local social work organization can provide social workers with a number of opportunities. For example, Ohio University’s Student Social Work Association and its chapter of Phi Alpha, the national social work honor society, are dedicated to promoting social work in their community through various activities.
Showing Appreciation for Social Workers
Despite its importance, social work is often unheralded. Managers can use Social Work Month as an opportunity to highlight social work and express their gratitude to social workers and their staff. Social work teams can be celebrated and acknowledged in plenty of ways, from awards to gifts.
Awards for Social Workers
The various NASW chapters hold annual awards ceremonies to recognize the work of their members. Managers can nominate members of their team for several different awards, such as Social Worker of the Year and Emerging Social Work Leader.
Promote Social Workers on Social Media
Managers can use various social media platforms to promote their team’s work or profile individual social workers. The NASW social media toolkit offers a number of tips and suggestions for Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more.
Donate to Charity
The NASW Foundation accepts donations from individual chapters that can be used for scientific, educational, and charitable purposes. Managers can make donations to the foundation — or other charitable organizations — on behalf of team members to show appreciation for their work.
Give Gifts of Appreciation
Lunches and gift baskets donated by local businesses make great gifts for social workers, as do tokens of gratitude such as tote bags and tumblers.
Additional Resources for Recognizing Social Workers
- NASW New York State Chapter, Celebrate Social Work Month: Last year, the New York state chapter of NASW published profiles of individuals involved in social work in their communities, including students and seasoned social workers.
- NASW Foundation, NASW Chapters: This link provides more information about the NASW Foundation, including its support of local chapters and its program of charitable giving.
- NASW, National Awards: The NASW website has more information about the NASW and NASW Foundation awards, including last year’s winners and how to submit nominations for the next award cycle.
How Social Workers Support Each Other
Social work can be a challenging and stressful career, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance urges social workers to prioritize their own health and well-being during the crisis. During Social Work Month, workers should take time to support themselves and their colleagues in the field.
Self-Care for Social Workers
NASW provides a host of self-care tips and resources for social workers, such as intentional breathing, mindfulness and meditation, taking a short walk, yoga, and journaling.
Social workers can achieve better work-life balance through a variety of strategies, such as:
- Establishing clear boundaries between their personal and professional lives by unplugging from work devices, setting specific work hours, and communicating these boundaries to co-workers
- Making time for themselves and loved ones
- Engaging in fulfilling hobbies and activities or carving out time with family members
- Taking a vacation, whether it’s a long weekend staycation or a two-week trip to another country
Social Workers Supporting Each Other
COVID-19 has been particularly challenging for those in social work, and social workers need to support their colleagues. No one understands what social workers are going through, personally and professionally, better than other social workers. A virtual happy hour, a socially distanced coffee date, or a simple check-in session over the phone are all great ways for social workers to help each other.
Self-Care Resources for Social Workers
- Business News Daily, “How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today”: This article includes several tips and strategies for creating a better work-life balance in any profession.
- NASW, Self-Care During the Coronavirus Pandemic: NASW has created a list of self-care tips and resources, from podcasts to fitness videos, to help social workers get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Social Work Today, “Social Worker Well-Being in the Time of COVID-19”: Here are suggestions for ways social workers can preserve their own mental health while they cope with the pandemic.
The Benefits of Social Work Month
For almost 60 years, Social Work Month has helped increase awareness around the profession and champion the cause of social workers. By shining a light on social work, the monthlong celebration creates an opportunity to improve the lives of social workers and the communities they support in a number of ways.
Improved Work-Life Balance
Social Work Month can raise awareness of issues related to social workers’ concerns, such as the need to improve social workers’ work-life balance through more manageable caseloads. Reports about social workers struggling with unmanageable workloads have emerged across the country in recent years, from New York City to Kansas.
Addressing and Breaking Down Socioeconomic Barriers
Outreach events offer an opportunity to engage with the public and work with community members to address issues like crime, poverty, and limited access to health care. Social workers are in a unique position to witness the devastating effects of these social ills firsthand and have a long history of assisting vulnerable communities. An abundance of statistics related to issues like poverty, mental health, and crime serve to underscore the importance of social work.
Raising Awareness of Social Justice Issues
In its explanation of the theme for Social Work Month 2021, NASW lays out the ways social work has contributed to improving people’s lives by raising awareness of a host of social justice issues. Throughout history, social workers have fought to expand reproductive and employment rights for women, advocated for a higher minimum wage, and educated at-risk communities about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Greater Community Involvement
Social workers frequently apply their collective power to press elected officials to pass laws and policies that give more people access to community services. Social work is the only helping profession that mandates social justice advocacy in its official code of ethics, resulting in a huge workforce dedicated to helping society’s most vulnerable members.
Celebrating Social Work
In recent months, social workers across the country have provided ample evidence of this year’s Social Work Month theme: “Social Workers Are Essential.” As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, social workers stepped up to serve their communities in a multitude of ways: ensuring homebound students had access to meals and learning resources, finding emergency shelter for homeless individuals, and offering virtual therapy for clients seeking mental health support. They also urged government officials to assist families struggling during the pandemic’s economic downturn and joined the fight to end systemic racism.
While the efforts of social workers deserve to be applauded year-round, Social Work Month is a chance to highlight the tangible ways their work benefits society by telling their stories and engaging the communities they serve through events and activities.