Story by Tricia Howley
The CSU System’s School of Social Work on the Fort Collins campus has formed a partnership with the CSU-Pueblo School of Social Work to strengthen both programs with new approaches for policy practice education, with support and funding from CSU’s Office of the Provost.
“One of the values of the Colorado State System is that our individual campus programs can more easily cooperate and collaborate on student opportunities,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda, who initiated the cross-system collaboration. “We’re delighted that the Social Work faculties in Fort Collins and in Pueblo are identifying ways to work together to the benefit of all of our students, and to the state of Colorado.”
Policy practice can be described as the place where knowledge, social work and public policy meet: those activities aimed at affecting policies in conjunction with traditional social work partners, such as service users and other social workers.
Role of policy practice
Engagement in policy practice teaches students how to advance social and economic well-being, and to deliver effective social work services. Considered an integral part of social workers’ professional activities, policy practice may include social action, use of mass media, legislative advocacy, reform through litigation and social research.
For example, according to the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, the 2016 poverty rate in Colorado declined to 12 percent; however, rates are significantly higher among Latinos (21.4 percent), blacks (19.5 percent), and Native Americans (20.6 percent) with 42 percent of Coloradans of color living in poor neighborhoods and near the federal poverty level.
“Inequality and injustice are at the heart of many social problems,” said Fort Collins School of Social Work Director Audrey Shillington. “In order for all social workers, regardless of specialization, to engage in political action tackling issues of discrimination and poverty, schools of social work must adequately train and advise students in policy practice.”
The Fort Collins-Pueblo collaboration resulted in the first department-sponsored Advocacy Day, held Jan. 31 at the Capitol in Denver. More than 100 B.S.W. and M.S.W. students from both campuses observed legislative sessions, attended a community advocate panel discussion, attended committee hearings, and advocated in scheduled meetings with legislators of both parties.
The event gave students a “real-world” experience to consider social justice issues facing vulnerable populations in Colorado. Furthermore, it expanded the reach of CSU’s School of Social Work to serve Colorado’s geographically large rural and urban regions with less capacity to engage in state-based legislation.
The partnership will also help the Fort Collins and Pueblo schools partner with faculty across campuses, and plan for further collaborations, including the design of educational trainings and the publishing of student outcomes.
“This opportunity for policy and advocacy practice experiential learning wouldn’t have happened without the larger vision of the provost’s office,” Shillington added.
The new approaches for policy practice education aim to deepen student understanding of the interconnected structures fostering oppression, and improve student policy practice competencies.
The School of Social Work in Fort Collins offers dynamic B.S.W. and M.S.W. programs, providing students with the necessary knowledge and skills to enter social work practice as professionals, and is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.