Every January, hundreds of the foremost thinkers in social work higher education gather for the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Annual Conference. At this year’s event, which took place in Washington, D.C., the Boston College School of Social Work was well represented. Fifteen faculty members and 13 PhD candidates presented papers and posters or moderated at 38 different sessions over the course of one weekend. BCSSW community members covered a wide range of topics as well, ranging from mental health, to child welfare, to systemic challenges within the criminal justice system, to forced migration and beyond.
The title of this year’s event was Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future, to coincide with the recently announced Grand Challenges Initiative from the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). Four symposia held during this year’s SSWR meeting showcased Boston College’s active involvement in the drafting of several of the 12 challenges.
“These symposia provided opportunities for BCSSW faculty members to become identified as key players in the tackling of the Grand Challenges,” said Professor James Lubben, one of the principal architects of the initiative. “In addition, all four of these symposia were well attended and created quite a buzz.” (Read more about Lubben’s work crafting these Challenges in BC Social Work Magazine).
The four Grand Challenges sessions featuring BC Social Work faculty and PhD candidates were:
1.) Eradicate Social Isolation
Social Isolation Presents a Grand Challenge for Social Work, from James Lubben, Melanie Gironda, Erika Sabbath, Jooyoung Kong, and Carrie Johnson.
Abstract: Solid epidemiological evidence links social isolation to health. Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institutes of Health have affirmed the importance of addressing social isolation. The AARP also has recently adopted social isolation as one of its top five new initiatives. Working in tandem with other key professions, social work possesses the expertise to greatly reduce the risk and consequences of social isolation. The “social” element of social work is the key for solving the grand challenge of reducing the risk of social isolation and strengthening social ties among all populations.
2.) Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice for All
Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice: The Integration of Latina/o Immigrants into American Society, from Rocío Calvo, Larry Ortiz, Westy Egmont, Robert Rosales, Victor Figuereo, Manuel Cano, Yolanda Padilla, Mary C. Waters, James Lubben, and Patricia Villa.
Draft abstract: Now an integral part of the American fabric, Latinos represent the fastest growing population in the United States. While the Latino immigrant community constitutes a vibrant and enriching presence, it also faces significant challenges that preclude its full participation in American society. Traditional approaches to the incorporation of Latino immigrants have often focused on what Latinos lack, relative to the prevailing non-Latino white majoritarian culture.
We instead focus on what Latinos bring with them, namely their cultural capital, and we examine how social workers can leverage these assets to assist Latinos in leading their own positive integration into American life.
3). Harness Technology for Social Good
Harnessing the Digital Age: Practice Innovation through Technology a Grand Challenge for Social Work, from Stephanie Berzin, Jonathan Singer, and Chitat Chan (under consideration).
Draft abstract: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is transformational . . . . While the possibility for practice innovation using digital technologies has been documented (see Barak & Grohol, 2011), social work practitioners and scholars remain hesitant to drive this movement . . . . The grand challenge for social work becomes to harness technological advancements and leverage digital advances for social good. Accepting this challenge will result in more accurate, timely, and targeted services. Traditional consumers of social services will benefit from improved assessment, intervention, and real-time feedback. Social services will be available to people who have traditionally been excluded due to functional barriers such as geography, transportation, and scheduling. Society will benefit from having the broad reach of social work enhanced by innovative integration of technology.
4). Advance Long and Productive Lives
Increasing Productive Engagement in Later Life, from Nancy Morrow-Howell, Ernest Gonzales, Christina Matz-Costa, and Emily A. Greenfield.
Abstract: Population aging is among the most profound transformations in all of human history. Life expectancy has more than tripled, with most of that extension coming in the last century (Finch, 2010). This demographic shift is very rapid—indeed, a demographic revolution. In the United States, the number of people over the age of 65 will double between 2000 and 2030, with the number of people over 85 growing the fastest (Administration on Aging, 2013). This demographic revolution presents many grand challenges. This paper highlights the challenge of reshaping social expectations, institutions, policies, and programs to engage the growing human capital of the older population to meet the demands posed by an aging society.
We’ll continue to keep you updated on developments within the Grand Challenges initiative in this space.