Monday, Mar 29, 2021
By Dean Scott Ryan
School of Social Work
March is Social Work Month and after going through more than a year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme “Social Workers are Essential” is quite appropriate.
We are living in extremely challenging times and indeed, Social Work is needed. In fact, Social Work is essential to improving our condition.
As I scan news channels online, I can’t help but see the headlines through the lens of a Social Worker. Some stick out like a sore thumb: “A Connecticut mother is facing murder charges in the death of her 4-year-old son;” “High schoolers who misuse prescription opioids are at high risk for suicidal behaviors, study finds;” “White and Black Americans are divided over George Floyd’s death;” “Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans spiked by 150% in major U.S. cities;” “African Americans see a health-care system infected by racism.”
Here’s another one: “Three University professors are placed on leave after photos surface of them at campus event wearing and holding racist symbols.”
I am deeply pained by these recent news headlines.
Still, as Dean of the School of Social Work, I also am encouraged. I’m encouraged because I believe our communities, more so in recent years, are recognizing that Social Workers are essential. Social Workers are trained, capable and willing to address many of our state and nation’s social challenges.
Let me point you to a recent initiative by the Dallas Police Department.
Three years ago, Dallas Police created a program that pairs Social Workers with paramedics and Dallas officers to respond to behavioral health emergencies. This program, called the RIGHT program, has shown so much promise in deescalating mental health crisis calls.
Since it began in 2018, RIGHT team members have responded to more than 6,600 9-1-1 emergency calls. While evidence still is being collected on the team’s overall impact, preliminary data shows that these Social Workers are making a difference.
They, quite literally, save lives.
I’m also encouraged because our state legislators – at the urgence of NASW Texas – are moving forward with creating a framework to allow licensed Social Workers to operate as mental health counselors in the state’s public schools.
When House Bill 226 and similar laws are adopted and fully implemented, Social Workers will be poised to make incredible differences in the lives of our public-school children and their families. Our school children will have access to mental health services right on their campuses. What a difference this will make in minimizing substance use, suicidal ideation and other behaviors among our most precious resources, our children.
I’m also hopeful because of the work our Social Work faculty and staff are doing with our students and the progress we are making as a School. For example, we recently broke ground on the site for our new Social Work building which is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.
The new building will allow us to improve the delivery of our academic programs, better address community needs and conduct interdisciplinary research and scholarly studies in health care, substance misuse, aging, community practice and many other areas.
In addition, we recently received approval to offer a fully online option for our Bachelor of Social Work program and to expand our top-ranked Master of Social Work online program to now accept out-of-state residents. Finally, we received approval to start the Bachelor of Science in Substance Use & Treatment program with both in-person and online options.
I hope this year’s message for Social Work Month gives you hope, as it has given me, that we are an essential and vital part of addressing some of our nation’s most pressing concerns. And we will make a difference!
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington