It may come as a surprise that the field of social work goes beyond the needs of helping a particular client. But there are many instances where social work and the legal system converge, said Tina Maschi, Ph.D., associate professor of social work and director of Justia Agenda.
The field’s interplay with the law will be the focus of a daylong conference co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Social Service. “Forensic Social Work’s Role in Advancing Human Rights and Social Justice: A Local Global Celebration,” will take place on Thursday, Aug. 3, at the Lincoln Center campus.
“There are many definitions of forensic social work, but it’s often described as social workers working in legal settings or in justice centers, such as in the courts, in prisons, or in jails,” said Maschi. “It can also mean working with mental health clients or child adoption.”
Maschi said the conference is unique because it integrates human rights and social justice with forensic social work to bring about “a psycho-social intervention that makes a difference.”
“It’s about advancing a caring form of justice to challenge a system that uses punishment strategies that decimate indigent families and communities,” said Maschi. “Social workers can offer the antidote of caring justice that can help facilitate rehabilitation, healing, and reform.”
Maschi said that the current system has created a “separatist approach to solving problems,” when people should be working together. But, she added, the problems must be addressed—not just critiqued.
“It’s not enough to complain,” she said. “We have to create an alternative.”
Maschi said she hopes the conference will produce such alternatives: The “vision themed” talks in the main room of the Corrigan Conference Center will frame workshops, and panel discussions will seek to develop actions.
Joseph Wronka, Ph.D., professor of social work at Springfield College, will give the opening remarks on “Creating a Human Rights Culture.” John H. Calhoun, president of the National Crime Prevention Council, will close out the conference with a talk on “Lighting Paths to Safer Communities.” Mel Wilson, of the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) national office, and Juli Kempner, of NASW-NYC, the local chapter, will address national and local policy issues and their implications for social work practice.
Concurrently, workshops will tackle a variety of issues, including preparing young people to find humanity in one another, identifying and responding to labor trafficking, linking research with policy and advocacy, and educating undergraduates about mental health and addiction services.
Maschi said she expects that attendees will leave with tools that can help change the minds of those resistant to the mission of most social workers.
“We have all these laws on the books, but if you don’t have the spirit of tolerance in the general public then nothing we do as social workers will change the problem,” she said. “We need to create a pathway of understanding. And that’s done through training and advocacy found at events like this.”
“We have to create the world as we see it.”