Renee Koubiadis, Advocacy Coordinator for the National Association of Social Workers-NJ Chapter, spoke with APN about their work:
What does the organization do?
We are a membership organization for social workers in New Jersey. We represent over 7,000 members in the state. Our mission statement declares: “Through advocacy and public policy, NASW-NJ affects progressive social change and social justice for individuals, families, and communities.”
Social work has always had a focus on social justice issues. NASW-NJ is the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The national organization defines three priorities as critical to the professional organization. One of those pieces is advocating for social change.
Who does the organization help?
It helps our members and it helps the people that we serve in all aspects of the community. Our history was in the tenement houses as friendly visitors finding out what people needed. We started out with a social justice focus and that's always been a strong part of social work. We practice at the micro level working with individuals and families. We also work with communities, and on a more macro level on the state level, in terms of policy and legislation.
What does poverty look like in the agency’s work?
Social workers are working with people who are economically disadvantaged every day and struggling to meet basic needs. We are front line workers. Social workers are the primary mental health care providers in the country. Nationally, social workers provide over 60% of behavioral healthcare.
Behavioral health is a big factor in poverty as well. Not only do people who struggle with those issues have a higher percentage of being in poverty but how many people are we medicating for depression simply because of their economic status? They’re struggling so much day-to-day and become depressed as a result of their circumstances. We have folks struggling with issues because they are in poverty and they turn to substances and then we punish them for that, unfortunately, which leads to the criminalization of poverty.
Why is NASW-NJ a part of APN?
As a profession we see so much of poverty’s effect on people. We realize we can help individuals and families obtain basic necessities, but the systemic situation won't change until the policies change and we can provide more funding and opportunities for people. So while we help people and families individually, we will always be advocates as well.