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Richman advises CSWE on military social work education

Dean Jack Richman, Ph.D. is among a group of 36 experts from various social work higher education, professional association and military backgrounds who have been working with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to develop guidelines for an advanced practice in military social work education.

CSWE launched the initiative to bridge the gap between the number of available prepared practitioners and the demand for social services with military personnel and their families, and convened the experts group in January in Washington, D.C.

The result is a just-released set of educational guidelines specifying the specialized knowledge and skills that social work practitioners need to effectively serve military personnel, veterans, and their families. Directly addressing CSWE’s 2008 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), this guide seeks to increase specialization, certification, and other curricular offerings in social work programs that address military cultural awareness and service-related disorders.

The 2008 EPAS is the directive that baccalaureate and master’s of social work programs are required to follow to attain and maintain accreditation with CSWE. The 2008 EPAS identifies 10 competencies that compose social work practice at the generalist practice level.

“These easily accessible guidelines will be a useful resource for all social work educators and practitioners who have already earned their MSW degree,” said CSWE Executive Director Julia M. Watkins. “Social workers and educators now have a versatile, specialized resource to respond to the military community’s growing treatment needs for depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a wide range of other physical and mental health care services.”

Military social workers serve both personnel in and out of uniform—including but not limited to the armed forces, branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, veterans of all eras, noncombatant uniformed service members, and those participating in federal disaster relief and humanitarian missions. Specific agencies served by the military social work field are the Department of Homeland Security, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

CSWE’s guide to advanced military social work practice contains many educational components specifically designed to improve the health and well-being of military personnel, veterans, and their families.

The guidelines outline ways that social work practitioners should champion human rights and social and economic justice to advance the well-being of the military community. This involves identifying personnel needs in civilian and workplace settings and teaching clients skills that promote self-sufficiency and empowerment.

Understanding the individual’s unique role within active military and veteran cultural contexts is another area of specialized critical thinking covered. The guidelines recommend that practitioners consider the complexities accompanying the multiple responsibilities of military personnel before making a client assessment. Military social workers are encouraged to become familiar with the communication practices and standards of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Related to contexts, the guidelines call for advanced practitioners to respond to other factors shaping military social work practice—history, trends, and innovations. Knowledge of the Uniform Code of Military Justice should be routinely applied to practice and a strong effort made to communicate effectively with veteran services organizations. The guidelines also cite information technologies as useful tools for social workers in conducting outreach and delivering services to military personnel.

The guidelines recommend strategies social workers can use to engage military community leaders and to employ a range of clinical and preventive interventions appropriate for combat-related injuries and diagnoses. This includes explaining the benefits and risks of military personnel seeking social services and understanding risk and protective factors associated with deployment and other life-changing experiences. Besides negotiating and mediating, social work practitioners should engage clients in ongoing self-awareness exercises.