March is National Social Work Month. To celebrate the field of social work and social workers themselves, I want to share with you a parable that illustrates the importance of the profession whose primary mission is “to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” Anyone who has received a degree in social work has invariably heard a version of this story (I know I have).
In a village on the edge of a river, a person standing near the water notices a baby floating down the stream. The villager jumps into the river and saves the baby from drowning. The next day this same villager notices two babies in the river. She jumps in and rescues them from the swift waters. Each day, the number of babies found floating down the river seems to multiply!
So, the villagers organized themselves to deal with this crisis – training teams of swimmers strong enough to keep jumping into the river to rescue the babies from drowning. The rescue squads were able to save most, but not all, of the babies. One day, however, someone raised the question, “But where are all these babies coming from? Let’s head upstream and find out how all of these babies are getting into the river in the first place!”
What I appreciate about this parable is that it highlights the necessary roles of micro, mezzo, and macro social work. Micro-level social work engages with individuals and families (represented by the villager who jumped into the river to save a baby). Mezzo-level social work interacts with small- to medium-sized groups, such as a school or a neighborhood (represented by the villager who trained the rescue squads how to most effectively save the babies). And macro social work focuses on entire populations through changing systems (represented by the villager who decided to go upstream and fix the source of the problem).
I think it is safe to say that every social issue has room for, and is often in need of, all three levels of social work intervention to pave the way for change. I know that the macro-level work of Kentucky Youth Advocates – advocating for positive changes in policies, programs and systems to improve the lives of Kentucky’s children – is informed by micro and mezzo social work, and greatly benefits from our collaboration with those providing direct . The experiences of on-the-ground agencies who are engaging with the affected populations – such as our many Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children partners – keeps our policy work targeted toward solving real needs.
I am proud to be an upstream social worker doing my part to keep all those proverbial babies out of the river in the first – and proud that KYA provides macro learning experiences to social work students to grow the pool of upstream social workers. Please join me in celebrating National Social Work Month by thanking social workers who you know are improving the lives of individuals and families and working toward positive social change.