BCSSW alumni are hard at work to change social policy in spaces around the world, from Boston to Beirut to Beijing, and their influence reaches as high as the White House.
2014 PhD graduate Patricia Yu was recently selected to be a 2014-2015 Health and Aging Policy Fellow, a competitive fellowship for health professionals working to make a positive contribution to policies that affect older adults. Her placement is at the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, a once per decade conference designed to “assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
As a policy analyst, Yu’s responsibilities are both long and diverse. Some of what she is charged with includes:
- Liaising with four policy work groups that correspond with the conference’s themes (retirement security, long-term services and supports, healthy aging, and elder abuse). The groups are comprised of members of various government agencies, working across all levels of government, all tasked with making recommendations for shaping a national policy vision to benefit older Americans into the future.
- Writing and issuing policy briefs pertinent to the conference’s main themes.
- Finding improved ways to disseminate policy ideas, in order to have the maximum impact possible on the ground.
In the end, the major goal of the conference is to set policy priorities related to America’s aging population for the next ten years. It’s no small task, of course, and while Yu admits that in many ways D.C. represents “a whole new world” for her, she feels perfectly prepared to address the challenges that lie ahead.
“I’m seeing first hand how well social workers are trained to be able to do policy work,” explains Yu, whose past experiences prior to her PhD included work as a clinician and a social services manager. “I’m working with new people, but the work itself doesn’t feel unfamiliar. Policy has such an impact on the work we do as social workers, even on the level of affecting our day to day at our individual organizations, that I find myself drawing on past experiences here at the White House.”
Yu works regularly with Nora Super, the Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging, and her team.
“I find that those who work in Health and Human Services really respect the opinions of social workers, and our ability to draw from on-the-ground experience,” says Yu. “We actually know what works and what doesn’t work. This kind of knowledge has to be an integral part of any discussions around developing new policy.
“In many ways, even to this day, social workers are pigeon-holed, but we don’t have to be. We can pursue career opportunities that may not traditionally be considered as ‘social work,’ and have a critical positive impact in all kinds of spaces. We just need to keep an eye out for organizations that value our profession, and the unique skill sets that come with it.”
Organizations, it seems, like the White House…