The Grand Challenges for Social Work
Eliminating racism. Ending homelessness. Ensuring healthy development for children.
Those are three of the 13 Grand Challenges for Social Work (GCSW), a project launched by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare in 2016 to create lasting social change.1
“We owe the concept of the Grand Challenge to German mathematician David Hilbert, who presented a list of 23 unsolved ‘mathematical puzzles’ to an international society of mathematicians in 1900,” according to the Grand Challenges for Social Work history. “His address galvanized the efforts of mathematicians for the next century.”2
Similarly, the 13 challenges are galvanizing the efforts of professionals in social work careers, research, academia, and other disciplines to build healthier and more equitable communities. Here are the Grand Challenges in social work:
Individual and Family Well-Being
1.Ensure healthy development for youth
The goal: “Within a decade, we can reduce the incidence and prevalence of behavioral health problems among young people from birth to age 24 by 20% from current levels and reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in behavioral health problems by 20% through the widespread implementation of tested and effective preventive interventions.”3
2.Close the health gap
The goal: “We propose to develop a socially oriented model of healthcare that breaks down and removes the root causes of health inequity and promotes upstream interventions and primary care prevention that will eradicate the gap that exists for marginalized populations.”4
3. Build healthy relationships to end violence
The goal: “Increase the availability of services that strengthen healthy relationships to prevent and interrupt violence by 10%.”5
4. Advance long and productive lives
The goal: “… create opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills and to utilize talents and resources in a variety of paid and unpaid roles that maximize health, foster economic security, provide purpose in life, and enrich families and communities.”6
Stronger Social Fabric
5. Eradicate social isolation
The goal: “Through interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative interventions, we can reduce the risk of social isolation across all populations and strengthen social ties that are a vital source of emotional strength and health improvement.”7
6. End homelessness
The goal: “With a focused yet reimagined approach to the issue that combines evidence, resources, innovative thinking, and political will, we can reduce the scope of homelessness in the United States as well as the risk factors such as housing and income instability that contribute to the issue.”8
7. Create social responses to a changing environment
The goal: “We aim to catalyze social responses that strengthen individual and community capacities for anticipating and adapting to environmental changes, particularly for vulnerable groups, and reduce inequities in exposure to environmental risks and access to needed resources.”9
8. Harness technology for social good
The goal: “Information and communication technology (ICT) can be deployed to improve the efficacy of social programs, accelerate the pace of social discovery, and transform the social work profession to respond in ways that ensure technology is ethically used to reduce the inequalities that exist today.”10
The goal: “The Eliminate Racism network will identify evidence and practice-based interventions that take on discrimination in all its forms and redress racism’s most dangerous and negative effects on the health and well-being of our country by joining the national efforts to build anti-racist systems, policies, and communities.”11
10. Promote smart decarceration
The goal: “With smart decarceration, we can reduce the prison and jail population by 1 million people in the next decade.”12
11. Build financial capability and assets for all
The goal: “We propose to engage social work and allied professionals in building financial capability and assets to improve financial well-being for all.”13
12. Reduce extreme economic inequality
The goal: “Innovation that focuses on increasing the income of the poor, building income and wealth stability, and changing policies and mechanisms that concentrate wealth solely among the wealthy can reduce the current disparities.”14
13. Achieve equal opportunity and justice
The goal: “Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, and exposing unfair practices will lead to the full social, civic, economic, and political integration of these marginalized groups.”15
Grand Challenges Accomplishments
In 2021, halfway through the decade-long project, the GCSW leadership reported “significant progress as a whole and on the individual Grand Challenges, particularly in the areas of research, education, policy, and practice.”16 The GCSW report, “Progress and Plans for the Grand Challenges,” offers an in-depth look at what’s been accomplished so far and what work lies ahead.
Practitioners, school of social work faculty members, students earning social work degrees, policymakers, and others can all contribute to realizing the GCSW vision. You can find out how on the GCSW website, but here are some examples:16
- School of social work deans or directors can offer coursework to reflect the Grand Challenges.
- Faculty members can lead virtual Grand Challenges discussions.
- Practitioners can partner with accredited universities to offer internships in one of the 13 Grand Challenges areas, or networks as they’re called.
- Students enrolled in a social work degree program can participate in a Grand Challenge network. There are opportunities at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level.
Become a Social Worker
If you’re inspired by the Grand Challenges project, you can make a difference by enrolling in an online social work degree program.
Walden University offers a full range of degrees for social workers. Start with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) if you’re ready to step into a social work career. Earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) can help you advance your social work practice. Both of these social work degree programs have Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation.
Walden’s MSW online program features real-world case studies, online skills labs, field practice experiences, and more. There’s also a licensure preparation option that includes valuable resources and a practice exam. You can also customize your studies by filling two open elective slots with courses from these MSW focus areas: Addictions, Child and Family, Healthcare, Military, and Trauma.
A doctorate in social work can help you prepare you for a high-level leadership role in this life-changing career field. At Walden, you have your choice of an online PhD or Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program. Walden’s DSW degree program offers specializations that let you match your studies to your professional goals. Choose Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision, Social Work Education, or Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration.
If you’ve delayed earning a social work degree because of career and life responsibilities, you may find the flexibility you need in an online degree program. Walden’s social work degree programs let you log in to complete coursework on your schedule, from anywhere you have an internet connection.
It will take all types of social workers to realize the Grand Challenges goals. With a BSW, a master’s in social work, or a doctorate, you can become part of the movement to create lasting social change.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.
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