Lobby Day Part 1 of 2: Advocacy by Social Workers in the Political Arena. Dr. Jones talks with registered lobbyist Shannon Moody about how social workers can and should have a voice in politics and policy. Shannon is a PhD in Social Work student at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work and the Policy Director at Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA)
Kentucky Youth Advocates and Children’s Advocacy Day
NASW Kentucky Social Work Lobby Day 2019 Facebook Event – https://www.facebook.com/events/220581482193023/
NASW-KY Advocacy Tools – http://naswky.com/advocacy-tools
NASW Advocacy Website – https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy
Find Your Legislator (Kentucky): http://www.lrc.ky.gov/Find%20Your%20Legislator/Find%20Your%20Legislator.html
Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.
Lobby Day Pt. 1 – Advocacy by Social Workers in the Political Arena with Shannon Moody
Shannon:But it is also our duty to make sure that if we are seeing systemic issues affecting the clients that we’re serving it’s really important for us to speak up and make known what the systemic issues are.
Blake: Hello and welcome to the social work Conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.
Blake: I’m joined today by Shannon Moody who is a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work and she’s joining us by Zoom today from Louisville Kentucky welcome to our podcast.
Shannon: Thanks for having me.
Blake: Tell us a little bit about.. I know that you are a doctoral student here at the University of Kentucky. Tell me a little bit about that and and what you’re working on in your doctoral studies.
Shannon: Yes so I am a first year doctoral student at UK and the college of social work. And basically right now I’m trying to narrow down and figure out what I’m going to be be writing about and working on. But right now I know it’s in the realm of child welfare work and I know that it’s going to be very likely around relatives raising children or kinship care. So that is that’s a very pressing issue in Kentucky especially and it’s something I’ve been working on in my in my professional life as well.
Blake: What’s your background as a social worker.
Shannon: Yeah so that’s a good question. I started off with just a bachelors in social work. And immediately after college ended up going to a psychiatric facility for youth in juvenile detention. So it was like a therapeutic residential facility. And I worked with boys aged 12 to 21 for about four years and then transitioned from there into a master’s program at the University of Tennessee and worked in case management at a behavioral school again with teens and then in my Master’s decided that I really wanted to focus on policy and got an internship at at Kentucky Youth Advocates here in Louisville Kentucky and they ended up hiring me after my practicum – so it worked out pretty well and I’ve been doing macro level like policy social work for a little over six years.
Blake: Now we have a lot of listeners outside of Kentucky so tell us a little bit about Kentucky Youth Advocates what do you what do y’all do.
Shannon: Yeah. So Kentucky if advocates is a nonpartisan nonprofit who works around policy advocacy issues so anything to do with kids and families and policy making. We are typically somehow engaged and that runs the gamut from like health issues child welfare juvenile justice education economic security. And we look to to figure out ways to modify policy when it’s not working well for kids and families, create new policy if there is a gap, or or encourage or influence policy change during the legislative session or sometimes on a local level so that it aligns with best practice and what research and the data says. We’re also the kids count grantee in Kentucky so we we provide the Kids Count Data county data book every year.
Blake: Would you describe yourself as a as a lobbyist or are you more about education or how do you describe yourself.
Shannon: Both: so I am a registered lobbyist and the state of Kentucky and I do lobby for my for my organization. But I would say that is not the majority of what I spend my time doing. I think a lot of my time is spent really just educating on creating awareness and making not just policy makers but also the general public aware of particular issues that are happening with kids and families.
Blake: You mentioned kids count. That’s that’s an annual data set that’s given to each state. So how it we’re we’re taping this in early 2019 how is Kentucky doing in terms of our treatment of children.
Shannon: Yeah that’s that’s a great question. It really depends on the indicator but across across we look at hundreds of data indicators but across the ones that we really focus on that we feel like give a good picture of the well-being of kids. We sit about compared to other states we sit about middle to lower end of the outcomes for kids. So we we do really well in making sure that our kids have health coverage. But we don’t do as well in the realm of kids in out of home care. We do fairly well depending on the county and education and then in other counties really poorly. So I know that sounds a very clear answer but it really depends on the issue and on the county. But there are some aspects of Kentucky where we we do a fairly good job of making sure that kids are you know covered with health care have access to education and have what they need. Food insecurity is also another really big issue. Kentucky fairs really really poorly.
Blake: Well we’re here to talk sort of broadly about this idea of advocacy and social work and of course our profession has very deep roots in this area. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. Where did where did social work advocacy come from?
Shannon: Thinking about where we come from as a profession it is kind of it is rooted in our own in where we started. As far as like ensuring that an individuals or families are are able to have a voice in their decisions or have a voice in what they need. So I think it starts an advocacy really started with the idea of the individual and empowering the individual to have a voice in the process but also peering through not just the individual but a population or the community or I mean what’s happening on a statewide level making sure that no particular sector of people is being represented adequately.
Blake: Yeah, and particularly marginalized individuals right. I mean yeah Jane Addams Hullhouse you know her her work was around immigrants and you know how ironic that we’re we’re still sort of talking about that today right.
Shannon: Yes yeah unfortunate.
Blake: Yeah. So when you look at your work as a as an advocate you’re really looking at access right? access to what?
Shannon: Yeah oftentimes especially for kids. For kids and families it’s really access to opportunity like that I think that’s what we often focus on. And that looks different depending on the child or the family but really ensuring that kids especially those in vulnerable situations where maybe they are economically here or maybe they have a developmental disability making sure that they’re not getting access to the same opportunities as any other kid in this state or in the Commonwealth or in the United States because we really want to make sure that regardless of where a kid is born or or what what situation they are born into. There is still access to the opportunity of being able to thrive in whatever that thrive thriving looks like for them.
Blake: And how do you address the kind of structural inequalities in society that that may be a really big question. But I mean that seems like a a really important part of Social Work advocacy right is to it’s social justice really right.
Shannon: Yeah absolutely within my capacity the way that we look at making and creating change within that structural level is through policy change or through looking at what the depths that the issue is so like for instance I work around child welfare issues so knowing that knowing that there are children who live with kinship with relative caregivers and knowing that they have particular vulnerabilities as a result of that placement and as a result of being exposed to the trauma of abuse or neglect. It’s really important to ensure that there are policies or structures in place to make sure that they can get at again that access to particular supports that they need in order to be successful. So kids for instance kids who are in kinship care placements ensuring that the kinship caregiver that they have is financially stable enough to take care of them ensuring that kinship caregiver that that is is caring for them knows how to navigate the education system if their child has particular needs around education. And and creating policies that provide access to that.
Blake: You know one of the things that when I think about social work and you alluded to this but one of the things we do is stick up for people who can’t stick up for themselves and whether that’s children whether that’s of people who are physically mentally challenged people who are incarcerated people that just you know really need a voice. And we are we are that voice right.
Shannon: Right. Absolutely. We also attempt we try really hard in all of the sectors that we work in to engage youth voice as much as possible and to really make sure that the youth are involved in the decision making that’s happening around policies that impact them. So for example we are working with a couple of other agencies around tobacco free schools. So we have had a lot of youth tell us that vaping or smoking on campus and some school districts is problematic for them and they’re concerned about their health and they want something change on a policy level to ensure that when they go to school or they’re on the school campus that they don’t have to be exposed to tobacco use or cigarette smoke so that they can go about their day get educated and not have to worry about the health consequences of that. So making sure that youth are at the table whenever possible. And that goes for any population when whenever possible ensuring that the person who is who is impacted by the issue is part of that process and part of their decision making whenever it is possible. When we when we talk about child care early childhood education it’s a little bit trickier. But then we we engage the parents or the childcare providers but making sure it’s that whole you know not about us without us. And if the idea of making sure that the people who are impacted by policy change are engaged as much as possible in the process of policy change.
Blake: I want to ask you a question about working with legislators. And I want to be careful about how I ask this because I don’t want to I don’t want to ask it in the wrong way but I’ve met with a number of legislators over the years and dick on the committee meetings and some of them some of them are quite educated about the issues and they ask really important questions and they have good command of the facts around the issue. And then others really just don’t in a way that it sort of startles me when I hear about this lack of just basic knowledge that they have about like substance use disorders or something like that but what is what are some tips that you have about working with legislators or what’s been your experience about working with them?
Shannon: Yeah I mean I had I had a similar experience where you go in and you meet and the legislator probably is a bigger expert than I am sometimes depending on what the issue is. And then other times you me and sometimes you’re a little bit surprised about the information that they do have because it’s not necessarily information that is reflective of what the research says or what is what is accurate necessarily and what what I often try to do with my colleagues often try to do is ensure that our that the information that we’re taking is accurate. And that’s really important. And it is key to what we do. But also we do a lot of talking about and reflecting on the information that they do have and kind of trying to help them build that knowledge base. So. So going in and kind of starting from where they are as far as as you know what they know and then maybe it’s myth busting or maybe it’s identifying other situations where what they’re saying is maybe not always the case. So when you talk about substance abuse issues just like a beautiful example when we oftentimes hear a lot of information that’s maybe not not quite what we hear as far as what research says. So we will often go in and try really hard to give examples of what kind of goes against the typical rumors or information that is that’s laid out there. So ensuring that legislators know that you know substance abuse is is a is an issue that needs to be tackled in a preventive way not in a way in which we criminalize people because we know that what’s more effective is treating it as a disease rather than treating it with with jail time. So but oftentimes what you can often do is get get a gauge on where they are by just starting the conversation and asking them questions to see what they know and then identifying like oh there at this there is this line that this baseline this is where we need to get them to or you know they’re pretty knowledgeable. Let’s just make sure that they get you know what they need to know to get up to that next level.
Shannon:I try really hard to not be judgmental and try really hard to not take personally. It does feel like an affront to your personal peace. People value things differently and you have to kind of identify the values before you start really talking about what what needs to be changed.
Blake: Right. I think what you’re talking about is is you know as social workers and academics social workers we have the luxury sometimes of really exploring deeply on a topic or an area or you know and reading a lot about it and researching it and in the legislators defense they have. They’re bombarded with information all the time right. So. So it sounds like you’re saying that you package your information in a way that’s not overwhelming to them. You don’t send them an 80 page briefing book. But you you have the facts but you package it in a way that is that is accessible to them. Is that kind of what you’re saying.
Shannon: Yeah that’s yeah you’re spot on. We try really hard to to bring information that is relevant to the issue but not overwhelming. There are going to be more receptive to you know one pager rather than handing them an academic article that’s 25 pages. In reality they are dealing with many many many issues beyond just that one bill or that one issue that you’re looking at so being being able to break it down in a way that is easy to understand even for somebody who has zero prior knowledge. And also making sure that they’re getting just straight facts and the key elements of what you want to communicate rather a lot of others. I hate just a flowery but a lot of other extraneous stuff that doesn’t necessarily need to be portrayed unless they’re super into it and then you know you can follow up and send them that 25 page research paper.
Shannon: But sometimes just a page with bullet points is more effective.
Blake: Right. Right. I want to ask you about we have a lot of students who are going to listen to this podcast in preparation for something that we call lobby day here in Kentucky. But we have students all over the country who listen to this podcast and you know many of the students that I teach want to be clinical social workers or therapists or do kind of micro work which is fine. I support that. You know I am a clinical social worker and I love that. But what would you say to them to somebody who says you know I just want to work one on one with with an individual in therapy and I’m not really interested in social work advocacy or macro practice or anything like that. What would you say to convince them that that this is something that they should think about.
Shannon: This is a topic I’m really passionate about. So as a social worker it is it is core to our values to make sure that we are participating in social justice in some respects. So I would say to a clinical social worker that it is wonderful that they want to work one on one. And in the clinical setting. But it is also our duty to make sure that if we are seeing systemic issues affecting the clients that we’re serving it’s really important for us to speak that and make known what the systemic issues are. And the clinical social worker doesn’t have to be that the advocate who goes to the Capitol they can just be the conduit to getting that information to somebody who is going to the Capitol or who is talking to this policymakers. We rely heavily on direct service or clinical staff who are just noticing trends and they say hey I’ve seen you know five of my 10 clients have X issue and it seems to be problematic not just with my clients but with my my colleagues clients. Do we do need to see this is a trend is this is this an issue that needs to be addressed in a more systematic level. So you know I totally I think social work comes in many different forms and that’s what’s beautiful about it but it’s also our duty as social workers to be part of that just that social justice value that we hold. And whatever part you play in that is great but just make sure that you’re actively engaged and some in some regard even if you’re serving one on one.
Blake: Well Shannon, this has been a great conversation. I’ve learned so much from you in our brief conversation. Is there anything else that you think is really important for our listeners to know about you or your work or about social work advocacy in general.
Yeah, so a couple of things. First I would say if listeners are in Kentucky and interested in attending a lobby day or advocacy day around child issues specifically, there is one on Feb 13th,  it’s called “Children’s Advocacy Day” and it’s coming up in a couple of weeks.
Another things is that I would really encourage social workers especially those who are like coming up in the field to do if they want to get into policy work is to not be afraid to listen and learn from other people not like them. So if you politically you lean one way or if you are exposed just to one certain group it’s not always very effective in advocating. When you’re talking to somebody who is from a totally different background what I have learned as a social worker is that it’s really necessary for me to understand the political background and the perspective of many different people who have all sorts of backgrounds different from mine and I still have my leanings but I try really hard to listen to and be open to the perspectives and values of other people and I feel like that’s what helps to ensure that I am effective because I can still get people to the place where I want them but not not necessarily ask them to go against what they already believe.
Blake: I think that’s such a critical point about what you’re really talking about a civil discourse right.
Blake: I mean the ability to sit down and talk with someone who may be very different from you politically or in a number of ways but to to just talk and to really listen. Right. I think we do a lot of talking and a lot of yelling in our society these days but not much listening. There’s a great I listen a lot of podcasts and there’s a great podcast called The argument where a conservative and a liberal journalist each sit down and sort of argue about a certain topic and it’s there they’re very kind to each other they they lay out of you know very. They both lay out good arguments and based on facts. And I just when I listen that I think wow I wish I wish our society in general could do that. But but for some social workers really to have a command of the facts but do it in a way that is can create some change. Right.
Shannon:] Yeah. Yeah it’s about embracing some of that discomfort and it can be as simple as you know turning turning on a different news channel than time typically watch just to get a better sense it may may embolden you, it may fire you up. But it’s good to know what the other side is saying.
Blake: Well Shannon thank you so much for taking some time out this afternoon to talk with me. Really appreciate your time and good luck.
Shannon: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Blake: You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.
Jason: This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, Interim Dean Ann Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston with thanks to our webmaster Jonathan Hagee. Music by Billy McLaughlin. To find out more about the UK College of Social Work and this podcast visit https://socialwork.uky.edu/podcast