From mass incarceration, climate change, and an aging population to immigration, mental illness and rising income inequality, the most pressing issues facing America have something fundamental in common: the social factor. As a call to action on these and other urgent problems, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) has launched the Grand Challenges for Social Work. The Grand Challenges will promote innovation, collaboration, and expansion of proven, evidence-based programs to create meaningful, measurable progress on solving these and other urgent social problems within a decade.
Three UT Austin social work faculty members, professors Rowena Fong, Diana DiNitto, and Yolanda Padilla, have joined the executive committee of the Grand Challenges for Social Work, which officially launched during the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) 20th Anniversary Annual Conference in Washington, DC.
“This initiative provides us with a moment to stop and reflect on the issues facing our communities in these times, to consider the big picture and the directions that we want to take,” said Padilla.
The 12 Grand Challenges
Together the 12 Grand Challenges define a bold, science-based social agenda that promotes individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society that fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, and offers pathways for social and economic progress.
Here is a description of the underlying problems, strategies, and goals of each of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work. Learn more and join today by visiting aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative.
- Ensure healthy development for all youth: Each year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge.
- Close the health gap: More than 60 million Americans have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.
- Stop family violence: Assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death. Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, break the cycle of violence, or find safe alternatives.
- Advance long and productive lives: Throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society.
- Eradicate social isolation: Social isolation is a silent killer, as dangerous to health as smoking. Our challenge is to educate the public on this health hazard, encourage health and human service professionals to address social isolation, and promote effective ways to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages.
- End homelessness: During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. Our challenge is to expand proven approaches that have worked in communities across the country, develop new service innovations and technologies, and adopt policies that promote affordable housing and basic income security.
- Create social responses to a changing environment: Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.
- Harness technology for social good: Innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to reach more people with greater impact, to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.
- Promote smart decarceration: The United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars. Our challenge is to develop a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy that will dramatically reduce the number of people who are imprisoned and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.
- Build financial capability for all: Nearly half of all American households are financially insecure, without adequate savings to meet basic living expenses for three months. We can significantly reduce economic hardship and the debilitating effects of poverty by adopting social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts; expand workforce training and re-training; and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services.
- Reduce extreme economic inequality: The top 1% owns nearly half of the total wealth in the U.S, while one in five children live in poverty. We can correct the broad inequality of wealth and income through a variety of innovative means related to wages and tax benefits associated with capital gains, retirement accounts, and home ownership.
- Achieve equal opportunity and justice: Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge.