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New programs and initiatives at the School...

With these brief talks our goal is to share the motivations of these programs and initiatives - the situations or needs they strive to address, the work they are trying to do in the world. Also, our accreditation review is coming up, and we’ll be inviting many of you to reflect on the relevance of our current programs to the field. We appreciate your views and contributions along these lines. There are also opportunities for involvement of various kinds in several of the School programs and research projects. If you are not already involved, we welcome you in...

Engaging Social Policy project

My name is Stephanie Baker Collins and I am an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work.

The School has had a generous donation from the estate of Richard Splane. We'll make a splashy announcement about this later in the year or early next year - for now, we want to tell you about some of the important activity that this donation will support. 

Stephanie Baker Collins with a photo of Richard Splane

Richard Splane's legacy

Richard Splane was a practitioner, activist, and scholar of social policy. While he was studying at McMaster, he spent several summers as a teacher for Frontier College working in a mine during the day and teaching miners at night. He was paid 25 cents an hour and worked 10 hour days. He experienced the hard edge of policy practice.

I think he remembered those conditions years later when he was in a key policy making role for the federal government. Splane chaired the committee that created the Canada Assistance Plan. The Canada Assistance Plan until 1995, funded social assistance and social services such as child care, homes for special care, child welfare and more. This was the arena of policy change. Instead of needing to belong to a particular 'category' of person, assistance in this new legislation was based on need.

Richard Splane concluded his career as a professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, working in the arena of policy analysis. He also brought an important independent NGO voice to the public square as the President of the BC Social Planning and Review Council.

Splane said in an interview years ago that although he belonged to the Canadian History, Economics and Political Science societies, none of them put values into action like social work. He valued the linkage that social work has between social policy and the real world of practice.

Our plan for using the legacy left to us by Richard Splane fits well with his life’s work. We want to engage in those same three arenas: social policy analysis, social policy practice and social policy change.

We are going to do that through a number of exciting initiatives. In the arena of policy practice we will engage with social work agencies and practitioners who work at the hard edge of policy, often implementing policies made by other people. We envision a community – university policy alliance that will bring practitioners into the academy and academics into the community so that we can understand policy that impacts the frontline and work for policy changes that benefit vulnerable people.

To equip ourselves for this work we will also engage in the analysis of social policy through scholarships for students and through social policy conferences. And we will build practical skills in policy advocacy so as to work for policy change.

Behind this quick sketch is a detailed and ambitious plan and we will roll it out gradually. We are excited about how the legacy left by Richard Splane both in financial terms and as a model of policy practice can contribute to social well-being, as we carry this work forward.

Jennie Vengris

New Graduate programs in Critical Leadership

My name is Jennie Vengris.  I teach primarily in the undergraduate program but have had the pleasure of being part of the planning committee and teaching team for the MSW in Critical Leadership in Social Services and Communities for the past few years.

Social work offers a combination of compassion toward people and a critical perspective toward structures and systems

I’d like to offer you two familiar scenarios…Scenario #1 – the Executive Director has been working at the agency for 27 years – she started as a front line staff who worked nights and weekends – through the years she moved up the ranks and while she knows everything there is to know about the agency, she struggles in terms of a strategic understanding of the current funding climate and how to generate and sustain a shared vision in the organization.

Scenario #2 – a grassroots community group has been working together through a consensus planning process for years.  They’ve documented a series of actions they want to take and need to hire a project coordinator.  They get a lot of good applicants and decide to hire the guy with a Bachelor degree in marketing and a certificate in strategic planning because he seems like he’d be best suited for fundraising.

We see two phenomena at play in social service agencies and community work – staff moving up the ranks without any support, training or mentorship around leadership or people from outside the social work field taking up leadership positions because of the assumption that particular fields (especially) business do leadership better.  

The literature and field tell us that social workers have a unique perspective to lend in terms of leadership yet so often they are not taking the helm in our social service organizations, community projects, unions, social movements and other social change work.  Social work offers a combination of compassion toward people and critical perspective toward structures and systems and is particularly relevant given our current political, policy and funding climate.

Two new graduate programs in the School of Social Work at Mac endeavour to fix this leadership conundrum. In 2016 we launched both the MSW and the Graduate Diploma in Critical Leadership in Social Services and Communities.

Both programs offer the opportunity to critically examine how the current social, political and economic context affect communities, social work practice and leadership.  Both programs require applicants to have experience in the field and therefore draw heavily on that experience through the interrogation of new knowledge and a commitment to self reflection.

There are a number of courses offered in both programs including Changing Social Services, Changing Communities: Focus on Leadership taught by Tara La Rose, and Critical Approaches to Evidence and Evaluation in Social Services and Communities taught by Stephanie Baker Collins. Unique to the MSW program is a 450 hour placement that offers students the opportunity to both purposefully observe and reflect on leadership practice and take on a leadership project. 

Social work has important contributions to make to leadership practice.  We listened to our colleagues and partners through a consultation a few years back and have developed these programs to learn from and build capacity in our community. 

We want the programs to be grounded in and responsive to the field so please be involved if you’re interested – you could: apply to either program – there is lots of info on our website; offer to mentor a student in their placement; come and speak in one of our classes!

New Graduate Diploma in Community-Engaged Research and Evaluation

I’m Allyson Ion, program facilitator for the new Graduate Diploma in Community-Engaged Research and Evaluation, and I’m happy to tell you all about this program.

This Graduate Diploma was developed in response to concerns and aspirations raised by the Hamilton community about the need for more community-engaged research and evaluation. This program aims to build capacity in research and evaluation and to engage in reciprocal relationships with organizations and sectors with which the School is affiliated.

Allyson Ion

Justice-oriented research, evaluation, and advocacy in social services and social policy

The first cohort of students will start in January and complete a 16-month, part-time program that includes 2 foundation courses and an 8-month evaluation and advocacy experience with a linked seminar. Together with partnering organizations, students will design and conduct a research or evaluation project that responds to a local question or concern. The goal is to advance justice-oriented research, evaluation, and advocacy in social services and social policy.

For the first year the School will focus on the theme of housing. We know that housing cuts across communities and sectors; the VAW sector cares about housing, people with disabilities and mental health challenges care about housing, lots of people are concerned about how racism shapes housing options and experiences, ‘aging in place’ cannot happen without better housing options, and we cannot ignore the strong relationship between housing and health. Funding will also be available to support students who are contributing to projects that advance the study of social policy. We decided to create a focus on housing for a range of reasons – but you don’t have to be focused on housing to do the program!

As alumni, you may be working in social services or community organizations and have questions about the communities you are working with, the programs that are offered at your organization, or the policies that have been implemented. You may be thinking about graduate school and exploring possible program options. Some people describe this program as a Master’s light – a way of reengaging the joys of school, doing graduate work without the really big commitment of a master’s degree. You may have a passion for research, asking questions, and engaging your colleagues and service users in efforts to improve your programs and achieve social justice aims.

Applicants to the program will have any undergraduate degree and experience working in social services or community-based organizations including paid work and volunteering. We are accepting applications now. We’d appreciate helping us spread the word, and welcome you to come and chat with me during the Exhibits about whether this program might be for you.