[Editor’s Note: This issue’s editorial is from Assistant Director of Field Education at Simmons University School of Social Work and Field Educator editorial staff member Suzanne Hecker, MSW, LICSW.]

We entered into 2019 with a partial and lengthy government shutdown that forced significant consequences on those furloughed and unpaid federal workers, as well as on the services our communities utilize that are impacted by federal funding, such as housing, food support, legal matters, and health care.

What we learn about in the news or from those clients and agencies we interact with is a daily reminder of the fragility of policy. Working within these precarious spaces between policy and people is at the heart of social work. The interconnectedness of federal, state, and local policy can create ripple effects that are immediate and, at times, catastrophic to our agencies, our profession, and those we serve.

How do we bring conversations about policy into field supervision, to our social work students, and to their clients? How does the Code of Ethics, the ethical backbone of our profession, help us prioritize integrating these conversations with our social work students in the field as they relate to agency practices and impact on clients? How do we use the policy changes that impact our lives as a conscious, teachable tool with our students? Further, how do we help students work with their clients to talk about and navigate policy changes in what is often a dearth of resources?

The Council on Social Work Education’s Competency 5, “Engage in Policy Practice,” helps foster the creation of conversation and observable activities with students in this area of social work practice. Historically, field instructors (while generally educated on the policies that impact their agencies, clients, and their own life) struggled to bring forth policy discussion with social work students in a concrete and consistent way. This anecdotally appears to be shifting. Student evaluations at Simmons University’s School of Social Work in the recent past indicate an uptick in these conversations and activities, due to a grant awarded through the Policy Practice in Field Education Initiative.

In 2016, CSWE awarded a grant through the Policy Practice in Field Education Initiative to several universities to enhance the integration of policy practice and social work field education. Initiatives like this help to further engage educator, student, and agency in exploration of policy practice. Some outcomes of such initiatives include program assessment activities; teaching field instructors and field liaisons how to incorporate policy practice skills within their respective agencies; aligning classroom policy and social action assignments with field assignments to better connect policy practice skills; creating newsletters on local policy initiatives, actions, and events to help inform and educate students, faculty, and field instructors; and creating opportunities for students to present their policy practice work to their respective communities. A potential catalyst for conversations, activities, and assignments for students might be found on the website Influencing Social Policy, an organization for social work educators, students, and providers. Readers are encouraged to visit their website: http://influencingsocialpolicy.org

Not only does understanding and engaging in policy practice improve how we approach social work with clients and agencies, it impacts us personally. As educators in the social work profession, we are obligated to be vigilant in our continued efforts to shine the spotlight on this competency and the work it requires in those spaces between policy on paper, and all of our lives.