Pascale Bernard: Social Worker in the Political Arena
As we’ve highlighted throughout this issue social workers play an important role at all levels of the political spectrum. NASW interviewed Pascale Bernard Human Services Assistant to the NYC Council Speaker. Ms. Bernard is a graduate of Fordham University School of Social Services with a specialty in administration. Prior to this position, she was employed at District Council 37.
How has your education helped you?
What role do social workers play in politics?
I believe the tools I attained in school helped me frame the work that I do every day. In particular, I look at situations from a strength and systems perspective. I credit this perspective and training to my ability to look at issues differently than my colleagues. This has been both a benefit and a challenge. It’s a benefit because it allows me to see an issue from the perspective of the most vulnerable. Sometimes it’s a challenge because it causes me to work towards solutions well past my deadline.
I would like to point out that social workers can be the elected official, staff of the elected official, or volunteers within a campaign or political office. Behind the scenes my social work training prepares me well and helps me find creative solutions to complex problems. Sometimes these can come from the group we are trying to help. Our listening and advocating skills make us more attuned to the needs of others.
What role does social workers and client groups play in politics?
One of the roles, that social workers not working for government officials can play, is to help prepare client groups for the political world. When working with vulnerable populations they can prepare clients to deliver public testimony. Engaging in advocacy should mean we will help clients engage in the process.
Why do you believe there are so few social workers in politics?
I believe that part of the reason is the heavy concentration on clinical work.
What valuable lessons have you learned from early social workers?
In our early days, social workers were activists who empowered people so that they could change society. You can fix one patient, but if the system is not working, clients should receive training to figure out how to impact what is holding them back.
Social workers also need to be proficient in their work. If we are social workers in hospitals working with children, we should understand the fight for and the politics around child health insurance.
I think also that people are just misinformed about the political process and how to successfully engage people in it.
We need to demystify this for people, both colleagues and clients. More social workers should join PACE to get involved in politics in a meaningful way. PACE provides a political environment that is friendly for social workers. It educates politicians about the needs of social workers, as practitioners and as professionals. Better third party reimbursement and better recognition for social work as a profession are needs that PACE has worked for.
Many social workers do not realize that for equity they need to get involved in the political process. To get the economic benefits of better reimbursement rates, social workers have to engage in the process. We must remember that the State determines guidelines for practice and reimbursement and we must use our political influence and pressure strategically.
What Led You to Politics?
Social work led me to politics. I needed the ability to help change the environment to help more people.
Do you have any advice for new social workers?
Get involved in PACE and in a political club in your neighborhood. Get involved in an organization or cause. If you are passionate about something, the arts, environment, etc., get involved in a group that is working to get funding for these areas.
Learn who or which organizations have oversight for your areas of interest. Know who impacts the budget. Learn about the legislative process and stay abreast of the legislative calendar. This knowledge is important.