Lobby Day prepares future advocates

For social workers, being able to lobby for legislation that may remedy particular social and economic ills is a critical part of their professional purpose. For this reason, students majoring in social work at SIUE take part in an annual Lobby Day with the objective of improving their readiness to take on this aspect of their social work careers.

Social work students pose with Rep. Dwight Kay at Lobby Day in Springfield. (L-R) Merry Baldwin, Lora Zarlingo, Nicole Chudoba, Rep. Kay, Deborah Beals and Jessica Lyman.

Annually, seniors enrolled in the social policy course travel to Springfield to lobby for the enactment of bills that they have researched and ultimately feel passionate about having passed.

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, Gerald O’Brien, professor of social work, traveled with about 30 students to the Illinois capitol to lobby for six bills. “We had about six groups and each group chooses their own bill,” said O’Brien. “Usually the bill that they choose relates to social or economic justice issues for a particular group.”

After choosing a bill that they feel passionate about, students carry out research to familiarize themselves with their bill and to ensure that they have the necessary information to discuss the bill with legislators. This year, students chose several critical bills.

“One of the bills was for a parent hotline for the prevention of child abuse,” said O’Brien. “One of the problems with DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) is that obviously when people get involved with DCFS, it’s pretty much after a report has been made. So there’s not much in the way of prevention.”

According to O’Brien, the research, preparation and Lobby Day itself are crucial in helping students to learn advocacy – an important part of social work.

“The NASW –  which is the National Association of Social Work – puts this forth as something that all social workers need to be involved with because policy is very important in terms of agency development and agency operation – especially in the current economic climate,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien also added that the larger goal of this part of the social work curriculum is not necessarily related to whether or not the bills that students lobby for are ultimately passed but whether students learn the lobbying process. “The most important part of it is learning the process,” said O’Brien. “It provokes a lot of nervousness when you meet with a legislator and part of it is just getting through that and having students figure out that they can maneuver through this process.”

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