BMCC Panel Highlights Critical Need for Social Workers in Education and Public Service

Plaza with Students

March 31, 2021

More than 100 students, faculty and staff attended a thought-provoking Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) virtual panel discussion—”From Helping One to Helping Many: Social Workers in Government and Politics”—on March 25 as part of a celebration of Social Work Month. The event was sponsored by the BMCC Human Services Program as well as the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Featured panelists included Manhattan Borough President  Gale Brewer, New York State Assembly Member Chantel Jackson and BMCC Adjunct Professor Demetria Nelson, who is also Commissioner for Health and Human Services in Greenwich Conn., as well as BMCC alumni Brian Romero (’08) who is now Chief of Staff to New York State Assembly Member Jessica Gonzales-Rojas.

The event’s keynote speaker was Arlene Sanchez, Commissioner for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

BMCC’s Human Services Program Coordinator, Professor Lisa Rose, led the conversation, and introduced BMCC President  Anthony E. Munroe who offered welcoming remarks.

“Doing things for others, whether small unplanned acts or volunteering, is a powerful way to boost our own happiness as well as those around us,” said President Munroe. “The Covid-19 pandemic and the acts of violence associated with racial injustice have amplified the need for many of us to pause, reflect and find assistance and even the courage to move forward.”

Citing statistics from the U.S. Department Labor, the president pointed out that five out of 10 social workers are employed in the health and social assistance sectors which include hospitals, mental health clinics and private practices. He said social workers serve people in numerous capacities within private, charitable and government agencies as well as educational institutions such as BMCC.

“Their expertise expands across so many different areas,” said President Munroe. “They help children, people with addictions, people living with life threatening diseases and families in at risk areas situations. I want to personally thank Dr. {Professor Lisa} Rose and the office of Institutional Advancement for collaborating to make this event possible.”

The president then introduced Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who he called one of New York City’s strongest advocates for education. Brewer said all New York City schools should have at least one social worker on staff

“I’ve been talking about this for the last 20 years,” said Brewer. “Part-time social workers in schools is not good enough.”

Brewer called for greater accountability from the New York City Department of Education when it comes to the number of social workers currently or newly hired within the system. She said the fiscal year 2021 city budget had allocated $4.8 million for social workers in schools.

“We know that social work services should be provided at a ratio of one social worker to each school building serving up to 250 students,” said Brewer, who noted the pandemic had taken a particularly heavy toll on New York City’s school children, many who lost family members to the virus.

Brewer said the Covid-19 pandemic had also increased the need for social workers beyond education, to assist people as they navigate the maze of health care or legal services agencies. For example, an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers are at risk of ending up in Housing Court and potentially losing their homes when the current Covid-19 eviction moratorium expires.

“Can you imagine the challenges of being a family in that situation?” Brewer asked. “They need a social worker.”

Keynote speaker Arlene Sanchez spoke about her transition from practitioner to a New York State commissioner. Sanchez is a member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet and has more than 30 years of experience in social work. The commissioner commended Professor Rose and event organizers for recognizing social work month.

“In my capacity as a social worker and commissioner, I know but more importantly how rewarding this profession can be,” said Sanchez.

“During my social work training I was taught, that we can implement big change by impacting one person at a time,” said Sanchez. “Growing up in underserved New York City communities, I learned about the hardship people face when they are struggling to make ends meet.”

After the event, Professor Rose commended the panelists for sharing insight into their experiences.

“Each of them described the moment, or event, where they felt the imperative to ‘do more’ than work ‘one-on-one,’” said Rose “For example, Assembly Member Chantel Jackson realized that being able to impact the lives of marginalized people through the state legislative and budget process could indeed change the lives of many.”

Rose says that students in BMCC’s Human Services program are introduced to the many ways in which professional human service and social workers can help individuals, families, groups and communities to reach their fullest potential.

“So many former students who are working in the field as caseworkers, counselors, advocates and administrators, have come back to tell me, and their other professors how BMCC’s Human Services program, with its rigorous curriculum and two-semester internship, gave them a great foundation for moving on to senior college human service and social work programs, and then onto fulfilling professional careers,” said Rose.

  • Keynote speaker Arlene Sanchez, Commissioner for NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse discusses career
  • Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer calls for more social workers in education
  • Event sponsored by BMCC Human Services program and Office of Institutional Advancement

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