by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW
It is hard to believe I have now served as your executive director for 25 years! I remember the first day I started with NASW WI. I saw Bill Clinton and Al Gore speak at the Wisconsin State Capitol as part of their campaign for President
When I started with NASW WI there was no email or social media. Our work was done by mail and by phone! We had no annual lobby day. Our annual conference was a half a day each. We did not do ethics trainings, webinars, continuing education approval, home study etc. The social profession had just been certified for the first time. There was no continuing education requirement.
The State Legislature was less polarized and state government was split-Tommy Thompson was our Republican Governor and the Assembly and Senate were controlled by the Democrats. Pro-choice Republicans existed and Governor Thompson tried to avoid very divisive social issues and periodically worked across the aisle on bills. In the early years of my tenure I met with then State Representative Scott Walker at a coffee shop in his Assembly district in Wauwatosa to get his support on an amendment related to social work certification. He was very cooperative and gave his support.
In the earlier years, similar to today, there were legislative battles to protect the social work profession and I worked across party lines in this effort. In the early 1990’s there were two MSW’s in the State Assembly-State Representative Barbara Notestein, a Democrat from Milwaukee and State Representative Kathleen Krosnicki, a Republican from I believe Waukesha County. There was also a Republican State Senator, Carol Buettner (Roessler) from Oshkosh who had a social welfare undergraduate degree from UW Oshkosh. I remember getting a phone call during my first five years with NASW WI one evening at my then home in Shorewood (Milwaukee area) from Representative Krosnicki to tell me that one of her Republican colleagues-Greg Underheim, had slipped a so-called uncontroversial amendment into a bill that actually undermined our profession. My only hope was to get the Senate floor the next day to stop the bill. I wrote up a fact sheet naming Representative Underheim and his actions and distributed it to all State Senate offices the next day. I also mobilized our members in some of the key Republican Senate districts the next morning. A group of Republican Assembly members, probably initiated by Representative Krosnicki, wrote up a petition that was sent to the Senate asking that the amendment be deleted. The Senate did take out Underheim’s amendment but not before he confronted me in the Senate gallery, his face beet red with anger a few inches from my face.
Throughout the years we have had some victories and setbacks in our lobbying on professional and social policy issues.
The most exciting victories to date were getting licensure for clinical social workers in 2002, Vendorship for licensed mental health professionals in 2009, mental health parity in 2009 and reimbursement for mental health services in the public schools in the last legislative session. Two upcoming victories include elimination of prior authorization on October 1 and reimbursement for in-home services, which should take place by the end of this year
The continuing education requirement for Wisconsin social workers, implemented in 2000 has been transformational for our chapter. As a result of this requirement we upgraded our conference from a day or day and a half to three days. We added winter webinars with national speakers and taped programs for home study. We also began approving programs in 2015. The ethics part of the continuing education requirement has led to a large increase in the number of requests for ethical consultations I receive. It has certainly raised the conscious level of social workers regarding ethical dilemmas in the workplace.
Looking back over these twenty five years it has been a tremendous privilege to serve in this position. I am awed by the work all of you do every day dealing with client and societal challenges that grow more difficult every year. On a policy level I have seen the power of social work and hope to continue to nurture this power of ours in Wisconsin as long as I am your director. I remember one Republican legislator early in my career stating publicly at a meeting that he did not know he had that many social workers in his district! I have also seen many examples of NASW WI members testifying at hearings and swaying Republican and Democratic committee members to support our positions on issues. I have learned that persistence, patience and openness more often than not pay off. We may not win every policy battle but we can mostly get what we want and need by always being at the “table”.
Thanks my dear members for all your support and keep up your wonderful work!