In early spring 2003, while the University of Michigan focused its attention on the affirmative action Supreme Court cases in Washington, DC, a small group of SSW students traveled to the nation's capital to be part of another growing social movement, the Movement to Leave No Child Behind orchestrated by the Children's Defense Fund. As founding members of the Law and Social Work group in the SSW under the faculty sponsorship of Associate Professor Karen Staller, we explored the relationship between the goals of social work and the use of the law to meet these goals. In order to supplement our class and field work with practical advocacy experience, we organized a trip to Capitol Hill to advocate for the Children's Defense Fund and social policies benefiting America's children.
The Children's Defense Fund is a national leader in providing a strong, effective voice for the children of America-who cannot vote, lobby or speak for themselves-with emphasis on the special needs of poor and minority children and those with disabilities. They have been working to ensure children a Healthy Start, Head Start, Fair Start, Safe Start and Moral Start in life since 1973 under the direction of civil rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.
As part of their ongoing campaign to Leave No Child Behind, started in 1999, the Children's Defense Fund has introduced "The Act to Leave No Child Behind" (S. 448/H.R. 936) into Congress, sponsored by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Representative George Miller (D-CA). Wright Edelman has adapted a civil rights era program called "Wednesdays in Mississippi" to "Wednesdays in Washington," in which concerned citizens from around the nation come to Washington, DC, to share their stories of America's children and advocate to national leaders the importance of social policies that lift children out of poverty and give them an equal start in life.
On April 2nd, seven members of the Law and Social Work group participated in a "Wednesday in Washington," which included a half-day advocacy training at the Headquarters of the Children's Defense Fund by "Wednesday in Washington" coordinator Alice Johnson-Cain and visits to the congressional offices of Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and congressional lobbyists. The firsthand accounts of social work clinical practitioners were quickly supported by analytical research that social policy students provided to link the first-hand accounts to a greater social condition, while the community organizing students in the group testified to solutions communities had found to these social conditions and the obstacles they faced for further progress.
The Law and Social Work group's advocacy day was considered a great success after we were able to persuade senior Senator Carl Levin to co-sponsor the Act to Leave No Child Behind. This co-sponsorship marked an important victory in the ongoing battle to give every child an equal start in the United States because of Senator Levin's seniority in the Senate. Surprisingly, Senator (and social worker) Stabenow and Representative Dingell are not cosponsors.
The visit to the Nation's capital was important in our educational experience because it taught us that social work's greatest strength comes from its diverse resources, but the true power of this strength only materializes when these diverse talents and resources are united.
For more information about the Children's Defense Fund or the Act to Leave No Child Behind, please visit www.childrensdefense.org.
- Mark Woltman ('03) lives in Washington, DC. He completed his field work at the Children's Defense Fund, concentrating on training citizens for congressional advocacy in their campaign department. He also has a B.A. in finance from Michigan State University ('99). To submit an article for this series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.