When it comes to doing environmental justice work as a social worker, many often don’t know where to start. However, just like our strength-based approaches with clients whether they be communities, families or individuals, we need to start where we are at with the skill sets we already possess. Consider the work that you already do: Are you skilled at program evaluation? Can you help family members recognized each other’s perspectives on a problem and collaborate on solutions? Do you thrive working with complex cases which require reading up on new treatment techniques? Whatever it is, these skills can all be applied to help address climate change and environmental injustice. It just comes down to seeing how our skills can translate.
One example of this was recently presented by ISWEJ at the International Association of Social Work with Groups’ Virtual Symposium: Group Work in a Changing World: The Power of Connection where I presented on how my current work with substance abuse prevention coalition’s in Long Island, NY, USA as part of the Long Island Prevention Resource Center might offer strategies to approach community mobilization for climate change prevention. Here are some highlights Georgianna put together from that presentation:
Community prevention is largely an unresearched area of environmental social work (Teixeira, Mathias & Krings, 2019), yet we know that frameworks of prevention work at the community level in the fields of mental health and substance abuse. Further, we know that “Environmental decision-making must be open to more public participation especially from those who are disproportionately affected by environmental challenges in their communities” (Adams, Klinsky, Chhetri, 2019, p. 11; Kemp, 2011). The Strategic Prevention Framework is an easily transferable science-based strategy that can easily fill the gaps in these two areas of environmental justice.
According to SAMSHA “The five steps and two guiding principles of the SPF offer prevention planners a comprehensive approach to understanding and addressing the substance misuse and related behavioral health problems facing their…communities” (p. 4, 2019). Full implementation at the community level of the SPF requires the elements of Assessment, Capacity, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, Sustainability, and Cultural Competency. Communities are guided through collecting data to identify the biggest issues, assessing the resources needed to implement a solution, and best practices in addressing and measuring their effectiveness. Communities utilize this process to develop logic models identifying key problems, root causes, and local conditions as well as action plans.
The Strategic Prevention Framework puts control and problem solving in the hands of the communities seeking to address these issues (SAMSHA, 2019), making this an ideal strategy to be guided by social workers as they excel at helping individuals and communities capitalize on their assets and internal abilities to problem solve. The intention is to create equitable communities that can work on preventing the impacts of climate change before they start and reduce environmental injustice for those most impacted such a communities of color or those with lower socioeconomic (Kemp, 2011; Teixera & Krings, 2015).
Currently, the SPF is utilized by many social workers and helping professionals to address substance abuse and mental health issues at the community level so translating that experience and knowledge to the issues of climate and environmental justice is surely a noteworthy goal. The utilization of the Strategic Prevention Framework to address climate change and related environmental injustice fits well within Climate Interactive’s Framework for Long-term, Whole-system, Equity-based Reflection, or FLOWER Multisolving Model (Swian, McCauley, Edberg, & Guiterrez, 2018), by adding in key elements of community mobilization. One tool utilized by communities using the Strategic Prevention Framework is the Seven Strategies for Community Change (CADCA, 2004) which helps communities create a Multisolving action plan. The Seven Strategies is not new to social workers, and instead is another way to consider the stages of change at a grander scale:
Throughout the workshop participants were offered space to consider the environmental justice trends they see in their own work, look at examples of multisolving, and utilize these Seven Strategies for Community change to explore their own personal action plans regardless of the level of practice they do. If you’d like to do this exercise for yourself please see the full Powerpoint and Brainstorming sheet.
We hope that this example offers you a new way to consider your own work and see how it might apply to climate justice work. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel entirely to address this issue, and instead, a commitment to creative systems thinking, the true asset of our field. Considering the urgent call for social workers to become more actively involved in environmental justice issues at the micro and macro time, and the timeline of our ‘tipping point’ for carbon emissions this is definitely the right time.
Adams, M., Klinsky, S., & Chhetri, N. (2019). Barriers to Sustainability in Poor Marginalized Communities in the United States: The Criminal Justice, the Prison-Industrial Complex and Foster Care Systems. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland), 12(1), 220–. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010220
CADCA. (2004). Community Coalitions Handbook. Retrieved from: https://www.cadca.org/sites/default/files/resource/files/community_coalitions.pdf
Kemp, S. P. (2011). Recentering environment in social work practice: Necessity, opportunity,
challenge. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 1198–1210.
SAMSHA. (2019). A Guide to SAMSHA’S Strategic Prevention Framework. Retrieved from: https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/20190620-samhsa-strategic-prevention- framework-guide.pdf
Swain, E., McCauley, S., Edberg, S., Mwaura, G., & José Guitiérrez, M. (2018). Multisolving at the Intersection of Health and Climate Lessons from Success Stories. Climate Interactive. Retrieved from https://img.climateinteractive.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Multisolving-at-the- Intersection-ofHealth-and-Climate-1.pdf
Teixeira, S. & Krings, A. (2015). Sustainable social work: An environmental justice framework for social work education. Social Work Education, 34, 513–527. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1063601
Teixeira, S., Mathias, J. & Krings, A. (2019). The future of environmental social work: Looking to community initiatives for models of prevention, Journal of Community Practice, 27:3-4, 414-429, DOI: 10.1080/10705422.2019.1648350.