March 5, 2021

The Grand Challenges for Social Work, launched in 2016 by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, focuses national attention on the nation’s most critical social issues, whether it’s stopping family violence, eliminating racism or ending homelessness. The idea was to harness the ingenuity, expertise, dedication and creativity of individuals and organizations in the field of social work and beyond to champion social progress powered by science.

A newly released impact report entitled Progress and Plans for the Grand Challenges highlights the many accomplishments made at the halfway mark of the 10-year initiative. The report, issued by AASWSW, tracks the progress of the 13 grand challenges and outlines goals for the remaining five years. 

Major advances have been made in the areas of research, practice, education and policy. Some innovations highlighted in the new report are:

  • To address the Grand Challenge to Harness Technology for Social Good, the UW School of Social Work launched Project Connect, an initiative enabling social work students to work remotely with local agencies, providing students with invaluable real-world experience during the pandemic.
  • To End Homelessness, members of the grand challenge network testified in several major cities to improve homeless services and reduce police harassment, and have issued a comprehensive policy brief to educate state and federal officials.
  • Social isolation, another grand challenge, has reached crisis levels during the pandemic. Members organized a symposium on the subject and conducted a survey to better understand the impact of COVID-19 distancing policies on mental health and wellbeing.
  • More than 60 departments and schools of social work formed a consortium to identify and implement new teaching innovations and fresh concepts around community service.
  • Skills webinars on policy and practice are being offered to help social workers become more effective advocates. 

Last summer, amid rising national awareness of racial injustice, a new grand challenge was added. The grand challenge to Eliminate Racism is co-chaired by School of Social Work Presidential Term Professor Michael Spencer. Additional faculty are taking on several other grand challenges, including Close the Health Gap, Reduce Extreme Economic Inequality, Ensure Healthy Development for All Youth, and Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment. 

Find out more about the Grand Challenges for Social Work and the School’s leadership role in the development of the initiative on our website.