Legislative Priorities

Advocacy is critical to the health of our profession, our clients, and the communities we serve.  We have a robust legislative agenda that combines both professional issues, those of our clients and touches on broader social justice issues.  Our priorities are aligned with our national offices and stem from our policy statements in Social Work Speaks.

Each year, our Legislative and Social Action (LASA) Committee reviews our priorities, broader professional and social issues throughout the state and help set our agenda for the year.  Our team works closely with legislators, their staff, coalitions and our members to lend thought leadership, drive smart policy and strengthen our communities through legislative work.

Policy Statements


The social work profession has long provided leadership in the field of mental and behavioral health services. Social workers are the largest group of clinically trained mental health providers in the state. While strides have been made in recent years, cultural disparities, access to care, stigma, and reimbursement challenges continue to prevail as key barriers to treatment. NASW-NJ is committed to enhancing the well-being of people living with mental health and substance abuse conditions and working toward increased access to appropriate services and interventions. NASW-NJ supports legislation to improve the quality of care, access, reimbursement, research, and education in mental health, including:

Addictions

  • birth to death prevention, education, and services
  • harm reduction, including needle exchange and safe injection sites
  • medically assisted detoxification and rehabilitation
  • a public health approach to drug use and addiction
  • training for first responders and substance abuse professionals in the use of and availability of naloxone for opioid overdose reversal

Mental Health

  • addressing managed access to care that is fair and reasonable
  • support for evidence-based practice
  • effective treatment in the least restrictive environment.
  • direct Medicaid reimbursement of mental health services performed by Licensed Clinical Social Workers
  • full mental health and addictions Parity in NJ with consistent oversight and enforcement
  • culturally and linguistically responsive services and environments at every point of contact across the continuum of care
  • the inclusion of consumers and family members in the assessment, treatment, and intervention process
  • payment equality for social workers providing Medicare and Medicaid services

For more than a century, social workers have played a critical role in the development and provision of child welfare services. Modern child welfare practices are built upon the precepts of safety, permanence, and well-being for the children and families involved. Effective child welfare service delivery and positive outcomes for children and families depend upon a qualified, skilled, dedicated, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive workforce with knowledge of child, youth, and adult development as well as parenting and family dynamics. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for:

Strengthening family well-being, including

  • a Children’s System of Care (CSOC) focused on the family as a unit (see also, Behavioral Health)
  • infant mental health programs
  • preschool and head start programs
  • the economic stability of families
  • safe and secure communities
  • Family Success Centers
  • quality, affordable child care
  • community-based healthcare, including school-based health centers

Child Protective Services that include

  • a culturally aware, diverse, trauma-informed workforce, that includes DCF and CP&P staff, court personnel, legal advocates, and all contracted providers
  • continued monitoring of NJ’s child welfare plan
  • longer-term behavioral health programs that address family trauma
  • community-based family support programs and services that prevent and address child abuse and neglect
  • policies and procedures that screen universally for trauma, reduce revictimization, promote collaboration, and empower families
  • policies and services that ensure the safety of staff and address secondary traumatic stress
  • practices that support and keep families together whenever possible. When not possible, practices that maintain family connections
  • practices that gives families a strong voice in decision-making

It is well documented that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Significant efforts are required towards decarceration to significantly reduce the incarcerated population and address significant racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration rates. The social work profession further recognizes the need for policy change that eliminates all forms of inhumane treatment and upholds the human rights of all incarcerated individuals. NASW-NJ supports reforms to the criminal justice system to reduce the rates of rearrest and recidivism and eliminate racial, ethnic, and gender disparities, including:

  • a focus on rehabilitative programming
  • drug courts
  • adequate resources to support the needs of inmates suffering from mental health and/or substance abuse disorders
  • improved opportunities to maintain family connections, including an increase in the use of video conferencing to supplement, not replace, in-person visits and increased visitation hours
  • an end to inhumane practices including the use of solitary confinement and inadequate access to health and sanitary products
  • training and oversight to address instances of physical and sexual assault against inmates
  • safety and security measures for social workers within the facilities
  • strong reentry programs that encourage community engagement and opportunities for employment
  • the restoration of voting rights to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals

Individuals may experience a number of disabilities including physical, sensory, or cognitive impairment, as well as mental, physical, or chronic illness. Regardless of the type of disability, these individuals commonly face institutional barriers, including difficulties with access to employment, healthcare, housing, education, financial stability, and full community participation. These individuals are also at increased risk of victimization, including abuse and neglect. Social workers support inclusive policies that foster the integrity, dignity, and worth of the individual, and advance efforts to effectively support people with disabilities, their primary caregivers, and loved ones. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for:

  • a seamless transition from secondary education to entrance and acceptance in the workforce
  • the right to pursue vocational and occupational opportunities in accessible environments and to have reasonable accommodations so individuals with disabilities can work toward their fullest potential
  • the right to accessibility and assistive technology for opportunities that will enable people to live independently with access to communication, education, employment, transportation, and public facilities
  • reasonable accommodations for continued success in school, college/university, and beyond
  • formal training provided to informal supports of the individual (immediate and extended family, friends) to facilitate opportunities to reside in the least restrictive community environment
  • adequate, affordable, and accessible housing based on a continuum of need
  • a legal system that meets the needs of all persons through properly trained staff and by considering the needs of aging parents/caregivers of people who are disabled, and including a program for physically and developmentally disabled offenders and their victims
  • continued efforts to improve quality of life
  • access to affordable and accessible health care and to adequate income maintenance
  • the right to self-determination

Individuals and families living in poverty are often politically and socially marginalized. The social work profession seeks to ensure all individuals have equal access to resources and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, socioeconomic, or immigration status. Social workers reinforce economic justice by promoting fair and just policies that build a universal system of social supports, promote financial security, and provide an adequate safety net for those in need. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for programs in the following areas:

Housing and homelessness

  • increasing housing options that are affordable to extremely low-, low-, and moderate-income households
  • resources to prevent homelessness when possible and provide opportunities for rapid rehousing
  • resources for the state-supported emergency shelter system to ensure continuum of supports as people are rehoused

Nutrition

  • maximization of benefits and administrative streamlining in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • expansion of child nutrition programs, including breakfast after the bell and summer meal programs

Transportation

  • protecting a strong public transportation infrastructure that is affordable for low-income riders

Workforce policies

  • promoting wage adequacy through minimum wage and living wage standards that do not exclude any group of working people
  • worker protections, including earned sick time, wage theft protections, and overtime enforcement
  • paid family leave programs that offer sufficient wage replacement and job protection

Childcare

  • increasing resources for childcare assistance to allow parents to work or go to school
  • enhancing quality and monitoring of child care providers in high poverty areas

Welfare-to-work system TANF reform

  • addressing the inadequacy of cash grants and disregard levels to increase the program’s safety net capacity
  • enhancing the quality of work and educational activities provided
  • access to quality specialized services, including substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, child care, and preventive services
  • program management, including responsiveness, timeliness, and IT support
  • training for state, county, and local level staff that includes motivational interviewing and empathy training
  • review and reform of sanction policies to include a more person-centered rather than punitive approach

Social workers have a special concern for and ethical responsibility to oppressed populations who suffer disproportionately with dangerous environmental conditions. The inextricable links among poverty, environmental degradation, and risk to human well-being is undeniable. The environmental crisis includes global climate change, unplanned land use, escalating use of nonrenewable natural resources, rapid extinction of whole species of plants and animals, and an increasingly scarce and contaminated water supply. NASW-NJ advocates for policies that reduce environmental threats to vulnerable and disenfranchised populations who are disproportionately at risk, including:

  • active support for community solar and renewable energy policies to work towards a more equitable and fair energy system
  • the inclusion of environmental justice communities in policy making and implementation, such as with renewable energy policy
  • equitable access to clean water for all people, including but not limited to lead remediation efforts in communities impacted by lead-contaminated drinking water, and opposition to water privatization as to maintain and deliver clean, affordable drinking water
  • efforts to ban fracking and eliminate fracking waste
  • preventing or decreasing the risk of illnesses and disabilities resulting from environmental degradation and pollution, especially for vulnerable populations
  • appropriate disaster planning, infrastructure planning, and adequate funding and services for disaster relief
  • the reduction of children’s exposure to pesticides and other chemicals through approaches such as the precautionary principle and integrated pest management
  • adequate funding of state and local agencies and local counterparts to have the necessary resources and authority to establish and enforce environmental protection in accordance with generally acceptable scientific standards and data
  • more rigorous and effective testing, regulation, and labeling of chemicals and products that contain them

New Jersey continues to experience significant health disparities based on socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status and other social determinants of health. To reduce these health disparities, the social work profession places an emphasis on addressing not only physical health, but the social determinants of health—income, housing conditions, education, food security, exposure to trauma and violence, employment and working conditions, social exclusion, and income, gender, racial, and sexual inequality. The social work profession supports the promotion of a culturally and linguistically responsive health care system that improves patient outcomes, advances population health, and reduces health care costs. Social workers support the long-term goal of enactment of a national health care policy that ensures access to a full continuum of physical and mental health services. NASW-NJ also supports:

  • the maintenance and improvement of health funding programs such as: NJ Family Care, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged & Disabled (PAAD), the Affordable Care Act Healthcare Exchange, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • initiatives to address community health and quality of life issues
  • the full and appropriate implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Healthcare Exchange for NJ, and the Medicaid Expansion; and efforts to prevent repeal of the ACA and its component policies
  • programs and policies designed to decrease racial and economic disparities in health care access, provision, utilization, and outcomes
  • a full continuum of care that addresses consumers’ physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual needs
  • culturally and linguistically responsive services and environments at every point of contact across the continuum of care
  • access and availability of preventative and primary care services that replace a reliance on emergency and urgent care services
  • a national health care program that provides a basic level of care for all residents of our country
  • cost controls to address rising prescription drug costs and hospital expenses
  • death with dignity laws that allow mentally competent individuals who are terminally ill to maintain self-determination and autonomy over the course of their disease and treatment

In large pluralistic societies, it is essential that both law and policy reflect the reality that dominance by any one racial or ethnic group is unacceptable and unsustainable. Social workers support an inclusive, multicultural society in which racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental ability, religion and spirituality, gender identity, and other cultural and social identities are valued and respected. Civil rights laws, anti-discrimination policies, and equal protections against institutional racism are among the most effective policy tools for addressing the harms done to historically oppressed communities. NASW-NJ is a proponent of forward-thinking social policies that seek to foster diversity at all levels of social discourse and address restitution for populations most harmed by discriminatory law, policy, and practices, including:

  • promoting state and local efforts to develop comprehensive, multilingual, and multicultural educational curricula
  • promoting state and local efforts to establish school and community-based compensatory education and after-school programs, expand access to high quality pre-school and child care, and modify disciplinary procedures that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline
  • maximizing access of historically oppressed populations to decent employment and security through quality job training and apprenticeship programs, adequate unemployment benefits, affirmative action, and accessible, affordable child care
  • supporting measures to end “de facto” and “de jure” segregation of communities, schools, and public places
  • supporting criminal justice reform that addresses the racial and ethnic disparities in rates of incarceration, ensures fair and equitable treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system, and enhances services to facilitate re-entry after incarceration
  • the restoration of voting rights to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals
  • remediating racial disparities in juvenile detention
  • remediating racial disparities in out-of-home child welfare placement
  • removing barriers to and promoting fair participation of historically oppressed racial and ethnic minorities in all aspects of the political process

The social work profession supports justice, due process, and the human rights of all immigrants to our country, regardless of legal status, including undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers/asylees. Undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitative work environments, ranging from unsafe working conditions and wage violations to human trafficking. Efforts to arrest and detain these individuals also result in the detrimental racial profiling of entire communities. Moreover, the negative and enduring biopsychosocial impacts of detention on asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants compound the trauma and violence many experience before and during their migration. Social workers are committed to ensuring the biopsychosocial, legal, health, mental health and educational needs of all immigrants are met, protecting them from exploitation and violence, and empowering them to thrive and contribute to their communities. NASW-NJ advocates for:

  • comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level that protects human rights, provides a path to citizenship, addresses the root causes of migration, and honors the legal right of any person to seek asylum
  • the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and local communities to welcome robust numbers of refugees, helping those that need it most to start their lives anew in safety and freedom
  • federal and state legislation, policies, and budgets that reflect refugees’ needs and provides them with the initial resources they need to thrive and contribute to our communities
  • reform to the immigrant detention system which treats vulnerable immigrant detainees as criminals. Alternatives to detention should be expanded and a system built that ensures due process protections, honors human dignity, and minimizes the use of for-profit detention centers
  • timely immigration hearings, an end to family detention, and for immigrant children to never be separated from their parents
  • a reduction in funding for the mass immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization that harms asylum seekers and prevents vulnerable populations from seeking protection in the U.S.
  • expanded access to adult education, English language training, housing, health care, workers’ wages, and driver’s licenses in NJ
  • policies that allow immigrants the opportunity to become rooted economically, politically, and socially
  • the eradication of the injustices associated with immigrant detention and deportation
  • the eradication of the oppression that serves as the root cause of asylum-seekers leaving their countries of origin

The social work profession makes up a significant part of the workforce that provides services to at-risk youth and has a major stake in advocating for an effective system for addressing problematic juvenile behaviors. There remain many critical issues facing all professionals who work with juvenile offenders and their families, including prevention, rehabilitation, confinement, alternatives to incarceration, and aftercare or reentry into society. NASW-NJ supports the development of evidence-based policies, practices, and interdisciplinary collaborations—with input from families and stakeholders—to support systemic improvements to the juvenile justice system that address the rehabilitative needs of all children engaged in the system, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, socioeconomic, or immigration status, as well as efforts to divert youth from the juvenile justice system and into alternate models of prevention and treatment. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for:

  • a focus on rehabilitation
  • increased used of diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration
  • improved transitional services to allow successful community reintegration
  • policies and programs to address the needs of homeless youths who are released from Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) facilities
  • ensuring youth released from JJC facilities, shelters, and DCP&P placements, who would otherwise become homeless, are provided transitional living services
  • programs that engage families more in treatment when this would be beneficial to the child; respecting the wishes of children who may not desire family involvement
  • additional resources and programs to address the mental health and substance abuse treatment needs of juvenile offenders

Despite recent advances in state and national legislation and public policy, heterosexism and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ persons persist. The social work profession is dedicated to eradicating discrimination against LGBTQIA+ persons and the use of law and public policy to devalue and marginalize these populations. Social workers believe LGBTQIA+ persons must be granted all rights, privileges, and responsibilities granted to heterosexual and cis-gendered persons in our society. NASW-NJ is committed to advancing policies and practices that will improve the status and well-being of all LGBTQIA+ persons. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for:

  • increasing funding sources for LGBTQIA+ persons, particularly those with access to the fewest financial resources (such as, LGBTQIA+ youth, lesbian of color organizations, groups run by/for transgender and intersex people of color and those in more rural or isolated areas)
  • expanded resource availability for LGBTQIA+ persons and reduction of the inequities in access to services faced by LGBTQIA+ persons (such as, the creation of a financial and physical infrastructure specifically addressing LGBTQI youth needs)
  • diminishing discriminatory practices, behaviors, and cultural and societal attitudes, especially those which contribute to barriers to equal treatment and social justice for the LGBTQIA+ community
  • policies and legislation that ban all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity across the lifespan, including but not limited to: inheritance rights, insurance, child custody and visitation, health and mental health, adoption and foster care, employment, credit, housing, and immigration
  • policies and legislation that allow transgender, intersex, gender fluid, gender queer, and other non-binary gendered persons to report and record their gender in official public records in a manner that it is congruent with their gender identity
  • the establishment of safe spaces in all primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools to support LGBTQIA+ youth

The establishment and maintenance of standards of professional social work practice and active participation in state programs for the licensing of social workers is a central mandate for NASW. NASW-NJ provides guidance to the state in its efforts to improve the consistency, transparency, and integrity of these laws and regulations and works to ensure policies governing the practice of social work in our state are responsive to emerging needs and practice trends. NASW-NJ advocates for laws and regulations that enhance and preserve the public practice of social work, protect consumers from unscrupulous practitioners, assure the highest quality of care, and create equity and transparency under the law for both consumers and practitioners. These efforts include:

  • loan forgiveness programs
  • civil service title reform that recognizes the MSW degree, just as other graduate degrees are recognized
  • support of licensure and mandatory continuing education to ensure a well-educated, professional, and current workforce
  • support for an interstate compact that would allow for easy transfer of social work licenses from state to state
  • expansion of social work licensure to include previously exempted areas of practice (e.g., school social work, state agencies) and the establishment of a macro-level license for social workers in non-clinical practice

NASW-NJ recognizes and promotes private clinical practice as a viable practice setting for clinical social workers. Clinical social work includes, but is not limited to, individual, marital, family, and group psychotherapy. The process of clinical social work is undertaken within the objectives of social work and the principles and values contained in the NASW Code of Ethics. NASW-NJ advances and supports legislation and policy that:

  • provides for maximum accessibility of quality, licensed mental health services to the largest number of consumers, including the approval of LCSWs as independent behavioral health practitioners under Medicaid/NJ Family Care
  • effectively coordinates the multiple health and human service providers and public and private consumers involved in mental health treatment
  • maximizes the utility of existing resources by increasing cost-effectiveness and reducing unnecessary and burdensome regulatory barriers
  • ensures full mental health and substance abuse parity, and transparency in insurance practices to ensure existing parity laws are followed
  • creates payment equality for social workers providing Medicare and Medicaid services
  • increases rates of reimbursement for clinical social workers providing in-network Managed Care services

Public education acts as a vital socializing force that promotes the total development of children intellectually, socially, mentally, and physically. School social workers are one of the few resources in elementary and secondary schools for addressing the personal, behavioral, and socioemotional problems that may inhibit students’ ability to learn and develop. Social workers believe the education system has a responsibility to provide all students with free, appropriate, and high-quality education. Schools must pursue excellence and provide not just for the education of children, but for their physical and emotional safety and growth, as well. As part of an enriching intellectual environment, students need educational opportunities that foster increased self-awareness and self-actualization, empathy for others, understanding and acceptance of differences in race, culture, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and immigration status. As such, NASW-NJ advocates for:

  • school-based programs and initiatives that support student mental health
  • programs that support students’ rights to safety and harassment-free educational environments, such as anti-bullying, anti-discrimination, and anti-drug programs
  • appropriate supports and education in the least restrictive settings, even if self-contained or residential, for students with special needs
  • the equitable distribution of school funding
  • school desegregation efforts
  • universal preschool
  • increased investments in early education and Head Start programs to ensure children are provided with quality educational opportunities from the start
  • increased presence of social workers in all primary and secondary school settings

Older adults find themselves particularly vulnerable to social problems including financial exploitation, abuse and neglect, lack of quality affordable housing, economic insecurity, and poor coordination of care, among others. There is a continued and growing need for long-term services and supports for older adults. The creation and maintenance of age-friendly environments and person-centered systems that support older adults’ health, mental health, well-being, and self-determination is integral to wellness in later life. The realization of this goal is a primary focus of social work practice and policy in aging. NASW-NJ advocates for policies that promote late-life wellness and age-friendly environments, including the provision of coordinated, person-centered, culturally aware, and linguistically competent services to older adults across all settings, including:

  • actively opposing proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • supporting the reinstatement of the “Heat and Eat” program
  • promoting and supporting legislation to ensure economic security and housing, specifically by advocating for affordable housing recommendations with a senior focus
  • eliminating barriers to receiving appropriate medical care, including high financial costs for in-home services, inadequacy and loss of Medicare benefits, and inadequate prescription drug coverage
  • adequate day programming with meaningful and appropriate opportunities for work and socialization
  • the expansion of access to affordable long-term care services whether facility- based or home and community based
  • adequate support for kinship care and for elderly persons caring for their grandchildren or other younger relatives
  • maintaining adequate palliative care for those at the end of life
  • programs and services that address the specific health, mental health, socioeconomic, and spiritual well-being needs of LGBTQIA+ seniors

The social work profession has a long-standing commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. NASW-NJ recognizes the wide range of issues that affect all who identify as women and is committed to advancing policies and practices that improve the status and well-being of all women, particularly those most at risk. NASW-NJ promotes policies and programs that address gender discrimination through a critical consciousness about gender that simultaneously address the interconnected nature of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation--or, intersectionality--that interlock with interdependent systems of oppression and privilege. Continuing efforts to develop practices, policies, and services that better meet the needs of women are essential for enhancing the health, mental health, development, socioeconomic status, and well-being of all who identify as women, including:

  • a living wage standard that would require employers to provide a decent standard of living for their employees and equal pay for equal work
  • increased affordable access to birth control and protecting a woman's right to choose
  • policies and programs that mitigate the impact of intersectionality on gender and seek to reverse harms done to women and communities of color, particularly those who also have low-income, identify as LGBTQIA+, or experience additional forms of systemic oppression
  • improved access to quality, affordable health and mental health care for children and mothers, pre-, peri-, and post-natal
  • affordable child-care options for all households, and particularly single parent households
  • strengthening campus sexual assault laws
  • removing the civil statute of limitations on sexual assault crimes
  • increasing affordable housing for single mothers
  • enhancement of domestic violence laws, including palimony
  • increased education, funding, and resources for Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs)

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