A Saint Leo social work conference will bring together practitioners and community partners to address ways to create positive change.

Dr. Victoria Anyikwa, an associate professor of social work at Saint Leo and a licensed clinical social worker, believes that social work is what she was born to do.

Yet, it was not the profession she dreamed of as a young girl growing up in Jamaica, West Indies.

"Social work chose me," she says.

Life, however, prepared her for the field that has become her profession and her passion.

"I experienced tremendous culture shock and various forms of discrimination and oppression when I first came to this country as a young teen, and there was no one to turn to," she says. "When I was bullied in school, my parents would tell me to go to the teacher, but the teachers, themselves, lacked cultural awareness."

Anyikwa had never heard about social work until college when she took a sociology course on social problems, many of which she saw first-hand on and off campus.

It was these experiences that stirred Anyikwa's desire to help bring about positive change – and eventually opened her eyes to social work as a profession.

As a result, she has spent more than 30 years as a clinician, an organizational leader, a social services commissioner and now as a graduate professor teaching in Saint Leo's online MSW degree program.

"I want to arm students with valuable tools to go out and serve – and empower those who come to them seeking services," she says.

In other words, she hopes to continue bring about positive change through future social work practitioners.

Saint Leo conference: National Social Work Month theme in action

Each year, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – the largest professional membership organization of social workers in the world – develops a theme to unify discussion and focus public education initiatives during National Social Work Month in March.

The 2015 theme for National Social Work Month is "Social Work Paves the Way for Change," and it's what Saint Leo's first social work conference is all about.

According to Anyikwa, who is serving as conference chair, "Social workers aim to bring about positive changes in the lives of individuals, families and groups, and this conference is one way to pave the way for change."

The conference is sponsored by the School of Education and Social Services' undergraduate and graduate social work programs. Saint Leo offers an on-ground bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) and two online MSW degree programs: an online MSW-Advanced Clinical Practice program and an online MSW-Advanced Standing program.

Conference focuses on trauma

Anyikwa says that trauma and its treatments was selected as the focus for the conference in an effort to broaden awareness and bring practitioners and community partners together to address interventions that effectively bring about positive changes across systems.

"In recent times, the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder has been prominent, particularly as it affects veterans and military personnel," she says. "However, we need to broaden awareness that trauma is everywhere."

According to Anyikwa, trauma impacts individuals' lives as the result of any number of situations: domestic violence, violence by intimate partners, child abuse, poverty, issues of diversity, or sexual identity, to name just a few.

"Trauma exists in many forms and, left untreated, destroys lives on a daily basis."

Growing need for social workers

According to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics, social work continues to be a fast-growing occupation in the United States.

Driven by the increased demand for health care and social services, the job outlook for social workers is growing at 19 percent, which is faster than the average national average of 11 percent. Growth rates for health care social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers is even higher – 27 and 23 percent, respectively.

Additionally, social workers are found in every environment imaginable: hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, non-profits, clinics, correctional facilities, military bases, government agencies, corporations, and private practice.

According to the NASW, all people, regardless of circumstances, may need the expertise of a social work at some time in their lives.

Conference goal: raising public awareness

However, as Anyikwa points out, most people, including members of her own family, do not understand the value of social work in society.

"Social workers have not done a good job in marketing themselves," she says.

"If you were to ask many on campus, 'What do social workers do?" those external to the field would probably say that we basically work with public assistance and foster care issues.

"We hope that in addition to providing needed continuing education credits for practicing clinicians, the conference will also educate others on the various ways in which social workers intervene to bring about change in individuals lives, in the larger systems, such as organizations and communities, and on policy-making levels where laws are passed that negatively impact lives, particularly the lives of underserved populations."

For more information on the Saint Leo Social Work Conference or to register, click here.

National Social Work Month

The National Association of Social Workers has designated March as National Social Work Month. For more information about National Social Work Month 2015 or the social work profession, visit SocialWorkMonth.org. This year's theme is "Social Work Paves the Way for Change."

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