ACSW Communications Report

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ACSW Communications Report Powered By Docstoc
   Report prepared by: Richard Gregory & Bonita Decaire

1.1               Introduction                                    2
1.2               History of the Communications Committee         2
1.3               Overview of the Process                         2
1.4               The Survey                                      3
1.5               Focus Groups                                    3
2.1               Data Summary                                    4
2.1.1             The Advocate                                    4
2.1.2             Website                                         5
2.1.3             Email                                           5
2.1.4             Mailouts                                        6
2.1.5             Conference & Annual General Meeting             6
2.1.6             Communicating with Council and Staff            7
2.1.7             Area Coordinators                               8
2.1.8             Membership Concerns                             9
3.1               Promoting the Profession                       12
3.2               Suggestions for ACSW Involvement               15
3.3               Summary                                        17
3.4               Recommendations                                18
4.1               Survey Questions                               21
4.2               Questions During Staff Meeting                 22
4.3               Focus Group Questions                          22

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006        1
                                                                 SECTION 1: BACKGROUND

During the past two years the Communications Committee of the Alberta College of
Social Workers (ACSW) gathered information related to various aspects of
communication. This report is the compilation of the information gathered through
surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Although some of the ideas presented in the
document are initiatives already being carried out in one way or another by ACSW, the
information-gathering process revealed that some members are not aware that these
initiatives are in place.

Data from the survey taken at the 2005 conference indicated that the majority (78.2%), of
the respondents were somewhat to very satisfied with the amount of information received
from ACSW. A slightly higher percentage, 81.9%, was somewhat to very satisfied with
the content of the information received from ACSW. While this indicates that ACSW is
doing a reasonably good job of communicating with its members, some feedback
indicated that there are areas where improvement is required.

This report identifies the processes used to gather information, provides a summary of the
data collected, and gives the committee’s recommendations regarding how
communications can be improved.

The communications committee formed in May of 2004. The terms of reference for the
Communication Committee were approved by council in November of that same year.
During the first year much of the work of the committee focused on working through and
developing responses to the resolutions presented at the 2004 Annual General Meeting of
ACSW. This work consumed the majority of the time of the committee for its first year
of operation. During the first year the committee also developed a survey for members
which looked at various aspects of communication. Members were asked to complete the
survey at the annual conference in Red Deer.

During the next year, the committee focused on assessing the communication needs of
the membership. The committee has had several individuals contribute to its work
including Sandy Sherman, Anne-Marie McLaughlin, Al Failing, and Tim Wilde.
Permanent members of the committee are Bonita Decaire, Richard Gregory, and Guy

In order to assess the communication needs of the membership of ACSW the committee
chose different approaches. A survey was developed and distributed at the annual
conference in 2004; focus groups were held in various communities and with different

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                           2
groups across the province, and interviews with individuals who were not able to attend
focus groups were also used to gather information. Over three hundred social workers
completed the survey.

The first focus group was with ACSW staff and looked at the various initiatives of staff.
Input was gathered regarding their communication with the membership as well as
identifying ideas and concerns that they had with regard to communications. Most of the
focus groups were organized with the help of Area Coordinators who were asked to assist
in setting up the focus groups. Focus group meetings were held on the following dates:

               14 January 2006                    Aboriginal Social Work Committee
               16 January 2006                    Medicine Hat
               2, 3, 9 February 2006              Lac La Biche and area
               7 February 2006                    Cold Lake
               7 February 2006                    Bonnyville
               7 February 2006                    Peace River
               16 February 2006                   High Prairie
               21 February 2006                   Slave Lake
               10 March 2006                      Grand Prairie
               13 March 2006                      Calgary
               20 April 2006                      Medical Social Workers

1.4     THE SURVEY
The survey consisted of twenty-one questions (see Appendix). The questions elicited
information on access to internet and email, data on how often the respondent accessed
the website and level of satisfaction with the website and the Advocate, attendance at
functions hosted by area coordinators and at the conference, preferred way of receiving
information from ACSW, level of satisfaction with the amount and content of
information received from ACSW, familiarity with the role and functions of ACSW and
level of understanding of the HPA, and the promotion of the profession. A summary of
the findings from this survey was published in the Fall 2005 Advocate.

The questions posed to the staff of ACSW concerned the most frequently asked
questions, comments staff hear about communications, activities or initiatives the staff
undertake in relation to communications, suggestions on improving communications in
the organization, and barriers that prohibit optimum communication in the organization.

The focus group discussions centered on what is working in the way ACSW
communicates with its members, what could be improved, what information members
would like to receive from ACSW and what is the preferred way to receive it, how
ACSW can best promote the profession of social work, what issues or causes would
members like to see ACSW involved with, how could ACSW promote a feeling of pride
in being a member and promote a sense of ‘belonging’, and any other comments about
communications within ACSW.

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                                                                 SECTION 2: RESULTS
The information gathered through the survey, the focus groups, and individual interviews
is divided into the following categories: the Advocate, the website, email, mail-outs,
conferences and Annual General Meetings, promoting the profession, membership issues,
Council and staff, Area Coordinators, and other suggestions.

2.1.1 The Advocate
The majority of the respondents liked the Advocate. Information collected from the
survey at the 2005 conference revealed that the Advocate was the preferred method for
getting the information from ACSW by almost half of the respondents. Although
comments about the Advocate were fairly positive, survey results indicated that just over
20% of the respondents identified that they read the Advocate ‘very thoroughly’ and over
40% indicated that they either ‘scan through’ the Advocate or only ‘sometimes read’ it. It
was identified as a good communication tool, but there were suggestions for how it could
be improved. Most of the respondents are pleased with receiving the Advocate on a
quarterly basis and most are satisfied with the content. Some commented that the
Advocate did not work as an effective tool for disseminating information on conferences
and workshops since registration dates frequently passed, or there was not enough notice
ahead of time to plan to attend the event. Some suggestions for improving the Advocate
include more information on practice issues and also featuring stories of social workers in
different areas of practice. This could be in the form of case studies and supervision
issues. One of the recommendations for improving the Advocate was to include a brief
update from all of the committees under the ACSW. Another recommendation was to
focus on the celebration of social workers and the progress and achievements being
made. Requests were made to include more practical practice information and more
Aboriginal content. Other recommendations included having the Advocate focus on
social issues, social action, and suggestions for how social workers might become more
involved in various issues. Some participants described skimming the Advocate, due to
time constraints, and would prefer a one page bulletin or webpage. There was some
concern raised about the extent to which some of the articles submitted were edited and
also a question wondering if all submissions were printed.

One of the focus groups commented that it would be useful to have more pictures in the
Advocate--to be able to “see” more social workers. Another suggestion was that perhaps
there could be a complaint column in the Advocate –where members can voice their
concerns. A question was raised asking if there are articles that are submitted to the
Advocate that are not published. This came from a suspicion that submissions are being

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2.1.2 Website
The survey results indicated that less than 20% of the members used the website as their
primary source of information and that less than 30% accessed the website at least once a
month. Many respondents claimed they did not use the website because of the difficulty
in accessing and navigating it.

In the fall of 2005, the website underwent major revisions. Since this occurred after the
initial survey, a decision was made to assess how the members felt about the new
website. In response to the revisions, participants responded that the new website was
easier to access. A number of participants made positive comments. Other participants
requested a one-page highlight sheet or news page on the website with links that would
allow members to read information applying specifically to them. The issue of increasing
practice information came up in several areas, as did the importance of information being
timely and up to date. Signing into the members’ area can be problematic with password
problems being the most prevalent issue. The password difficulty happened with the
previous website as well. Some respondents commented that it was simply easier to call
the office to get the necessary information. Office staff reported receiving a number of
calls about this issue. Many rural and northern social workers requested an area on the
website that promoted connections between social workers with similar interests, areas of
practice, or practice issues. Another suggestion was to increase the Aboriginal content.

Respondents recommended that the website have a year long calendar where members
could post events in their areas. Therefore, all members could see what was occurring in
the different parts of the province should they want to attend or support the events.
Along with this, some members stated that the website needs to be updated regularly,
which would encourage more people to access it more often. Another suggestion for the
website was to have an area that would feature examples of completed portfolios. These
portfolios would serve as a model for those who are not certain what one should look
like. It was also suggested that each interest area have its own location on the website so
that members could more easily link to different interest areas.

Other comments about the website included that all links should work and that there
should be more “practice” information available. Members also appreciated that various
forms were available online.

2.1.3 Email
The survey revealed that although 99% of the respondents had email ACSW does not use
it very often when communicating with members. Consistent in both the survey results
and from information gathered in the focus groups were suggestions about receiving
more information through email. The majority of participants suggested that they would
like to receive information by email. Suggestions presented in the focus groups were that
members want to be informed on a timelier basis about topics such as workshops, events,
social action activities, deaths of members, website updates, council activities, and area
coordinator reports--all which could be made available through a monthly email
newsletter. Also, committee members, on council members, or area coordinators received
quite a bit of information from ACSW by email. Some suggestions for increasing the use

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of email included using the website to give each member an email address and, to have a
self-managed membership information section so that members can update personal
information including email addresses.

While the majority of the survey respondents reported that they were pleased with both
the amount and the content of information that they received from ACSW, focus group
attendees requested more information on council activities, upcoming workshops and
events, and the ACSW position on current issues. This could all be made available
through an email newsletter or bulletin.

2.1.4 Mailouts
From the survey, 34% of the respondents reported that they preferred receiving
information from ACSW through mailouts. In the focus groups, some members
commented that they like having the content of the mailout advertised on the outside of
the envelope. The notices for renewal of membership are received through mail.

Members from some of the rural and northern communities said that they would like
information sent out so that it reached them in a timely manner. Some provided
examples of ballots for voting not arriving in time for the ballot to be returned before the
deadline, or of receiving notices for workshops that were over.

2.1.5 Conference & Annual General Meeting
The respondents to the survey indicated that less than 25% attend most or all of the
conferences. While this will likely change with the competency requirements, the
Annual General meeting remains, for some individuals (2.5% of respondents), the
primary method of acquiring information about ACSW. Overall, comments related to the
conference were favorable. While some expressed concern over the changes in the
format from previous years, others felt that this was a better format. The one common
comment was that people appreciated the opportunity to meet with their colleagues and
network over lunch breaks and that this was not possible when there were no ‘common’
lunches. Other concerns were expressed over the changes in the format to the Annual
General Meeting. It was mentioned that the new format would limit the opportunity for
members to pose questions or raise concerns to council.

There were many comments related to the challenge that some social workers have of
feeling positive about their profession when the public tends to have such a limited view
of social work. Some suggested that it would be useful to invite outsiders (non social
workers) to the conference so that they could get a sense of what it is that social workers

The issue of exclusion also presented itself in terms of the last conference. Some
individuals felt that the exclusion of some people from workshops at the conference
promoted the notion of classism, in that some social workers are perceived as being better
than others. Members felt that this gives the wrong message and did nothing to unite
social workers as a group.

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2.1.6 Communicating with Council and Staff
Participants suggested that communication with council should be improved
significantly. Suggestions were made to increase the level of transparency of council.
Participants suggested that the council meeting minutes be placed on the website for
members to read. Participants also expressed a desire for increased contact from council
and office staff. Another request was for information about what each council member is
involved with and an update on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Members explained that they would like to be better informed about what council is
doing. Some of the suggestions for improvement were that council could meet in
different parts of the province, rather than always in Edmonton. It was also suggested
that the strategic plan should be posted on the website. The monthly president’s report,
which is currently sent to council members and committee chairs, could be sent to all
members in a monthly email newsletter. Another issue identified in the focus groups was
that members of the association be accountable for its funds. For instance, when
publicizing the outcomes of disciplinary hearings, it would be helpful to know how much
that particular investigation cost.

The comments from members of the focus groups were quite varied in terms of their
experiences with the office staff. There was a general recognition that nine staff serving
5700 social workers was an impossible task. Many suggestions were made to improve
communication between members and the ACSW office staff. While some members
identified very positive experiences, others felt that they were not treated very
professionally. Some of the participants complained their calls were not answered or
their emails returned. Positive comments included that the office is accessible (the 800
number) and that Alison will attend any meeting to which she is invited. More members
reflected that it would be nice to have access to other staff and to members of council.

In meeting with the staff, it was discovered that sometimes members are not very patient
with staff and can sometimes become belligerent or rude. Staff often felt that they were
not treated respectfully. The issue of respect was also brought up during the discussion
with ACSW staff since some staff members do not feel respected by their co-workers.
Some of the staff described tension and personality conflicts within the work
environment, which could be attributed to a lack of respect for the contributions that each
staff person makes. Also, ACSW has devalued some of the contributions of staff by
classifying social workers on staff as “professional staff,” insinuating that those who
work for ACSW, who are not social workers, are not professional.

Members also expressed an interest in receiving more information on the activities of
CASW. Council members and committee chairs are often notified of the various
activities of CASW, but this information should also be forwarded on to members. For
the most part, this could be done through email.

One recommendation from a focus group was that since ACSW is a large organization it
should create a position dedicated to the area of communications. Participants also
suggested that ACSW staff become more visible in communities, by offering support,

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                               7
providing continuing competency opportunities, becoming involved in social action, and
making public statements about injustices experienced by our members and the people
we serve. Participants suggested that they would like to have professional, responsive,
and timely answers when they call the ACSW office. Some expressed confusion as to
who is responsible for different areas and therefore where to direct questions. Members
said that they would like to know who they needed to talk to regarding various issues.

Focus group participants suggested that ACSW should have its own list or database of
practice/social justice/community resources and information. A link could be provided
on the website, and in a resource library, which could be accessed by members. It would
also be useful to have a list of experts. This would help social workers throughout the
province network with each other and utilize the extensive resources that are available
within our own membership.

In some of the focus groups, there were comments about the election process and how it
might be improved. Most participants said that they were uncomfortable with voting for
people they knew very little about and indicated that most often they did not vote. There
was a suggestion that perhaps the nomination process needed to occur earlier and that
local forums could be set and candidates could travel to different areas and meet with
people in different parts of the province. Overall, members had no problem with the mail
in voting, although votes could also be submitted electronically.

Respondents also suggested that in order for the membership to become more involved at
the committee level it would be useful to have email addresses for the various committee

2.1.7 Area Coordinators
A number of participants expressed appreciation for the work done by the area
coordinators to provide opportunities for continued competencies and for bringing social
workers together. According to the survey, just over 57% of the respondents attend the
events organized by the area coordinators. 41.6% of the respondents reported that they
never attend events organized by area coordinators. Some of the comments revealed that
in some areas there is no area coordinator or that respondents were not certain who the
area coordinator was. Also, some events are not near where people live, the dates did not
work out, sometimes there is not enough notice or the events are not well publicized,
employers did not support the individuals in attending the event, and that other
commitments make it difficult to attend. A couple of respondents also reported that they
had planned to attend but when they tried to register the sessions were already full.

Improving communication with the area coordinators was identified as an “area of
opportunity” and that it would be useful to have their contact information. Focus group
members suggested it would be useful to have more networking opportunities with area
coordinators in order to connect with them and share ideas. The creation of a network
where area coordinators could access a list of speakers on a variety of topics was
suggested. There should also be a resource list of RSWs who have particular expertise

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and who are willing to present to various groups. These lists could then be accessed by
area coordinators in order to assist with planning and organizing events.

A number of area coordinators who participated in the focus groups suggested that the
question on the renewal form be revised, so that it is clear when events and workshop
opportunities will be available in each area. The area coordinators also requested
frequent, updated lists of members in their areas.

Since area coordinators are becoming more involved in most areas, it was suggested that
perhaps they could also be more effectively utilized to distribute information to the
people in their areas. This would be especially useful when issues arise that are more
specific to a particular area of the province. It would be necessary for area coordinators
to have email addresses for the members in their area and budgets that would allow for
the area coordinators to do mail outs, local advertising, and to host more social

Many focus group participants identified that it is important for ACSW to continue
supporting area coordinators in the work they are doing.

2.1.8 Membership Concerns
Respondents felt that ACSW should to be more focused on “courting” the membership.
Some felt that once ACSW gets their membership dues little is done to make individuals
feel like they are welcomed into the professional body. One issue raised was that there is
nothing to promote a sense of belonging to a professional group, nothing to nurture a
sense of affiliation. It was suggested that ACSW should connect with new members--
perhaps have someone from local groups contact new members—welcome them to the
organization and invite them to be involved in activities. The personal contact would be
more effective than the cold correspondence requesting fees. Some of the other
comments associated with registrations were that information around renewal seems to be
fear based, implying threats and intimidation, which is not typical of social work practice.
Other participants commented that they would like to see registration renewal made
available on line.

ACSW is perceived by some as passive in its approach to sharing information–giving the
message that “we have the information if you ask for it.” Therefore, members asked
ACSW to take a more active role in the dissemination of information.

Some individuals asked for more clarity concerning competencies and the requirements
in each area.

One concern mentioned by a number of individuals was that although they have
consistently checked off on their registration form areas they were interested in becoming
involved with, they have never received any follow up. Some stated that they have simply
quit filling in this part of their registration because they felt that, after years of being
ignored, they would no longer bother.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                               9
Attendees at the focus groups stated that it would be useful to have fact sheets sent to
them regarding ACSW position statements on current issues such as gay marriage,
changes to health care, or the third wave of health care. Such statements would help
members respond to these issues in terms of the position of the profession. It was also
suggested that a fact sheet be developed on completing one’s portfolio.

Participants identified the importance of honouring social workers. This could be done
by recognizing and rewarding social workers who have reached mile-stones in service
such as ten and twenty year awards.

Respondents commented that social workers should be reminded and encouraged to treat
each other with respect and empathy. Focus group participants identified that many
social workers are very judgmental of other social workers. Another concept was to stress
the privileges and rights of being a social worker. One idea was to establish a Social
Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Some of the discussion in the focus groups revolved around promoting the fact that one
of the key roles in social work is advocacy. There was an opinion that the professional
body should take the lead by advocating for social change–to go beyond talking about it
to actually doing it. Members were unanimous that the professional body should to take
the lead role in advocacy.

In several groups comments were made that ACSW should endeavour to distribute
information to smaller and rural communities. Members in these communities
commented that they continue to feel isolated from ACSW and feel as though the
organization does not do much for members outside of the larger centers. Some of the
suggestions for improvement are:
        for ACSW to look at the conference structure – does the conference always
            have to be in the Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary corridor?
        have council members travel throughout the province to meet with members.
        rotate council meetings across the province and have get-togethers with
            members the evening before the meeting.
        have committees meet in various locations to encourage broader interest.

Members commented that ACSW seems to be very focused on regulation and misses the
membership function. Some asked if ACSW should split regulation from membership.

Most groups identified the challenge of dealing with social work apathy and the fact that
some social workers choose not to be involved. The discussions ranged from individuals
commenting that many are just too busy to become more involved while others felt that
there should be some type of motivation for involvement. Others shared that many social
workers simply do not care. One person mentioned his/her personal disgust with social
workers who do not participate in elections, saying that they are “not political.” This
individual feels strongly that social work is a political profession.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                             10
Another concern raised was that some people are still not registering as social workers
because of fear of the unknown–they do not know what the benefits are and are only
familiar with the policing function of ACSW.

One issue that a number of social workers wanted to address was the divisions, described
as elitism and classism that exist within the profession. There were opinions voiced that
ACSW is elitist and exclusionary. Some participants expressed frustration that grand-
parented and diploma RSWs are not viewed as having the same value as other RSWs.
When discussing this issue one member said, “this is perceived to be a ‘divide and
conquer’ mentality. It feeds into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality [and] does not promote a
pride of being a social worker.” Another participant commented on the importance of
education and suggested, “the College is currently perceived as advocating barriers to
this–buying into elitism, focusing more on education than on contribution of
membership, [which] seems to have created ‘purposeful distancing’ from members.”
Other participants suggested, “…the dichotomy between ‘professionalism’ and
‘humanism,’ the attributes that are sometimes attached to professionalism, are often not
consistent with humanism, they are often more based on elitism. During the focus group
the directive from participants was to “Get rid of the elitist and class-focused attitudes of
some members by demonstrating leadership from Council on the inclusion of all
members.” The suggestion was made that ACSW focus on building relationships.
Several individuals also spoke to the lack of respect some social workers demonstrate
towards others. Given that respect is one of the foundations of the social work profession
some focus group participants expressed disappointment with their colleagues who make
disparaging comments about other social workers or who devalue their contributions.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                             11
                                                          SECTION 3: RECOMMENDATIONS

The survey revealed that 59 % of the respondents felt that ACSW is either somewhat or
very successful at promoting the profession. This indicates that there is a lot of room for
improvement. Results of both the surveys and the focus groups revealed many
suggestions for improvement. Ideas for promoting the profession basically fall into two
main areas. The first area is promoting the profession to the public; the second is
promoting the profession in such a way that members have ‘pride’ in being part of it.
Participants in the focus groups often made comments that reflected on their need to see
ACSW take a more active stance in addressing social issues. It was suggested that the
information sheets, with the ACSW position statement on the issues, could be sent to
membership, but also that press releases be sent out to all the provincial newspapers and
radio stations. Many felt that rural communities are left out of the picture.

Several individuals who attended the focus groups stated that they would like to see
ACSW take a more significant role in providing a “social work voice” for issues that
affect clients and communities, especially in areas where social workers are “silenced” by
their employers and not able to make public statements on issues that affect their clients.

For the most part, members expressed the need for a broad, organized, and professional
promotional campaign. It was agreed that this is a complicated task sine we are a diverse
profession with a broad scope of practice.

Another suggestion was that ACSW should arrange for a professional documentary on
Social Work in Alberta. This would include its history (including negative aspects such
as social work’s role in the destruction of Aboriginal families), and the current breadth of

Most participants in the focus groups identified that the majority of the promotion of the
profession occurs during Social Work Week. There were several comments that the
promotion of social work should happen more than just during the single week in March.
Members supported the continuation of Social Work Week, and had ideas on how to
improve on it. Some of the suggestions for how Social Work Week might be enhanced
      greeting cards that say ‘Happy Social Work Week’ (i.e. Nurses’ Week has cards)
      more visibility in communities during social work week
      demonstrate way that communities benefit from social work activities
      provide more information during and before Social Work Week…provide more
       support to the groups that engage in promotional activities
      have the Edmonton Journal (and other media outlets) write a piece on Social
       Work Week

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                            12
        Social Work Week should be better organized and promoted–a provincial
         campaign would be more effective rather than each area doing their own.
        provide promotional items and giveaways to groups that coordinate events.

Both the focus groups and the survey results indicated that members would like the
profession to be more visible throughout the year, and not just as part of social work
week. Several respondents that they would like to see ACSW taking strong positions on
social issues. There is a sense that ACSW is “reactive” rather than “proactive.” While it
is important for ACSW to maintain alliances with other progressive groups, ACSW
should also be a voice in and of itself by addressing social issues, thereby increasing
public awareness on a range of issues. As one participant noted “I don’t see the
profession speaking for the profession.”

Suggestions for achieving greater visibility fall in three main areas. These are: educating
the public about what social work is and what social workers do, taking positions on
issues and making those positions public; and promoting activities that relate to social
work and social work practice. Several ideas were presented in each of these areas.

What social work is and what social workers do:
           Create more visibility around the logo (e.g. tote bags, name tags).
           Engage in a well planned, professional promotion campaign. Such a
              campaign should articulate all the ways that social workers help others.
              This campaign should promote the different aspects of social work and the
              diversity of our profession
           ACSW should run a series of newspaper ads titled “I’m a social worker,”
              featuring different aspects of social work. This will put a human face on
              the profession (e.g. a social worker is a person in your neighbourhood).
           Promote the roles of social workers in communities by focusing on what
              we contribute.
           Posters (e.g. “Did you know in your community there are X number of
              Social Workers and this is where they work?”) Put the posters in public
              places. Use different pictures of social workers.
           Promote descriptors on the scope of practice–educate others as to what
              social workers do.
           Establish target dates for making social workers visible rather than just
              one week in the year. A decision should be made as to a target audience
              (e.g. the general public, other professionals)

Position statements:
             Submit guest editorials or letters to the editor on topical issues (e.g. Where
               is ACSW in the discussion on the ‘third wave’ of health care?).
             Create position papers on a variety of issues (e.g. What is the position of
               ACSW on living wage?) ACSW missed a prime opportunity to express its
               stance during discussions on the new Child Welfare legislation.
             ACSW should respond to community-specific issues as they arise in order
               to provide the social work perspective (e.g. What happened in

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                            13
                  communities because of the BSE crisis? What happens in a community
                  when its main industry closes? What is our position on social housing?)
                 Rather than just being available for comment, ACSW should be proactive
                  in making statements and providing press releases. We should be more
                  assertive and “get our position out there” rather that waiting for someone
                  to ask our opinion.
                 ACSW needs to assume an advocacy role by speaking out in support of
                  groups and taking positions on social issues.
                 ACSW should broaden the distribution of information about the activities
                  of council (e.g. responses to the resolutions presented at the AGM – these
                  initiatives need to be communicated to the broader community, not just
                  reported back to members).
                 ACSW should be more visible in promoting topical events (e.g. making
                  our issues known during federal, provincial, and municipal elections)
                 ACSW should encourage members to initiate and participate in public
                  events (e.g. have social workers host public information sessions or
                  forums on topical issues).
                 ACSW should contact schools and other organizations to find out when
                  they are holding career fairs and ask to be included. They should also
                  offer to go to schools to do presentations. The profession should be
                  represented at all career fairs, not just the University of Calgary or college
                  displays. The information presented should focus more on the profession
                  as opposed to regulation.

Promote activities that relate to social work and social work practice:
             use public service announcements as a springboard for promoting
                activities in various communities
             use the media aside from just Social Work Week
             nurture relationships with various media outlets
             provide promotional material to newspapers
             When there are speakers or forums in different communities, provide a
                write-up to the local paper or invite a reporter. In addition, the Conference
                should receive province wide coverage, highlighting key note speakers
                and our award winners.
             ACSW should sponsor, or co-sponsor, speakers and forums on various
                social issues.
It is important for social workers to focus on the positive aspects of social work: to focus
on the impact social workers have in the lives of the people they work with and to
celebrate successes by building on the positives. Participants felt that members of the
public often hear only negative reports about social workers such as when a mistake has
been made--it is difficult to feel pride when one only hears negative things about one’s
profession. Participants felt that ACSW should promote social work in all communities
by emphasizing the competency of social workers, promoting the diversity of the
profession, and creating more awareness of what it is that social workers do. Some
participants suggested that social workers from each community could be profiled in the

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                                14
local media. Another suggestion was that press releases be sent to the local media to
announce the award winners in their home communities.

Focus group participants were very vocal in expressing that they felt the ACSW should
be more active and support a variety of issues. Strong comments were made around
taking a public stance regarding social issues. The other themes that arose in most of the
focus groups were: responding to government, advocating for social workers, and
providing information on social issues.

Participants suggested that ACSW respond to major government shifts in philosophy
such as “Alberta Works” and “Alberta Advantage.” Participants felt that the government
must be held accountable for election promises, which often result in cuts to social

Focus group participants suggested that there should be a place within the organization to
lobby and advocate for social workers within the profession. Issues identified were: high
caseloads, promoting wellness when social workers were stressed out and ill,
employment inequities, and support for rural, isolated, and northern social workers.
Participants also recommended that the ACSW promote social worker competencies and
provide information regarding the diversity of the field. Also, address the shortage of
professional staff in rural areas, which leads to other professionals, such as nurses,
practicing social work.

Recommendations were made for ACSW to lobby the Minister of Education to increase
the amount of Aboriginal curriculum and Aboriginal history in the school system.

There should be some acknowledgment of “genocide” within the social work profession
in regards to Aboriginal children.

While it was clear that ACSW is involved in a variety of activities addressing social
issues, many focus group participants were unaware of ACSW’s involvement with these
issues. The participants recommended becoming involved with the following ‘hard
issues’: accessible and affordable housing, foster care, funding for social assistants and
AISH, FASD, family violence, education, health care, poverty, and social work pay and
working conditions. Focus group members also want ACSW to publicly respond to
government legislated changes that directly impact social work and its clients.

In one of the focus groups it was identified that social workers should abolish their
‘victim’ mentality and the self perpetuating belief that social work is ‘less than’ other
professions. It was expressed that too often social workers undermine their own
profession by presenting themselves as a ‘second class’ profession.

Social Workers must be encouraged to show pride in their profession. They could be
encouraged to frame the Social Work Declaration and display it prominently. Perhaps
ACSW could have more clothing or pins that identify ‘social work’ – not just ACSW.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                              15
Social work should be more visible at a wide range of career fairs – not just the university
and colleges.

Participants strongly expressed their desire to have ACSW as the voice for social issues
in Alberta. They felt that if ACSW was more articulate regarding social issues then
members would feel a stronger allegiance to the profession and that this would also
encourage others to become social workers.

Some participants expressed the notion of elitism--they felt that “the elite are in control of
the organization.” In fact, they expanded on this by declaring that the last few councils
have been very “academically heavy,” with very little representation from “front line”
workers. Another opinion expressed was that the University of Calgary has co-opted the
organization, which left some members feeling powerless. Participants also commented
that they have very little knowledge of Council activities and felt that it needs to be much
more transparent. There was the notion that when the members do not know what
council is doing there is not an opportunity to respond–some felt that Council often
perceives this lack of response, or silence, as agreement to its actions. Council should not
assume that this silence is agreement. Finally, there should be more effort by Council
members to get out and meet with the membership.

Respondents suggested that ACSW should find ways to encourage employers to support
employees who are active in ACSW (e.g. time off to attend events or participate on
council). Also, employers should be encouraged to identify staff as “social workers”
rather than “mental health therapist,” “child welfare worker,” or “school liaison officer.”

Council members should have individual business cards in order to disseminate contact

A suggestion was made that there should be a paid presidency so that the president could
take a much more visible role in promoting ACSW. This would result in the College
becoming more visible. Participants also mentioned that there are amazing stories about
the work people do--it would be nice to recognize this.

Other Suggestions
Many of the focus group participants were unaware of the ACSW committees that exist
or their purposes and functions. Participants provided feedback indicating that they were
interested and wanted more information about each committee such as its focus, its
mandate, and current issues being addressed.

Some participants felt that while the Advocate is a great communication tool for
members, we should revisit our approach to communicating to the general public about
what social workers do. A number of individuals expressed the need for ACSW to
aggressively promote the credibility of social workers.

Members stated that it is important to have opportunities to connect with other social
workers more often than just at the annual conference. Many of the participants felt that

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                              16
events similar to the focus groups were useful get-togethers for social workers.
Participants identified the need to provide opportunities for social workers to get together
for discussions without having to sign up for a committee. It was suggested that ACSW
could host a series of ‘brown bag lunches’ that would bring people together to hear
speakers in an informal setting or to arrange meet-and-greet activities, possibly with
council members or potential council members.

There was discussion around elitism. This was directed toward to the clinical registry,
which some identified as “elitist” and “divisive.” Some felt that the process used for the
clinical registry devalues the skills of some workers and validates other workers who
should not be validated. Some members suggested the clinical registry be “ditched.”

During elections for council there should be more information on candidates and an
opportunity to ask questions. A number of individuals stated that they did not vote
because they were not sure what the candidates had to offer. It was suggested that a
video-conference or a series of forums would be useful.

Members felt that ACSW needs to invite and encourage involvement in the organization.
It would be best if participation could be extended beyond the main centers. Some of the
groups identified that social workers in rural and remote communities need to be
supported and better serviced by ACSW. This could include assisting with transportation
costs for members in these areas so they can participate in committees and by providing
programs that meet continuing competency requirements.

A number of participants expressed their hopes that this report results in action from
ACSW. They also felt that there should be follow-up in order to assure that action is

There was a strong message regarding the need to improve the way we communicate.
Focus group participants asked to receive information in a number of ways such as
through e-mail, video conferencing, fax, mail outs, events notices, and video-taped

3.3      SUMMARY

Participants were pleased to have the opportunity to provide feedback. Some participants
expressed doubt that anything would be done as a result of this process. Throughout the
process several main themes arose. The need for more transparency in the way ACSW
does business, the need for a broader, more efficient way for ACSW to communicate to
its members, the need for ACSW to provide a stronger voice on social issues, the need for
ACSW to more actively promote the profession and, the need for ACSW to promote
pride in being social workers.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                            17

The following recommendations are the results of information gathered from the surveys
and from the focus groups. These recommendations provide considerable material for
ACSW to consider for improving communications within the organization.

    o Hire a communications expert to coordinate communication with the
      membership and to promote social work in the province.
    o Purchase a system that allows members to update personal information such as
      mailing addresses, email addresses, and changes in employment. All members
      should have an ACSW email address. Once this system is in place, ACSW
      should conduct information sessions across the province in order to review the
      system and the website with members.
    o Develop a listserv for sending out notices and timely responses/positions to
    o Create a monthly newsletter/bulletin that could be emailed to all members who
      have email addresses (similar to the newsletter CASW launched in April, 2005--
      The CASW Reporter)
    o Forward The CASW Reporter to all members via email.
    o Improve the transparency of business done by the ACSW council on behalf of
      the members thereby becoming more accessible to the membership.
           Post minutes from council meetings and committee meetings on the
           Rotate Council meetings throughout the province. On the evenings
              before meeting, Council could host an ‘Open House’ in order for
              members in that community to meet with Council members.
           Post all meeting dates and times. Remind members that Council
              meetings are open.
           Council should both encourage and support increased diversity on the
              various committees, including ensuring that there is representation from
              rural and remote communities.
           Council members should make an effort to contact Area Coordinators so
              that they can take advantage of opportunities to meet with social workers
              in different communities.
           Ensure that individuals considering putting their names forth for a
              council position are aware of the expectations to meet with social
              workers throughout the province in order to best represent the members.
           Revise the process for electing council members. Encourage candidates
              to participate in forums, which could include a province wide
              teleconference. ACSW should coordinate various teleconference sites to
              accommodate participation.
           Give Council members business cards.
    o Ensure that the names and contact information for area coordinators are available
      on the website and in the Advocate.
    o Develop a brochure that gives an overview of ACSW and identifies the
      responsibilities of all staff positions. This will clarify who the appropriate

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                        18
         contact is if members have questions. This information should also be posted on
         the website.
    o    Post the Terms of Reference for each ACSW committee plus the contact
         information for the Committee Chair on the website.
    o    Recruit Area Coordinators for regions that do not yet have them.
    o    Ensure that Area Coordinators are given contact information for new members
         so that they can be welcomed to ACSW and invited to become involved in
         upcoming activities.
    o    Develop a Fact Sheet on “How to Create a Portfolio.” The sheet could be sent
         out to members and also be posted on the website, with a sample of what a
         portfolio should look like.
    o    Create a Year-at-a-Glance calendar to be posted on the website. Members could
         post upcoming events and identify key dates (e.g. ACSW nominations for
         council, AGM date, workshops).
    o    Report all costs associated with disciplinary hearings once outcomes of the
         hearings are published.
    o    Provide a list of appropriate resources in a specialized database for practice/
         social justice/community resources and information—an online resource library
         for members. A link should be available on the website. Provide a list of “who
         the experts are.” This will assist social workers in networking with each other. It
         will also utilize the extensive resources available within our own membership.
    o    Provide Area Coordinators with resources for bringing together speakers and
         presenters for continuing competency programs and public forums.
    o    Become the ‘voice’ for social issues in Alberta. Following are suggestions for
              Develop position statements on social issues. Circulate these among the
                 members and distribute them to all Alberta newspapers.
              Become proactive as opposed to reactive in responding to issues. ACSW
                 should not wait for someone to ask its opinion–it should be “out front”
                 and forward in making its position known.
    o    Increase the public profile of the profession.
              Engage in a publicity campaign to increase awareness about the diversity
                 of social work practice.
              Contribute to local newspapers through letters to the editor or guest
                 editorials, thereby presenting the social work position on various issues.
                 At least once a month an article should be sent to all newspapers. This
                 could be written by the president, the registrar, or a designate.
              Produce a documentary on Social Work in Alberta, providing a historical
                 perspective to social work, which includes our involvement in the
                 destruction of Aboriginal families. Identify the scope of the profession
                 and describe the regulations that govern social workers.
    o    Contact schools throughout Alberta to arrange participation in career fairs.
         Displays at career fairs should focus more on what social workers do rather than
         on the regulatory aspect of ACSW.
    o    Adaptations to the Advocate:
              Increase the amount of practice-related information such as case studies

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                             19
                  and situations that social workers experience during supervision and
               Feature contributions from “front-line” social workers.
               Provide space for members to express their “beefs and their bouquets.”
    o    Acknowledge years of service for social workers based on their total years of
         service, both as members in previous social work associations and the College.
         Acknowledgements should be made for 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years, or more, of
         membership in the professional body.
    o    Develop a Social Workers Bill of Rights.
    o    Include the ACSW phone number in all area telephone directories.
    o    Inform members as to expenses that will be covered for involvement in
         committee work.
    o    Discontinue the practice of referring to the social work staff as “the professional
         staff.” The personality differences in the office also need to be resolved to ensure
         that the ACSW organization has a respectful workplace environment.
    o    Send letters to employers that promote the benefits of social workers being
         active in their professional group, describe the benefits of having registered
         social workers as employees, and encourage them to identify positions as “social
         work” positions. Letters should also be sent to employers of those who serve on
         various committees and on Council.
    o    Focus on what social workers have in common as opposed to their differences.
         It is suggested that ACSW challenges the classism and elitism that some
         members perceive as existing within the organization. Ensure involvement, at
         committee and organizational levels, of representation from our diverse
         membership and acknowledge the contributions that all social workers make.
    o    Request accountability. The information gathering process should be followed
         up to ensure that this report is not shelved without response.

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                              20
                                                                 SECTION 4: APPENDIX

  1.      How many years have you been a member of the professional association or
          registered as a social worker in Alberta?
  2.      a) Do you have access to Internet?
          b) Do you have access to Email?
  3.      In the past year approximately how often have you accessed the ACSW website?
  4.      If you have not accessed the website, please explain why
  5.      If you have accessed the website over the past year, how would you describe the
          level of ease you experienced in navigating the site and locating the information
          that you were looking for?
  6.      If you have accessed the website over the past year how would you describe your
          level of satisfaction with the quality of the information that you found?
  7.      Describe the thoroughness with which you read the Advocate.
  8.      How often do you attend events organized by your area coordinators?
  9.      Describe your attendance record at ACSW Conferences.
  10.     Please rank the following in the order of your preference for receiving
          information from ACSW
                   the Advocate
                   ACSW Website
                   information from Area Coordinators
                   Annual General Meeting
                   Committee reports
                   contact with individual Council members
                   mail outs
                   other (please identify)
  11.     Identify your level of satisfaction with the amount of information you receive
          from ACSW.
  12.     Identify your level of satisfaction with the content of the information you receive
          from ACSW.
  13.     Identify if there are ways that you would like to receive information from
  14.     What other information would you like to receive from ACSW?
  15.     To what extent do you feel that you understand of the role and functions of
          ACSW as a professional organization?
  16.     What question(s) do you have about the role and functions of ACSW?
  17.     How familiar are you with the regulations under the Health Profession Act that
          govern Social Workers?
  18.     How successful do you feel ACSW has been at promoting the profession of
          social work in Alberta?
  19.     What level of understanding do you believe that the public has about the

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                             21
          profession of social work?
  20.     a) Did you see or hear about the newspaper ads promoting social work during
                  Social Work Week?
          b) If yes, do you feel the ads were an effective endeavor at promoting social
                  work in Alberta?
  21.     What other suggestions would you have for how ACSW might promote the
          Profession of Social Work in Alberta?


 1.     In the contact that you have with members of ACSW and the public, what are the
        most frequently asked questions directed to you? Members Stakeholders
 2.     In the contact that you have with members of ACSW, what are the things you hear
        that are related to communications?
 3.     What activities/initiatives are you currently involved in that relate to
 4.     What ideas or suggestions do you have for how we can improve communications
        in the organization?
 5.     What are the barriers that you are aware of that prohibit optimum communication
        in our organization?
 6.     Other points


 1.     What communication is working in how ACSW communicates with its
 2.     What can be improved?
 3.     What information would you like to receive and what is the preferred way to
        receive it?
 4.     How can we best promote the profession of social work?
 5.     What issues or causes would you like to see ACSW involved with?
 6.     How can ACSW promote a feeling of pride as a member of the provincial
 7.     Other comments?

Alberta College of Social Workers - Communications Report 2006                            22

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