“The Grand Challenges of Social Work and the Macro Practitioner” By Tamara Hunter

The Grand Challenges for Social Work is one of the most important and exciting initiatives in the history of our profession.  Introduced in 2016 by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, the aptly named Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative (GCSWI) initiative includes the following bold and ambitious goals.

  1. Ensure healthy development for all youth
  2. Close the health gap
  3. Stop family violence
  4. Advance long and productive lives
  5. Eradicate social isolation  
  6. End homelessness
  7. Create social responses to a changing environment
  8. Harness technology for social good
  9. Promote smart decarceration
  10. Reduce extreme economic inequality
  11. Build financial capability for all
  12. Achieve equal opportunity and justice


At its core, the GCSWI is a call to action. In taking on these 12 challenges we have declared our renewed commitment to addressing society’s most intractable social problems, thereby improving outcomes for individuals and families, strengthening the social fabric, and facilitating a more just society—and we intend to do so by utilizing social work science and innovation.

Beyond its social benefits, the GCSWI is an opportunity to distinguish and redefine our profession; clarifying for the public (and in some cases for ourselves) what we do and why our core social work values, training, and expertise uniquely qualify us to lead sustainable social change.

Thought leaders in the field are actively strategizing implementation of the GCSWI, and schools of social work serve as natural launching pads. Schools of social work across the nation are in various stages of developing professional education, curricula and degree programs informed by the GCSWI, which will facilitate within faculty and students development of the skills and core competencies necessary to achieve the goals of this initiative. The progression of GCSWI planning and implementation within academic institutions is more advanced than in other sectors of social work practice, and therefore, affords an early opportunity to witness just how this initiative can be utilized to galvanize the profession.

I’ll pause here to say, if you’ve never heard about the Grand Challenges for Social Work, you’re the reason I’ve written this piece.

As a doctoral student and macro practitioner, with one foot in academia and the other in the public sector, I’m in a prime position to observe a looming, but not inevitable, GCSWI knowledge and enthusiasm gap between social work academics and researchers, and practitioners in the workforce.

The importance of macro practitioners in the workforce, particularly those operating within complex systems, to the GCSWI cannot be overstated. Although far easier said than done, social work managers, and by extension, those they lead, must be must engaged and brought into the fold to prevent this gap, which serves as a potential threat to the efficacy of the GCSWI.  

An important step in doing so involves translating the visionary goals of the GCSWI into an actionable framework specific to each challenge. Additionally, in view of the reality that pursuit of an advanced degree will not be in the cards for most, alternate and innovative means of GCSWI-related knowledge, skill, and capacity building must be introduced.   Finally, the GCSWI should also be leveraged as an invaluable opportunity to reinvigorate social work practitioners in the workforce.

As leaders of organizations, large, small and everything in between, both in public and private sectors, macro practitioners will play a pivotal role in implementing the GCSWI and ultimately its success, and must be engaged accordingly.

About the author

Tamara Hunter is the Executive Director of Los Angeles County’s Commission for Children and Families (Commission). The Commission serves as an advisory body to the County’s Board of Supervisors on matters involving at-risk children and their families, and works with public and private partners to improve the child welfare service delivery system. She began her career as a professional social worker with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, where she focused primarily on macro-level social work practice. Tamara has extensive experience in public child welfare; having managed programs, administered internal operations, led cross-sector collaborative teams, and published work on cross-sector collaboration and social welfare policy. Tamara is currently a doctoral student in the University of Southern California’s Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) program. Her doctoral work centers on the social work Grand Challenge of Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth, and focuses specifically on the intersection of child maltreatment, poverty and inequity, and systemic paradigms.


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