Barbara Muskat

Recipient: March 2015 

When speaking about the social work profession, Dr. Barbara Muskat says: "It is my hope that as a profession, we will mobilize our strengths and advocate for the excellent skills we have in both direct and indirect work." Barbara Muskat, PhD, RSW, is the Clinical Director of Social Work at The Hospital for Sick Children. She is a member of the executive committee of SickKids' Centre for Brain and Mental Health and is a member of the hospital's Research Ethics Board. She is well-known nationally and internationally for her consultation to the children's mental health community and her role as a social work educator in the areas of direct clinical practice and group work, with a focus on children with developmental needs. She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 2-8, 2015, under the theme: "Social Workers: Mobilizing Strengths in Individuals & Communities"

Barbara Muskat has the "triple crown" of social work degrees - BSW, MSW and PhD in Social Work. She states: "When I tell others about my 'credentials', I generally say that I have been a social worker my whole life -- and that social work might be all that I know!"  Throughout her social work career, she has filled numerous roles and her work has taken place in diverse settings: social services, children's mental health, school boards, a paediatric hospital and the university. She notes: "In all settings, the value of mobilizing client, staff or student strengths has been central to my work. I fully recognize that it is almost impossible to work, play, create, teach, lead or bring about change without the valuable strengths, skills, thoughts and experiences of those with whom I interact!" 

For example, at Integra, a children's mental health centre that specializes in working with children and youth with neurodevelopmental differences, Barbara learned how important it was for the children and youth to find their strengths, experience success and realize that we all possess diverse abilities. Through programs that included individual supports, family supports, and group work, the clients made social connections, discovered strengths, and continued on pathways to success.  

As a member of the team that collaboratively developed a renowned experiential workshop about learning disabilities called "Walk a mile in my shoes", Barbara was charged with taking this workshop on the road, to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the impact of learning disabilities. The workshop was presented to a wide variety of groups including: parents; staff from school boards, universities and colleges (including Nunavut Arctic College); children and youth-serving agencies; police; and the general public. The workshop challenged the stigma often faced by individuals with learning challenges and developed empathy and understanding in others. Barbara explains: "Community-based psycho-education is well-suited to the values of social work related to advocacy and challenging oppression." 

Barbara notes that social workers are a dominant profession in the field of children's mental health, and she believes that the work is important, meaningful and well-suited to social workers. She emphasizes: "The work requires understanding individuals within the context of their families, social supports, communities and cultures and adapting evidence-informed practices to their unique needs, a perspective that is unique to social work." 

At the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, Barbara Muskat teaches social work courses in group work and clinical work with children and adolescents. She has also developed an online course in social work with groups at the University of Waterloo. For many years, Barbara has provided field placement opportunities for social work students. She is a strong advocate of field education and has influenced the development of many innovative approaches. Recently, she developed an exciting course on social work in health for the University of Toronto. The course is taught on-site at The Hospital for Sick Children with Barbara and a number of social workers presenting content, while also exposing the students to a children's health setting. 

Barbara has 24 published articles, 11 other publications, 68 conference presentations, 17 invitational presentations, 14 media presentations, including a recent podcast for social workers in Australia, a webinar for Emergency room services for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a YouTube video on Patient Centred Care. 

In Barbara's view, leadership in social work requires a delicate balance between listening to others, validating their ideas, recognizing the complexity that exists emanating from varying standpoints and also being decisive. She says: "As Director of Social Work at The Hospital for Sick Children, I have been fortunate to work with many creative, bright and dedicated social workers who know their populations well, have wonderful ideas and simply need support and validation to soar." 

Barbara also feels fortunate to have been supported and inspired by social work mentors, who believed in her abilities. She has been a long-term member of the International Association for Social Work with Groups, where she found an appreciation for the power of mutual aid in groups: "Through my involvement, I found a practice approach that made sense for me as it emphasizes the value of people helping one another and deriving strength from the process." 

In thinking about the future, Barbara is hopeful yet also concerned about where social work is headed as a profession: "There is a constant ideological struggle between social workers who support individuals, families and groups to cope, grow or change and those whose work is directed toward challenging oppression and changing society. This has created a diffuse identity for the profession and confusion among colleagues and the public-at-large about the tasks and roles of social workers. Despite our ability to strongly advocate for the clients we serve, we have not been strong advocates for ourselves. It is my hope that we will promote our person-in-environment perspective, and that others will have a clear understanding of the value-add we bring to individuals, families, organizations and the community-at-large." 

Barbara Muskat is an inspirational leader in the social work community -- optimistic, energetic and rigorous. During Social Work Week, March 2-8, 2015, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.