Laurel Rothman

Recipient: March 2007

Laurel Rothman believes that a vibrant community role is crucial for the health of our society.

Laurel is the Director of Social Reform at Family Service Association of Toronto. An essential function of this position is to serve as the National Coordinator for Campaign 2000, a network of national, regional and local partner organizations advocating for the end of child poverty in Canada, which she has been leading since 1998. She was interviewed in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 5-11, 2007 under the theme: "Social Workers Making a Difference in the Lives of Children and Families".

Since moving to Canada in the early 1970s after graduating with an MSW from the University of Pittsburgh, Laurel Rothman has worked in a variety of settings including a residential facility for developmentally disabled men; a child welfare agency; and a child care agency. For a number of years, she brought a human services perspective to the City of Toronto Planning and Development Department, related to the planning of child care programs, group homes, and facilities for people with disabilities.

In looking back at the evolution of the social work profession over the past 30 years, Laurel Rothman sees two separate pathways: clinical practice and community organization/development. She has observed a lack of crossover between these two aspects of social work. She is concerned that working at the "macro" level is often not seen as a viable option. Laurel has noted that the respect and profile of community organizations tend to go up and down over the years and this affects where students focus their studies. She is encouraged that the interest in community development has grown in the last three years among students and new graduates.

When asked about the challenges facing the social work profession, Laurel answers: "Funding, funding, funding! Will social work services be valued enough to be funded, so that services can evolve to what they need to be in the 21st century?" She regrets the great loss of public investment over the last two decades, which means that the younger generation does not have the vision of what a well-funded system could mean in terms of changing lives and providing opportunities for success stories.

Laurel Rothman wonders about the challenge of keeping what is special about social work - the valuing of the individual and of human development - while also staying current with technology without being overwhelmed by it. She is not convinced that a single-minded focus on evidence-based practice is resulting in better policy, funding and programming. She values an emphasis on accountability, while cautioning against conditions that deter creative ideas and the opportunity for innovations. Laurel notes the disappearance of grants to try out new techniques and services. She also finds frustrating the need to focus resources on raising funds, because services are not funded at levels that recognize the real costs of providing decent salaries and a professional workplace.

Yet, Laurel is an optimist. She believes that to be successful in a social work career, this is an essential quality. Personally, she finds great encouragement for her work in the vitality, energy and new perspectives of newcomers and their Canadian-born children.

According to Laurel Rothman, social work leaders must know what they believe in, stay current and actively engage with others. She believes that a leader spends some time mentoring and sowing the seeds for future leadership. She stresses that another important aspect of leadership is the willingness to take risks. In her work at Campaign 2000, this has sometimes meant taking strong stands, even in the face of resistance.

To maintain passion, Laurel emphasizes the importance of staying connected to the grassroots. She testifies that she has been fortunate to work in respectful work environments throughout her career that provided her with the resources she needed. She speaks highly of the support she has received from her current workplace, Family Service Association of Toronto. Over the years, her organization has evolved to build inclusive communities and to fund positions to examine systemic issues. Laurel finds it very exciting to be part of such an inclusive and progressive organization. She says: "In community work, you never do it alone. I derive great professional support and camaraderie in working with coalitions and groups."

In keeping with the theme for Social Work Week 2007, "Social Workers: Making a Difference in the Lives of Children and Families", Laurel Rothman's wish list includes finding champions who will work to restore dignity and decency in the public attitude towards people on social assistance. She also wishes for public leaders to make poverty reduction a priority. Finally, she says: "We need community leaders, politicians and media to restore public confidence in the public goods and services that reflect the values of fairness and collective problem-solving approaches that Canadians share. We need leaders who will not be overly swayed by an agenda of diminishing public services and who understand the need for public revenue to fund these services."

Laurel Rothman is a social work leader - collaborative, energetic, and willing to take a stand. During Social Work Week, March 5-11, 2007, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference in the lives of children and families.