National Organization of Forensic Social Work Comes to Fordham

Over the weekend, social workers from around the country gathered at Fordham University for the annual National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOFSW) conference.

The conference, which is cosponsored by Fordham’sBe the Evidence International (BTEI) and NOFSW, explored “21st Century Forensic Practice: Moving Beyond Cultural Competence.” The three-day event focused on ways to integrate cultural competence with justice in clinical, organizational, community, and policy practices, with the aim of advancing a new century of cultural justice, dignity, respect, and acceptance.

“It’s fitting that this year’s program is being held in New York City, where our Statue of Liberty reminds us that equality and justice is meant for everyone,” said Tina Maschi, Ph.D., associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service, founder of BTEI, and president of the NOFSW. “It’s also the first time the conference will take place at a university, which is an effort to bridge the university/community divide.”

As the intersection of social work and law, forensic social work plays a significant role in the field, Maschi said, because social workers frequently help their clients grapple with legal issues.

In addition to advocating legal competence, the conference will call for social workers to be more than “culturally competent.” Mere competence—understanding different cultural groups as distinct categories—is far from adequate, Maschi said. Within larger cultural categories are myriad subcategories that drastically affect clients’ experiences of their cultures.

“We need to go beyond cultural competence and embrace a cultural humility instead,” Maschi said. “We professionals think of ourselves as experts, but we also need to humble ourselves and understand that the clients themselves are experts of their experience. Only they know what their culture is for them.”

The conference featured presentations by an array of professionals, including Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, and site visits to programs in which forensic social work plays a critical role.

In addition, Rehabilitation Through The Arts—a group that uses the creative arts to help rehabilitate incarcerated individuals—gave a performance offering insight into life behind bars and the challenges of asserting an identity beyond “prisoner” or “criminal.”

“This event will showcase the importance of social work knowledge, practice, and research, and we need to recognize the impact of social conditions on health and wellbeing,” Maschi said before the conference. “It’s about the profession speaking up for itself, and helping young social work professionals to awaken their sense of empowerment.”

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