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5 Questions with Faculty: Mary McCarthy

In addition to her passion for justice for all, Mary McCarthy enjoys getting outdoors for a hike in the wild. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 22, 2017) — Mary McCarthy is the undergraduate program director at the School of Social Welfare, where she is on the faculty. She is director of the Social Work Education Consortium
a partnership between the state, educational and social service organizations. And she’s co-principal investigator for the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, a national organization focused on increasing child welfare practice effectiveness.

Or, as she puts it, she wears a lot of hats.


McCarthy's not kidding when she says she wears a lot of hats. This one is part of her crayon costume, from last Halloween .

She joined the faculty at UAlbany in 1989 following a career in child welfare and education that began in 1973.

What are your working on now?

Two areas of my work are very exciting to me. In July 2017, I assumed the Undergraduate Director’s position. When I came to the School of Social Welfare, I taught in the undergraduate program, which I loved. Eventually I moved to teach in the graduate program and since 2000 I have been leading externally funded projects, which took me out of the classroom. For me, undergraduate education brings me closer to the newest recruits to our profession. They are an inspiring group of young people, committed to social justice and human caring, and the energy, ideas and passion they bring to their studies and career development keeps me excited about the future.

My other passion is child welfare workforce development, which is the focus of the Social Work Education Consortium and the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. As a former child welfare worker, I know how hard front-line practice is and how important it is to have workers embedded in healthy, functioning organizations that are using data to guide practice. With funding from New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, we have been working with partners across the country to increase child welfare practice effectiveness through partnerships that focus on workforce systems development, organizational interventions, and change leadership, using data-driven capacity building, education and professional development.

In many ways the workforce development piece of what I do is designed to make sure that our social work graduates can use all of their skills to serve vulnerable children and families in healthy organizations. A perfect integration of both parts of my current work.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

I have always wanted to be a social worker and began working with vulnerable children in 1973. It is the perfect career for me, combining social justice, advocacy, integrating policy and practice to serve vulnerable families, neighborhoods and communities.

What do you see as the challenges confronting those in your field?

One of our biggest challenges is answering the question, “What do social workers do?” because we are so ubiquitous. With a set of core skills and principles, social workers can be found in just about every occupational area: aging, schools, health care, mental health, child welfare, law enforcement, courts, juvenile justice, prisons, banking and government. Our professional training focuses on communication, engagement and intervention skills, and using data to manage and improve programs.

Some specialize in clinical practice, and develop deep expertise in mental health, substance abuse treatment, family violence, child and adolescent disorders, marriage and family therapy and myriad other practice areas. Others work in management, policy or elected office, and focus on human resource management, budget and finance, community or political practice.

Our challenge is making sure our profession is recognized for the many ways we make the world a better place for all.

Dinner tonight with anyone, living or not: Who, and why?

Barbara Jordan, former Congresswoman from Texas. She never let the extreme segregation that existed during her lifetime deter her from making a difference in the world.

Soon after reading her biography I was admitted to a Ph.D. program where I had to choose a concept I wanted to study. I chose justice because of the ways Jordan talked and wrote about this idea, and justice has become a lifetime pursuit. I would love to talk with Jordan about her ideas and experiences and thank her for the many ways her story continues to enrich my life.

What was your first job?

After graduating with my BA in Sociology, I took a job with the Huntington Family Center in Syracuse, N.Y. It was in a very poor neighborhood, and modeled after the settlement houses in New York City. There were programs for women, day care and afterschool programs that included counseling, group work and recreational programs, as well as a family casework program to help with parenting concerns. The community was near the Syracuse Developmental Center, which had been home to children whose parents couldn’t care for them; many adults in the neighborhood had been raised in the center and had limited parenting skills.

I worked in the children’s afterschool program and with the mothers’ groups. I learned a lot about the ways communities of people can help each other, just by being in relationship with each other. The mothers’ groups were wonderful places where women bonded and found a place to tell their stories and learn new approaches to parenting and being friends.

The children’s program was designed as a safe place to spend time after school, get some help with school work and learn how to develop positive relationships with other children. We also uncovered abuse and family violence, which we endeavored to interrupt. I still think about the families I met at the center with fondness and appreciation for all they taught me as a young caseworker.

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