Social Work Month: Interview with Courtney

Wednesday, March 20, 2024
Cortney and Aislinn Clancy standing infront of Parliament Hill

Courtney (left), stands with MPP Aislinn Clancy (right), at Queen's Park in Toronto.

Interview with Courtney

To celebrate Social Work Month this March, we sat down with Courtney (they/them) an MSW student who is currently working with Kitchener Centre’s MPP Aislinn Clancy, member of The Green Party of Canada. They’re working to connect social work and political advocacy to open doors. Here's what they had to say:

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to Renison 

I live in Guelph ON with my wife Amanda, and our cat Amelia. We got married in May of last year, so the past year has been rather busy but exciting!
My work experience started in Hamilton in a transitional housing program, followed by working in an overnight shelter overflow program at the start of the pandemic.
This work led me to a research assistant position on a project through McMaster (where I completed by BSW) working on developing a policy brief for a low barrier permanent supportive housing model for women and gender diverse people.
When I moved to Guelph, I began working as a mental health and addiction therapist in an outpatient capacity.
I heard about Renison’s MSW program from a good friend who started a year ahead of me, and felt that the online/healthcare based MSW would be the best fit for me. 

  1. Tell us a bit about your placement position in the office of MPP Aislinn Clancy: 

In my first week of the program, Aislinn was a guest speaker who came and spoke about climate action and political advocacy, as she was in her campaign for City Council.

I was inspired by her then, so I was super grateful when I got the opportunity to complete my field placement with her. I started my placement with her through her campaign for MPP and got to learn about how the Green Party of Ontario operates as a grassroots political party. I gained a better understanding of strategies surrounding organizing, mobilizing, and collaboration, and systemic and political advocacy.

Once Aislinn won the byelection for MPP, I began helping her with constituency case work in her constituent office and have been learning more about how the political world operates to gain a better understanding of the best ways to do advocacy work at this level.

I continue to do this work, while also becoming more involved in a legislative policy role as it pertains to social work. 

  1. How have you applied the knowledge you have learned in class into the field? 

Much of the work done in the classroom is about how we view and define health. When we think about the concept of health in this way, we start to see that healthcare goes beyond primary and emergency medical care.

Health is affordable housing. Health is fostering community, safety, and belonging. Health is access to resources.

Having expanded my definition and understanding of health has allowed me to have a greater understanding of how policies at all levels impacts us as individuals and represents why social workers must get political to effectively advocate for policy change and promote social justice. 

  1. How do environmental concerns, like those raised by members of the Green Party, intersect with social work? 

Climate change is a significant issue affecting all areas of the world, though some more than others. In Canada, environmental concerns tend to most severely affect northern Indigenous populations, impacting the health and wellbeing of these communities.

As social workers, our job is to humanize climate change by demonstrating how the affects of environmental concerns are disproportionately connected to other social inequities, and creating public awareness of how individuals and communities are affected by these issues. At a macro level, social workers can collaborate with climate activists and policy makers to find sustainable solutions, such as promoting renewable energy sources, advocating for sustainable development practices, and supporting initiatives that promote environmental stewardship. 

For example, Green Party of Ontario leader MPP Mike Schreiner proposed Bill 156, titled Homes You Can Afford in the Communities You Love Act, 2024. This bill focused on quick practical solutions to the housing crisis, which would legalize fourplexes, allowing for already existing housing infrastructure to be used to increase housing supply. This bill also focused on housing along transit corridors, which also helps reduce barriers to transportation within and between communities. 

  1. How do you think that the work you’ve been doing helps open doors for people in the community? 

Social workers at all levels work with individuals and communities to identify closed doors that people encounter, and work with them to find ways to open those doors. Social workers walk with people through their own journeys and through these doors, sometimes for the first time, and help them to overcome barriers and get what they need to thrive.

The political system needs social workers to speak out and to help make sure that closed doors reopen, new doors are built, and old problematic doors are removed so that everyone across Ontario can get the access to equitable resources, community and support they need. The personal is political, and open doors provide hope. 

  1. Do you know what kind of work you’d like to do once you’ve completed your degree? 

As of right now, I would like to continue working in political advocacy and policy efforts. These opportunities are relatively recent in my career, and I would like to spend more time building up my skillset in this area and learning as much as possible before moving onto my next endeavor.  

  1. What does Social Work Month mean to you?  

Social work month is a time to highlight and celebrate the important work that social workers do every day across all levels. Each facet of social work plays a crucial part in promoting social justice, walking alongside and empowering individuals and communities, and enhancing the opportunities and wellbeing to those the system leaves behind, often being equity-deserving communities.

I think the theme #SocialWorkOpensDoors speaks amazingly to how social workers strive to advocate for social change, uphold values of dignity, equity and justice, and improve wellness for people across Ontario. 

  1. What are some tips you’d like to provide to current or prospective students who may be considering a career in social work? 

I have four tips for future social workers.

First, spend time exploring all of the different aspects that social work has to offer. The best way to learn is to get in there and do the work – the experiences you will have on the frontlines is invaluable and will help you at all levels of social work (with individuals, communities, and systems).

Second, question everything. Ask questions like why are things the way that they are? Are policies still relevant? Is anybody being left behind with current policies? Being critical of systems is a huge part of social work.

Third, find a community with other social workers. This work is not easy, but finding collective care from people who also get the work is paramount in maintaining your wellbeing.

Finally, do not be afraid to get political. The political world feels intimidating at first, however your voice and experience is important in ensuring there is access to equity, wellbeing and hope, starting from the top down.