Private and charitable groups in society



I wish to begin with a few words of special appreciation for Dr. Ron Feinstein of your organization. Dr. Feinstein was one of the pioneers of the human service education movement. I have been privileged to have been with him in perhaps two dozen meetings as we forged some of the concepts and directions for the movement. I always found him to be knowledgeable, critical, analytic, and positively involved. It was a pleasure to have known him and worked with him, but I especially want to mention his leadership here because he was one of our most active human service educators in the area of public policy development and political action. A few months ago he died from a heart affliction while in the office of a Pennsylvania state senator on such a mission. We shall miss him.

In modern times the primary sanction and funding for both human service delivery programs and human service educational programs is government. The days when churches or private charitable organizations provided the major impetus for health and welfare services and funding have long receded despite some nostalgic urgings that somehow a “thousand points of light” might assume this responsibility. There are still many private and charitable groups involved in human service delivery, but most of them receive both their sanction and much of their funding from federal, state, or county governments. By sanction, I mean their charters and licenses for the programs and their staffs, required standards of operation, tax exemption, liability, and often public oversight. Funding may be provided through direct government grants or contracts or the fees from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Virtually all human service educational programs are located either in public institutions or in institutions that receive much of their funding from government sources.

Thus, for self-interest alone, human service educators must be involved in public policy and politics related to human services. In addition, human service educators, with their depth of understanding of human service needs and programs, should be involved in helping key government officials make better policy decisions for the human services. It is sometimes sad to see educators from the human service education programs turn away from involvement in policy development and politics or, worse yet, to constantly criticize and express contempt for public officials and politicians. Such an attitude helps no one, least of all one’s own program and its graduates. Many of the most effective human service educators are active in public policy developments and find that their programs and graduates are more frequently requested and better regarded as a consequence.

The two areas of public policy and politics are closely related.

Public policy development is the process of helping national, state, and local governments and professional and voluntary associations decide what laws, regulations, programs, philosophies, and values are to be implemented and how. It also involves deciding how to obtain the funds and other necessary resources for the programs.

Politics is the process of nominating and electing officials to legislative and top executive positions in local, state, and federal governments (and sometimes judges) and drafting and enacting legislation to implement major policy directions.


It is generally in the area of public policy development that human service professionals can have their greatest impact, but it is also the area in which they are least involved—at least as organized groups. This is probably because public policy development is not as well defined or as well publicized as politics. In fact, many times elected and appointed officials of government seem to have no particular interest in policy development—they have no vision of where they want their agency to be or how to get there. This is no different from private corporations or voluntary organizations that have no policy or planning mechanism for the future but simply keep on doing what they have always done despite changing times and needs.

There seem to be cycles in our society when we expect our institutions to behave in progressive and purposeful ways, while at other times in the cycle there is a trend to be preoccupied with the immediate bottom line. Such conservative thinking discourages policy development and planning; planning staff and research and development personnel are let go as “unnecessary middle-level managers.” The disadvantages soon become evident, and then the cycle changes. As a nation we have been through a twelve-year cycle of conservatism, but now the tide appears to be turning. Unfortunately, the excesses of the recent past have left huge deficits and debts that will impede our nation and our institutions for some time to come.

But that is all the more reason for careful policy development, and it is likely that we shall see much more of it in the future. However, governments and all our agencies and institutions, primarily as a result of litigation and court orders, have recently begun to establish mechanisms for more sharply defining their policies and procedures, and those mechanisms provide the route for our inputs into the policy-making process. Among them are the following:

1. Regulation writing. Legislation is generally very broad in scope and leaves to the operating agencies the responsibility for developing the necessary policies, procedures, regulations, and so on. This is the process called “administrative law.” Thirty years ago, this was likely to be a haphazard process that too frequently was never formally done or committed to writing. However, as a result of lawsuits from clients, families, staff, and so on, governments have instituted a whole set of legally mandated procedures for “administrative rule making.” The procedures almost always provide for public hearings and comments and suggestions from interested individuals and organizations. This is where the inputs of human service educators should be made through the following steps:

a. Learn the legal requirements and procedures of the administrative rule-making process for the relevant units of government and get on their mailing lists to receive notices of public hearings, dates, names of responsible official persons to receive comments, and so on for the writing of specific regulations.

b. Participate in public hearings. This may require making appointments to appear on the program and preparing written statements for the hearings. It is generally desirable to participate in hearings as an organization rather than as an individual, but either is generally acceptable. Presentations at hearings should be documented as much as possible and be cognizant of the realities of budgets, geographic realities, and so on facing the agency.

c. Send in written comments to preliminary drafts of regulations if one is unable to be present at the hearing. This is an entirely acceptable forum for letters from individuals. It is always best to make specific and well-documented suggestions rather than simple statements that the drafts are unacceptable or one-sided statements with no documentation or with biased documentation.

2. Advisory Bodies to Public and Voluntary Agencies. At still another level, public and voluntary agencies increasingly make use of citizen boards, advisory groups, and private consultants. Human service educators should be represented on such citizen bodies. Their organizations should take the initiative to suggest names of their members who will serve on those bodies, especially at the national and state levels, but there is nothing wrong with the educators suggesting their own names and their willingness to serve, especially to local agencies. Here, too, the persons who serve in such capacities should expect to represent the best interests of the total agency but also speak to the interests of the human service profession and its ed

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