On Feb. 18 and 19, Valpo social work students and staff members took part in Legislative Educational Advocacy Day (LEAD). They road-tripped down to the Indianapolis Statehouse to immerse themselves in lobbying work.
The purpose of LEAD is to give all Valpo social work students a meaningful, real and educational department-wide policy advocacy experience involving observing a legislative session and committees, interacting with legislators and acting as educated social justice advocates.
LEAD was started three years ago. Before this year, students attended a conference in Indy and didn’t have the immersive experience that they are offered today. It wasn’t until Caroline Ban, visiting assistant professor of social work, brought up how students could actually do advocacy work that LEAD transformed into something more.
The trip is mandatory for seniors, but all other years are encouraged to go, especially juniors because they will be required to do the assignment the following year.
Senior social work majors are tasked with advocating for a policy of their choosing to legislators at the Capitol. Their goal was to make representatives aware of how the bill could be improved or identify problems that inhibit the bill from helping who it’s supposed to. They started working on these projects in January.
The committee of students in charge of this year's trip was Samantha Burgett, Jessica Luth, Lesley Barajas and Nancy Engel.
Juniors were assigned a senior to shadow to get a better understanding of what would be expected of them next year.
I had the opportunity to shadow some seniors and watch as they pulled legislators off the floor to discuss the bills they were advocating for. One of these students was Abby Koselke. The bill she chose is considered “alive,” which meant that the committees it was sent to decided that it had enough merit to continue onto the Senate or the House.
The bill she was advocating for was SB192 which deals with medicaid review for children in psychiatric hospitals. Koselke noticed that this act excluded children from hospital stays.
At the Statehouse, she pulled Representative Steven Davisson off the floor and advocated for an amendment of the language. Koselke talked about her work at Porter Regional Hospital and how children with mental health problems are transferred out after a 72 hour hold. She talked about how children that are a serious threat to themselves or others and children with dual diagnoses need to be included in this bill.
Representative Steven Davisson agreed to file the bill, but decided it would be better to wait to amend the language because there was a risk the bill could then become dead.
Students also were given the opportunity to attend an advocacy session with Representative Earl Harris Jr. He was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 2016. Harris talked with students about his background and how he ended up becoming a state representative.
The main takeaway from the LEAD trip for most students is the importance of advocacy and how everyone is capable of being an advocate. There are many issues that people are unaware of and it’s crucial that these are brought to their attention. To be an advocate means to change “what is” into “what should be.”