Featured NASW Chapter Executive Director Profile
NASW Iowa Chapter (NASW-IA) Executive Director, Denise Rathman, worked with the NASW Foundation and the University of Iowa
School of Social Work, in 2018-2019, to assess the Iowa social work labor force. The initiative was funded by a generous $50,000 grant from the Telligen Community Initiative
“We wanted to gather information in a concise and organized way that would allow us to make the case that we need more professional social workers in the state of Iowa and how professional social workers can improve the lives of Iowans,” according to Denise.
Two key outcomes of the initiative, she said, are that NASW-IA now has “an excellent action plan that will serve as a roadmap as we work to collect the data we need to do our advocacy work for the profession. We have a better understanding of why some organizations don’t always look to hire social workers.”
Additionally, Denise said, “We needed hard data to confirm our suspicions that we need additional culturally and linguistically diverse professional social workers to serve the diverse populations of Iowa, more professional social workers to serve older Iowans, and additional professional social workers in our more rural counties.”
To read the full report and an executive summary, please follow the links below.
The project was funded by the Telligen Community Initiative to initiate and support, through research and programs, innovative and farsighted health-related projects aimed at improving the health, social well being and educational attainment of society, where such needs are expressed.
More About Denise Rathman and the NASW Iowa Chapter
Denise has served as NASW-IA Chapter Executive Director since December 2013. About her role, she said, “I enjoy talking to social work students and supervising field placement students and getting them excited about policy and advocacy.”
That sentiment dovetails with her love of social work: “I like that social work is not simply focused on human services—it also focuses on solving social justice problems in a way that makes sense for the way people act in society—i.e. human behavior and the social environment.”
Working toward a strong advocacy effort for NASW-IA is one of her most important accomplishments, she said, “We have raised our profile as an advocacy organization during my time here. We have built some relationships with key legislators that have made it possible for us to work with the majority party.”
While working to advance the interests of social workers in Iowa, she faces many of the same challenges that many of her peers face around the country. She said, “The hardest part of my job—and likely any social worker’s job—is balancing all of the priorities. There is simply no shortage of work to be done and trying to have a life as the only full-time employee of a 1.45 FTE shop is difficult at best. But then I think about all the social workers dealing with low reimbursement rates, unfunded mandates, and policymakers that often come across as mean-spirited and spiteful. I remember that my job is really not all that hard in comparison.”
Denise has worked in diverse career settings that included serving as a caseworker for a U.S. Senator, creating training programs for manufacturers, serving her second field placement during graduate school in NASW’s former government relations office in Washington, D.C., and handling Federal Election Commission compliance for a presidential campaign and a senior senator and his leadership PAC. She earned a BA from Drake University and an MSW from National Catholic School of Social Service. She was the recipient of the Gilman-Wells Award. Please visit the NASW Iowa Chapter website for more information about social policy, professional issues, continuing education, and other priorities.