NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Mary McCarthy

Specific Pioneering Contributions

Mary McCarthy, PhD, has been a change agent throughout her career. Her work at University at Albany, statewide, nationally and internationally attests to the scope and impact of her contributions. She is a culture and institution builder and has facilitated partnerships across the nation on behalf of vulnerable children and families.

For several decades she has promoted social work with a focus on child welfare. Moreover, her research and dissertation have been foundational to her change leadership and capacity. She has helped to spearhead if not lead the growing scholarly and practice community addressing workforce issues as one key to improving child welfare outcomes for abused and neglected children in the child welfare system.

McCarthy has been the co-PI for the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute since 2008 and has been awarded over $75m in federal funds to effect change across the nation. In her leadership roles she has brought agencies, Tribes and universities together to foster improved workforce supports, baccalaureate and master’s level social work education and more effective organizational cultures in child welfare agencies using organizational health surveys and action teams.

She has been a social justice advocate and leader in her promotion of reforms in child welfare. She was one of the first to develop and advance a race equity tool kit and to expose the need to address implicit bias in child welfare decision-making in New York State. In fact, the “Blind Removal Process Toolkit” she created with her team has not only been scaled up statewide but other states have adopted the tool kit and practice. One goal of the toolkit is to reduce the overrepresentation of minority children in out of home care. Many child welfare agencies and their directors now confront implicit bias at every step in the decision-making process.

McCarthy and her team were able to show the need for race-blind decision-making and for more rigorous race equity agendas. Under McCarthy’s leadership, The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute has initiated race equity and decolonization agendas in all its sites. McCarthy’s leadership, research and innovations have helped to pave the way for this scale up and national social justice agenda. In her role as co-PI McCarthy is also key to advancing family centered, anti-racist and decolonizing work across child welfare systems.

Working with the national Advisory Board for the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, McCarthy is now preparing to build a practice community across the country addressing more family-centered and anti-racist and decolonized programs. McCarthy’s tireless pioneering successes can be attributed in part to the fact that she is an empathetic and savvy social work practitioner and scholar change agent.

Career Highlights

From 1987 to the present McCarthy has been at the University at Albany School of Social Welfare, serving as its backbone, leader, innovator and capacity-builder. Her roles in the University have included assistant field coordinator, undergraduate field coordinator, assistant dean for Student Services, assistant dean for development, interim associate dean, director of the MSW Program and director of the Undergraduate Program. During this time she has been promoted from a Lecturer I to a Lecturer II in the State University of New York system. This is an honor that few have achieved in the lecturer line. 

She was selected as a Fulbright Specialist in 2016 and has provided consultation and educational supports (lectures, training) to the Pafjadjaran University in West Java, Indonesia; Social Work program in Bishop Barham University in Uganda; at the Universidad Catolica Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo Chiclayo, Peru and Hallym University in the Republic of Korea. In these international roles she has helped to build social work programs and new practices with diverse and vulnerable populations.

Currently she serves as the director of the Social Work Education Consortium for New York State, involving child welfare and all the schools of social work, and has served as the co-PI for federal Children’s Bureau grants since 2003. Her grant awards total more than $80 million. Also, she has served as executive secretary to the NYS Association of Deans & Directors of Schools of Social Work from 1996 to 2017. Her leadership has led to new national transparency and data on the Association for Social Work boards, which contributed to improved passing rates for licensure across the country and New York schools.

In 2005 McCarthy was appointed to the Citizen Review Board for Child Welfare by the New York State Senate. She continues to serve in this role, working on a new definition of child neglect while shining a light on race equity and implicit bias. She has been co-chair and now serves as chair of this group. 

McCarthy has long been a leader in NASW at local, state and national levels. Since 1980, these roles have included: Northeast NY Division representative; steering committee member, secretary, vice president and president, and newsletter editor. At the NASW state level, she has served as president, and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, chair of the Committee on Nominations and Leadership Identification, Executive Directors Search Committees, Board of Trustees for PACE, and Child Welfare Issues Committee. At NASW’s national headquarters, McCarthy has served on the Finance Committee, Legal Defense Fund, Modernization Task Force, as Treasurer, and Region III Board Representative.

Other posts she has held include the Board for the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, the

Board for the Hudson Valley Community College Program for Human Services and Chemical Dependency Counseling, NYS Office of Mental Health Children Mental Health Advisory Committee. She also served on the Editorial Board for the Journal for Public Child Welfare.

Biographic Information

McCarthy received her BA in Sociology at State University College at Oswego (1973); her MSW from the School of Social Welfare, University at Albany, SUNY (1982); and her PhD from Memorial University of Newfoundland (2003).

Significant Recognition and Awards

McCarthy’s awards include: Lifetime Achievement Award, NASW-NYS 2021;

University at Albany President’s Award for Exemplary Public Engagement with the National

Child Welfare Workforce Institute 2019; Distinguished Continuing Professional Education Leadership Award 2012; SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service 2009-2010; University at Albany, President’s Award for Excellence, Professional Service, April 2010; Nazareth College and SUNY Brockport Departments of Social Work Leadership Award 2007; University of Newfoundland, Awarded PhD “With Distinction” for Dissertation entitled “The Relationship Between Supervision and Casework Retention in County-Based Child Welfare Systems” University at Albany Disabled Student Services Faculty Achievement Award 1993; Social Worker of the Year, NASW Northeast NY Division 1992.

Significant Publications 

These publications below reflect some of the dissemination that McCarthy has authored and fostered directly. What these do not reflect are the hundreds if not thousands of infographics, translational research briefs that she oversees in her role as the co-PI of NCWWI. NCWWI reaches over 36,000 people in the US.

Briar-Lawson, K., McCarthy, M., & Dickinson, N. (Eds.) (2013). The Children’s Bureau:  Shaping a century of child welfare practices, programs and policies. NASW Press, Washington, DC.  

McCarthy, M., & Huffman, R. (2022). The Centrality of the Workforce to Achieving Child Welfare Outcomes. In Anderson, G.& Briar-Lawson, K., (Eds.) University-agency partnership strategies and structures: Lessons learned from public and tribal child welfare and university programs. CWLA: Washington D.C.

Munson, S., McCarthy, M., & Dickinson, N. (2014). The Child Welfare Workforce. In G. Mallon & P. Hess (Eds.), Child Welfare for the 21st Century (2nd ed., pp. 624-642). Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 

Pryce, J., Lee, W., Crowe, E., Park, D., McCarthy, M., Owens, G. (2018). A case study in public child welfare: County-level practices that address racial disparity in foster care placement. Journal of Public Child Welfare. 13(1), 35-59.    

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.