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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Larry D. Watson

Pioneering Contributions

Larry Watson, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, has made significant and trailblazing contributions to the profession of social work throughout his 50-year career. His impacts have been broad and deep in many areas of social work.  He has worked as a practitioner, an administrator, an academician, an author/researcher, and as an advocate for people in need.  

As a 22-year-old juvenile probation officer in Amarillo, Texas, Watson witnessed the number of children placed in adult jails for running away from home.  While completing an MA in criminal justice, he conducted a research project, often cited, which documented children being jailed for noncriminal behaviors.  He was a founding board member of the Texas Coalition for Juvenile Justice, an organization that advocated for the removal of children from Texas jails.  Still in his 20s, Watson spearheaded a community-wide effort to create a community nonprofit agency to divert youth from the criminal justice system. 

He became the founding director of Team Resources for Youth (TRY) in Amarillo.  While directing the fledgling nonprofit, Watson began graduate school and was awarded an MSW degree in 1980. The Amarillo Chapter of NASW awarded him with Outstanding Social Worker of the Year that same year. 

During the 1980s, he and others formed the Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) to advocate for excellence in services to children and youth.  The organization was successful in securing state-level funding for youth services to supplement funding from the Runaway Youth Act.  TNOYS still exist today. These early advocacy efforts have had a positive impact on thousands of Texas children and youth over the decades. 

When Team Resources for Youth merged with Catholic Family Services of the Texas Panhandle (CCTXP) - Amarillo, Watson became the director of social services there.  In this capacity he was able to work in many areas of social services: emergency assistance, adoption, mental health, youth shelters, refugee resettlement, and homemaker services, to support families under the supervision of Child Protective Services.  

Within a few years, Watson was appointed CCTXP-Amarillo Executive Director.  It was remarkable that the bishop and board of trustees were willing to appoint a protestant social worker to head their agency.  While there, Watson developed an alternative approach to ensuring that clients would receive food in a way that protected their dignity.  A storefront was converted to a small convenience store and clients who were in need could come and “shop” rather than having to explain their situation. This project demonstrated Watson’s ongoing and unrelenting commitment to protect people’s dignity.
It was during Watson’s tenure at Catholic Charities that he developed a strong interest in adoption services. This led him to accept a position at Methodist Mission Home (MMH) in San Antonio, Texas. By the time he arrived, the agency had placed over 5,000 children in adoptive homes. The agency was the typical mainline adoption agency whose practice was based on secrecy.  Birth mothers would relinquish rights to their newborn baby and the agency would place them with families who had gone through a vetting process as well as rigorous childcare education at home. This was typical practice in the 1980s and is still the practice of some adoption agencies today.  

As Watson tells it, he observed a debate between two adult adoptees on “open adoption” at a conference that made a lasting impact on his views of the practice of adoption.  There had been a limited movement toward openness, but no traditional agency in Texas had adopted these more open practices. Watson and his adoption team set out to transition the agency’s practices to a totally open adoption model: in other words, birth parents would choose the parents for their child from the agency’s list of approved couples, and the agency would make a strong commitment, through post-adoptive services, to reunite adult adoptees with their birth families. The traditionalist Methodist leadership agreed to implement new processes supporting open adoption and, as a result, Watson’s efforts significantly improved the field of adoption to the benefit of birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents.  

In 2000, Watson accepted the position of assistant dean for administration at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work, his alma mater. In addition to administrative work, he taught macro practice and advanced administration to students pursuing a career as social work administration. In 2007, he completed his PhD in Public Administration, joined the faculty, and continued teaching and research until his retirement from the University in 2016. 

Career Highlights 

Watson’s career highlights include: 16 years at University of Texas at Arlington; 14 years at the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio, Texas; four year with Catholic Family Services in Amarillo, Texas; and four years as founding executive director of Team Resources for Youth (TRY) in Amarillo, Texas.

Watson has made significant contributions to the profession of social work. He has been a member of NASW for over 40 years.  He served one term on the National Board of NASW as a regional representative and on the PACE Board during his tenure. Additionally, he served as President of NASW Texas from 2013- 2016 and as chair of NASW Texas TPACE from 2010-2012. 

Biographic Information  

Larry Dan Watson was born on April 27, 1949 in Lubbock, Texas. He is a fifth generation Texan and the son of a Methodist Minister.  He and his wife Judy have been married for 54 years and live in Grand Prairie, Texas.   He says that Judy has been with him through four degrees, three nonprofits and two universities. They are the proud parents of a clinical social worker and equally proud grandparents of a University of Texas student.  Larry and Judy love to travel the world with their friends.  Between trips he sees clients in his private practice and co-authored three text books since his retirement from UTA-Arlington.

He received his BS in Secondary Education, Texas Tech University (1971), followed by his MA in Criminal Justice Administration at Sam Houston State University (1975). He then earned an MSSW from the University of Texas at Arlington (1980) and a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington (2007).

Since retiring from UTA Watson has developed a clinical practice in Arlington, Texas, and is a respected clinician in the mental health community. He continues to practice, write, and advocate in his retirement years.  He is, indeed, a social work pioneer.  

Significant Recognitions and Awards

Awards and significant recognitions awarded to Watson include: Lifetime Achievement Award - Dallas Branch NASW, 2016; Charlie Kymes Award - San Antonio Area Rehabilitation Association, 2000; Distinguished Alumni Award - University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work, 1999; and Outstanding Social Worker of the Year Award - Amarillo Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, 1980.

Significant Publications

Watson often referred to himself as a “pracademic,” meaning an academic with the experience of a practitioner.  During his university career, he was able to effectively articulate the knowledge gained through decades of teaching, research and service.  He is the author or co-author of 16 peer-reviewed articles and four textbooks. A sample of his articles and books include: 

Articles: Watson, L. (2004). Degenerative policy design: An examination of sealed adoption record policy. The Social Policy Journal, 3(4), 39-51.
Watson, L. & Cobb, N. (2012). Ethical issues in the use of putative father registries in infant adoption: Implications for administrators and practitioners. Adoption Quarterly. 15(3) 206-219.
Watson, L. D. (2012). Factors influencing the relationship between contract providers and a state funding agency, Administration in Social Work, 36:4, 343- 358.

Watson L. & Hoefer, R. (2014). Developing nonprofit and human service leaders: Essential knowledge and skills. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Hoefer, R. & Watson, L.D. (2022). Program Development Grantwriting & Implementation: From Advocacy to Outcomes. San Diego: Cognella. 
Watson, L.D. & Hegar, R.L.  (2014). Issues in Intercountry Adoption: Meeting the Challenge of Inequality.  World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development, Melbourne, Australia 7/9-7/12.

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.