Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Legislative Casework: Where Policy and Practice Intersect

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Legislative Casework: Where Policy and Practice Intersect

Article excerpt

Legislative casework is an ongoing activity in many state and federal legislative offices. Although the activity carries the implication of being a social work activity, there is little evidence from the literature, or in the field, that social workers are more than marginally employed in these positions. Reasons for the lack of professionally educated social workers in this important area of practice and politics are not clear. This paper explores the field of practice known as legislative casework, its history and purpose, and presents generalist social work examples from a Congressional district office wherein which professional social workers are employed. In conclusion the authors encourage social work presence in legislative casework and suggest increased attention to this field of practice in social work education at both the BSW and MSW levels

Key words: congress, casework, policy practice, community work, politics


Legislative casework, also known as constituent casework, has been an integral part of constituent services in state and federal elected offices for the better part of two centuries. The service takes a page from the historic practices of social work, yet largely without professional social workers in its ranks. Davidson and Oleszek define the practice as involving the fundamental social work tasks of mediating between the larger systems and the individual (Hoefer, 1999, 78). Legislative casework is micro and macro practice, using direct interventions while at the same time employing indirect social work roles, focusing on personal troubles linked to policy and regulatory issues. As a field of service legislative casework approximates many aspects of policy practice, because of its setting--in a political environment--its access to policy and regulatory change, and the linkage of constituent troubles to much larger social issues rooted in laws and program regulations. Social workers in this area of practice are poised to fill a gap identified by Haynes and Mickelson (2000) that links practice with policy change. This paper is largely a case example designed to provide an overview of legislative casework as it is practiced in a congressional district office.

At the federal level, all congressional district offices engage in some level of legislative casework, but it varies significantly from on district to another. Some congressional offices place a high priority on direct constituent services, while others place less of a priority on it. Regardless of the priority one thing congressional offices can count on is "an endless stream of constituent casework (Shapiro, 1998, 89)." The demand for casework service in district offices has increased significantly in the past few years. A study by the Congressional Management Foundation (Shapiro, 1998) reported, "53% of House offices and 42% of Senate offices receive between 1000 and 5000 cases each year, and 32% of Senate offices report more than 7500 cases annually (89)." These numbers represent a reported increase in services delivered by a majority of House and Senate offices. The average increase in casework services to constituents in the past five years is 35%. This is particularly significant because congressional offices also have reported that their caseloads have more than doubled since the 1980s (Shapiro, 1998).

The nature of casework requests, the type of casework delivered, and the priority the service receives in the office depend on a number of variables. These variables include: the district's unique needs; demographic factors such as significant populations of immigrants, aging, and veterans; temporal and historical characteristics of the district. For example, areas prone to natural disaster or those undergoing economic shifts, and the very poor or wealthy districts tend to use casework services more than middle-income districts (Johannes, 1980; Johannes and McAdams, 1987; Johannes, 1996). …

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