U.S. Rep. Frank Farry Returns to Cairn

U.S. Rep. Farry Speaks in Cairn Social Policy Class
Currently in his sophomore term as non-partisan U.S. representative for Pennsylvania’s 142nd district, Rep. Frank Farry has spoken in Dr. Juliet Campbell-Farrell’s Social Policy course for four consecutive years.

Why come to Cairn?
“They came to me first!” Farry explained, referring to the Social Policy classes’ annual participation in Day on the Hill, the Harrisburg event for citizen lobbyists at which he first met Campbell-Farrell and her Social Work students.  “They have the Big Picture in mind,” he states, an important characteristic in light of what Farry believes is a growing disconnect between elected officials and their constituents.
Helping future social workers grasp this “Big Picture” is the reason Farry returned again to campus on November 13, 2013.  That picture, he warns, is not always a pretty one.  Describing his experiences with the election and legislative processes, he knows students may walk away with a “slightly negative” view—“but knowing these things helps them to navigate the system in order to be a more successful legislator, which ultimately means helping people more effectively.”
Why do social workers, particularly, need to understand the workings of government?  According to Farry, everyone benefits when social workers get involved in legislation.  First and foremost, involvement helps protect the means of assistance for the needy in our communities.  “If part of your job is to coordinate care for those with special needs,” Farry explains, “and that funding gets cut, it affects your ability to do your job.”  However, more than funding is at stake, as Farry made clear through his explanation of his work addressing the rights of recovering addicts in Pennsylvania’s unregulated recovery houses.
Hearing from social workers helps officials to address such complex situations wisely.  “When you pass a law, it never affects just one thing,” Farry explains, illustrating the point with an example of an unforeseen gap in the implementation of Megan’s Law.  “You make sex offenders’ information public; you require them to attend counseling… but suddenly, the mom down the street is outraged to discover that offenders are being counseled in her neighborhood.  Then you realize, ‘Oh, we need to write a bill requiring appropriate notification to local law enforcement.’”  With involvement from people in the social work field, officials may be able to foresee such complications and write them into legislation in the first place.
This perspective and favorable legislation are not the only reasons why social workers’ civic action is valuable.  Social workers themselves benefit, as well.  “The news is slanted,” Farry reminds students, “because they need to make sure that their bottom line is taken care of.  So if you see something and think, ‘That’s not right,’ call your legislator.” Keep in mind that, as elected officials with a diverse base of constituents and multiple issues at hand, representatives “are operating with more information than the average citizen has.”  All the same, Farry encourages students, “you may still give us information that we don’t have.  Your perspective is valuable.”  At the very least, constituent phone calls help officials set priorities: “If nobody emails me about an issue, I don’t assume that no one in the community has an opinion of it—but I do think, ‘This must not be something that has my constituents fired up.’”
Fortunately, according to Farry, Cairn social work students are exactly the type of citizens who get involved.  Besides their role as citizen lobbyists, “they’re choosing careers where they’re helping folks.  They choose to give back, to volunteer.  They convey those values to other people in their community.”  After sticking around post-lecture to discuss internships and resources with students and faculty members, Farry grins as the last of the students filter out:
“These are the game changers.”


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