Interview with Elizabeth Palley – Professor at Adelphi University | Social Policy

About Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW: Elizabeth Palley attended a joint MSW and JD program at the University of Maryland. She graduated from law school in 1996 and completed her MSW in 1997. Following graduation, she worked at a nonprofit that addressed issues related to childhood lead poisoning and then as an attorney practicing special education and family law for a year. She returned to school in 1999 to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Policy at the Heller School at Brandeis University. Palley completed that degree in the fall of 2002 and began teaching at Adelphi University in New York at the same time. Since that time, she has been on the faculty at Adelphi University. She started as an assistant professor and is now a full professor. Elizabeth Palley was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] One of your stated goals as a professor of social work at Adelphi University is to help your students “understand the role they can have as both citizens and professionals in helping to shape policy.” What role do social workers play in shaping policy? How do you prepare your students to fill that role?

[Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW] Social workers have many different roles, both to influence policy design and to influence the ways in which policy is actually implemented on the ground. Social workers can be legislators and they can work as advocates helping to draft legislation. They also have a role to play by voting, writing letters, demonstrating, and encouraging their clients to vote and exercise their political power as much as possible. In order to influence policy, legislators have to believe that you have the power to get them into office or get them kicked out. Poor people are often disenfranchised and social workers may be in a position to help them learn to advocate for themselves not only on an individual level but also on a community (meso) or larger societal (macro) level.

Much of my research is about policy implementation. Once laws are passed, things do not always change as intended. This is an area where social workers can have great influence. They are often in a position both to inform legislators about the unintended harmful consequences of policies and to figure out ways in which their clients can be helped despite policies that are not as helpful as one might hope they would be. For example, my current research looks at the impact of child care policies on child care providers. In New York, providers now have quarterly inspections. In many instances, the inspectors are not there to provide guidance to the providers but rather to sanction them for misdeeds. Many are not trained child care providers themselves and require the providers to neglect their care of the children to fulfil administrative demands.

Social workers who work with children in these settings can become aware of the limitations of the existing regulations and make policy recommendations that can better ensure the health and safety of the children in care.

Social workers who work in organizational settings are often policy implementers themselves. For example, there are guidelines for what is child abuse but they have some discretion when interpreting what they have seen or heard. In hospital settings, they can exercise discretion in interpreting medical requirements to ensure that someone who needs to stay in the hospital another night may be able to do so.

[] Your research interests include disability policy. Policy-wise, what are the greatest challenges facing people with disabilities today? How can social workers help address these challenges?

[Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW] There are many great policies for people with disabilities such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These laws are all designed to help people with disabilities and, ultimately, to make them employable. At the same time, people with disabilities have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the United States. Laws are only as good as the people who implement them. Discrimination still exists and gaps in health care coverage make it difficult for people with severe disabilities to exit the workforce and return when they are able.

Social workers may be able to help people with disabilities understand their rights as well as the limitations of these rights. They may also be able to help them deal with the limitations they may experience as a result of their disabilities. They may also be able to help them change local, state or federal legislation to help better meet their needs. The way in which social security disability is currently structured makes it difficult for people with chronic health conditions to be able to maintain their health care and their jobs.

Young children as well as elementary and secondary education students with disabilities should be able to access a lot of services through their schools to enable them to receive a meaningful education. Depending on the state in which they live and district in which they reside, these services may be better or worse. Understanding the services to which you or your child may be entitled is the first step and a step with which a social worker can help. Social workers can also refer people with disabilities to protection and advocacy lawyers who can represent them in court if needed.

[] You recently wrote a book about child care policy in the United States. Why is this an issue that should be on the forefront of social workers’ minds?

[Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW] Most women work, and in the United States, we do not have adequate social systems to ensure that all children are safe and receiving high quality care. There is also a lot of research that has been done about the importance of early education and brain development for children younger than 5. However, many children do not receive quality care and some are left in dangerous situations. Quality child care is expensive, even for middle- and upper-middle-class families. Well-developed societies address the needs of those who cannot help themselves.

Further, most poor people in the United States are women with children. We have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialized world. We have a welfare system in the United States that requires women to work. If women are working, they need some place to leave their children. By providing government subsidized quality child care for all children, we could eliminate many of the educational gaps that exist between poor and middle class and rich children when they begin first grade. This is a social justice issue that should be on the forefront of social workers’ minds.

[] The MSW program at Adelphi University offers traditional in-person courses as well as online and blended ones. Have you had the opportunity to instruct either an online or blended course?

[Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW] All of our courses now include a blended component. I have not taught a completely online course. I think that what distinguishes online interaction from in-class interaction is that in classes people have more of an opportunity to develop friendships and to network. In other words, it is often the student interaction that is different. I have used voice thread and other methods of interaction in my blended courses, but they lack the fluid interaction that is possible in a classroom setting. The strength of the blended model is that it allows for both in-class interaction and online learning.

[] Each semester of AU’s MSW curriculum involves field instruction. Why is field instruction so integral to social work training? Any advice to students just beginning their field instruction?

[Elizabeth Palley, Ph.D., JD, MSW] The field is where students have the opportunity to learn to understand how what they learn in their textbooks and in class (be it online or in person) can be applied. We are ultimately training all students to be able to practice in the field and a field placement provides that hands-on opportunity.

Thank you Elizabeth Palley for your time and insight into social work!

Last updated: April 2020