Grand Challenges

In 2017 the Wayne State University School of Social Work announced a 10-year initiative to advance the Grand Challenges for Social Work — an ambitious social agenda promoting individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a more just society. Led by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare with support from the National Association of Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education, the Grand Challenges represent a call to action to address 12 urgent social problems by harnessing social work's science and knowledge base and by collaborating with individuals, community-based organizations, and professionals from all fields and disciplines. For us, each of the Grand Challenges has a uniquely urban, uniquely "Detroit" face — but the exciting solutions we are producing can be adapted and adopted for use in all communities. 

For more than 80 years, the School of Social Work has responded to emerging challenges in Detroit through research collaborations, practice initiatives and community partnerships. As we rise to the Grand Challenges, we are proud to continue this tradition and to promote lasting, transformative social change for the benefit of all people, everywhere. We encourage you to view our Summer 2017 publication, Rising to the Challenge, or to click on a Grand Challenge below and explore the many innovative ways that our faculty, staff and students are conceptualizing the Grand Challenges within the context of our home in, and service to, Greater Detroit.

 

  • Ensure healthy development for all youth

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), each year more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems, yet strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge . For us, ensuring healthy development for all youth means developing national training programs for parents who adopt traumatized foster kids, spearheading field education initiatives to strengthen Southeast Michigan’s child welfare workforce, helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention understand risk factors that lead to youth sexual and dating violence in Detroit-area schools, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Close the health gap

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), more than 60 million Americans have inadequate access to basic health care – even as they endure the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. For us, closing the health gap means identifying barriers that prevent residents of rural Michigan from accessing opioid treatment, helping medically underserved areas in Michigan recruit and retain mental health care professionals, empowering Flint residents to shape their community’s recovery from the water crisis, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Stop family violence

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death, costing billions of dollars annually in social and criminal justice spending. For us, stopping family violence means helping violence-exposed parents cope with stress by singing lullabies to their babies, promoting supportive and culturally attuned help-seeking experiences for sexual assault survivors, identifying structural determinants of teen dating violence within macro and mezzo systems, and more. 

    Wayne State faculty conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Advance long and productive lives

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society. For us, advancing long and productive lives means helping aging Detroit residents receive long-distance care from adult children who have moved away, evaluating Adult Protective Services’ response to elder self-neglect, promoting innovative palliative and chronic care programs for Detroit’s most marginalized populations, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Eradicate social isolation

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), social isolation is a silent killer – demonstrated by national and global health organizations to have hidden, deadly, and pervasive hazards stemming from feeling alone and abandoned. For us, helping to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages means shaping better respond to elder self-neglect, understanding the role of caregiver death in homelessness, and more.

    Wayne State faculty conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • End homelessness

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night during the course of a year, and these periods of homelessness can have serious and lasting effects on personal development, health, and well-being. For us, ending homelessness means elucidating poorly understood causes for homelessness such as the death of a parent, providing key support to youth transitioning out of the foster care system, extending scholarships to Wayne State social work students facing housing or food insecurity, and more.

    Wayne State faculty conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Create social responses to a changing environment

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), climate change, urban development, and other environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being as they threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. For us, creating social responses to a changing environment means advising international policymakers on sustainable community development, raising awareness of the unique challenges facing older adults as a result of global warming, and more.

    Wayne State faculty conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Harness technology for social good

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities. For us, harnessing technology for social good means developing technology-based treatments for substance misuse disorders, developing online national trainings for sexual assault forensic examiners, producing online tools that allow residents and community-based organizations to make their cities more ecologically sustainable, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Promote smart decarceration

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), the United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars, however mass incarceration and failed rehabilitation have resulted in staggering economic and human costs. For us, promoting smart decarceration means evaluating interventions to divert individuals with severe mental illness away from the criminal justice system, contributing to society’s understanding of sex crime perpetration and policy, identifying effective treatments that can reduce recidivism after parole, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Reduce extreme economic inequality

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), the top 1% owns nearly half of the total wealth in the United States, while one in five children live in poverty. For us, reducing extreme economic inequality means helping foster youth pursue higher education and achieve permanency, educating Detroit residents on available relief for water shutoffs, connecting Flint residents to needed resources after the water crisis, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Build financial capability for all

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), nearly half of all American households are financially insecure – a sobering statistic that could be greatly improved by social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts, expand workforce training and re-training, and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services. For us, building financial capability for all means keeping youth who are aging out of the foster care system enrolled and thriving at Wayne State, developing programs to promote successful aging literacy for African American older adults, and more.

    Wayne State faculty conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

  • Achieve equal opportunity and justice

    According to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (2017), historic and current prejudice and injustice have long consigned some groups to society’s margins, confined and oppressed by racial and social injustices, stereotypes, unfair practices, and resistance to the diversity of the population. For us, achieving justice means working to stop water shutoffs that disproportionately affect Detroit’s poorest residents, maintaining a social justice committee to identify and address disparities and inequalities in local communities, encouraging students to advocate on critical issues before policy- and lawmakers, and more.

    Wayne State faculty and staff conducting research and community engagement activities in this Grand Challenge area:

We will create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities.