By Stan Paul
This year marks three decades since Gerry Laviña started doing social work. It can be a challenging job, but the director of the Field Education Program in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs says that his profession has more than returned the favor.
“Every day as a social worker I have the opportunity to be inspired … by students, colleagues, our community, other social workers and others that support social justice,” Laviña said.
For his remarkable body of work, Laviña has been named the 2016 Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The award is given by the group to professional social workers who have consistently demonstrated the core values of the NASW Code of Ethics: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, and integrity and competence.
He will be honored at the annual NASW-CA Social Work Conference Awards ceremony later this month.
Laviña began his educational and career path in social work by entering the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at UCLA in 1986, but his foundation and motivation started with lessons learned early in life.
“I come from a family whose father was an immigrant from the Philippines and mother is an immigrant from Honduras,” said Laviña, a licensed clinical social worker. “My family had a strong belief in education, and they daily reminded us of the privilege and opportunities we had — relative to others in our community and the world — and that we have a great responsibility to give back.”
Laviña has spent his career giving back in a number of roles: social worker, instructor, mentor and leader. His primary interests are working with children and families, particularly in the areas of school social work, mental health and multicultural issues.
“When I found social work terms like social justice and dignity of every human being, my family’s belief system came to life,” Laviña said.
Asked what qualities every social worker should possess, Laviña said: “Openness to learning and lifelong learning, flexibility, a willingness to meet every individual/family/community where they are, a commitment to serving those with the least resources, and a belief in diversity that is actualized in our work.”
The NASW honor acknowledges a social worker who has broad professional social work experience and has provided significant leadership in the field of social work. In addition, the Social Worker of the Year must have NASW and voluntary association experience, diverse and multicultural expertise, and have made a lasting impact on social policy, advocacy for clients and exceptional professional practice.
In UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare, Laviña is the faculty co-chair of the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) Committee; and faculty adviser for the Diversity Caucus and Latina/o Caucus. At Luskin, he also serves as the associate director of MSW education and as faculty adviser for the School’s D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative, for which he provides support and guidance to the D3 team and advises the dean on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
As the project coordinator for the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) Integrated Behavioral Health Program, a collaborative effort of California social work programs and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Laviña works with second-year MSW students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and contract agencies. Prior to becoming the director of field education, he served as field liaison with many local school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, developing and monitoring student internships in school social work and coordinating the Pupil Personnel Services Credentialing/SSW/CWA program. He also has served on the local and state-wide board of the California Association of School Social Workers.
In the classroom, he has taught an advanced practice course in school social work as well as courses related to diversity. He worked for several years as a field consultant for the Inter-University Consortium program, a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and the L.A. County MSW program.
Prior to joining the field faculty in 1993, Laviña was a social worker in the Family and Child Guidance Clinic of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City, where he was program coordinator and clinician in two different programs working with emotionally disturbed children and their families. He has also served as a contract assessor for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Children and Youth Services Bureau, and as a private practitioner.
NASW also recognized Laviña for his accomplishments outside academia, including his work with community organizations that promote diversity in education, such as Los Amigos Council of Para Los Niños and Trabajadores de la Raza. He has received numerous awards, including Field Faculty of the Year by the UCLA MSW student body and the UCLA Faculty-Staff Partnership Award.
“I am energized by the dialogue in Social Welfare, Luskin, UCLA and our community around diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Laviña said. “My family has discussed these issues throughout my life, and I have professionally been working on this directly and indirectly for 30 years. While I know the struggle continues, I feel realistically optimistic about what is happening.”