Kate Barrow wears many hats as a social worker, all of them infused with her drive for social justice and anti-oppression work. As the youth services coordinator and clinical social worker at the Midtown Community Court, she sees all youth under age 21 who pass through the court for mandated counseling and manages the youth programs. Soon she will also start serving adult clients. Additionally, Barrow conducts needs assessments, grant reporting, and research, contributing to her program’s foundation of evidence-based practices.
In each of these diverse responsibilities, Barrow consciously attempts to take a youth development and empowerment approach. In her direct client work, Barrow tries to bring a much-needed sense of humanity to the criminal justice system. “A lot of these youth have been in the criminal justice system for a long time,” she said. “To be able to collaborate with them and bring compassion to the work is very rewarding. We can make it feel useful for them, not just a lecture they’re mandated to attend every week.”
Of her NYU Silver School of Social Work education, Barrow said, “I didn’t realize how much I had learned until after the fact. I have refined my instincts, learned to ask better questions.” Barrow appreciates that NYU Silver professors taught her that clinical work is more than just therapy and even program development can be clinical. For example, the coordination of an agency’s volunteers can be viewed as a series of clinical exchanges. She explained, “This clinical base makes my needs assessments and program development work much more thorough.”
Another role that Barrow has taken on is that of community organizer. A few months after graduation, Barrow’s desire to be involved in anti-oppression work led her to create the RISE Conference and fill a gap in the social work community. She wanted to collaborate with other social workers and activists in the New York City area, but did not know how to find like-minded peers.
After a long conversation on a friend’s couch, the idea of the RISE Conference was born. Barrow envisioned a daylong social justice conference with multiple workshops and an interdisciplinary approach. She assembled a group of core organizers, and the first annual RISE Conference was held at NYU in September 2009. The conference drew 150 attendees, 30 volunteers, and 40 presenters, and offered 16 workshops. Among the sessions held throughout the day: an introduction to Undoing Racism, a course by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond; a presentation by Theater of the Oppressed; and educational and skill-building workshops.
Barrow continues to balance different types of work as she plans the second Rise Conference to be held this October and continues her job at the courthouse. Barrow’s long-term vision is for RISE to become a national movement with social workers addressing the three touchstones of education, training, and community. “If we can create this system, the impact will be exponential,” she said. “We will train new social workers who will carry an anti-oppression framework into everything they do.”