Dr. Valerie Werner, Ph.D., LMFT, is Program Director of the Adler School's Master of Arts in Public Policy & Administration program, providing concentrations in Human Rights Advocacy and in Urban Mental Health. She has extensive experience teaching and training students in the areas of public policy, administration and planning.
To truly examine public policies and work to improve them, we have to look at them from all sides to see how they affect people and communities.
This is what I teach my students in the Adler School’s M.A. in Public Policy and Administration program. I want them to think critically, and see how a policy is created, who is creating it, and who it is affecting.
This thinking comes from my personal experience with public policies, specifically the welfare system. I know the welfare system very well, because I have been involved in every angle of it.
At one point in my life, I needed help supporting my children, so I received welfare through the Englewood [Chicago] office. During my graduate studies in psychology, I was a welfare case manager in California. When I returned to Chicago for my doctorate, I did research on the welfare system and returned to the Englewood welfare office for information on the system of welfare distribution.
As a welfare recipient, I thought the system was unfair. As a case manager and researcher, I was appalled by how welfare was distributed, and how many recipients were treated with disrespect for needing these services.
My experience with the system stirred up many questions for me such as:
- Why aren’t welfare recipients sitting at the table when welfare policies are created?
- Why is the work of stay-at-home parents undervalued?
- How is it possible that a daycare worker who provides crucial early childhood care and nurturing all day barely make enough to pay the bills?
Our program is unique
Those are the kinds of questions that I want my students to consider when they look at policies. They need to be able to identify the important policy players including those whose lives are changed by policy decisions. Students need to understand the importance of civic engagement, and ways to encourage those affected by policies to engage in creating, reforming, and implementing policies. This is an essential step in creating healthier communities.
I believe our program is unique because the Adlerian principle of the fundamental creative power of individuals–their freedom to choose and direct change–is embedded in each class and is blended with the core knowledge and skills outlined by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA).
What sets our program apart is that in our classes, we explore society’s social and economic values through a social justice lens, and then consider ways of creating healthy communities that support individual health. For example, we examine key determinants of health at the community level and ways to strengthen those determinants that engage, empower, and improve health outcomes.
The Adler School is a natural fit for me because my value system is in line with the school’s mission to affect social change. We recognize the need to consider efficiency and economics in public policy but ultimately our goal is to identify and help pass policies that will create a more fair and equitable society.
About the Adler School
The Adler School of Professional Psychology has provided quality education through a scholar/practitioner model for 60 years. Its mission is to continue the pioneering work of Alfred Adler by graduating socially responsible practitioners, engaging communities, and advancing social justice. The Adler School enrolls more than 1,200 students in doctoral and master’s degree programs and offerings at its campuses in Chicago, Illinois, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and through Adler Online.
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