Florida's Social Worker of the Year

USF’s Florida Kinship Center Director Anne Strozier earns local and state-wide recognition for her work.

Photo: Aimee Blodgett | USF News

By Barbara Melendez
USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (July 9, 2012) – When news program “60 Minutes” was seeking caregivers to interview for a story on kinship care, one of the show’s producers turned to Anne Strozier, co-founder and director of the University of South Florida’s Florida Kinship Center.

Strozier is now being recognized for her expertise and her contributions as an educator.

In June, Strozier was named the 2012 Social Work Educator of the Year for Tampa Bay and for the state of Florida by Florida’s National Association of Social Workers chapter.

Nominations and recommendations for this honor come from colleagues, students and the community. 

In addition to teaching courses on social work practice and human behavior, Strozier served as the School of Social Work’s MSW chair for more than 10 years. A licensed clinician, she has published in the areas of kinship care, substance abuse, incarceration and social work education.  

Over a long and distinguished career, one thing many of her students have learned is that to ask a question or simply wonder out loud about something could very well turn into more than they bargained for. 

“A student once said to me, ‘I think all students should have personal therapy before practicing, don’t you think?’  I recommended she turn her question into a research question and we proceeded to conduct a study on the topic.  Another student said to me, ‘All clients deserve to be touched when they need it,’ while a buddy standing close by said, ‘You should never touch a client.’ Those two students and I also conducted a study – on touch therapy.  Many a research project has begun this way.  They really do keep me learning, even after my 20 years here.”

Strozier, who co-founded the Kinship Center in 1998, has trained a great many of the social workers now working throughout the region. She knows all too well that these professionals don’t have it easy. Compensation and appreciation are not always abundant. 

“Social workers and social work students are amazing people,” she said. “They are dedicated to assisting others and they care deeply about helping people reach their potential.  They are serious about doing their jobs and doing them well.”

Doing it well is a result of rigorous education and training, something Strozier has dedicated her life to, with an emphasis on helping in therapeutic ways.

“Some programs emphasize administrative roles and community service functions but USF’s School of Social Work has always been committed to educating clinicians who go on to work clinically with individuals, families, children and community groups,” she said. 

“Our School of Social Work is not an easy program,” she said. “In fact, it’s a hard program.  The students make a lot of sacrifices – financially and personally.  Many have families of their own and have to say to them, ‘please give me this time.’  Between classes, internships and studying outside of that, it’s like a full-time job and some already have jobs.”

Students are placed in internships in approximately 200 local agencies including the Child Abuse Council, mental health centers, schools, courts, hospitals and many other settings.

“Our interns benefit from the real world experience and the agencies benefit from the training and expertise our students have to offer. We have a very strong professional advisory committee that lets us know what the community’s greatest needs are and we respond by emphasizing the relevant skills in our program and then send these well-trained professionals out into the world.” 

Strozier has seen social work training become increasingly interdisciplinary, with public health and nursing and the field of gerontology playing larger roles than ever.  “We truly are a professional school,” she said.  “That’s what it set out to be from the time it was initiated in 1975.”

Though in a field that continues to face cutbacks and hard times, social workers are needed now more than ever.  Students arrive in USF’s competitive undergraduate and graduate social work programs as young students and as more mature ones.  They have one thing in common. 

“Every student I meet brings compassion, dedication, and a deep commitment to social justice.  The idealism of social work students inspires me.  The sacrifice of social work students touches my heart. The excitement about learning pushes me to learn more.  I am very lucky to have spent all these years among bright, caring and deeply committed students.”

Strozier’s commitment and passion for studying the subject of kinship care in particular and helping the people engaged in caring for relatives’ children – is profound. That passion drives her to advocate year after year for the people she calls “unsung heroes.”  She’s active both locally and all the way to Tallahassee where she has taken on the job of educating legislators for the past decade.  

‘Legislators have gone from questions like, ‘What is kinship care?’ to a greater understanding of the problems family caregivers face,” she said. “Believe it or not, there are more than 350,000 being raised by their relatives in Florida.  That’s more than the number of children in foster care in the state. Most of these are grandparents who thought their child-rearing days were behind them and who have had to put off retirement – sometimes indefinitely.”

The most pressing issue is making the same benefits that routinely go to strangers available to relatives who care for their siblings, grandchildren, nephews, nieces or cousins whose birth parents are unable to do so.  In order to get help, children have to be removed from their homes and spend time the foster care system before official placement and many families understandably don’t want to put children through that.

“I never cease to be amazed by the extent to which people take on raising children with little or no help and sometimes these are people who desperately need financial and emotional support. Most are informal caregivers who don’t get the support they need.  They save states, counties and entire nations a lot of money because they love the children they are raising and want to keep them with the family.  But it costs a lot to raise a child.”

The center she founded empowers kinship care families by establishing and facilitating support groups.  Under her direction the center has developed curriculum and training for kinship caregivers and professionals and conducts research.  Grants totaling more than six million dollars have supported research and services for the Florida Kinship Center.

The highly-respected associate professor originally wanted to be anything but a social worker or have anything to do with the profession.  Her mother earned a master’s degree in social work in 1939. Strozier wanted to choose something different for her own life’s work. 

After earning a master’s degree in African American Studies, her desire to avoid social work didn’t last. Strozier “succumbed” to advice from friends to try one social work course.  She was immediately hooked and went on to earn an MSW – her second master’s – and then a doctorate in psychology, but “social work is the heart and soul of who I am,” she said. 

The one constant throughout Strozier’s schooling always has been a love of education – which came from her parents – both educators.  Her father, Robert M. Strozier, has a library named after him on Florida State University’s campus which students refer to as “Club Stroz.”  He served as president there from 1957 to 1960.

Upon receiving the Educator of the Year Award, she said: “Both my parents would be so proud today.” 

She later added, “I don’t think they’d be surprised though because of the deep love for education and helping others that they instilled in me. The rewards are priceless. I am a very lucky woman to have spent all these years among bright, caring and deeply committed students.  This wonderful award is beautiful icing on an already terrific cake.”

For more information on the Florida Kinship Center and its programs, or to find out how you can support the program, visit www.flkin.org; call toll-free anywhere in Florida 1-800-640-6444, or e-mail:  kinfo@flkin.org.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.