NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Helen Cloud Austin, ACSW
Helen Austin has made numerous contributions to the social work profession throughout her career spanning more than twenty five years. She began her career as a caseworker at the Cook County Psychiatric Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She later joined the staff of Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio where she worked as a caseworker, director of In-Patient Services, and later, chief of the In-Patient Services. In each of these positions, and throughout her career, she showed a deep interest and commitment to improving the quality of life for persons with mental illness.
In 1962, Mrs. Austin and her husband, a civilian employee of the United States Air Force, were transferred to San Antonio, Texas. Although she was initially ambivalent about their move to Texas, she recalled a lecture she had attended where she heard about the needs of the San Antonio State Hospital. She interpreted this as an omen, and when an appropriate position became available in 1965 at the San Antonio State Hospital, she was appointed the first African-American Chief of Social Services. She remained in this position until her retirement.
Helen Austin implemented a number of new programs at the San Antonio State Hospital (SASH) including an orientation program for newly admitted patients; Splash for SASH; SASH Mobile Unit— workshops designed to reacquaint judges with the needs of mentally ill persons; and the SASH Alternate Care Program —a community care program which has placed more than 300 patients in foster homes. This program serves as a model for helping persons with chronic mental illness to lead normal lives. She also initiated a Voter’s Registration program at SASH for over three hundred patients and hospital staff.
Ms. Austin has been active in her community, both professionally and politically. She is a Past-President of the Board of Directors of San Antonio Halfway Houses, and an Advisory Board member. She also served as a board member of Bexar County Mental Health Association, Bexar County MH/MRA Program, and the Wesley Community Center. Ms. Austin’s many honors and awards include: Black Women Achievers, honored by Gamma Phi Chapter, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority; Social Worker of the Year, San Antonio Unit, Texas Chapter, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), 1983; and the National Social Worker of the Year, NASW, 1984. During her trip to Washington, DC to receive this award, former Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez acknowledged her work in a speech to the House of Representatives. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award, San Antonio Unit, Texas Chapter, NASW (2001). This award was presented at an appreciation breakfast where Representative Ciro Rodriquez served as the speaker to honor Ms. Austin’s extraordinary career.
Helen Austin received a bachelor of arts degree and a master of science in social work degree from the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
Social Work Pioneer 2001