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Diana Ming Chan (1929 - 2008)

California Social Welfare Archives: Oral History

Diana Ming Chan: Her National Legacy



Ms. Diana Ming Chan, LCSW, ACSW was a professional social worker for 54 years after receiving her Masters in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. As with many great pioneering social workers, Ms. Chan worked tirelessly in direct services during this period. She directed youth and family programs in Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco and completed her direct service career as a school social worker in San Francisco in 2000.

Early on, Ms. Chan shared her knowledge and experience through teaching - with social work students and with the parents of the families she was serving. Ms. Chan taught at City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University and at many community agencies and public schools. Ms. Chan also served as an educator and trainer at the Shun Tin Children and Youth Center in Hong Kong.

Ms. Chan broke the "color" barrier as the first Cantonese speaking Chinese MSW in San Francisco Chinatown. She helped bring the “cultural" in cultural competence through her work and training with many social workers in clinics, churches and other private non profit organizations. She advocated for the recruitment and training of social workers of color during the civil rights and War On Poverty eras.

One of Ms. Chan's greatest accomplishments was her work translating the lessons of direct service to policy. As a lifelong youth and family social worker, Ms. Chan became resolute in her conviction that prevention and early intervention were critical services to helping all students and families become or remain healthy. She saw that this was especially true for immigrant families.

In this respect, Ms. Chan personally began a monumental effort to convince policy makers to increase the number of school social workers in the San Francisco Unified School District. Unlike other states, California is a notorious latecomer to utilizing school social workers and has one of the lowest ratio of school social workers to pupils (one school social worker per 25,000 pupils). Additionally, other pupil support services personnel were underutilized in California schools including school nurses, school counselors and psychologists.

Ms. Chan committed herself to change policy by educating policy makers on the critical need for school social workers and actually increasing funding for school social workers. There is no greater social work than changing policy that results in measurable outcomes at the direct services level.

Her first task was to demonstrate the value and need for school social workers. Her request was politely declined by the San Francisco Unified School District given the dire budget situation. As usual, the threat of laying off school teachers and closing schools held higher priority than increasing pupil support personnel such as school social workers.

Undaunted, Ms. Chan reacted to this in classic professional social work fashion, "I’ll show you how important it is and I'll give you a way to do it." Ms. Chan organized. She formed a committee, the Learning Support Services Advocates (LSSA) to find a way to increase school social workers in the district. She teamed with the NASW California Chapter and the NASW Foundation to endow the "Learning Springboard" fund of nearly $1 million to pay for half the salary of two school social workers. Additionally these school social workers would take on social work interns from San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley to provide social work services in the schools.

Fresh from this success, Ms. Chan did not stop. Her LSSA included a school nurse, which led to joint advocacy efforts by social workers and school nurses to increase pupil support services in the schools. She was well known in school support circles in San Francisco for her innovative and effective dumpling diplomacy. She invited top policy officials to her home to share a delicious Chinese dinner and to hear about her passion for school social work. With the nurses, Ms. Chan was able to effectively lobby the Board of Education $1.5 million to hire five school social workers and five school nurses. In the following year, the number was doubled for each profession.

In 2007, Diana was elected a Social Work Pioneer®, received the NASW California Chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award and was elected to the California Social Work Hall of Distinction, University of Southern California, School of Social Work.