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Roland Ostrower

At a NASW, New York City (NYC)  Chapter meeting on October 26, 1977, the Chapter President, Gerald Beallor, honored Roland Ostrower as “our own ‘man without whom’ the NYS Third Party Payments Bill for social workers would not have become law.”   The NYC Chapter Newsletter of October, 1977 went further to write: “Although Mr. Ostrower graciously thanks many people for their help, it is he, above all, who deserves the gratitude of the entire profession in New York State for this landmark achievement.  Without his vision, his single-minded persistence, his energy and his amazing skill in negotiating and maneuvering the bill through the legislative labyrinth, this would not have come to pass.  Roland, we salute you!”   This honor for his work in passage of the insurance reimbursement bill was preceded some three years earlier by a plaque awarded to Mr. Ostrower also by the NYC Chapter on May 31, 1974, “In grateful recognition of distinguished service to social welfare and to the profession.”

Roland Ostrower was graduated from the New York School of Social Work in 1953 with an MS in Social Work from Columbia University.  He immediately became a member of the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers and subsequently, in 1955, became a Charter Member of the National Association of Social Workers.  He subsequently became a delegate to the 1960 National Delegate Assembly in Chicago, Illinois and later a member of the Board of Directors of the NYC Chapter NASW.  

His belief in the value of social work and its contribution to public health led to his conviction that this value would be greatly enhanced in the eyes of the public if the profession had the respectability and stature that comes with legal recognition and acceptance of the profession.  Thus, in 1956 he became a member of the NYC Committee on Legal Regulation of Social Work in New York State and shortly thereafter became its Chairperson.  His Committee eventually drew up a draft bill to certify social workers, which was presented to the New York State Council of Chapters.  Not only did they accept the bill and the goal of legal regulation but they in time appointed Mr. Ostrower as the Chairman of a statewide committee for legal regulation, under the auspices of the New York State Council of Chapters, NASW.  Mr. Ostrower had moved from the local NYC scene to the statewide level. 

His creative efforts were not just limited to legal regulation.  When employed by the Jewish Community Services of Long Island as Assistant Executive Director, from 1963 to 1966, he assumed direction of a joint program with the Hillside Hospital to provide to selected formerly hospitalized patients specific after care social services to enable them to live and function in the community.  Experience had demonstrated, since its inception in 1950, those services produced a lower rehospitalization rate.  His description of this work appears in Vol.3, No. 21, November 1, 1966 issue of “Frontiers of Hospital Psychiatry”.

Mr. Ostrower is also an accomplished therapist, contributing to education and the literature in this field.  Mr. Ostrower, as an Adjunct Professor of Social Work for the Hunter College School of Social Work, taught in their Post Master’s program for approximately five years.   In October of 1962, the Social Work Journal of the National Association of Social Workers published his article, “Study, Diagnosis, and Treatment: A Conceptual Structure”.  The School of Social Work at the University of Iowa subsequently requested and received permission from the author and from NASW to distribute reprints of the article at cost to its students.   Earlier, in April, 1961 he offered a unique blending of administration and practice in his article, “Agency Structure, Statistics and Casework Practice”, published in Social Casework.  His interests and skills were not limited to administration, casework practice, and/or legal regulation; he also focused on group therapy for children.  In April 1959 he was a collaborator with the group therapy staff of the Community Service Society of NYC in the publication in Social Casework of “Activity Group Therapy for Children in a Family Agency”.  He later was a joint author in an article published in the January 1962 issue of the International Journal for Group Psychotherapy entitled “Activity Group Therapy of a Dull Boy With Severe Body Ego Problems”.   While working at the Community Service Society in New York City (l955-1959) he not only functioned as a family caseworker but received training in and functioned as an Activity Group Therapist, working with groups of latency aged children. 

With regard to professional recognition, it should be mentioned that in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 1983, the Social Work Section of the National Academy of Practice elected Mr. Ostrower as “Distinguished Practitioner and Member” of the Academy, “In recognition of significant and enduring contributions to the Practice of the Health Professions” conveying “appreciation for true dedication to the furtherance of high quality health care in our Nation…”.    

In 1966, Mr. Ostrower became employed by the Children’s’ Day Treatment Center and School, a special education school which, at that time, serviced severely disturbed elementary school aged  children.  In 1969 the program’s support by the NYC Department of Mental Health was terminated and the program was voted to be dissolved by the Board of Directors.  However, they wished to continue serving latency aged children and asked Mr. Ostrower (the then Assistant Director) and Edna Baer, Chairperson of the Jewish Child Care Council of New York City to undertake a study and develop and recommend a program which they could establish for children.   This was accomplished and a new program to service latency aged children “who fell between the cracks” was established.  The Board of Directors accepted the proposal of Ms. Baer and Mr. Ostrower to establish a special education school to target such children and in 1966 appointed Mr. Ostrower as the school’s Director.   In the fall of 1966 – not more than three months after being appointed as the Director - the school was able to open its doors to a new population of children and with a new staff.  

Mr. Ostrower guided the school through many difficulties and problems, reaching a climax in the mid-1980’s when due to budgetary difficulties the NYC Department of Mental Health again withdrew funding from the school.   It was a bleak time yet Mr. Ostrower, determined not to let a valuable facility fail, managed to salvage the program.  He convinced the Board of Directors to continue the program, set it up as an independent school known as West End Day School and made it work.  Most of the money came from tuition which parents were now able to be reimbursed for through what is known as the “Carter Ruling” of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Basically the ruling provided that children who had special needs which could not be met in the public school system were entitled to have their children enroll in an independent school, the tuition for which would be reimbursed by the City.  He had turned the school from a NYC Department of Mental Health partially funded school into a “Carter School” partially funded by the NYS Department of Education and NYC Board of Education.  This valuable resource had once again been saved by Mr. Ostrower who remained its Director until his retirement in 2007.  

Throughout his professional career, Mr. Ostrower has been committed to legal regulation work.  To encapsulate it, as indicated above, he became Chairperson of the NYC NASW Committee on Legal Regulation.  As such, he worked extremely closely with the then Chairperson of the NYS Council of Chapters, NASW.  Their leadership resulted in a 1965 law restricting the title of Certified Social Worker to duly qualified persons.   For his work in helping to achieve Certification for Social Workers the State awarded Mr. Ostrower a special recognition license number – CSW # 000010.  After this accomplishment, Mr. Ostrower undertook the struggle for licensing of practice of the profession.  He became Chairperson of the New York State Council of Chapters Committee on Legal Regulation and ultimately organized a statewide “social work lobbying” group that resulted in the passage of a NYS licensing bill for social workers in the NYS legislature in May l974.  The bill was then forwarded to the Governor’s office.

Unfortunately, the then Governor Malcolm Wilson vetoed the bill in June 1974 – effectively ending our licensing drive.   Mr. Ostrower felt that it would be many years before a new licensing bill could be formulated, due to executive department opposition  and due to the increasing pressure of other mental health professions wishing to also be licensed so as not to be excluded from providing therapy.

Though disappointed by this turn of events, Mr. Ostrower was not disheartened and turned his attention to what he felt was another vital need of the social work profession, which he felt was obtainable in the short term.  This was to obtain legal sanction for insurance reimbursement for social work professionals.  While California had such a law, it stipulated that social workers could only be reimbursed if the patient was referred to them by a physician.  Mr. Ostrower felt such a restriction was not in the best interests of the public nor of the profession and aimed for a law that embodied equality of the professions. Just as physicians and psychologists provided therapy and insurance reimbursement was mandated for each separately so, too, should such services be mandated for reimbursement when provided by social workers. 

In the early 1970’s,  Mr. Ostrower contacted a junior assembly person from Harlem in NYC (Marie Runyon) who agreed to sponsor a bill if Mr. Ostrower would present one to her.  He arranged for such a bill to be drawn up and submitted it to Ms. Runyon who originally introduced it into the Assembly.  While the bill passed the Assembly, it never got out of Committee in the Senate.  

This action represented a turning point.  Few in the profession had expected the kind of support the bill received, especially since there was almost no lobbying for it.   After seeing how far the bill moved with such little outside support, the NASW and the NYC Chapter in 1973 agreed to support the bill, which was reintroduced.   It again failed.  Finally, about five years after its original introduction, with much additional effort and work at the local and state levels, the bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Hugh Carey on August 11, 1977.  This was indeed a “landmark achievement!”

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