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    Hope and Change: Interview with the New NASW CEO Dr. Angelo McClain

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    Over the course of my career, I have experienced at least 15 leadership changes, and the atmosphere before the new leader arrives is always the same. Each time, employees or members are hoping for a leader that will take their concerns seriously, improve conditions, and overall make the organization function better. However, the one consistency from one leader to another is change. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. McClain, and he succeeds Elizabeth Clark who held the position from 2001 until May 2013.

    As a macro social work practitioner, I have always expressed concerns regarding clinical social work and licensure laws eliminating traditional social work roles and its focus on social justice. In the interview, I ask Dr. McClain some tough questions regarding his thoughts and assessment on the current state of the profession.

    membershipMapAccording to the NASW’s website:

    Dr. McClain joins NASW after serving six years as Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, a position appointed by Governor Deval Patrick. While there, he oversaw a budget of $850 million and a workforce of 3,500 employees to address reports of abuse and neglect for the state’s most vulnerable children, partnering with families to help them better nurture and protect their children.

    Prior to that position, Dr. McClain was Vice President and Executive Director of Value Options New Jersey where he built and oversaw administrative, clinical and quality management program infrastructures that increased access to behavioral health services for children and youth, including those in the juvenile justice system. via NASW

    I must admit that he is off to an excellent start just by making himself reachable. Since being in his new role, the NASW’s website has been updated with email addresses to executive leadership, and he agreed to answer questions for Social Work Helper about his vision for leading the organization into the future. NASW has seen declining memberships in recent years for various reasons. Will he be able to convince current members to stay with the NASW, and will he be able to re-engage members who have left as well other social workers? Here is what Dr. McClain had to say:

    SWH: Can you tell us about your background, and what led you to choose social work as a profession?

    CEO: When I was a child, my mother said that I ought to pick a job where I could help people.  Throughout my youth, I benefited greatly from the kind,  caring interventions from a number of professionals, which caused me to want to “give back” to others in similar need.  When I was being recruited to play college football, one of the recruiters asked me what I would want to major in if I went to college.  I told him that I wanted to help people, and he said that I could major in social work.

    So began what has become a three-degree, thirty-year journey of helping people and helping social workers help people.  Throughout my career I’ve worked with, and learned from, some very talented professionals; I say to them, “Thank you, very much!”  My social work career journey has allowed me the pleasure of working in almost every field and method of social work practice, I bring all of those lessons and experiences to my CEO role here at NASW.

    SWH: What will be some of your top priorities moving forward, and how do you plan to collaborate with other organizations in order to achieve your objectives and goals?

    CEO: Our profession, and our society, is at a unique juncture. The world has changed a great deal and there are many opportunities and challenges facing NASW, and all professional associations. Thus, these times call for an ambitious grand vision.  Our grand vision revolves around strengthening America’s social safety net, by ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to improve their human well-being and are able to live free from social injustice.

    We will do this by supporting social workers, advocating for the profession, and ultimately serving the millions of clients helped by social workers each day.  NASW is strong—and when we speak, over 600,000 social workers have a voice for achieving our collective human well-being and social justice goals. Most importantly, we can use our influence to make sure that the vital social services and resources that millions of Americans depend on continue to be valued and funded appropriately.

    Collaboration with all of our stakeholders and allies is critically important to our grand vision. I firmly believe that in order for us to provide the best services, products, and advocacy for our members, and social workers throughout the country, we must partner and collaborate whenever possible. There are over 40 sister social work organizations and each one fills an important role.

    I look forward to continuing to work with, and learn from, them so that we can collectively represent the breadth of the profession as well as cater to the professional needs of each and every social worker. This includes working effectively with our sister social work organizations, allied professionals and groups, and the people, families, groups, and communities served by social workers.

    I’ve spent my first three months at NASW meeting with numerous organizations, including the Council on Social Work Education, the Association of Social Work Boards, the  North American Association of Christians in Social Work, the Association of Oncology Social Work, the Clinical Association of Social Work, Child Welfare League of America, National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and many others to determine how we can build on our collective strengths and work together in positive and meaningful ways.

    I created the NASW CEO inbox (naswceo@naswdc.org) to hear from members, social workers, and other stakeholders regarding the issues that concern them the most. This has been important because in order for me to effectively provide the necessary leadership, I need to understand the professional landscape and the day-to-day challenges and opportunities facing our colleagues practicing within all the fields and methodologies of social work.

    SWH: NASW membership is comprised mostly of clinical social workers, academics, and administrators. What is your vision for continued growth and expansion?

    CEO: NASW is the practice association that welcomes all social workers. We will continue to facilitate a “big tent” approach, and welcome all of our colleagues, understanding that the social work profession is much stronger when we stand together. That being said, one of our main goals is to serve a dual purpose of being a large, influential national professional association, as well as providing exactly what our members need in terms of professional resources to practice at the highest levels, to advance their careers, and to maintain a sense of professional fulfillment and well-being.

    We want to have conversations with our colleagues, provide materials and resources that are relevant to their experience and expertise, and make their membership experience unique and beneficial to their specific field and method of practice.  Our goal is to delight our members, help them advance their social work practice with enhanced skills and knowledge, and ultimately to provide the best social work practice possible to the people, families, groups and communities they serve.

    SWH: Many believe that social work has moved away from its social justice roots to only focusing on the clinical perspective as it relates to the individual and family. Do you agree with this assessment, and how do you plan to either expand it or create balance?

    CEO: The strength of the social work profession is its breadth and depth; the profession has always, and still does today, focused on advancing human well-being and promoting social justice.  When one looks closely at the work of social workers in every field and method of social work practice, there’s ample evidence that our grand vision of improving human well-being and promoting social justice is very much alive; however, much more needs to be done before we can fully realize our grandest vision.  I see opportunities for enormous synergy when we approach our social justice and clinical practice goals with harmony and coordinated ethical responsibility.

    The resulting synergy will help us achieve even better outcomes across these two perspectives—ultimately, we would do a disservice to the people, families, groups and communities we serve by artificially choosing between social justice and any particular field or method of social work practice.  Social workers not only can live in harmony with one another, but have an ethical responsibility to do so—NASW is excited about the possibilities it has to help lead social work towards its grandest goals.

    Clinical and direct practice social workers cannot do their jobs without the efforts of advocates, organizers, researchers, academics, policy practitioners, and administrators.  Obviously, regardless of our field or method of social work practice; we are all in this together; each providing a valuable service to individuals, families, and communities in need and advancing the profession.

    The NASW Code of Ethics outlines our primary mission as working to enhance human well-being and helping to meet the basic human needs of all people. We cannot realize that mission without an “all-hands-on-deck” approach of working together. The challenges facing our society are incredibly complex; thank goodness for the power of social work to define, address, and overcome societal injustices and strengthen the fabric of our great nation.

    Photo Courtesy of www.fnsc.org

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    Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Health

    Study Shows Immune Cells Against Covid-19 Stay High in Number Six Months After Vaccination

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    A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers provides evidence that CD4+ T lymphocytes — immune system cells also known as helper T cells — produced by people who received either of the two available messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 persist six months after vaccination at only slightly reduced levels from two weeks after vaccination and are at significantly higher levels than for those who are unvaccinated.

    The researchers also found that the T cells they studied recognize and help protect against the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant — currently the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States — causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus.

    The study findings were first reported online Oct. 25, 2021, in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

    “Previous research has suggested that humoral immune response — where the immune system circulates virus-neutralizing antibodies — can drop off at six months after vaccination, whereas our study indicates that cellular immunity — where the immune system directly attacks infected cells — remains strong,” says study senior author Joel Blankson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The persistence of these vaccine-elicited T cells, along with the fact that they’re active against the delta variant, has important implications for guiding COVID vaccine development and determining the need for COVID boosters in the future.”

    To reach these findings, Blankson and his colleagues obtained blood from 15 study participants (10 men and five women) at three times: prior to vaccination, between seven and14 days after their second Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine dose, and six months after vaccination. The median age of the participants was 41 and none had evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.

    CD4+ T lymphocytes get their nickname of helper T cells because they assist another type of immune system cell, the B lymphocyte (B cell), to respond to surface proteins — antigens — on viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Activated by the CD4+ T cells, immature B cells become either plasma cells that produce antibodies to mark infected cells for disposal from the body or memory cells that “remember” the antigen’s biochemical structure for a faster response to future infections. Therefore, a CD4+ T cell response can serve as a measure of how well the immune system responds to a vaccine and yields humoral immunity.

    In their study, Blankson and colleagues found that the number of helper T cells recognizing SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins was extremely low prior to vaccination — with a median of 2.7 spot-forming units (SFUs, the level of which is a measure of T cell frequency) per million peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs, identified as any blood cell with a round nucleus, including lymphocytes). Between 7 and 14 days after vaccination, the T cell frequency rose to a median of 237 SFUs per million PBMCs. At six months after vaccination, the level dropped slightly to a median of 122 SFUs per million PBMCs — a T cell frequency still significantly higher than before vaccination.

    The researchers also looked six months after vaccination at the ability of CD4+ T cells to recognize spike proteins atop the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant. They discovered the number of T cells recognizing the delta variant spike protein was not significantly different from that of T cells attuned to the original virus strain’s protein.

    Although the study was limited because of the small number of participants, Blankson feels it pinpoints areas that merit further research.

    “The robust expansion of T cells in response to stimulation with spike proteins is certainly indicated, supporting the need for more study to show booster shots do successfully increase the frequency of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells circulating in the blood,” says Blankson. “The added bonus is finding that this response also is likely strong for the delta variant.”

    Along with Blankson, the members of the study team from Johns Hopkins Medicine are study lead author Bezawit Woldemeskel and Caroline Garliss.

    This study was supported by the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Vaccine-related Research Fund.

    The authors do not have financial or conflict of interest disclosures. 

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    Health

    Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

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    Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

    “A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

    Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

    “Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

    A Very Old Problem 

    In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

    Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

    It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

    The Myth of Meritocracy

    Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

    “Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

    Keys to Improvement

    The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

    The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

    “Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

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    Mental Health

    When Giving Thanks, Don’t Forget Yourself

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    As we give thanks at the holidays, it’s easy to overlook someone important: your past self.

    While it’s well documented that gratitude toward others can improve wellbeing, two University of Florida scientists find that gratitude toward your past self also has benefits.

    Does thanking yourself seem a bit…selfish? The researchers, UF psychology professor Matt Baldwin, Ph.D., and undergraduate student Samantha Zaw, think not.

    “Despite the fact that past gratitude is self-focused, it reminds people that they’re part of a bigger story and that they have the power to grow,” Baldwin said. “It’s possible this promotes a pay-it-forward type of mentality.”

    Gratitude is what psychologists call a self-transcendent emotion, one that lifts us out of the everyday and expands our perspective, which can help us get along with each other better. In a recent experiment, Baldwin and Zaw asked participants to write brief gratitude letters. The first group thanked someone else, the second thanked themselves, while a third, the control condition, wrote about a positive experience they’d had. Zaw and Baldwin then surveyed the participants about their self-perception after writing the letter. Although the results are not yet published, early analysis shows that the exercise gave the other- and self-focused gratitude groups a sense of redemption and helped them feel they were morally good people. However, the group that wrote to themselves scored higher on both measures.

    The past-self group also saw a benefit the others didn’t: an increase in the self-awareness measures of clarity, authenticity and connectedness.

    “Unlike gratitude toward others, being appreciative of ourselves carries an added benefit of truly understanding who we are and feeling connected to ourselves,” said Zaw, a McNair Scholar who has been working with Baldwin since her freshman year as part of UF’s Emerging Scholars Program.

    Zaw and Baldwin’s research — the first known data gathered on past-self gratitude — was inspired by a Reese’s cup. When Baldwin’s co-worker, boredom researcher Erin Westgate, returned to the office after pandemic lockdown, she was delighted to discover a peanut butter cup she had squirreled away in her desk.

    “She texted me like, ‘Oh my gosh, my past self left my future self a Reese’s,’” Baldwin recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second. You’re expressing gratitude towards something your past self had done. We have to study this.’”

    As Zaw and Baldwin dug into previous studies, they found plenty on gratitude toward others and a few on self-compassion, but nothing on past-self gratitude. They designed the letter-writing experiment to test its effects, presenting their findings at the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists in October and at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February.

    If you’re curious about the benefits of self-gratitude, Zaw offered a way to try the experiment at home, maybe as a new Thanksgiving tradition. Take a few minutes to write a thank you message to someone else, and another to yourself for something you did in the past. Sharing what you wrote could foster connections between loved ones, she said, but the exercise can also pay dividends if you try it on your own.

    “At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we focus on other people, but self-care is really needed too, especially if we want to feel more clear about ourselves,” she said. “Maybe it can even lead to a better vision for ourselves for the next year.”

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