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    Social distancing has become the new urgency for different industries, sectors and corporations around the world. The creative challenge is to figure out how each of us will shape the nature of our work. Many social workers are making home visit remotely or providing therapy via video conferencing, and many in this sector are being forced to find creative ways to provide services that will benefit our clients while also allowing us to maintain our physical and emotional well-being.

    This transitioning from in-person services to different forms is leading us to formulate, experience and witness new ways of creativity, resilience and persistence like what we saw with the quarantined Italians singing from their balconies.

    Creativity

    ‘Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things’ – Steve Jobs

    Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    Before we connect our experiences, as he said, there is no better time than now to examine deeply what each of us have in our toolkits. What matters, now, is to consider and believe what we have, to be of significance. What we have in our toolkit is as unique as we are. So, create.

    Here is my toolkit. I hope it inspires you to reflect on what you have in your toolkit to utilise it to the best. To add sparks of joy, grace and meaningfulness. Because we are in this together.

    My toolkit

    “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”- Nelson Mandela

    Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

    1) Education

    Apart from my Master’s in Social Work certificate from a University, good grades, 1000 hours of unpaid internships, and my other volunteering experiences, I consider the following to be equally significant to serve clients effectively.

    2) Vision

    I am curious about human potential. To unearth, cultivate and channelise it gently, thoughtfully and effectively. In ways that spread inspiration, positivity. Persevere ahead with patience and empathy for self and others.

    3) The Code of Ethics (Australian Association of Social Workers)

    A mandatory source of reference that provides insightful principles, responsibilities, values and guidance for social work profession. You should find and become familiar with the guiding code of ethics for your location.

    4) Values and Authentic Self

    Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

    ‘What if I come across a situation in which I have to manage a caseload where my values are different than the clients I serve ?’ asked by a student to their field education supervisor.

    The supervisor responded by saying never feel obligated to work against your own values. ‘One time, I was approached by a client whose values were completely different to mine with respect to the caseload. I politely directed to a different social worker within the same organisation whose values were congruent with the client.’

    This is a valuable insight. It was prudent for the student to inquire and confirm before proceeding to engage with the client instead of realising it midway. The significance on having clarity of personal values can enable or inhibit being one’s authentic self while in service to clients.

    5) Journaling

    This is my third year of loving to journal on a consistent basis, and this practise is teaching me to pay more attention. Close attention to what’s happening within me and outside me. Sometimes it is scary. Other times, enlightening. At the same time, it is consoling. A mixed process indeed.

    I deem this exercise to be not only my source of self-care but also helps me to access, name and take the time to feel my emotions and interpretations, during different life events. Going through this process, offers patience and empathy, for myself, which I can then offer to the clients who might it need the most.

    Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

    6) Social Work Theories

    Everything we do to serve, our clients, are underpinned by theories. We carry and transmit the essence of it, consciously or unknowingly, while we interact, advocate, direct, manage, make decisions, engage or disengage, with our clients, co-workers or managers.

    Hence, utilising a post-colonial lens to read, explore, learn, think, reflect and write, social work theories, is a practise that needs to be actively encouraged within the sector, organisations, services, outreaches as well as educational institutions to provide social work services that are inclusive in nature.

    This awareness is crucial because clients from diverse backgrounds will have unique perspectives as a result of emerging from cultures that have different ideologies and therefore values different from Western ideologies.

    Hence, it is important for a social worker to reflect well in order identify our personal inclinations and to never impose them on clients whose perspectives could be different to us. And often, when I engage and decide to choose a theory, I ask myself these questions:

    1. Is the theory inclusive of the client’s stage of problems/ circumstance?
    2. Am I including/excluding client’s input?
    3. Considerations /possibilities of the theory that can enable or inhibit client’s aspirations/goals/circumstances.
    4. The strengths of the theory
    5. The limitations of the theory

    7) Experiences

    This is one profession where transferrable skills can be optimised to serve purposes of the job constructively. For instance, I learned a core insight regarding writing from journalism class as well as internship experience during my undergraduate educational phase. Regarding the 5 W’s and 1 H…What, Where, When, Why, Who and How. Social Work involves a lot of writing. Whether, it is writing case notes, assessment reports, project plans, research reports or support plans, writing is crucial. 

    This awareness magnifies the significance of having a diversity of skills, educational experiences, perspectives and transferable skills in which to maximise possibilities and opportunities.

    Here to create a legacy

    Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

    “You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch”- Maya Angelou

    And, I could not agree more. At times when we are bogged down by uncontrollable factors resulting in unfavourable crisis, we need a different point of view and perspective that emanates hope especially now during this global pandemic. As individuals, it is necessary to consciously choose our thoughts, words and energy about the situation within our spheres of influence.

    ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom’ -Victor E Frankl

    Even at times like these, let us choose responses that reflects growth and freedom while promoting goodness to create our legacy individually and collectively.

    Please share with us your perspectives, toolkit, and how the nature of your job has changed during this global pandemic in the comments below. It is essential to know the changes, challenges and barriers within our respective sectors in order to help us borrow, adopt and apply what works and avoid what doesn’t work.

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    Praise Iype is a curious learner, reflective writer, and postgraduate in Social Work from Western Sydney University in Australia. Her internships within for-profit and local government council focused on helping people from different backgrounds and age groups with various aspects of acquiring employment. Further, she had been engaged in various volunteering activities, as well as a volunteer tutor for Story Factory. Previously she had worked as an educator as well as a youth support worker. She also enjoys penning her words at www.praisenimmyiype.com and https://medium.com/@praisenimmyiype

    Justice

    In A New World, Social Work Leads the Way

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    This is a sponsored article by California State University at Northridge

    How Cal State Northridge is doing its part.

    The pandemic, if nothing else, exacerbated the unequal distribution of resources in society. For millions of people, access to food, shelter, and health care is now more uncertain than ever.

    What’s emerging is a new, somewhat dire need for experienced social workers – professionals able to compassionately address a disparate and evolving set of issues. Not only here in Los Angeles, but all over the world.

    For much of the pandemic, the field has championed relief efforts, such as the rent moratorium. This provided a necessary, if temporary, reprieve from the daily fear of eviction. Outside of California, however, this moratorium is over. As are federal unemployment benefits.

    And the impact is tragically visible. In California alone, the homeless population is over 151,000, with 41,000 of that in Los Angeles. And that’s just according to official estimates. The true number, allege some experts, may be much higher.

    This is the sad, beautiful truth of social work. No matter where a client is, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or on the streets, the field will be there.

    But the field itself is evolving, too.

    Following the death of George Floyd, social workers are increasingly involved in policing, augmenting first responders with a new option: one aiming to mitigate crisis and, as importantly, prevent the use of force.

    As cities and states consider policing alternatives, social workers can help to ensure each community’s voice is heard, especially communities of color. Gaining popularity, the idea is to offer a more compassionate approach to law enforcement. Rather than responding with aggression, an arriving unit could instead respond with care, assessing the situation from a mental health standpoint, not one of criminality.

    Likewise, opportunity youth – sometimes referred to as “at-risk” – now face many new challenges (among them, a skills gap from a year of remote learning). On top of food scarcity and uncertain housing, there’s also the real risk of contracting COVID. And for these youth, who often lack access to health care, this can be especially dangerous.

    In all these cases, a humane approach is needed. Many social work programs incorporate hands-on experience, giving students access to the communities they’ll serve. One such program is the Master of Social Work (MSW) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

    Unlike many social work programs, CSUN’s MSW expands participants’ career possibilities by offering a generalist approach. This enables graduates to work at ALL levels of the field: individual/family (micro); group/community (mezzo); and societal/policy (macro).

    The program is offered fully online in two- and three-year formats. The two-year option is a full-time program with an intensive curriculum designed to help students complete their degrees and enter the field in as little time as possible. The three-year option, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for those who would prefer the same curriculum at a less intensive pace.

    The master’s degree, which is often ranked among the best in the country, promotes the well-being of urban communities. Through its curriculum, participants learn how to assess a community’s needs from the inside, in large part through active listening.

    As the field continues to evolve, those who comprise it must evolve too. That begins with knowledge of the new world, but ends, as it always has, with the people who need us most – the ones for whom we care.

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    News

    Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

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    After helplessly watching her sister try to navigate the international adoption process, Felicia Curcuru launched Binti in an effort to reinvent foster care and adoption. Since the launch of the company in 2017, Binti has expanded its network to over 190 agencies across 26 states in the U.S. The software Binti creates helps social workers and others who work in foster care to effectively approve 80% more families and decrease their administrative burden by up to 40%.

    Jimmy Chen, a Stanford graduate and the son of struggling immigrants from China, created Propel in 2014 after noticing that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients needed to call a 16-digit phone number to check their balance. In order to check their balances, some of the recipients would resort to strategies such as buying cheap items such as bananas. Currently, the Propel app helps 5 million households who are eligible for SNAP benefits to manage their finances!

    Besides using technology and entrepreneurship to transform human service systems, what do these companies have in common? They were not started by social workers.

    Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

    Technology and entrepreneurship have and will continue to transform our profession. But social workers have stayed on the sidelines of this creative process for too long. If we are to be successful in effectively disseminating our incredible values and pushing forth the mission of social work, social workers must play a more direct role in embracing the movements of technology and entrepreneurship.

    This is not a new concept. Research articles on technology and entrepreneurship in social work have been published for years, and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has published reports on technology in social work. Furthermore, universities such as Columbia University in New York have embraced the movement, and have created a minor for social workers called “Emerging Technology, Media, and Society,” which trains social workers to understand the latest developments in the world of technology. Finally, thousands of social workers operate their own private practices and embrace the benefits of entrepreneurial practices.

    This slow, yet continuous shift towards technology and entrepreneurship is important, but it must be accelerated. The question still remains: how do we enable social workers to embrace the power behind technology and entrepreneurship? Here are some ideas:

    Enabling Social Workers to Embrace Technology and Entrepreneurship

    First and foremost, social work curricula must embrace technology and entrepreneurship. The curricula must incorporate mandatory courses on technology and entrepreneurship, and these courses should be taught by experts in these fields.

    Social work departments must enable field placements for social workers in technology or startup environments. By being a part of successful organizations in these spaces, social work students can be exposed to this type of thinking and be inspired by the possibilities!

    Social workers themselves must take time to explore and learn about these fields. Although it is difficult enough to maintain our mental health while managing our caseloads, we can utilize the time we spend on webinars or Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to take classes in technology and entrepreneurship.

    Social workers can become intrapreneurs, or employees that create new projects from within organizations and businesses. For example, during my time at a community mental health organization, I helped launch a social media channel for the organization’s therapists, which allowed us to feel more connected, share resources, and learn from one another.

    Moving Forward

    As social workers, we uphold an ethical code that enables us to represent the most marginalized members of our society. But we can only do this effectively by embracing the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and social work. Although there is no silver-bullet answer, we can help social workers gain entrepreneurial and technological skills by broadening the education available to social work students and ourselves so that we can all better understand the possibilities that are out there.

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    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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