Protecting Young People Online: Negative Practices Parents, Carers and Professionals Should Know

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Just like there are laws we have to abide and adhere to everyday, it is also a similar set of  rules and code of conduct within online worlds. There are things that you can do and other things which are strictly forbidden. There is much focus nowadays of the dangers children are exposed when playing MMORPGS in virtual worlds, but there is very little information of what your child should not be doing and what we as parents or social workers should be teaching children not to do when playing in these online environments.

Gaming studios do take time to “lay down the law” when it comes to protecting their game, players and the virtual economy. However, this can be compromised by some of the practices, children, young people and adults are taught to use to progress quicker through the game by “stealing” from others or illegally using other methods to “get things done” quicker or to make another person’s online experience an  unpleasant one. Therefore, the purpose of this blog today is to highlight some of those practices, but this is by no means covering all aspects of this problematic topic.

1. Be a Scammer

Scamming is a term used in online communities where players will try to steal other people’s “stuff” or account information in order to transfer their stuff to their account.  The perpetrators of these methods are often using psychological methods, such as deception, trust and betrayal to lure their victims by getting sympathy or persuasion.  In reality, the motive behind scamming players can range from not being able to afford buying or obtaining their own “in-game wealth”, or they do not want to pay for these services altogether. However, an alternative route for scammers will be to exploit flaws in gaming systems, also known as glitches to steal other players stuff.

There are a variety of different methods players can use to scam other players and it is worth for parents and social workers to be aware of a few of these methods, however for the purpose of this article I will not be covering all the methods of scamming as this varies from game to game.

 Password scams

As the title suggests, password scams. These are scams in which a person attempts to steal another person’s password. This is pimagesrobably one of the most common scams because it is the easiest to perform, but could be argued to be the most serious since victims of this type of scam and lose their account forever.

Gaming studios usually, (but not always) attempt to filter people saying their password out aloud. However, it has been known for scammers to trick victims into saying their password backwards by using asterisks (******) to claim their password is being filtered backwards, when it actually is not, they are actual asterisks.  The scammer will then obtain the victim’s password and log into the victim’s account.

Premium items, membership or free stuff scams

We have all heard that nothings free in this world right? Same in an online world I am afraid. Sometimes, scammers will log into the games and start communicating with other players claiming to give them free stuff.  But the aim really is to steal the other players stuff. The most common types:

Gaming scams: Player (A) hosts a game; and player (B) wins and wants to obtain their prize as they have paid to play to game with in-game wealth. Player (A) runs off with their stuff and does not give them a prize.

Casino scams:  Players bet with their own stuff, mostly rare items or high value stuff. After a player wins a game, a dealer will scam them by refusing to pay the winner.

Duplication scams:  Player (A) will claim they can duplicate a person’s wealth by using a software program, (this is not true). Player (B) will give them their stuff in hope they will double or duplicate it. Player (A) runs off with their stuff.

Game of chance scams:  Player (A) will host a game and use an item like a dice or something similar to create a game of chance. Player (B) will bet if they roll a 2-3 they get a prize. If player (B) wins, player (A) will run off with their stuff and not give a prize.

Types of in-game scams will vary from game to game. Therefore, it is important to communicate with your child affectively to gain information about the types of scams they are aware of and additionally for you to do your own research of the common types of scams that specific game is suffering with.

Read more on how to Avoid Scams

2. Be a Phisher

A Phisher or Phishing is when a hacker tried to fool a player into giving away their account information and similarly to scammers will steal or cause havoc with your account. However, Phishers will use forms-fake websites, bogus emails and threatening in-game chat to obtain their victim’s information.

Fake websites

One way player’s Phish information is through the use of fake websites, but they look official.  It is important for parents and social workers to communicate effectively to gain insight of what sites children and young people are visiting in relation to the game and making sure they are official. If they are visiting websites that are not official you should be sceptical because logging into a fake website with your personal account information could jeopardise your account security and run the risk of losing your stuff.

Want to find out if a specific address is a fake website. Check PhishTank, where many commonly reported phishing sites are listed.

Emails

Like a hacker can use a fake website, they can also use fake email addresses making it look like they are from official gaming studios. Phishing, or phantom emails will be used to lure victims into fake promotions that give you something for free in-game if you log into their website to “claim” the thing.  The Phisher may even threaten to account suspension or closure if they do not log-in to “confirm” a person’s account information, even though this is untrue.phish

It is important to for parents and social workers to be aware their children and young people are not responding or sharing Phishing websites or emails to lure in new victims. Even if the email or website looks “real” they should still be potential hackers.

In terms of emails, they may look real but they may have come from somewhere else. To be absolutely sure, check the email’s headers  to see where they actually came from.

Threatening in-game behaviour

Some phishers will go to the extreme to gain your personal information to steal your account and your in-game stuff. Another tactic one may use to obtain information is to impersonate or claim to be a staff member of the company the game is made by. This again is a phishing attempt because no staff member would EVER ask you to produce your personal information within the game itself.

Parents and social workers should be communicating with children and young people this does happen and should be educating them to “click and report” players who try to trick them in this way.

These are all very serious issues, and children and young people should be educated on these matters when entering an online environment.  In addition, it is equally important for children and young people to not carry out the above as it can make other people distressed, uncomfortable and not giving them a pleasant experience in an online open environment.

3. Be an Internet Troller

One of the most unpleasant experiences of the online world, apart from getting your personal accounts or identity stolen is internet trolls. In short, internet trolls or just “troll” is someone who goes out of their way to try and upset people by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages within an online community to provoke someone else into an emotional response which usually turns into bullying or an aggressive argument.

In 2012/13 the ChildLine review found that over 4,500 young people talked to ChildLine about online bullying and found children and young people who are affected by this often:

  • Do not tell anyone because they feel ashamed or guilty
  • May not know who to tell
  • May not realise they are being abuse

Additionally, a MacAfee survey conducted the number of children who are victims of cyberbullying doubles in a least a year. This was based on a poll of 11 to 17 year olds undertaken by the American global computer security software company and found that 35% of children and young people have experienced cyberbullying – compared with 16% the previous year. Furthermore, 4 in 10 said they have seen others being bullied online. That statistic doubled the 22% recorded the previous year.

Case studies

There have been many cases where internet trolls have damaged and made the lives of victims fearful due to internet trolling and cyberbullying on online spaces. But even more saddening some children have committed suicide due to being trolled and cyberbullied over the internet.  Just to note of few:

Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 -2003

Amanda Michelle Todd 1996-2012

Megan Taylor Meier 1992-2006

These are only few of the many cases to date of children and young people who have taken their own lives due to the cyberbullying and trolling over the internet. It is important for parents and social workers to communicate open and honestly with their children the importance of telling someone if they are being trolled or cyberbullied on the internet, but even more importantly not retaliating and bullying others back.

Large social networking sites, virtual worlds and MMORPGS more often than not do have their own reporting system to notify a member of staff someone is breaking the rules. I would advise all parents and social workers to educate themselves with the online communities their young people and children are visiting and find out the report functions that are available on that specific site.

4. Be a Gold Farmer

Gold farming is a termed used in massively multiplayer online games to acquire in-game wealth at a rapid rate in exchange for other players to buy it for real-world money. Many gaming studios to date ban these kind of practices from their game because this creates an unbalanced economic in the game, also known as economic inequality, this is usually highlighted in their EULA (End-user license agreement), or terms of service.

Why should I be teaching my child not to gold farm on an online game?duke0ic

It is a very good question. But the bottom line is for most gaming studios are that you are cheating the game and taking liberties on people’s good fortune. In addition to this these practices create an unsafe online environment as most gold farming websites and personnel are through third party sites and this increases the likelihood of being scammed, or having personal information stole from you. Furthermore, it has been known gaming companies have made Lawsuits against individuals and small businesses for these kinds of practices.

Cases of interest

Zynga Inc. v. Playerauctions.com

Zynga, the developers of FarmVille, sued to stop online sales of its in-game currency. However, this case never went to trial.

Bot busting

Jagex, the developers of a very famous game RuneScape, have taken legal actions against several gold farmers and bot programmers. They called this “programme bot busting” within their game for a short time and were open and honest to their players they would take legal action against certain players who disregarded their terms, conditions and agreements.

Blizzard Entertainment v. Peons4Hire

Finally, Blizzard Entertainment, the developers of the well-known online game World of Warcraft won their case against In Game Dollar, who was trading under the account name of Peons4Hire. The court ordered for a permanent injunction to be put into place in order to shut down all of Game Dollar’s entire World of Warcraft operation.

Just like a person is bound by the law not to commit fraud in the real-world, but there are also laws put in place to protect the virtual world too and these are also enshrined in real acts of parliament. Gold farming can wreak other player’s experience of the game as other players are cheating and creating an unbalanced, unfair system. In addition to this, they are also creating a dangerous, toxic environment for children and young people as gold farmers usually target players to buy into their product for a much cheaper price, yet, as established in the above this is risky and dangerous of compromising our personal information.

5. Be a Botter

Botting, (Internet Bot) also known as Maroing is the use of third-party software that can be used to create an unfair advantage in MMORPGs. The terms often used within online games to describe players who use these programs are: macroer, autoer, botter or bot. However, the majority of gaming companies tend to take proactive approach to stop players using these types of software my detecting their accounts and banning them or in much worse case scenarios taking legal action as we established in the above.

Macro software can perform a variety of tasks to break game rules, such as Gold farming as we established in the above, but they can also perform a variety of other tasks for example:

  • Autotyping: To repeat a specific message to advertise real world trading websites
  • Autoclickers: To click in the game area where the player desires to “level up” quicker from
  • Autobuyer: Buy large amounts of virtual items from in-game shops and can be sold on to create a profit elsewhere in-game.

Macro program risks

Again this poses the question, why is this a problem? As established in the above we are already identified gaming companies are taking legal action against players who use these types of programs, but in terms of account safety there are further problems. Many of the websites who host undetectable macro programming for a game may not just progress you further through a game, get you banned or get potential civil lawsuit on your hands, but between all of that this can also lead to keyloggers and other malicious software programs to get into your computer and steal your other personal information.

 What are keyloggers?

These third party software programs are usually copies of expensive programs they are usually cracked and contain other types of software that can infect your computer. One of these is known as a keylogger and this kind of software records everything that you type on your keyboard and transfers this data back to a hacker for them to use at their own will. This type of malicious software is part of the Trojan horse family and there are many others methods aside from keylogging in which a person can steal someone’s information. It is worth reading up on thBote following timeline of computer Viruses, Trojans and Worms

Final reflections

Now, I know there a lot of information to take in, and yes it is mind boggling. But, this is only scratching the surface of what children and young people can be exposed to online, but even worse carrying out some of the practices to make other people’s online experience a fearful one. As I have said in the above and previous blogs, it is important for parents and social workers to have a working knowledge of the risks and dangers of the virtual world, but additionally some of the cyber threats what are also out there. If this is not really an area you are knowledgeable or is completely new to you the further reading section may offer some new wisdom and knowledge.

Further reading

Little book of scams

Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on “Gold Farming”: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games

Trolls just want to have fun

Threatsaurus – The A-Z of Computer and data security threats

Computer malicious software – Further reading

Adult Services and Mobile Technology: There’s an App for That

Adult Services: There's an App for That
Adult Services Social Worker Kristen Hamilton helps a client sign a form using a mobile app

In today’s technology-enabled world, adult services social workers are looking for better ways to help them with their work, but they may be worried about how their clients will react.

In honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, a day to bring together senior citizens, their caregivers, and governments to combat the problem of elder abuse, we want to show how implementing mobile technology can actually help adult services social workers improve the quality of interaction with their clients.

Workers at agencies that use a mobile app designed for adult services are able to update client and case information, complete new forms, and have the clients sign forms electronically on a tablet during visits.

Initially, social workers were worried their clients would be resistant to a change in how services were being provided. But with today’s technology where simply buying a gallon of milk means signing on an electronic signature pad, there have been no issues from clients, and amazing productivity gains and stress relief for social workers.

“I was a little iffy about how my elderly clients would handle the tablets… using technology, but they took to it great,” said Kristen Hamilton, Adult Services Social Worker for Beaufort County Department of Social Services.

The main benefits social workers experience are:

1. Improved Trust

With social workers having the ability to record and transcribe interviews or type case notes with their tablet, they have found they can be more engaged during the interview, building trust with those who are most in need.

2. Faster Community Referrals

Social workers are also able to coordinate faster care, as known client and case information auto populates within all forms and both the client and the worker can sign the forms using the tablet. The worker can then send any medical and mental health forms to a referred community services provider, directly connecting their client to the help they require.

3. Complete Case History

The instantaneous access to all of their client’s documents, including all of the client’s past medical history, saves the worker time and the client benefits by knowing all their records are secure in one place.

To learn more about implementing technology in adult services agencies, we hope you’ll join us for our upcoming Webinar, “Adult Services: There’s an App for That,” on Tuesday, June 30 at 12pm Eastern.

Community Workers Adopt Mobile Technology to Improve Maternal-Child Health

MAMA

As world leaders get ready to meet in New York in September to set a new development agenda for the next 15 years, their discussions will likely focus on maternal and child health. A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) last May 13, in fact, highlights that progress has been insufficient to improve mothers’ health and reduce child mortality.

800 women still die every day in the world from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, while less than one third of all countries have achieved or will meet the target of reducing child-death rate by two-thirds.

Although the Millennium Development Goals have helped address many important public health challenges, there is still the need to ensure the “world’s most vulnerable people have access to health services,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, in a statement presenting the report.

Local solutions to a global problem

South Africa is a good illustration of these public health emergencies – and of possible solutions. In a country where 30 percent of pregnant women do not access prenatal care, more than 12 percent of the population live with HIV and around 40% of maternal deaths are HIV/AIDS-related, a number of initiatives show encouraging results.

A study published last October by the Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Trust together with the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stellenbosch University in South Africa found that repeated home visits by trained community health workers to neighborhood mothers led to significant health improvements both for mothers and children, including in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Trained and recruited by the Philani, these health workers – known as mentor mothers – provide a lifeline for families otherwise excluded from the reach of many public health services. In the past 7 years, they have brought healthcare interventions into the homes of tens of thousands of pregnant women and new mothers. They taught them how to rehabilitate underweight children and improve their chances of giving birth to healthy babies, helped obtain state welfare allowances, and assisted in the prevention of preventable illnesses.

Tablets for health workers

Mentor mothers’ work has now caught the attention of some professors at Stanford University (California) who have started a project in February to support them with sturdy tablets pre-loaded with education videos. These videos explain basic health and nutrition facts in a simple and intuitive way, with the aim of helping mentor mothers in their work of expanding access to health knowledge and improving health conditions.

Nomfusi Nquru, one of the twelve mentor mothers testing the project, cannot conceal her excitement about using these tablets. “It is something new and a chance to use technology that I do not get to use,” she said in an interview. “Mothers react excitedly to the videos and seem to pay careful attention to what is being said. Hearing lessons in a different way is something that catches the mothers’ attention and afterwards they ask questions on how to feed their children well and look after themselves in their pregnancies.”

The tablet project is the brainchild of Dr. Maya Adam, a lecturer at Stanford School of Medicine with years of experience in developing digital educational content. After running a successful online course on child nutrition followed by thousands of people around the world, she has now decided to use her experience to help mothers in the developing world. “When we first introduced the teaching tablets, it was quite amazing to see how quickly these mothers picked up the new technology” she says. “In a way we are bypassing the blockage in access to education at least in the short term and providing these women with the opportunity to access knowledge using the technology we have today.”

According to Adam, who has spent years as a volunteer at Philani during her medical school and undergraduate studies, recruiting successful mothers and training them to become community health workers “is a powerful model for passing on good health practices in a way that is sustainable because women are counseling within their own communities. They are not going anywhere and they are not coming in from somewhere else with a solution that will then disappear when they leave.”

Adam hopes that the tablets will facilitate the learning and accelerate the training of new mentor mothers. Initial feedback from the twelve mentor mothers seems to confirm her intuition: responding to a questionnaire prepared by Stanford University, they all reacted enthusiastically to the introduction of the tablets in their work.

“Community health workers can help bridge the gap, in the short term, between what we need in access to healthcare providers and what we have,” says Adam. “If we wait for access to education and healthcare in South Africa to catch up with the need for it in these under-resourced communities, we are going to wait for a long time. By using technology like the tablets we can accelerate that process in communities otherwise cut off from main infrastructures.”

Adam intends to start an evaluation of the project next year, but is already working on a more ambitious goal of creating an open access health promotion library for community outreach workers.

“That’s my dream,” she says. “We are now raising funds for additional tablets, each costing around $170 U.S. dollars, and preparing translations of the videos into Spanish and other languages to extend the reach of this project. The videos are all picture-based, so they can easily be translated and used in other countries. We have the technology, we have the equipment. If we can get support, we can really put our heads down and start creating a comprehensive, multilingual, open access library to promote the health of mothers and children everywhere.”

A promising tool

Stanford University is the latest of a number of projects providing health workers with mobile technology. OpenSRP, for example, is a tablet-based open source platform that allows health workers to register and track the health of their entire clients.

“The use of mobile health technologies is a promising mechanism to ensure that we can better measure health outcomes in order to inform processes intended to improve health along the continuum of care,” says Dr. Lale Say, coordinator of the adolescents and at-risk populations team at the Department of Reproductive Health and Research of the WHO. “Digital technologies like those used in this project have proven valuable for both community members as well as the health workforce to gain access to quality information that can help make timely and well informed health decisions that can impact on the lives of mothers and their children.”

How Do You Assess Online Risks For Youth Without Being Digitally Competent

kids-and-computers

Time to get digitally competent

In an age where information technology is growing rapidly in our everyday personal and professional lives, there is a growing expectation for social workers and other children’s professionals to ensure young people are indeed safe in these environments and identifying risks accordingly. But, how do we assess online risks for youth without being digitally competent ourselves?

There has been a clear indications social workers should be assessing children and young people’s well-being by considering the relationship they have with technology in their home, at school and the wider internal and external social factors that have an influence on this relationship.

But do Social workers know enough about the digital technologies like social media platforms, online games, virtual worlds and MMORPGS to ask the right questions and be able to identify the risks a child or a young person may be exposing themselves to?

A study conducted by Channel 4 News in 2012 found the social networking platform Habbo to be full of pornographic sexual chat, violence and pornographic acts also known as cybersex and concluded there were a lapse in moderation practices within the game.

An additional survey conducted by Mumsnet one of the largest parenting websites found 66% of 8-12 year olds think the top concerns in Habbo hotel were of course:

  • Sexual content
  • Talking to Strangers

However, the fundamental reasons why young people and children continue to play Habbo due to it were “easy” and ironically “safe to play”.

Checking into HabboLogo_Habbo_1

Habbo, formally known as Habbo Hotel is owned by Finnish Company Sulake and is an online community of over 15 million players officially targeted for young people 13 and above, but the service has been claimed to be used by children as young as 9. While playing the virtual world you can create your own cutesy character to express your online identify and chat to other people, friends or strangers in public or private.

Habbo considers itself to be a free to play game, whereby you can explore the site for free, complete quests, chat, and win prizes without having the pay a thing. However, young people are limited to a certain extent because they have to purchase the furniture by using “Habbo Credit” gained by real paying real money to design their own rooms. Players are also limited to specific content like pets, Habbo club, (VIP membership), and builders club that is packaged as premium packages costing either on a pay-as-go basis or monthly fee and this can get quite expensive.

Online Moderation and Safeguarding

Moderation is a method used throughout online communities to monitor activity such as chat, comments, links, images, videos and just about anything that is user generated content (UGC). Depending on the site’s content, volume and audience will vary on the moderation strategy, however, there is usually a mixture of human and computer supported moderation.

Habbo has claimed on their website to have a moderation team of around 225 human moderators, monitoring the program 24/7, 7 days a week to safeguard the young people online throughout different time-zones. The young people can use the “call for help” tool to ignore or report a player if the “Habbo Way” is being broken to let a Moderator know what is happening and take relevant action. But is this enough?

Read more of reporting and blocking in Habbo Hotel.

Case study

Matthew Leonard an example of the potential dangers of Habbo was jailed for seven years in 2012 for a string of online child sex offences by using Habbo Hotel. It was noted he contacted round 80 victims whom some was just as young as ten years of age.

Leonard would lure his victims in by offering them free virtual furniture as discussed in the above. Leonard would then move his discussions to private messaging programmes such as Skype and MSN at the time to record his victims conduct sexual acts. Even thouRandom_room_nightclubgh at the time at the time this was an unnoticed case in the public eye, but it is still certainly worth noting to the danger children and young people may be exposing themselves to.

Kick the Hab-It

So what can Social Workers learn and do to ensure the protection of children when using Habbo? Well, it is certainly not going to surprise many of you Habbo is not going to go away; in fact, it is a growing service and is enjoyed by many children and young people across the globe. In May 2014, Sulake released the Habbo application onto the iPad for the App store worldwide, it has also been noted Habbo is now accessible on iPhone, making Habbo more accessible to children and young people. Therefore, it is important for Social Workers to educate children, young people and especially parents about the strengths and dangers of using Habbo.

Being open and honest

It was noted in several reports that children as young as 9 were checking into Habbo and with the vase growth of technology being developed and Habbo is and will become available on these platforms the problem will continue to grow. Therefore, it is important for parents to communicate with their children and educate them on some of the reasons for and against playing Habbo. However, parents should certainly keep in mind Habbo’s terms of service does states children under 13 cannot play the game.

Read more on Habbo’s Terms Of Service

Learning the “Habbo Way”

If a young person wishes to play Habbo, it is important they are open and honest with you and visa versa. This will allow for a healthy relationship to grow for you to be able to engage them with the rules and expectations of the game. In an unfortunate situation of something going wrong while playing the game and children and young people should be confident to take suitable steps to notify a member of staff on the site and get out of a situation and tell someone they trust in the real world.

Habbo outline rules on their program, and this is called the “Habbo Way”. I would advise for parents, carers and Social Workers to take time to learn the Habbo Way to enable them to educate their children and young people about the rules Habbo put in place to keep them safe and ensure a friendly clean environment.

Read more on the Habbo Way

Call for help

As much as we would like to think we can monitor what our children and young are doing 24/7 we have to put so much trust in them to be mature and use them own anatomy to get out of heated situations. Habbo has claimed to do operate a 24 hour, 7 days a week moderating team to ensure the safety of the young people in paramount. However, educating young people and children to use the “Emergency button”, “Block” and “Reporting” features to notify a member of staff is really important. Again, as I have emphasised within the above, having open and honest communication with young people will enhance these practices further.

Read Habbo Hotel information on reporting and blocking.

Keeping your pixels privateSafety_Page_details

It is a growing probably but keeping your real identities, passwords and other information that is personal should not be disclosed while visiting Habbo. It is important for parents and Social workers to education children while online their personal information should be protected at all times. Even giving online information such as Skype names, or Email addresses could put someone in real danger; due to the fact this information could have phone numbers, photos or school information attached to these IDs.

As commented within the above, Habbo is an online interactive experience and therefore will “chat” to new people and make new e-friends the majority of the time. Again, it is important for parents and social workers to express people who you talk to online should be kept as pixels online. Having this open and honest about if someone is making them feel uncomfortable or scaring them in Habbo it is ok for them to tell someone in real life and to report it to a member of staff on the site.

Read Habbo Hotel information on how to change privacy settings

Checking out

As much as we would like to put our trust and faith that our children are protected while using these kinds of services you can never do too much to ensure your child or young person is given a toolkit in order for them to make safe choices while online. If someone asks for their personal details, do not give them out. If someone is going to give your free virtual gifts for Skype or Email addresses, report them. If someone is asking you to do something on Webcam, block, report and shut down the program for an hour or 2. These simple but effective methods will increase your child’s security when visiting Habbo.

Read more about online safety at Habbo

Further Reading

The European Network of Information Security Agency (ENISA), (2008) Children On Virtual Worlds

UK Council For Child Internet Safety, (UKCCIS) (2010) Good practice guidance for the moderation of interactive services for children

UK Council For Child Internet Safety, (UKCCIS) (2010) UK Home Office Guidance for Providers of Social Networking

Automating Social Worker’s Documentation: If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen

“If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.”

How many times have you said this human services mantra? Dozens? Hundreds? You’ve said it enough to know why meeting compliance mandates is essential: the local, state and federal government uses the data to ensure agencies are appropriately serving clients, guide future funding, and to plan for the future.

On the flip side, social workers didn’t get into the field to do paperwork. Social workers want to have that personal, social, human interaction in order to help improve lives, which requires them to spend quality time with families to achieve better outcomes such as eliminating recidivism and promoting parental engagement.

Here’s the Compliance Catch-22: Agencies have to meet mandates AND ensure service delivery. However, spending time with families leaves little time to document the work, and documenting the work leaves little time to spend with families.

Agency workers feel that divide. In our recent compliance survey, 64% of human services directors, program managers, and supervisors said audits take time away from serving families.

Systems to collect compliance data are great for what they were designed for: storing case and client data, which helps set the stage for funding requests and future initiatives. However, those systems are simply not as useful to a social worker in real-time, while they are in front of the family experiencing intense or emotional situations.

What’s missing is a system to help social workers automate their processes to access information and capture documentation in the moment so they don’t have to think ‘Am I documenting my work?’ and they can focus on ‘Am I getting this child or family the services they need?’

So how can human services agencies bridge the gap?

Social workers need a tool in the field that works the way they work and follows their natural, proven methods to gather information and connect with families. It should provide the ability to access and capture key information, such as referral forms for community services, law enforcement reports, or individual education plans.

In addition to better service delivery, agencies achieve increased compliance because social workers can collect data and documents and automatically index them to the client right away, versus relying on memory or waiting to document their work long after a visit. This allows the social worker to keep the family and child as the center of attention. Here are some of the major benefits a process change can bring your agency:

  • Increase Service Levels
  • Operate Strategically
  • Respond Confidently to Audits
  • Function Proactively
  • Support State Efforts

To learn more, register for our May 21 Webinar, Closing the Compliance Gap: Where Mandates and Service Delivery Meet, where we’ll highlight how agencies can automate the documentation process, easing the burden on social workers and allowing them to focus on the families they serve.

Howard University Debates: the Evolution of Ferguson A Movement or Moment

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The events in Ferguson, Missouri set off by the death of Mike Brown created a domino effect in raising awareness on the systematic and institutional racial barriers embedded within public systems across all levels of our government.

On April 20th at 1:00 PM EST using the hashtag #FergusonHU, Howard University School of Social Work Community Administration Policy and Practice (HUSSWCAP) program will be co-hosting a live twitter chat with Social Work Helper to discuss Ferguson’s impact, the role of social media, and how to advance advocacy in the digital world.

Since Ferguson, the news media has been reporting on video after video of unarmed African-Americans and other minorities being savagely beaten or shot by white police officers across the country. Additionally, there has been have been an equal amount racist behavior, comments, or activities exposed by the media in sectors of the white community such as in police departments and fraternities which have been deemed as unrelated and isolated behavior.

Brown was an unarmed teenager shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, initially stopped as a result of a traffic stop for jay walking. If it had not been for the social media activity of Ferguson residents going viral, the public would not be aware of the events in Ferguson on that fateful day.

Many would equate the death of Mike Brown to Emit Till as another defining moment to spark a generational movement towards racial equality. However, others would argue that Mike Brown was a bad choice of victims in which to catapult a movement because he was “no angel”  and would instead argue Tamir Rice as a better choice to be the face of a movement. However, one must ask, Would we really know about Tamir Rice without the eruption of Ferguson, Missouri?

To fully add context on the importance of the events in Ferguson, we must also examine the anxiety African-American families felt when unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed walking home by a self-appointed community watch individual who felt he did not belong in the neighbor. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s murder raised some serious questions black families across the nation could not answer. If a person with no police authority can get away with murder, what will it mean for African-Americans interacting with the police?

Without citizens on social media diligently highlighting the media’s inattention and non-action in reporting on these important events, would we have any evidence to support what African-Americans have known all along? As a result of Ferguson, there has been evidence to surface on the media’s contribution to the racial bias and discrimination against African-Americans. The Huffington Post did an article on how white suspects are treated better than black victims.

The racial stereotyping of Blacks encouraged by the images and implicit comparisons to Whites on local news reduces the latter’s empathy and heightens animosity, as demonstrated empirically by several experimental studies. To the extent local television news thereby undermines the fragile foundations of racial comity, it could reduce apparent and real responsiveness of White-dominated society to the needs of poor minorities, especially Blacks. The result, in turn, is continued employment discrimination and government unresponsiveness to the urban job loss and economic dislocation that has so traumatized the inner city — and consequent breeding of crime.  [The Black Image in the White Mind, University of Chicago Press, 2000] Read Full Article on Media Matters

Members of the African-American community have long been aware and felt the effects of institutional discrimination when interacting with governmental systems. Some of us adapt, avoid, and/or embrace these inequities as coping mechanisms in effort to reduce our discomfort or to get ahead. However, most African-Americans would agree that we have progressed since the Jim Crow era.

Ironically, with the election of our country’s first African-American President Barack Obama, some voices in the African-American community blame him for the resurgence of racial hatred and the regression of the black community in education and employment opportunities. Apathy for racial discrimination and institutional barriers appear to be at an all time high from whites and blacks who have achieved a certain level of success.

The self-made man who has pulled himself up by his boot straps while having access to rare opportunities still fails to see and address the institutional barriers plaguing his/her community. There is nothing new about the “New Black” phenomenon espoused by Pharrell Williams which is only an updated reflection of the competing views between Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois.

The fracturing of the African-American community and our inability to nurture group economics within our community has been maintained by classism. We have made it too easy for those who maintain the power structure to keep us separated. During the live twitter chat, we will be discussing how to move thsi conversation forward and how do we get white allies to support our efforts?

Recommended Reading before the Live Twitter #FergusonHU

Journal Article: “Ferguson proves the United States justice systems is not broken, but working perfectly as designed” written by Deona Hooper, MSW  This article will be free to download from April 17th to April 21st.

Editorial Article: “Amid tensions, Sharpton lashes out at younger activists

Editorial Article: “African-American Spending Power Estimated at 1.1 Trillion Dollars by 2015”

Editorial Article: “Everything the Police Reported About Walter Scott’s Death before A Video Showed Up”

You can send comments and questions to @swhelpercom and @husswcapp using the hashtag #FergusonHU.

Protecting Children’s Rights in the Digital World: An Ever-Growing Challenge

childrenonline

Most teenagers spend a substantial share of their time on Internet, often using social media, which have become a major means of socialising. Growing access to the Internet has brought about almost unlimited possibilities for children to access content and exercise their rights, including the right to receive and impart information. However, these benefits go hand in hand with growing risks for children of violations of their rights.

Children’s rights threatened in multiple ways

One important danger relates to the private life of children. Many teenagers use social media to post extensive information and photos of a personal nature, which will remain online for potentially long periods of time. This information can have harmful effects on their lives as it can be used by educational institutions or even potential employers in the future. The profiling of information and retention of data regarding children’s activities on Internet for commercial purposes also raises privacy concerns, to which children are mostly not sensitized.

Children also risk coming into contact with illegal or harmful content, which is increasingly available online, including pornography, but also racist and violent material, and content inciting substance abuse, suicide and other forms of self-harm.

Children can themselves become perpetrators and inflict harm on others through the Internet. Harmful activities include bullying of other children on social media, which is increasingly reported to helplines for children. This can lead to tragic consequences, as illustrated by recent cases where a number of teenagers took their lives after allegedly having been bullied and incited to commit suicide on ask.fm social media. Some children also circulate demeaning images (for instance of a sexual or violent nature) of other children, sometimes after forcing the latter to generate such images themselves.

The Internet is also used by predators to contact children under a false identity with a view to abusing them, including sexually (a practice referred to as “grooming”), and even to recruit them for trafficking purposes.

Identity theft is another danger, which was dealt with by the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 (in KU v. Finland). In this case, an advertisement of a sexual nature was posted on a dating site on behalf of the applicant, a 12 year old boy, without his knowledge. The Court held that, by failing to require the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to provide the identity of the person responsible for posting the ad, the respondent state had violated the boy’s right to respect for his private life.

What should be done?

Responses to these threats require efforts by parents and educators, the authorities of member states as well as private companies such as ISPs. These responses should include a mix of legal and practical measures respectful of the best interests of children and of their right to participate in debates on these issues and to be heard.

Empowering children:

Giving children the tools to protect themselves against threats on the Internet and become more aware of their responsibilities is probably the most effective way of safeguarding children’s rights on the Internet. The right for children to remove their traces on the Internet and to be “forgotten” has been widely advocated. It is of course important that children are able to remedy the consequences of imprudent sharing of personal information, but it is even more important to act preventatively by raising their awareness about potential risks and long-term consequences of sharing personal information on the Internet. Many texts adopted by the Council of Europe and other international organisations over the last decade emphasise the crucial need for empowerment of children through education, including digital literacy. Children should also be able to identify, understand and deal with harmful content. Moreover, they should become more knowledgeable about human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy, but also the rights of others which they need to respect and be careful not to harm.

Educational programmes must target children, including at an early age, but also parents and other educators. More importance should be given to digital literacy in school curricula. Initiatives such as Insafe, a network supported by the European Commission to implement awareness-raising campaigns on e-safety at national level, are of crucial importance. The Council of Europe has also published an Internet Literacy Handbook. Research on children’s vulnerabilities on the net should be further supported in order to increase the effectiveness of education tools.

Creating a safe environment for children on the Internet:

Dealing with the dissemination of harmful and illegal material is a complex task. Deleting illegal material at the source is in practice very difficult because websites hosting such content can be located anywhere in the world, usually outside the scope of European cooperation.

Therefore, other tools are used in various countries to combat the dissemination of illegal material, notably child abuse material, often through blocking lists and filtering. The use of such tools is, however, controversial as it can lead to disproportionate restrictions to freedom of expression, in the absence of a clear legal basis, sufficient transparency and effective safeguards against misuse, including judicial oversight. Indeed, blocking imposed through ISPs has sometimes been extended to sites unrelated to child abuse, such as sites dealing with sexual and reproductive health. Some member states, under the pretext of protecting children, are blocking content related to LGBT issues, even though the European Court of Human Rights found that there is no scientific evidence that such materials have a deleterious impact on the well-being of children.

Moreover, blocking and filtering can detract the authorities from their duty to tackle child abuses as such. Perpetrators of child abuse, including those producing and disseminating illegal content and child abuse material on the Internet, are real persons that must be tracked and sanctioned, in application of international conventions such as the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and the Convention on Cybercrime. Practices such as “grooming” should therefore be criminalised. Victims of abuses must be identified and rescued. States should also step up action against trafficking of children, in line with guidance provided in the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

It seems more appropriate to use blocking and filtering tools at the level of private and school computers, using parental control, safe spaces for children on Internet and trustmarks and labels allowing for distinction between harmful and non-harmful contents. The German site “Netz für Kinder” is a good example of a website on which children can safely surf, learn and play.

Developing human rights education online:

Despite the existence of risks, Internet offers almost endless possibilities for children to learn, share, create and socialise. Therefore, it is necessary to generate more content aimed at imparting knowledge about human rights, which are attractive and adapted to different age-groups. International human rights institutions have taken initiatives in this respect, such as the UN Cyber School Bus or the UNESCO-ledD@dalos Education Server for Democracy, Peace and Human Rights Education. More needs to be done to prepare generations of active citizens committed to promoting and respecting human rights.

Useful documents

Council of Europe:

  • Convention on Cybercrime and its Additional Protocol concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems
  • Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention)
  • Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation Rec(2006)12 on empowering children in the new information and communications environment
  • Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)6 on measures to promote the respect for freedom of expression and information with regard to Internet filters
  • Committee of Ministers’ 2008 Declaration on protecting the dignity, security and privacy of children on the Internet
  • Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)5 on measures to protect children against harmful content and behaviour and to promote their active participation in the new information and communications environment
  • Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)6 on a Guide to human rights for Internet users
  • Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1834 (2011) and Recommendation 1980 (2011) on combating “child abuse images” through committed, transversal and internationally co-ordinated action
  • Internet literacy handbook
  • Online game: “Through the Wild Web Woods”

UN:

  • Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

European Union:

  • European Parliament and Council of the European Union, Directive 2011/92/EU of 13 December 2011on combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, and child pornography
  • Council of the European Union, European strategy for a Better Internet for Children, May 2012

Paving the Way for Change is #YSocialWork

B_R4dyFW8AAE9PsAs a social worker to my core, I love this year’s theme for Social Work Month, “Social Work Paves the Way for Change” which is why most of us became social workers in the first place. We believe whole-heartedly in the ability of people to change.

As much as I entered this field to try and save the world, over the course of many years it has been incredibly humbling to learn that it is the broken and lost who have provided the inspiration and motivation to continue to serve. In fact, my most precious education and understanding of humanity have been supplied by the countless children, families, elderly, and foster and adoptive parents I have been blessed to know.

In my role, I have the privilege of meeting so many amazing social workers. Each and every one of them continues to take on extremely stressful situations, and dedicate more hours in a day than most people know to protect children and adults and strengthen families. Their work is driven by a mission and commitment that is very much appreciated by those they serve.

Whether it is offering a comforting hug to a hurting child, or simply holding the hand of a 90-year old great-grandmother to let her know that she’s not been forgotten, social workers keep the fabric of our society held together. As a result of their willingness to do this, they serve as the foundation for change.

As a tribute to these remarkable individuals, I wanted to share words from a few of those caseworkers and social workers about why they chose social work, and what keeps them motivated to inspire change, no matter how small, every day.

#YSocialWork - Laura Hughes

#YSocialWork - Kristen Hamilton

If you want to be even more inspired, check out a great Social Work Month social media campaign from Social Work Helper, #YSocialWork, encouraging social workers to use social media to explain why social work matters. Visit the Social Work Helper website to download and print out a campaign sign to write your message. Then post your #YSocialWork message to Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram with the #YSocialWork hashtag.

Or, simply take the time to let the social workers in your community know how much they are appreciated.

Happy Social Work Month!

How to Work with Multiple Generations and Technology in Human Services

Working with multiple generations in any field can be challenging, and human services is no exception. Most challenging can be helping all employees – from directors to caseworkers – utilize technology in human services when workers have very different comfort levels using systems like case management systems, electronic document management software in the office or even tablets in the field.

comicsRight now, four generations of workers comprise the workforce:

  • Veterans, sometimes called The Silent Generation
  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X
  • Millennials, sometimes called Generation Y

Speaking in stereotypes, younger workers, Gen X and Millennials, are technically savvy and rely heavily on technology in their day-to-day life. This transcends to work. Younger workers, who comprise 45% of the workforce, view using mobile devices in meetings to capture notes or quickly access the Internet to find information as an advantage.

On the flip side, older generations, Baby Boomers and Veterans, may find using technology in meetings to be rude or distracting because they prefer less technology-driven interactions through in-person meetings or phone calls. They tend to be less literate in technology than their younger counterparts, but have an interest in learning more.

What does this means for social services agencies?

Agencies need to keep the generational differences in learning and communication in mind when implementing new technology. Here are key strategies to help make the transition smooth.

Build on the skills of each generation to benefit the whole team

Here’s an example. A social services agency is establishing a new electronic document management system. Workers from older generations can excel on the mechanics of a new project. Veterans can provide expertise of business processes and metrics from years of experience. Baby Boomers are well positioned to serve as the project manager or coordinator because of a strong network of contacts and good face-to-face communication skills.

In dealing with younger workers, Gen Xers and Millennials make good pilot teams to try new technologies because they are tech savvy and eager to learn. They can then serve as coaches and mentors for the older generations, who are often afraid they will break technology or use it incorrectly.

By leveraging the skill set of each generation, everyone has a distinct role and feels like they are part of the team, which greatly improves the likelihood a technology project will succeed.

Train employees on new technology based on each generation’s learning style

The younger generations tend to have shorter attention spans and often prefer verbal and hands-on training to reading documents, whereas older generations prefer to read documentation and take time to internalize new processes.

The key here is to remember no one-size training will ever fit all. Technology training needs to accommodate a variety of different learning styles.

For Millennials and Gen Xers, consider short video tutorials; specific, bulleted how-to documents; and interactive, technology-based training to allow workers to jump right in.

Veterans and Baby Boomers may benefit from longer, written explanations of the new system before formal training. They may favor more traditional training methods, such as PowerPoint presentations, than their younger counterparts. These generations may also benefit from post-training tutorials to review new skills since they may not pick up on technology quite as quickly.

Keep in mind that these strategies are based on generalizations about millions of people who happened to be born during the same timeframe. Some Millennials may be petrified of trying something new like taking a tablet on a home visit, while a Baby Boomer might think writing case notes in a yellow legal pad is as outdated as a Sock Hop.

Regardless of their generation, workers who receive information, training, and support from human services agencies through a variety of communication methods will excel when using new technology.

Twitter Chat Tackles Questions about Social Work and Politics

How actively involved should social workers be in the political arena? This was one of the themes that set the agenda for Thursday night’s Twitter chat hosted by the Network for Social Work Management using the hashtag #MacroSW. The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy was asked to take the lead in this latest chat and we focused on our work on the Hill with the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

The other key question during the Twitter chat is the focus of a media campaign around Social Work on the Hill Day featuring the hashtag #YSocialWork. What motivates young people to pursue careers in social work? Social work jobs are often labor intensive and emotionally stressful. Our work is often undervalued—both in compensation and in public opinion.

Before we delve into the details about the Twitter activity, I want to clear the air about this being a macro social work event. While there has always been tension in social work about the amount of emphasis given to direct services and macro social work practice, there has never been an argument about whether one area of practice is more important than the other.

Those of us who would like to see an expanded emphasis on macro social work practice do not want it to occur at the expense of direct service practice. In fact, we acknowledge the need for more direct services social workers in the coming decades. Yet, at the same time, we recognize the need for more social workers as administrators, community organizers and participating at various levels of policy.

There is a need to expand the number of social workers in the United States. However that expansion should include social workers seeking careers in politics and policy as well as traditional roles managing human services organizations. After decades of the ascendency of conservative ideology that has focused on individual achievement, laissez-faire economics, and the destruction of socialism, social workers have become the guardians of the American Dream as an ideal that should be available for all Americans regardless of ethnicity, class or gender. That means being actively involved in the political systems that generate the policies, laws, and regulations that determine access to opportunity and achievement.

Having said that, Thursday’s Twitter was fascinating as social workers of all ages, from every corner of the country—micro and macro—participated in a stimulating exchange about our personal experiences with social work and shared ideas about where the profession needs to go in the future. Many had not heard about the Congressional Social Work Caucus founded by Congressman Edolphus Towns in 2010.

Having been made aware that such a caucus exists, the next question was: so what? How does the profession and social workers benefit by having a Social Work Caucus? Hopefully, these questions may stimulate ideas that will influence what the Social Work Caucus does in the coming years. Few were familiar with the Social Work Reinvestment Act, so making them aware was worth doing the chat.

The #YSocialWork campaign is the brainchild of MSW student Shauntia White at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the National Catholic University of America. Social media maven Deona Hooper, founder and editor-in-chief of Social Work Helper, is leading the effort to launch a campaign leading up to Social Work Day on the Hill. The beauty of this collaboration is Ms. White, who is studying to become a clinical social worker, has organized what many would label a “macro” event—a forum on the Social Work Reinvestment Act—that is being sponsored largely by the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work.

One comment made during the Twitter chat credited the virtual event with turning the mindset of “I’m just a lone social worker,” into one of “I’m a powerful social change agent.” Although we were connecting in a virtual space many participants remarked about the energy and enthusiasm they were sensing from the Twitter comments. I will end with a comment by blogger Sean Erreger who wondered what it would be like if the Twitter chat participants were all in the same room. Ending with: “Powerful stuff happening here.”

[mratajczak/macrosw-twitter-chat-how-social-workers-can-engag” target=”_blank”>View the story “#MacroSW Twitter Chat: How Social Workers Can Engage Congress ” on Storify]

When Someone Asks #YSocialWork Does It Feel Like An Insult

Social Work is a tough profession even under the best of circumstances, but the impact social workers have on the lives we touch can influence the trajectory of a life over its lifespan. Many of us choose this profession for a variety of reasons. However, if you surveyed a huge sample of social workers, many would say the profession chose them.

From birth to hospice, Social Workers enter the lives of people when they are in crisis throughout the spectrum of life. Social Workers are the first responders for social issues and family intervention because we are called in when problems begin to show up on the radar. From domestic violence and suicide prevention to cancer awareness, social workers provide intervention and advocacy on many issues because we directly impact our clients and their ability to heal.

March is National Social Work month and every third Tuesday in March is World Social Work Day. Social work month is the one time of year social workers celebrate our profession and each other. It’s the one time of year, social workers feel allowed to pat themselves on the back and say good job or well done even if no one else does.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of our impact is often compromised by having access to limited resources and funding, worker burnout, depression, outdated systems and processes to increase efficiency, and a host of other issues that are too long to list in this article. As a result, social workers become the faces of the failed systems in which we work. So, when someone outside the profession, family, or friends asks why social work, does it not sometimes feel like they are insulting your choice of profession?

#YSocialWork

According to Twitter, the very first #YSocialWork tweet came from a Master of Public Administration student who simply tweeted #YSocialWork

When Shauntia White, the event organizer for Social Work Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, began planning a #YSocialWork campaign for the event on March 17th, I felt Social Work Month would be the perfect opportunity for social workers to explain #YSocialWork is important to us and potential future social workers. Sometimes, it can be a bit frustrating always having to defend your chosen profession or having to explain why social work matters, but we are our best brand advocates. Our profession often falls victim to a majority of negative articles or comments when something bad happens. However, this is an opportunity for us to flood social media with positive messages about why social work matters.

To help celebrate social work month, I invite you to participate in the #YSocialWork social media campaign. Social Work Helper is launching the #YSocialWork campaign in conjunction with Congresswoman Barbara Lee chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work Policy (CRISP), Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work, and Catholic University of America (CUA).

How to Participate in #YSocialWork

Print out the attached campaign sign below, write your message of empowerment, and create a picture or video holding the #YSocialWork campaign sign below. You can post your #YSocialWork message to Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Also, you must include the #YSocialWork hashtag in your post to share your message with other social workers. Will you participate and also share this experience with others to help celebrate Social Work Month with us?

Twitter Example:

Facebook Example:

 

Also, if you tag Social Work Helper in your tweet using @swhelpercom, on instagram @socialworkhelper, on Tumblr, or Facebook at facebook.com/swhelper, I will be resharing tags to Social Work Helper on all SWH social media outlets including Pinterest and Google Plus. Social Work Helper has a combined social media reach of 110,000 people.

Don’t miss the opportunity to share with the social work community at large your message of empowerment, an issue you care about locally, or why you chose social work as your profession. I look forward to sharing your messages.

Happy Social Work Month!

96 Percent of Social Workers Want Mobile Technology

time-to-upgrade

How important is mobile technology in social work? We wanted to learn more so we surveyed members of the National Association of Social Workers and asked two questions, “Do you think mobile technology would help you do your job?” and, “Is mobile technology for social workers a priority for your organization?” The results are in and we found that they confirm our belief in the important role that technology can play in a social worker’s life.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (96%) answered yes to the question, “Do you think mobile technology would help you do your job?” On the flip side, only 55% think that mobile technology is a priority in their organization. This means that while many social workers or supervisors think mobile technology would help social workers perform their jobs, they don’t think their organization is focused on providing the tools they need. This type of conflicting ideology can impact morale and ultimately lead to social worker burnout.

   

We firmly believe that mobile tools can help adult and child protective services (CPS) social workers overcome everyday hurdles like these:

1. Time Spent on Paperwork

As one CPS supervisor put it, “You probably spend one-third of your time with families, and two-thirds of your time documenting everything that you’ve done.” Social workers become resigned to losing valuable time trying to work around paper-based processes, having to track down and locate paper files.

2. Accessing Information in the Field

In 2012, worldwide mobile access reached 87%. Between 2011 and 2016, mobile data traffic is expected to grow by 18%. Despite hauling stacks of information with them into the field, sometimes social workers find themselves without the necessary forms or information. Accessibility is not only possible for social workers, it’s critical.

3. Limited Time with Families and Children

CPS caseloads across the country are increasing, but the number of social workers is not. Naturally this leads to spending less time with families and children. This places a heavy burden on agencies and workers, putting families in crisis at even higher risk.

4. Burnout

Social workers are at high risk of burnout and low job satisfaction. Turnover and burnout, while obviously disturbing for social workers, also places a tremendous burden on agencies and the families they serve. Costs of staff turnover are estimated to be between 1/3 and 2/3 of the worker’s annual salary.

5. Data Collection and Quality

The data collection processes and systems created at the state level are designed to collect data in order to meet important state and federal reporting requirements. This often doesn’t sync up with the way social workers work. Because of this, social workers find themselves asking clients to repeat information, which can negatively impact productivity.

We’ve seen that mobile technology designed for social workers can enhance the quality of social work and ultimately give social workers more time to spend with families, which is why social workers became social workers in the first place.

To learn more about how mobile technology can help social workers overcome five common hurdles, download our business brief, 5 Hurdles Blocking Social Worker Productivity and How to Overcome Them.

How Being an Innovator Will Get You a Job

innovation

There is no getting around it, you need to stand out in some way to get a job these days. More importantly, you need to network. Both of those things require you do something different from your peers in order to stand out. Most people will read this and say, “I don’t have time (insert excuse) to be creative in order to get a job.”

Well sit down and listen to a story my friend, a tale of wonder and excitement. After all, the internet is a space of excitement and wonder. Right?

Be Different

What does that mean? It means do things that your peers don’t and do them well. This could mean showing how unrelated skills could transfer into the workplace. Most people have hobbies, and surprisingly enough almost all those hobbies are useful.

First, make a list of the things you can do, and I mean everything, right down to annoying popping noise with your mouth that drives your friends and family nuts.

Second, cross everything off the list you believe is common in your peers’ skill sets.

Now, you have isolated the skills you have to choose from to help make yourself stand out.

Pick a Skill

Now that you have your list of skills, pick one. Does it needs to be applicable to your field? Here is an example:

I know how to use a video camera, I can edit and interview. I used these skills to volunteer for an organization that later hired me for that skill as well as the skills all my peers have. You get the idea?

Your skill needs to be useful to your prospective employer, you need to be skilled enough in it. However, you may want to keep any quirky and weirdness at a healthy dosage.

Let’s say you wanted to be an administrator of a program at a nonprofit that serves the homeless. Your skills are:

  • Cake decorating
  • Computer Programming
  • Yoga

Write down how these skills set translate into how you would use them on the job. It might look something like this.

Cake decorating

  • Aesthetically pleasing food
  • Creative in Art design and graphics
  • Help with visually appealing presentations and event planning
  • Can teach career skills to volunteers and clients

You get the idea right? Now you should do the other two.

Cultivate that skill

This is the hard part! You need to make this skill seem useful to the organization you want to work for. This might involve volunteering for them, attending events they maybe at, running your own events, or just creating a website that showcases the skill.

Then you need to tie it in! Take my own example, I used my skills and volunteered. Soon, people at the job were asking why I didn’t apply for a position there, and I eventually was hired.

By cultivating skills and volunteering, you can show work ethic, create connections, and most of all provide something useful to the organization.

It may not work 100% of the time, but it did work for me and many others I know. Also, using this approach may help you improve yourself while looking for a job. This one goes out to all the new graduates still looking for jobs and those just starting school. Now go out there and do something interesting. You think I am kidding right? I am sure this is your face right now.

If you are stuck, you can post your skills in the comments below, and myself along with the community can help you figure out how to use your skills.

Best Mood Charting Apps for Apple and Android

Frequently, therapists request clients to record their behaviors, triggers, and symptoms to help them become more aware of their reactions. These can include energy levels, medication taken, number of hours slept, anger outbursts, alcohol consumption, negative thoughts, etc.

Traditionally, this has been accomplished with notepad and pen, but it has proven to have low adherence rates to the regime and clients often have difficulty recalling the week in their therapy session. Self-monitoring “provides clinicians with a more contextualized understanding of patients’ struggles and an opportunity to tailor treatment accordingly.” Digital mood monitoring with smart phone apps offers a reliable and easy way for clients to track their symptoms themselves.

Since I’m cheap and I know you and your clients often are too, I chose to only review apps that are free. Here are the top 3 apps that showed the most promise reviewed from best to last.

T2 Mood Tracker 

Available in Google Play Store and Apple App Store for free

t2

 

T2 Mood Tracker was created by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, and it is a very straight forward app. There are 6 categories that can be visible or hidden – anxiety, depression, general well-being, head injury, post-traumatic stress, and stress – with 10 anchors on sliders for each. Results are graphed on a simple line graph and reports can be created in PDF and CSV format as well as emailed straight from the app. A PIN can be added for security and a reminder can be set for 3 specific times during the day. I couldn’t figure out how to access notes or add/edit rating categories.

It is very straight forward and the email option as well as the well-informed anchors on each category look like it would be an excellent tool for therapists.

Personal Progress Tracker 

Available in Google Play Store and Apple App Store (as PTracker) for free

soundmindz

 

Progress Tracker must be registered online before using. In this account, you can add lots of info about yourself as well as access various other resources. This app is extremely comprehensive. The Symptoms tab gives prompts for all major symptoms of the following diagnoses: OCD, anxiety/panic disorders, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addiction/substance abuse, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, eating disorders, and insomnia. When a symptom is clicked it asks the user to give a rating (scales change from yes/no, number, low to high, etc) for the day as well as add optional notes. The user can add a custom symptom (“Custom Activity”), define the rating type, and under what category it goes.

The Activities tab allows for tracking of a number of things associated with mental health including medication taken, hours slept, stress level, exercise, drug and alcohol use, etc. There is, again, a place to add a custom section. The Reports tab allows for a variety of ways to run data. A detailed report gives all reported symptoms and activities for each day,. A summary report gives some basic statistics over a period of time, and you can also choose one symptom to focus on to see its change over time. Everything can be accessed and manipulated online and reports can be printed from there. Users can assign therapists who can access client reports online.

There are a few typos through the app, there is no way of sending reports from the phone but must be done from the computer, there is no reminder setting or security settings, which are big downfalls. It’s extremely comprehensive, which would be wonderfully helpful if the client were to fill it out completely, but I fear that many would be daunted by the enormity of it all and there is no way to hide unwanted categories.

ToadKing Mood Tracker

Available in Google Play Store for free

toadking

 

ToadKing is fantastically versatile. There is nothing preset, but the user must go into Edit Markers to create symptom, mood, activity, etc, categories. Once these are created (with the assistance of the user’s therapist, if applicable), data can be input on a 0-10 scale and notes can be added. Backlogs or editing previous days can be done with Modify Data. View History allows the user to generate text, line graph, or bar graph of individual markers for a month. From this screen the data can be emailed (or shared in any medium actually). Share Data on the main screen generates the chosen form and groups the text or graph images for each marker into a zip file when emailed.

This app requires the user (or therapist) to set it up before use, it doesn’t have a reminder or security features, and I would prefer if there were a way to change the rating type. However, it’s extremely versatile and so simple, making it easy to use.

DomesticShelters.org – New Resource for Those Experiencing Domestic Violence

Domestic Shelters Logo JPG--SMALL

Though it may be the most wonderful time of the year, the Holiday season can be dangerous for individuals and families impacted by domestic violence.  Those who work in this field explains that the increase of incidences during the holidays is exacerbated by the build up of anger and stress, which accompanies the season.  The holiday season also marks the time of year when children experience domestic violence at the highest rates seen.  It may be a joyous celebration for many of us; however, we cannot forget or fail to protect and assist those who are enduring brutal, and sadly, potential life-ending, abuse.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article spotlighting a new tool to assist in finding shelter and support for individuals and families experiencing domestic violence.  Being that I wrote an article on this subject in October discussing the prevalence of disabled women and domestic violence, I knew that I had to take a more detailed look at this tool.

DomesticShelters.org – A New Website Seeking to Close the Information Gap

In late August, the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the Theresa’s Fund partnered and developed a comprehensive tool that identified 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations throughout the United States, and gathered 156 data points on each entity.  Their collaborative efforts created the largest database of its kind ever established, and its existence allows visitors to Domestic Shelters to input their location, language, and service preferences with just the click of a mouse.  The search results yield proximate, relevant opportunities for users to receive the most appropriate assistance pertaining to their specific need(s) and situation(s).

My Test Drive of DomesticShelters.org

Being that I only share and spotlight online tools that I have personally reviewed, I thought that I would definitely do this for Domestic Shelters.  I went on the website, and was impressed with how colorful and eye-catching the graphic design layout was.  The bright colors created an inviting presence for users who are seeking this pertinent information.  (Click image to enlarge for better viewing.)

FullSizeRender-3

The website’s usage ability is very simple:  enter your zip code, and if needed, select a language and service preferences.  When I entered the Columbia, SC zip code, 29201, the following organizations came up:  Sistercare and Women’s Shelter.  Since I am more familiar with Sistercare due to the active advocacy presence the organization has within the Midlands area, I decided to select Sistercare as the organization I wanted to learn about.

The information provided for Sistercare is crucial for those seeking its services.  Key points for me were the hotline number; TTY/TDD number for those who are hearing impaired; toll free number; and languages spoken, which is important to note for our ethnically diverse community.

The only information that was not included in Sistercare’s profile was whether the facility was wheelchair accessible, which is important for disabled South Carolinian women and families to know if they required such access.  (The lack of accessibility within domestic violence shelters and disability training for staff are incredible barriers that negatively impacts one’s ability to fully utilize these facilities.)

Overall, I was very pleased with how user-friendly Domestic Shelters was.  The “Leave SIte” button (which connected to the Weather Channel’s website when I selected it) allowed users to promptly leave the webpage for safety reasons.  I have seen a few domestic violence focused organizations with this feature, so it is considered a standard safety measure to ensure that those seeking or inquiring about assistance can do so without fear of their abusers knowing.

Final Thoughts

The Domestic Shelters website is an empowering game-changer for survivors, helping professionals, and community members who want to arm themselves with knowledge about the organizations that focus on serving and advocating for this particular population.  Domestic Shelters has an undeniable potential to close the information gap for those desiring to leave abusive situations and find their strength and voice with the aid of these organizations.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of NCADV.  Screenshot is my own.)

Innovation Tool: Modified Power Wheels Cars for Toddlers with Disabilities

For our youngest disabled children, assistive devices that would allow them to gain independence by moving freely in their homes is a considerable and serious gap that exists for them.  University of Delaware and Fisher-Price aim to change that by offering affordable, adapted Power Wheels Cars for our kids who cannot afford to be slowed down by their disability.

Why This Level of Independence is Imperative for Our Disabled Toddlers

Modified Power Wheels Car 2For children under the age of three, there are no wheelchairs currently available on the market that would allow them to move about independently.  This lack of innovation unfairly keeps our children stationary, and hinders their growth development.  A child who has limited mobility should not be stifled in their desire to explore and play in their environments – they should have the ability to roam about and get into any and everything not nailed down, as other toddlers their age.  Waiting until a child is three years old and/or possesses the ability to maneuver a wheelchair is too long for their cognitive, motor, social, and language development to remain static.  We cannot continue to cause our disabled children to lag behind in their growth as curious, exploratory beings.

The Idea Behind Modified Power Wheels Cars

In 2011, Go Baby Go was created by University of Delaware pediatric researcher Cole Galloway to narrow this independence gap for our disabled tykes.  The goal was to develop modifications that families of disabled children could purchase at affordable prices, and make adjusts on their own.

Since its creation, there are currently 40 international Go Baby Go sites available to provide these cars to and modify them for families.  Through the project, over 500 cars have been modified and made available to families, and 500 more have been acquired through groups that were inspired to make this product available after learning about it either online or by word-of-mouth.

How These Modified Power Wheels Cars Are Adapted

The Power Wheels cars are rewired to add on/off switches, and the steering wheels have large buttons on them that allows the child to activate the car and make it move the way they like.  The PVC pipes and pool toys, the popular foam kickboards and water noodles, are added onto the cars to support the kids while “driving.”  Kids are secured in the driver’s seat of their cars with Velcro straps and seat belt buckles as they zoom around (safety first before we let them go loose).

These modified cars are incredibly affordable for most families – it costs approximately $200 to purchase and adapt each car to a child’s needs.  In comparison to the $1,000+ price tag for the “cheapest” wheelchairs on the market, these cars can fit into the budgets of most families in need of them.  In reality, the prices of these cars cannot compare to the invaluable reality they offer children who use them – their freedom and independence.

This Is Share-Worthy!

I urge each and every one one of the SWH readers to pass this along to parents/guardians, helping professionals, and others who could benefit from knowing about modified Power Wheels cars – disabled children deserve the right to gain access to this tool so that they can access the world around them without limits.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of UD Go Baby Go via its Facebook page.)

Site Launches to Help Millions of Abuse Victims Find Help Faster

Online you’ll find plenty of information about domestic violence. That’s not a problem. What is a challenge is trying to find the right help quickly and easily. Search results often reveal disparate shelter sites, help blogs, opportunistic ad-driven sites with outdated data, and paid placements by attorneys. The new website domesticshelters.org is changing this reality by providing consumers the first online searchable domestic violence provider database.

domesticviolence“The great news is that there are many good people, organizations and providers trying to help, and in fact, helping,” said Sylvia Torralba, membership director for the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) which has partnered with Theresa’s Fund to develop and launch the site. “What we’re doing is aggregating an ocean of information into a single place.”

More than just aggregating information, the organizers of domesticshelters.org tirelessly spent six months unearthing and identifying 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations in the U.S., and then gathering up to 156 data points on each.

The result is the largest database of its kind ever created, and importantly, the ability for domesticshelter.org visitors to enter their location, language and service preferences, and with a single mouse click, instantly see the most proximate, relevant opportunities for help.

“If you conduct a search in this area, you’ll often not find all of the local providers listed on page one. Some providers don’t even have a web presence,” said Chris McMurry, a marketing and technology entrepreneur and director of Theresa’s Fund, who notes that the overwhelming majority of consumers begin their decision making process with an online search.

“We will be fixing that by moving the exploration of the provider community to the forefront of search results, and then by presenting visitors of domesticshelters.org with standardized data on the providers that allows people to make comparisons and more educated decisions.”

Generally speaking, for each provider there will be contact information excepting confidential locations, languages spoken, populations and geographies served, hours of operation, vacancy rates, and detail on 46 different types of services that may be offered.

Importantly, provider organizations will be able to self-administer their organization’s profile on the website, updating fundamental information as it evolves and adding custom content to enhance the comprehensiveness and attractiveness of their operation and offerings.

According to Google more than 3,000,000 searches are conducted per month for information related to domestic violence, and most often related to seeking help. The website will be optimized for smartphone and tablet use, recognizing that consumers are increasingly using their devices to conduct searches. Indeed, the number of local mobile searches is expected to exceed desktop searches by 2015, according to eMarketer.

“With some 36,000,000 million searches a year in just the U.S. on the topic of domestic violence, domesticshelters.org is an overdue and much-needed concept that may help more people than any other service ever offered in this space, and may help save lives because it will be so easy, accessible and fast to use,” added Torralba.

The website will also publish and supply helpful information about domestic violence, in addition to the provider database. Providers will be able to gain access to the entire database behind the website in order to better coordinate inter-agency referrals and services.

About NCADV

The survivor led and survivor focused National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has worked for more than thirty-five years to end violence against women by raising awareness and educating the public about the effects of domestic abuse. Our work includes developing and sustaining ground-breaking public policy at the national level aimed at ending violence; assisting the 2,000+ urban and rural shelters and programs at the local, state, and regional levels of the nation in the programming they offer to victims seeking safety and assistance; and offering programming that empowers and supports the long-term health and safety of victims of domestic violence. Currently, our constituency encompasses more than 80,000 programs, survivors, advocates, and allied individuals and is growing daily. Learn more about us at: www.ncadv.org.

About Theresa’s Fund

Theresa’s Fund is a private family foundation started in 1992 by Preston V. McMurry, Jr. that has helped to change the landscape of domestic violence services in Arizona through grant making, board development and fundraising that has helped to generate more than $49 million in donations for Arizona-based organizations such as East Valley Child Crisis Center, Sojourner Center, Florence Crittenden, Emerge, UMOM, and West Valley Child Crisis Center. It developed the domesticshelters.org concept as a way to expand its reach to people across the U.S.

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content

Cyberbullying: A Growing Threat to Young People

Cyberbullying is one of the major threats to the mental health of young people according to a group of young researchers at the  UK National Children’s Bureau. A survey by the charity Beatbullying found that nearly one-third of all 11-16 year olds have been bullied online, and for 25 per cent of those the bullying was ongoing. The consequences range from young people developing anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours – through to suicide, and the World Health Organisation recognises this as a global problem. Social workers and other professionals working with young people worldwide need to take this modern threat seriously.

cyber-bullying-posterCyberbullying has increased dramatically in recent years.19% of regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 reported being involved in online aggression; 15% had been aggressors, and 7% had been targets; 3% were both aggressors and targets. 17% of 6-11 year olds and 36% of 12-17 year olds reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them in e-mails, instant messages, web sites, chat rooms or text messages.

Very little research has been done to investigate the issue of cyber-bullying. However, cyberbullying is as harmful if not more harmful than the usual forms of bullying due to the secret nature of the attack, the invasion of personal space, and the fact that potentially harmful messages can be displayed to a large audience in minutes.

Many school students involved in cyber-bullying can be unaware of what they are contributing to. School anti-bullying policies are not effective in stopping it because of the special nature of this form of bullying which allows those involved in passing on hurtful material to feel less responsible.

Cyberbullying has been defined as the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, blogs, online games and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. Cyber-bullying includes a large variety of behaviour and situations, such as sharing embarrassing images or videos, sending abusive text messages or stealing online identities to cause problems for the victim via social media.

As well as the rate and frequency of bullying emerging as important factors, another significant variable in evaluating the impact and consequences of being bullied is the length of time of ‘the bullying relationship’. Few studies have been able to follow-up research with bullies but one study found that among a group of students who had been identified as persistent bullies 70% had received criminal convictions by the time they were 24 years old.

More than 80% of children in the UK have access to home computers and more than 75% of children aged eleven own a mobile phone so the scope for bullying in this way is huge. The proportion who report being cyber-bullied (19.7%) is similar to that found in other studies globally. Young people feel that cyber-bullying consists of traditional bullying methods such as ‘harassment’, ‘antagonising’, ‘tormenting’, ‘threatening’ via different forms of technology. Respondents identified ‘intentionality’ as an important feature of cyber-bullying.

Overwhelmingly young people agreed that it was as harmful:

“Cyber-bullying is basically still verbal bullying and is definitely psychological bullying. Any bullying is psychological though, really. And any bullying is going to be harmful” (Girl)

“Just because it isn’t in real life doesn’t mean the emotional distress caused is any less” (Boy).

and in some cases that it was worse because the bullying is in black and white, could get very personal, has the potential to involve many more people much more quickly and has a degree of secrecy about it which in turn can create fear in the victim. In addition because cyber-bullying can take place at any time and in any place, options for escape are limited. Or as one girl said: “There is no hiding place from cyber-bullying”

Measures and resources need to be developed in a Public Health context to support young people to report incidents of cyber-bullying through other young people who could help change attitudes and provide a source of peer support. Therapeutic methods and models used by health and social care staff may require changing, adapting or enhancing to reflect the particular characteristics of both bullies and victims of cyber-bullying and their needs.

Legal and Political pressure needs to be exerted on multi-million pound social media companies and organisations that promote and profit from internet use to act more responsibly in their duty of care to customers and to be pro-active in combating harm being conducted via their websites/chatrooms and social networking forums. Public Health and education policies and practice that take a holistic approach and which stress the importance of developing values of co-operation, care and kindness amongst young people, rather than competition and individuality need to be designed, developed and implemented sooner rather than later as the digital world contributes to the further isolation and self-centred context of the emotional and psychological development of young people.

Optimize Your Gmail Experience: Inbox, Timed Filters, and More

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If you want an empty inbox or close to it, I will be giving you several tips on how to use Gmail, one of the most popular free email services, to optimize your email experience. Although many of us get more emails than we can easily manage, some of these emails are incredibly important and time sensitive while other emails aren’t much better than spam. How can we avoid getting bogged down in junk mail while still ensuring that we don’t miss our most important emails, or is it the empty inbox dream that in reality you feel can never be reach?

Native Mobile App- Inbox by Gmail

Google has just released a new service called Inbox by Gmail. It’s currently invite only, but you can send an email to inbox@google.com to request an invite.

Having only used the service for a day, my thoughts are preliminary, but I can say that I think this service has promise. Inbox does not have to replace Gmail. You can use both, and Inbox is set up so that what you do in Inbox will—in theory—work seamlessly with your current setup.

The user interface is beautiful and I can see how some of the features will be incredibly useful. For example, you can bundle emails together in your inbox so that all the emails you get from that listserv aren’t cluttering your email inbox. The pin feature is a great improvement on the starring you could already do with Gmail. With Inbox, you can click a button at the top of your inbox and only see pinned items to quickly see the most important things you need to deal with. The snooze feature is very similar to a function previously offered by Boomerang—more on Boomerang later—and lets you hide an email from inbox until a time when the email is more relevant. Other features with potential are reminders: you can tie reminders to specific emails to help you to remember what you’re wanting to do with it and create general reminders to do things like remind you to contact someone. I’m less certain about the sweep feature that auto-archives everything in your inbox that isn’t pinned, but this could be great for some people’s workflow. The assist feature sounds great, but I haven’t noticed Inbox doing much in this regard for me yet.

This is all in early stages. Currently, you can only use Inbox in Chrome (at inbox.google.com) and on Android and Apple phones and tablets. It may not be for everyone, but I suggest you request an invite and give it a try.

Timed Filters for Regular Mortals

If code makes you squeamish and you don’t have an invite to Inbox yet, there are other ways to optimize your Gmail experience. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest that you explore Gmail Labs tab under settings. There are some interesting things you can do with these features. But what might be the most useful feature you can enable under Gmail’s settings is to turn on the “Send and Archive” button. If you turn this on, there will be a send and archive option next to the send option at the bottom of your emails. This allows you to archive you won’t need in your inbox after you’ve replied to them as you send them.

Outside of Gmail’s internal settings, there are third-party apps that allow you to do things you can’t do with Gmail alone—though this is changing to some extent with Inbox. Boomerang is an effective and easy to use tool for maximizing Gmail. Boomerang let’s you schedule an email to be sent later—so that people think you sent it at 7am instead of 3am. You can also have Boomerang temporarily remove an email from your inbox and schedule its return to your inbox at a more relevant time. This second feature is now provided by Inbox’s snooze function, but I haven’t run across a schedule to send later option in Inbox. Boomerang is free for a limited number of uses per month, but if you want unlimited use you’ll have to pay them.

Timed Filters for Advance Users

Most people who use Gmail know about filters, but are less aware about the possibilities for timed filters.

Timed filters make it easier to deal with recurring emails such as daily calendar emails from Google Calendar and semi-spam such as Newegg’s deal email barrage you want to see and then want gone, as well as emails you want to see and then want archived for later such as notifications from blogs you follow.

Lifehacker provides a great article on a Google Apps Script you can use to automatically clean up Gmail with timed filters, but you can also visit JohnEDay’s article in which the Lifehacker’s advice is based upon for the basics on how to utilize scripts.

I found Lifehacker’s advice very useful for things I want to see but don’t want to keep—e.g., Google Calendar emails and semi-spam—but less useful for things I want to arrive in my inbox but then archive to look at later—such as email notifications from blogs I follow. Lifehacker’s post provides another script for archiving, but I didn’t like it as posted—it automatically archives all opened emails after two days—because sometimes I have an important pending email I want to keep in my inbox and don’t want to have to mark as unread for it to stay.

Thankfully, you can modify the auto-archive script to only archive particular emails after two days—or whatever amount of time you want. In case you don’t know how to edit script, I’m posting the script as I revised it for filtering blog notifications. This script archives, rather than deletes, these emails so that I can get back to them later if and when I have more time:

function archiveBlogs() {
// Archive blog notification emails after two days
var threads = GmailApp.search(‘label:Blogs older_than:2d’);
for (var i = 0; i < threads.length; i++) {
threads[i].moveToArchive();
}
}

If you use this code, the email notifications will arrive in your inbox where they’ll stay for 2 days—you can change the length of time—after which they’ll be moved out of your inbox. They will still be available under the “Blogs” label in case you want to go back to them later.

For this and the code from Lifehacker to work, you’ll first need to create Gmail labels—e.g., “Blogs”—and set up filters that will label emails appropriately. If you don’t have labels with the names in the script before you run it, you’ll get an error message.

Third Party Mobile Apps

Email can be overwhelming, but you can move toward making your email work for you rather than you working for it. Inbox shows great promise, but I would need to use longer in order to recommend it with certainty. If you can figure out how to use them, timed filters can transform your experience with clutter emails you may want to see vanish. Also, using Gmail labs located in your email settings can also help enhance your Gmail experience. If you are looking for an excellent third-party mobile app alternative, Mailbox is a useful mobile app download that will help keep your Gmail inbox organized.

Finally, third-party apps let you do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do with Gmail. However, with the new release of Inbox by Gmail, third-party app features may be redundant.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzNTjpUMOp4[/youtube]

Optimizing Microsoft Word for Academic Writing

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Microsoft Office Word is one of the most commonly used software editing programs of all the time, but we rarely think about how to make it work better to fit our needs. You might not realize it, but there are several easy ways to optimize Word to make it more efficient and effective when used in an academic setting. In this article, I will be sharing with you six practical tips on how to customize Microsoft Word to help save you time, create documents that are more professional and readable, as well as how to set up Word as a citation manager.

1) Don’t rely on Word’s default proofing settings

If you want Word to offer stylistic suggestions or if you’d like more data about your writing than word count, such as the number of passive sentences and readability statistics, you can turn on more options. Go to options—you should be able to find this under the file tab—and then Proofing. From here you will be able to turn on style suggestions and readability statistics, which will be available to you after you go through the spelling and grammar check suggestions.

2) Remove metadata

This is vital if you’re submitting something that is supposed to be fairly judged without knowledge of the author—e.g., peer review—or if you don’t want someone to know how long you’ve spent editing a document. To remove this metadata, go to the file tab and then select the info option. From there you can see a “Prepare for Sharing” button that you should use in some circumstances.

3) Use Field Codes

You should have an academic writing document template with embedded and automatically updating field codes. You can use these to insert things such as the date the document was most recently revised, the word count, etc. To start using field codes, go to the Insert tab, find the Quick Parts button and click on it, and select Field from the drop-down menu that will appear.

4) Use Word to create PDFs

You don’t need the full version of Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs. When saving a document, you can select PDF as the format and have a document that appears more final and professional.

5) Use a citation manager that has a Word plug-in

Don’t cite manually. Citation managers can be used to store and organize your references, including PDF files associated with them, and then to automatically cite and create bibliographies as you write in Word. I’m familiar with Endnote and Mendeley. Both are useful and have Word plug-ins for citing, but I’ve found Mendeley to be simpler to use for citing in Word, easier to learn, and better for organizing my journal article PDFs. Most importantly, Mendeley is free.

6) Use the Review tab

There are many things you can do from the review tab. Experiment with the Track Changes and Compare buttons. They won’t be entirely necessary for everything you do—especially the compare button—but they are indispensable in some situations.

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