To Support Others, Social Workers Must Advocate for Themselves Amidst Covid-19 Outbreak

As a profession, social workers are advocates. We’re led by values of social justice, the advancement of the vulnerable, and promotion of dignity and basic rights for all. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is an immediate risk to social workers’ lives, and we must also focus on advocating for ourselves.

It seems no small coincidence that in the United States, a profession of human dignity and equal rights is held in the lowest esteem of professionals across measures which also includes pay scale and representation in management, leadership, and politics. This is an important time to declare our commitment to defending the most vulnerable and establish our expertise as the profession of social justice.

As the pandemic begins to take effect in the United States, the inequities woven into the structure of our society are increasingly laid bare. As states are mandated to shelter in place, who among us are excluded from shelter at its most basic? As we adhere to mandates to maintain social distance and self isolation in the interest of public health, which communities are more likely than others to be targeted and harmed?

Social workers sit adjacent to and alongside societally marginalized groups through our daily work, personal histories, and professional passions. We demand a voice at the table as decisions are made that will impact the fabric of our society for generations to come. Indeed, by virtue of our profession’s holistic lens, social workers have a critical perspective on the current crisis facing our country and our world. We have long been unsung heroes of multidisciplinary solutions to large-scale problems, and are advocating now for an amplified role in formulating the response to COVID-19.

Social workers have been organizing in protest of the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, largely due to our employers’ negligence in acknowledging the full scope of the problem and accommodating the unique needs that have arisen in light of the pandemic. In Maryland, the government has closed schools, restaurants and non-essential businesses. Even with these precautions our hospitals may become overwhelmed by acute need and do not have the personal protective equipment or plans in place to support the health and safety of social worker staff. While social workers have been deemed essential by the state, we are underutilized by our organizations. We have not been asked how our key clinical and critical thinking skill sets can best be applied in healthcare settings, to the detriment of ourselves and our patient populations.

The primary conflict facing our profession now is that the cacophony of social work voices, often overlooked frontline responders, are somehow still not valued highly enough to warrant support and advancement from the very organizations that are meant to be championing our cause and working alongside us to inform change. As social workers we know we are only as strong a voice for our client and patient populations as we can be for ourselves. Our profession of advocacy and organizing is only as good as what we advocate and organize for. If our boards and associations will not stand up for us and our communities then we will find other ways to make our voices heard. This is the story of a rallying cry. Social workers are fed up.

We require elevation as a profession, acknowledgment of our function reflected through representation in leadership and pay scale, and the respect that we have earned as essential staff at the frontlines of this crisis. It is only when social workers and our representative bodies advocate successfully for ourselves that we can effectively advocate for the communities our profession has committed to serve.

In such times of uncertainty, we are first demanding that social workers be protected appropriately in order to be both physically and emotionally prepared for the tasks at hand and ahead. We believe this advocacy will impact other communities as well, at macro levels of society. The recommendations for immediate action below are meant to guide organizations employing social workers as well as policy makers and political leaders at the local, state, and national levels:

  1. Provide protective equipment to all client-facing social workers, regardless of the limited nature of in-person services.
  2. Allow pregnant, elder, and otherwise immunosuppressed staff to stay home or work from home with pay and health benefits.
  3. Encourage social work services to occur remotely as possible. Indeed, non-medical personnel should be able to work from home if they so desire, and the social work role in “essential” settings such as healthcare should be carefully examined for opportunities to rotate remote and in-person services to limit exposure for the individual and community. A lack of teletherapeutic infrastructure is not an appropriate reason to require in-person client contact (see public school systems for example).
  4. Make clear organizational policies emphasizing that clients stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible. Trust social workers to utilize their clinical skill set to appropriately assess for their clients’ safety and needs.
  5. Hold all organizational meetings online and prohibit in-person meetings.
  6. For Healthcare organizations, encourage coordinated care in service of clients and families having preemptive discussions regarding treatment, including the designation of healthcare decision-makers and completion of advance directives.

All social inequalities are magnified in this crisis. We urge elected officials and health care organizational leaders to respond to this pandemic on a scale comparable to the threat, and make sure that we are protecting working people, low-income people, and poor and societally marginalized people, many of whom may be social workers.

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6 Recommendations for Social Workers During COVID-19

Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC) seeks to abolish the use of solitary confinement and supports social workers in its fight against this social injustice.

This Educator|Resource offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social service providers who work in criminal justice facilities, and humane alternatives. A resource database provides an extensive set of more than 300 teaching resources that can be used in a range of social work courses. This includes courses in criminal justice and practice courses in mental health, policy, community organizing and advocacy, and social justice and human rights.

We thank the Council on Social Work Education for acknowledging the contributions of SWASC and to Yolanda Padilla for their help and support in launching this project.

Global Social Welfare Digital Summit Call for Proposals: Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Social Change

SWHELPER will host its four day annual virtual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit beginning on February 25th through February 28th, 2020. The Summit’s primary goal is to enhance practice for helping professionals by using technology to eliminate geographical borders for training, networking, and collaboration. 

Our goal is to use an interdisciplinary approach for helping professionals to provide news, information, and resources critical to global knowledge sharing,says Deona Hooper, SWHELPER Founder and Editor-in-Chief, and host of the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit. 

The virtual format transcends geographic locations and expands learning to a global classroom. Most importantly, it allows us to provide the same great content as an in person conference yet at a more affordable rate. Our four-day conference will focus on Activism, Health Care, Trauma Informed Care, Prevention and Solutions,Deona concludes.

Call for Proposals 

We are looking for speakers who are interested in giving presentations from micro to macro perspectives on topics of ethics, technology, research, policy and other related themes. All speakers are exempted from paying the participation fee and will have free access to all four days of the conference.  Additionally, each speaker will get a dedicated page where he/she can promote their work and products as well as free marketing and promotion leading up to the Summit. 

  • There are no fees for speakers. All presenters will be given a four-day pass to the live conference along with 1-year access to view all recorded presentation if they can not attend the other presentations live.
  • We will create graphics and posts for each presenter to promote on SWHELPER social media.
  • SWHELPER will publish articles recognizing all speakers chosen to present at the 2020 Summit.

The call for proposals is open, and it will end on September 15th, 2019. Visit https://on.swhelper.org/2LyU54D for more information. Global Welfare Digital Summit will work with other media outlets to arrange interviews for speakers who want to discuss their work and presentations for the Summit. 

About SWHELPER is a woman-owned, award-winning, mission-driven, and progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment for the social good. Our audience is comprised of academics, policymakers, social workers, students, mental health practitioners, helping professionals, caregivers, and people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis. Visit us at www.swhelper.org

A Call to Action for Social Workers! The Time is Now to ELEVATE

As we recognize March as Social Work Month, let’s awaken that original passion in each other and build on our strengths and core social work values to make change and lead the way for others to do so as well.

My fellow social workers, the time is now to lead the way for our nation regarding human rights and human well-being. The shocking cruelty and violation of human rights that occur each day in our nation under the current administration not only violates our Code of Ethics, but is cruel, unjust, and the epitome of what we as social workers dedicate our lives to fight against—socialinjustice.

We cannot risk becoming desensitized to any injustice, despite hearing about a new, abhorrent policy, practice or incident, every day. Let’s channel our frustration into collective action because this is our domain. We are the experts of social welfare, and we are uniquely trained to recognize social injustice and empower individuals, families, organizations, and communities toward positive social change.

It’s what we do every day as social workers. Since we know how to do this, we should be leading the way. This social work month lets ELELVATE our dedication and translate it into collective action for social justice. I believe that in doing so, we honor of the many pioneer social workers who have blazed the trail for us and worked to give us many of the rights we now enjoy.

Every day I am in awe of our society and our government’s attitudes and policies toward the most vulnerable people in our society. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia seem to be increasing at alarming rates (or perhaps are just more acceptably overt now) and this is resulting in more violence, conflict, and division among families and communities.

To me, that constitutes an emergency. Children are being legally separated from their parents, put in cages, often abused or neglected and “lost” by our government. If that isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is. Banning PEOPLE from serving in the military, sending refugees back to their country of origin to face certain death, and women’s reproductive rights at risk are all emergencies to me.

What do you think? What constitutes a national emergency to you? Whatever you answer, the good news is that we know how to deal with crisis as social workers and are bound together by social workvalues. So, let’s do it. Someone has to, and why not us—this is our domain. Plus, we have a lot of professional strengths to build on.

For example:

• We know how to build on strengths.
• We know how to organize.
• We know how to educate.
• We know how to build bridges, not walls.
• We know how to empower individuals, families, organization, and communities.
• We understand human rights and human dignity.
• We know how to advocate on micro through macro levels.
• We know how to push through when we are tired because people’s lives depend on us.
• We understand human behavior more than most.
• We know how to critique social policy.
• We know how to conduct research and translate it into practice.
• We know how to problem solve and are used to complex problems.
• We value diversity and we know how to celebrate it.

As a social work educator, I have the privilege of working with budding social workers every day. Their passion for social justice is raw and strong. However, as some seasoned social workers know, that passion may not go away, but it may grow tired, and frustrated by red tape, high case-loads and lack of support.

My fellow social workers, I ask you to ask yourself: How do you want to use your unique innate gifts and your professional skills as a social worker to help our nation awaken to the humanity of others? We cannot let human suffering being the norm or be a line item on news that people shake their head to and go on about their day. Jane Addams would not approve.

SWHELPER Announces Its Second Annual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit

On March 19th thru March 22nd, SWHELPER will be hosting the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit which is an all online digital conference. You can attend the conference from any place in the world with an internet connection. The conference themes will focus on advocacy, trauma-informed care, self-care and healing, and solutions.

Are you feeling unmotivated or uninspired? Maybe you need some professional nourishment to broaden your perspective or add tools to your toolbox for future career growth. The Global Social Welfare Digital Summit aims to extend learning to a global classroom by allowing you to connect with helping professionals around the world. Additionally, you may be eligible for up 10 continuing education credits (CEUs).

Early Bird Tickets went on sale January 1st at 50% off the regular price. The Four Day Education Pass regularly $55 is available at $25. For government employees, the four day pass is $49 and $69 for private and nonprofit. All passes come with 1 year access to view all the sessions on your schedule.

Click here and Use coupon code 4DAYSWH to get an additional 10% off of early bird pricing. Early Bird pricing ends February 8th, 2019. You can also view the session agenda before purchasing your ticket.

Some of the presentations include:

  • Twitter – Jerrel Peterson, MSW: From Micro to Macro Leveraging Research, Data, and Ethics for Social Impact
  • Facebook – Avani Parehk: Tech and Movement Building…How to Hold Space in the Digital Age
  • USC – Melissa Singh: Trauma Informed Interview Coaching for Global Environments
  • Columbia University – Matthea Marquart: Helping the Helpers Online Self-Care Technique

Some of our sponsors include the International of Association for Schools of Social Work, International Council for Social Work, Network for Social Work Managers, and the National Organization for Human Services.

For more information visit, https://www.globalsocialwelfaresummit.com.

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

5 Ways White Social Workers Can Respond to the Charlottesville Aftermath

Charlottesville Unite White Supremacists Rally

In the past 48 hours, we have witnessed the President of the United States make statements that led many to believe that he equates neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups with left wing protest groups as equals. We have also witnessed the President seemingly defend neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups – and even suggest that “very fine people” participated in the “Unite the Right” rally at which racist and anti-Semitic slogans were widely chanted.

These statements have drawn widespread condemnation from both sides of the political spectrum. Yesterday, on Fox News’ Fox & Friends television show, Republican commentator Gianno Caldwell even notes that the President seemingly refuses to place blame on the White supremacists that initiated the rally. You can read a copy of the transcript of the press conference at which all this occurred here. To say that the President’s demeanor and words at that press conference are a disturbing development in our nation’s history would be an understatement. While expressions of racism and the reign of White supremacy writ large are nothing new in the United States, the events of the past week have indeed rocked our nation and our profession.

As social workers, our voices and actions in these times will speak volumes about how true we are to implementing the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics that guides our profession. When we become a social worker, we make a commitment to “promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients” in all situations. So, how, exactly, do social workers begin to do this work in these times? Here are five ways you can start to do this work.

First, we need to educate ourselves about the history of neo-Nazi and White supremacist actions in the United States. Knowledge is power. Moving beyond the idea that rallies such as last Saturdays’ are one-offs, or that there is nothing to be done with a world spiraling out of control is also vital for social workers. Start by learning about the prevalence of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups in your very own state, a map of which can be found at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Social work faculty should check in with their colleagues and their students on how we can further educate ourselves.

Second, have a frank talk with yourself about how you may have benefitted from White supremacy (in the larger sense). “Owning” our own White privilege contributes to the social justice effort. Once we see how privilege works, we can see the other side of the coin that goes along with it, namely, oppression. To learn more about White privilege, consider this checklist and how the content relates to you.

While it may feel uncomfortable to realize just how much White people benefit from a larger system of White supremacy (even without being actively racist), this is a vital step in helping our society to shift. Doing this personal work will assist you in learning to center the voices of people who are oppressed in the journey to foster social justice. As author Roxane Gay points out in her book Bad Feminist, “when people wield the word ‘privilege,’ it tends to fall on deaf ears because we hear that word so damn much it has become white noise.” Don’t let the idea of addressing White privilege become white noise!

Third, take stock of your own thoughts about the events in Charlottesville and the President’s statements. Think about how you can advocate for social justice in response to all that has occurred. Standing up to oppression means stepping up in a time like this to speak out against hate and oppression.

While it can often be a losing battle to debate members of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups directly, there are other ways to speak out. Let your community know where you stand – be that your family community, your work community, your geographic community or your social media community. Denounce oppression, but remember, you can also take a strengths-based approach and speak to what you think can contribute to peace and unity in our country.

Fourth, check in with your clients, especially, for example, your clients of color and/or those who are Jewish, in order to see how they have been impacted by the Charlottesville aftermath. As part of our professional social work education, we are taught that in order to truly understand our clients’ behavior, we have to think about their human behavior in the social environment. Given this, your acknowledgment of what is going on in your clients’ social environment can function as an engagement tool that can support your ultimate goals for intervention. Then, consider the ways in which you can partner with your clients to address social justice concerns germane to the case.

Fifth, if you’ve followed the first four steps, you are doing great.  However, it’s also important to remember that we don’t want to become a fix-it-all person or a guilt-ridden person with a savior complex.  In owning who we are and what has impacted us, and in standing up for social justice, we must also avoid what Dr. Robin DiAngelo refers to as “White fragility.”

This phenomenon can be defined as a condition when even low levels of racial stress become intolerable, thus setting in motion defensive actions.  The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive, or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

Social workers, you are primed to act in times like these! In fact, I argue that you are compelled to act, per the Code of Ethics. Remember, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously noted, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

The author would like to extend her sincere thanks to one of her accountability partners and colleagues, Dr. Shannon Butler Mokoro of Salem State University’s School of Social Work, for her consultation on this essay.

Social Work Students Give Up Spring Break To Advocate for Policies in D.C.

UA Social Work Students on Advocacy Day 2016

There won’t be a post-spring break re-acclimation for a small group of social work students at The University of Alabama.

Instead, they’ll sit before members of Congress on Capitol Hill to advocate for three bills related to social work during the first University of Alabama (UA) School of Social Work Policy and Advocacy Washington, D.C., Fly-In on March 21-22 in Washington, D.C.

The program will provide UA BSW and MSW students with the opportunity to analyze and advocate for one of three bills: S 3434: Violence Against Women Veterans Act; HR 1290: Improving Access to Mental Health; and HR 253: Family First Prevention Services. Ohio State University asked UA to join the event, and 50 students were selected to participate.

The Fly-In will mirror one of the components of UA’s long-running D.C. MSW internship program, which provides field education, policy practice and advocacy opportunities. UA’s School of Social Work added a BSW D.C. program in 2014.

“The Council on Social Work Education put forth an initiative to incorporate more policy and advocacy experiences in our curriculum, so we decided it would make sense to work with what our school has done in D.C. for the last 38 years,” said Carroll Phelps, field coordinator for the Washington, D.C., internship programs. “We wanted to give students an experience of policy and advocacy in Washington for those who couldn’t participate in our BSW and MSW DC internship programs.”

The DC Fly-In is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two prominent schools of social work, said Dr. Vikki Vandiver, dean of the UA School of Social Work.

“Led by each institution’s field education program, this event will provide students a rare opportunity to mix and mingle in a close-up and personal way with key politicians and national leaders in the social work profession — doing so in the very heart of government,” Vandiver said. “I have no doubt this experience will be transformative for our students not only now but for their future.” 

Students will have a full slate of events with speakers from policy and advocacy agencies, training at the National Association of Social Workers, tours, a panel discussion on social work careers led by MSW DC alumni, receptions with members of Congress and policy practice training, particularly in the points of emphasis and how to communicate effectively.

“They’ll all be involved in advocacy at some point, whether it’s for an individual client to get services or for a group of clients to be able to have access to resources,” Phelps said. “Teaching them on this national level, where they go before members of Congress, will prepare them to do that on any level.”

Alexi Bolton, a sophomore BSW and business student from Madison, was assigned to HR 253: Family First Prevention Services, which would restructure the funding requirements for family interventions. Current law provides more available funding when a child is removed from a home and placed in foster care than funding for preventive measures, Bolton said. Bolton said she is looking forward to working with the current students in D.C. to craft a strategy for presenting this policy.

Bolton hopes to have a career in nonprofit administration and already has experience implementing service projects, both through an art camp in her hometown of Madison and through 57 Miles, a UA Honors College development program in Perry County. Her previous experiences in those projects have shaped her interest in policy analysis.

“Someone once said to me that the problem with policy is not that it’s poorly written, it’s that policy makers don’t understand the field,” Bolton said. “So doing the service work and giving back allows me an avenue to see what this policy is directly affecting.”

Jonathan Harrell, a MSW student from Birmingham, participated in the undergraduate Washington internship program. He, like Bolton, is interested in how policy changes as it moves from the ground level to the House floor.

“In reading and understanding laws, things jump off the page, and you begin to apply them to real-life situations at the ground-level to determine how effective it can be,” Harrell said. “Do people have a realistic chance to get the resources? Reading it is one thing — but what are the true outcomes? I’m interested in becoming a health policy analyst, so this is a great opportunity for me.”

Love Wins in the Wake of the Orlando Shootings

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During the weekend, yet another hate crime occurred in the LGBTQ community when a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 49 dead and 53 injured. Families and friends of LGBTQ communities across the world are still recovering from the initial shock of the news. Among the victims was Enrique Rios, a New York social worker, on vacation visiting friends when his life ended in tragedy.

As I write this article, I am not only writing as a social work professional, but as an individual all too familiar with the sight, smell, taste, and fear hate crimes create. I am feeling shattered, upset, angry, and confused.

Words do not come easily to describe the cruelty and madness in this news. It is painful, but it should not leave us without reflection, and the message of Love Wins. How can we as social workers take this message and make it a model, an approach, a perspective, a theory, and apply it in our practice?

How can we take the pain and trauma that people experience and transform it into universal love and support? How can we open our eyes and explore the power resonating within us with such rich emotions? How can we recall such emotions and integrate them in the way we support individuals?

An immense number of supporters across the world have gathered together and paid respects to the people who lost their lives and the bereaved in this act of senseless violence. People across the world united to show what love can do, and how love can be used.

“When big events happen that touch the gay community, people immediately come here,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

“There’s been no significant development in the gay rights movement that hasn’t had a presence in the Village,” he added. – New York Times

More than 5,000 people gathered in Soho, London UK, and became silent within seconds altogether and maintained their silence for an extended period to show their respect for the deceased and their families and friends. More than 1,000 people in Athens, Greece came together to light candles and have a peaceful walk to show their empathy and willingness to accompany the bereaved in their journey of grief. People in France, across the US, in Korea, in the Pacific, in South America, all gathered to say one thing… LoveWins.

If love is so powerful, why do we as social workers not make this part of our everyday professional life? Social work, among other things, is an act of advocacy for human and civil rights. Our role stresses to influence policy makers, to influence localities, and to explore support systems in the community.

Love may be the one tool that may bring all these together and facilitate our work to a larger extent. Love may be an answer to the service user’s life. Love might bring different people together and teach them how to BE together and inspire us to help educate and learn from each other. Love may be the tool that will teach people to become more tolerant and eliminate discrimination, prejudice, oppression, microaggressions.

Love may be the tool that will forge strong relationships between community partners to provide holistic social services. Love may be the tool that will enable all people to stop hating each other.

Do we as social workers not pledge to promote the well-being of individuals, families, groups, and communities? Let’s teach people how to love and show them that difference is not a scary thing.

Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Child Welfare and Psychotropic Drug Monitoring: The Role for Social Workers

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Psychotropic treatments for children in foster care can be appropriate, but this form of therapy requires considerable oversight and advocacy from social workers and caregivers. Children do not respond to medications in the same way that an adult may respond because they are constantly growing, their response to medication can be developmentally dependent.

There is a greater risk for a toxic buildup and significant health events can occur without careful monitoring. Social workers should be aware of prescribing guidelines and steps for advocacy and monitoring, but can often feel that becoming involved is beyond their scope or even that medications should be avoided completely in favor of psychosocial care.

Caregivers are often desperate to get psychosocial services, but they may lack accessibility and availability leading to the perception of pharmacotherapy as the only option. Unfortunately, this can also lead to higher rates of prescribing in the effort to help a child.

Although the Trauma-Focused Movement in Child Welfare also seeks a reduction in psychotropic use, it should not be solely aligned with psychosocial services. Children in care are more likely to present with developmental, emotional and behavioral health issues. Responsible and appropriate psychotropic use has a place in caring for them too along with supportive and empathetic caregiving which is always required. Caregivers may need additional training to assist children who have intensive needs.

Psychosocial therapies should be tried first, whenever possible, and then with medication. Social workers can be instrumental in this process. Social Workers can assess the supports and stability in the home, understanding the recommended guidelines for prescribing, providing comprehensive history to prescribing providers and by monitoring so that medication is prescribed and utilized responsibly. Social workers do not need to be doctors in order to participate in decisions for care. Social workers just need the ability to ask good questions, pay attention and advocate effectively – which is basically routine social work practice.

Keep in mind there are always exceptions to the rule, and all assessments should be assessed on a case by case basis. Here are some basic guidelines to begin effective advocacy and monitoring:

1. Provide a comprehensive medical, family and social history, as well as a list of any over the counter or non-psychotropic medications the child may be receiving. Failure to do so could lead to serious adverse effects.
2. Use tools to gather evidence to assess for trauma or current triggers in the home or school and provide this as well. Is a developmental assessment needed?
3. Weigh risk versus benefit to the child. All medications have the potential to help, hurt or do nothing at all. If the benefit does not outweigh the risk, then it should not be tried.
4. Prescribers should also use tools and gather evidence – medical history, academic performance, labs – and make referrals for needed assessments before recommending a treatment path (ex., psychological evaluation, psychosocial therapy is in place) prior to prescribing.
5. Request that only one medication be added or subtracted at a time. By only making one change at a time, the response can be more easily determined.
6. Go low and go slow – start with the lowest dose and move up. FDA approved medications are typically the first line of treatment, but well-evidenced medications may also be used. Ask the physician for evidence and rationale. Seek a second opinion if needed.
7. If it is not working, then it should be discontinued, but never stop a medication without a physician’s direction to do so. Instead return as needed to ensure the physician understands what is happening.
8. Ensure assent and consent from the child as much as possible and be mindful of legal age of consent laws in your state. By involving a child and caregivers in psychoeducation and treatment options, you will strengthen your alliance, empower the child and increase the likelihood that the child will trust and be willing to seek care in the future should it become necessary.
9. A child should typically see the prescriber within 2-4 weeks of a new or discontinued medication and every three months, if things are going well.
10. Every six months to one year, earlier if planned, discuss the reduction and discontinuation of a medication. Every treatment plan designed with a physician should also include a plan to halt a medication in the future and how to do that.

OSU School of Social Work Dean Is Not Silent on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

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Over the past year, we have witnessed massive protests around the world spawned by human rights violations, declining labor rights, and austerity cuts to public services. The plight for many Americans struggling with poverty and located in low-income neighborhoods are not being spared the same fate in our “land of plenty”.

These protests have brought to light the use of police forces and government resources being used to further suppress the voices of the poor and what appears to be an acceptable disdain for policing communities of color. Many have predicted this period in our history will be remembered as the third reconstruction, but how will social work be remembered regarding the most important issues in our life time?

Since Ferguson and the development of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, it is my opinion that social work leadership is failing to engage and participate in discussions on behalf of vulnerable populations with very little political power. Largely, I have been disappointed in the social work profession as whole for the lack of any organized national efforts to advocate on a range of social issues affecting the clients we serve.

However, I was able to get a glimpse of what a top down effort could look like when social work leadership leads an effort instead individuals being forced to act autonomously without social work leadership support. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ohio State University College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire who lead a #BlackLivesMatter March for their community. Here is what Dean Gregoire had to say about why it was important for him to get involved.

SWH: Why was it important for you and the School of Social Work to lead a march on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?

We have all be moved by the events of the past year and wanted a tangible demonstration of support for our students, faculty, and staff colleagues. It is important to hold conversation about emergent social topics.  But as social workers, it is also important at times to transcend talk. By marching we “walked our talk” and provided a demonstration of our concern and support that transcended conversation.

SWH: How are student’s processing in the classroom the racial tension and angst manifesting in a variety ways across the country?

I believe that a lot of our community is in pain regarding the level of racial tension and violence. We feel the need to communicate our concern and support. Although we hosted a public forum on these issues, we did not think we were doing an effective enough job of providing the vehicles for classroom attention to the issues that are manifesting nationwide.  I believe that left our entire community wanting more, and looking to us for a strong statement. So we took a walk together.

SWH: How did the use of social media help to increase awareness of your school’s on the ground efforts with the #BlackLivesMatter March?

Social Media played a critical role.  We made a decision to participate in the walk on Wednesday, and then marched together on Saturday, only three days later.  All of our communication was via social media. Social media was important in allowing those who wanted to support the walk but were unable to attend.  Via social media our impact and reach was much broader, and allowed far great involvement.  To further carry the message we created a Storify to tell the social media story of our day, https://storify.com/osucsw/blacklivesmatter-march

SWH: How do you think social work institutions and members of our profession can engage in the large discussion on poverty and institutional racism within the systems we work?

Social media is an important vehicle for carrying the message. It is not constrained by traditional media, and its much more real time. We are not dependent on the mainstream for getting our message out.  I also think it’s important to be open to conversation that moves us toward solution. It is important to be a witness and a voice in the face of social injustice and a voice.  As social workers we need to transcend complaint alone and lean into difficult issues with an expectation of leading change.  Finally,

SWH: What do you feel are the biggest barriers and challenges for social workers to engage and/or have an impact on the social issues of our day?

Courage and curiosity are two important precursors to having an impact on important social issues. Courage allows us to believe that we can make a difference, and helps us be patient for the enduring effort.  Curiosity is the path to new solutions   Rather than thinking we have all the answers, a willingness to see a problem in a completely different way is the only path to new strategies. We need more sentences starting with “what if?” and fewer with “yes but”.

We are often dragged into zero-sum arguments, ones that pit vulnerable groups against each other.  Should limited resources go to support needy children, or older adults?  Is the oppression of people of color more urgent than attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ community?  When we are arguing among ourselves we are not advancing.  Nothing preserves the status-quo better than when the people who need it changed are fighting among themselves.

Social Workers Must Speak Against Austerity Says BASW UK Chair

BASW APM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix
BASW AGM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix

Today, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is holding a members conference in order to set the vision and aims for the Association for the next 5 years. Highlights and thoughts from the conference are being shared on twitter using the hashtag #BASWAGM15.

Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers, said social workers were better placed than any profession to report the consequences of policies that were likely to continue being implemented after the General Election.

Social workers must collectively speak out as a profession against the damage being done by austerity to society’s most vulnerable citizens, says Shennan to association members.

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Guy Shennan Chair of the British Association of Social Workers

“After five years of cuts to public services, what we can be certain of is that cuts will continue, as every major party remains committed to austerity,” said Mr Shennan.

“So we need to ensure that the social work voice is added to all those other voices demanding an alternative to austerity policies.

“Through a clinical psychology friend I have recently come across a group called Psychologists Against Austerity, who are drawing attention to the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

“I believe we need to have Social Workers Against Austerity too, as, more importantly, our service users need this. Because, I would suggest, social workers more than any other profession know about the damage that neoliberalism is doing.

“We see it day-in and day-out – damage to the nation’s mental health, to the welfare of our children, to family relationships, to the wellbeing of disabled people and older people.”

Mr Shennan said joining organisations like BASW and other social work groups was a “political act” that helped strengthen the profession’s voice.

“It is a political act to organise locally in branch activity. To meet at work as a group, to stop working and have lunch together, even if only once a week, to talk about your experiences at work that day, that week.

“To write a joint letter to a local paper, as a group of BASW members. And there will be many other routes to acting and working collectively.”

Doing “real” relationship-based practice was also a way of “reclaiming” social work’s ability to make positive change by “getting alongside service users”.

Mr Shennan said: “It is our profession, our practices, doing what we have been trained to do, and following the great, real social work traditions, that should constitute social work.”

The Persistent Stigma of Substance Use Disorders

“Stigma is a five dollar word for a two dollar concept. It’s prejudice.”

Stigma, a set of negative stereotypes tied to behavioral health conditions, is not a new problem. Results of a recent survey suggest that views may be changing when it comes to mental illness. Advocacy efforts are getting results, and the public is beginning to recognize that mental illness is, in fact, a health condition.

We need a similar evolution to start when it comes to substance use disorders. Public perception of what it means to be addicted hasn’t shifted significantly. This is a problem.

In a study of Americans conducted by Johns Hopkins University, only 22% of people surveyed were willing to work closely with someone suffering from drug addiction, yet 62% were willing to work closely with someone suffering from mental illness.

Every person struggling to manage a substance use disorder, and every family stigmatized while supporting a loved one, are part of this broader landscape. Our current culture of stigma creates resistance to funding prevention and treatment. Belief that persons with substance use disorders are immoral, not ill, reduces support for behavioral health-centered policy.

Funding for treatment of substance use disorders isn’t commensurate with the scope of the problem. If substance use were recognized by the public as a health issue, it’s likely that prevention would be a higher priority.

We must help each other, and our communities, reshape the distorted image of substance use disorder as criminal and deviant. A person with a substance use disorder remains a person first. Examples of person-first language for substance use are included in this chart shared by Michael Botticelli, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy. Note: Mr. Botticelli is himself a person in long-term recovery.

Language for addiction

Of course, stigma-free language is only one step and changing a stereotype takes time. We should see this as part of the process of removing structural roadblocks to health. As we break the persistent stigma that clings to substance use disorders, we’ll turn the focus instead to very real opportunities that exist for health and recovery.

Selma 50 Years Later, Then Back to Work

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Obama Family leading the 50th Anniversary March- Photo Credit Whitehouse.gov

 

President Barack Obama, in what may be his most eloquent and thoughtful speech, helped us to understand the profound place in history held by those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 in pursuit of social and economic justice. In Selma, Alabama 50 years later, it was their encounter with the forces of bigotry and hate that helped change the course of history.

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President Barack Obama share a moment with Georgia Congressman John Lewis during the commemoration of Bloody Sunday.

It was the determination of the protesters to endure the most vile and despicable slurs imaginable, to withstand flailing police batons, ferocious dogs, and battering waves of water pouring from hoses, that moved the needle ever so slightly from oppression towards freedom. We are constantly reminded by injustice in Ferguson and other places that the battle is far from over.

As the President stated, this is no time for cynicism, no time for complacency or despair. Many Americans of good will believe the social contract that the Framers had in mind was not one that favored a few who would reap a disproportionate share of the benefits of a society whose prosperity depends on the work of many.

I came of age in the 1960s, and it was a turbulent time—Vietnam, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. There were riots, uprisings on college campuses, and, yes, black men were still being lynched. Yet through the turmoil there was always a sense of community—a belief that people were better off if we stuck together. We were told that we either swim together or drown alone. Events like Woodstock brought thousands of young “hippies” together for marathon sessions of the best that music can be. Not surprising, the 1960s was the heyday of community social work.

We hardly got into the next decade when another turning point arrived in a tragic day at Kent State University. It occurred one day before my 20th birthday on May 4, 1970—four unarmed students were shot dead by the National Guard and nine others wounded. The age of law and order had arrived with a vengeance. After all, it was the slogan that propelled Richard M. Nixon into the White House. He was soon to be followed by President Ronald Reagan and a new era of conservatism that swept the country. Community was too close to communism and socialism to be an acceptable form of lifestyle. It was the individual that was paramount.

Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama
Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama

Robert Ringer’s Looking Out for Number Onethe tome du jour—became a New York Times #1 bestseller, and supply-side economics heralded Ayn Rand’s great man theory. Unions and collective bargaining began to wilt from constant attacks from corporations and their Republican allies. We were all competing for the American Dream when we should have been working together to achieve it universally.

The President reminded us that the single most powerful word in our vocabulary must be we. We can get a lot more done than me. At the risk of sounding like Rodney King, it is time that we put aside our differences and begin to look for common solutions to major problems. The commemoration of the historical Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama is cause for neither celebration nor despair. It should, however, energize us to go the extra mile—as the old folks used to say—to see what the end’s going to be.

We must believe that things can get better. We must believe that we can have a more egalitarian society. Economic inequality reaches a point where it becomes evil because it robs so many children of their chance for a meaningful future. The only weapon we have to fight this injustice is political power. We must use it or lose what little hope we have today of achieving some measure of social and economic fairness.

What Social Workers Can Learn From Mahatma Gandhi

Social workers can learn from Mahatma Gandhi on how to step into the light. How to raise your voice and still be modest and a servant to humanity. This is what all social workers want. Right?

Although Mahatma Gandhi was very modest man and a great leader, he was also someone who wanted to be seen and heard. His mission for peace empowered get over his fears, stand up, and step into the light in order to deliver his message of service to the people.

social workersThe fact that social workers know their place in the shadow of their clients comes from a good and serving heart. I understand that because I have been there too, but how would it be if we stand with our clients and share the light?

When I was walking with my puppy Sas the other day, I was surprised by a blackbird singing his best song ever. I looked around to see him and there he was at the top of the roof of the highest building. To be visible and heard, the blackbird found himself a beautiful spot to sing his lovely song. The blackbird was on a mission is not modest at all!

A friend of mine named Charlotte told me how she once spoke to the local council: “we, social workers, stand in the shadow of our clients”. I reacted with a quip and said, “It can be cold and dark in the shadow. Standing together with your client in the light seems more attractive.”.

However, Charlotte was very serious. She explained: “Social Workers don’t position themselves in the spotlights. We are here to help others to solve their problems. Being in the shadow, we are not always visible but at least we know our place and many can learn from that. If it is cold in the shadow, just put on a warm coat. As long as we keep telling others why we stand there!”

Now, I don’t agree with Charlotte. If your voice is coming out of the shadow and no one sees you, will you be heard? I don’t think so. In my opinion, this is exactly the reason why the modesty of social workers can be fatal.

When you are in the shadow no one will hear you, so step into your light. You don’t have to search like the blackbird for a spot on the highest roof! Just do it in your own modest way. Let your mission guide you, and if you need help, just let me know!

Incorporating Homophobia into the Definition of Elder Abuse

Although many older adults receive necessary support from family, friends, and external agencies, some older adults experience exploitation and abuse. Since there is no universal definition for abuse against older individuals, a broader definition refers to elder abuse and neglect as, “any action or inaction by any person, which causes harm to the older or vulnerable person”.

Abuse of older adults includes physical abuse, psychosocial abuse, financial abuse, neglect (active or passive), institutional abuse and domestic violence. Research indicates that family members instigate much abuse against older individuals. Thus, as a result, many abused older adults suffer in silence, making it extremely challenging to estimate and eliminate abuse cases against older adults.

older lesbian coupleEvery year, approximately 4 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse. Additionally, for every case of elder abuse and neglect reported, researchers estimate that as many as 23 cases are unreported. The quality of life for older adults who experience abuse is significantly altered.

They often experience decreased functional and financial status as well as increased dependency, poor self-rated health, feelings of helplessness and isolation and psychological stress. Older individuals who have been abused also have a lower life expectancy than those who have not been abused even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Shari Brotman, Bill Ryan and Robert Cormier from the McGill School of Social Work wrote an article exploring the experience and realities of gay and lesbian seniors and their families in accessing a broad range of health and social services in the community. It recommends that older lesbian and gay individuals would benefit from homophobia being included in the definition of elder abuse. Also, the article articulates the definition of elder abuse should be expanded to include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation. Individuals often experience intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or shame as a result of identifying as an older lesbian and gay individual, and this discrimination is heightened in elderly individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Lesbian and gay individuals, especially lesbian and gay seniors, have a long history of discrimination and marginalization as a result of identifying as a lesbian or gay individual. Incorporating homophobia into the definition of elder abuse would greatly benefit older adults as it would help them to be further integrated in society instead valued based on their sexual orientation. It would also introduce freedom of harassment and/or reduce injury when sexual orientation is seen as a right.

Although there is a need to include homophobia in the definition of elder abuse, there currently is not a well-developed universal definition of elder abuse. Stigma is embedded within identifying as a lesbian and gay individual but also with being an aging individual.

Therefore, before this policy change can occur, a universal definition of elder abuse should be developed. Policy makers should also consider incorporating ageism as well as oppression against LGBTTQ seniors in the definition of elder abuse as well.

Social Workers Against Criminalization Launch New Initiative in the Wake of Protests

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New York Many in the New York social work community honored the reclaiming of Dr. King’s legacy, also known as the Day of Resilience and the Pledge of Resistance, by announcing the launch of Social Workers Against Criminalization (SWAC).

The emergence of SWAC is an acknowledgement of the ways in which social workers have often participated in and perpetuated institutional racism and state violence while simultaneously recognizing the capacity and responsibility that social workers have to support the already existing resilience of oppressed communities, through trauma informed care, political education, policy, and organizing initiatives. SWAC promotes the professional obligations of social workers to dismantle the structures that perpetuate state violence and mass criminalization while increasing our accountability to those most directly impacted.

Ferguson Action, activists, and community groups nationwide have come together to declare 2015 as the Year of Resistance and Resilience, directly confronting state violence against communities of color. In reclaiming the true legacy of  Dr. King, Ferguson Action announced January 15th as the day to take the Pledge of Resistance; January 18th as a Day of Resilience; and January 19th as a Day of Action.

We join collectives and organizations led by directly impacted communities such as the people of St. Louis fighting for freedom, in lifting up the call for resilience, healing and sustained organizing efforts needed for the long road of resistance to state violence, mass incarceration, and mass criminalization.

“State violence against communities of color is directly linked to the oppressive system of mass incarceration in the United States, our systemic practices of over-policing and criminalizing people of color, and the inhumane use of the death penalty in this country. The nexus between these three things can no longer be denied or ignored as Black people lose their lives every 28 hours at the hands of vigilantes or law enforcement. Social Workers are bound by a Code of Ethics that compels us to respond to torture and mass trauma experienced by communities of color, both historically, and in our present day reality,” said Shreya Mandal, Founding Member of SWAC and longtime human rights advocate in New York.

“The dominant narrative in this country is that terrible things would not happen to people of color if they would simply not ..resist arrest.. or fill in the blank. We all have been socialized to internalize this message that places responsibility for these tragic consequences, whether it’s murders, child removal or school suspension, solely on the individual. For instance the message is that Michael Brown and Eric Garner died while resisting arrest, and were therefore responsible for their own demise. It is hard for many to accept that people of color are arrested for what goes mostly ignored when committed by whites. The work of SWAC is to create opportunities for our profession to reflect upon the messages that we receive and interrupt the idea that responsibility of these acts rests solely on the individual,” said Sandra Bernabei, President of NASW-NYC.

“Humanity must learn to respect the differences among each other and leave one another alone. If we can just accept our differences, I believe that life would be a whole lot better than it is today. We must learn to respect each other and to stop antagonizing and bullying each other. SWAC promotes this goal in its initiatives,” said Larry Coldwell, Founding SWAC member and NYC Social Worker.

The visibility of state violence has reached a boiling point. Americans have awoken to the long history of police violence and extrajudicial killings of Black people evidenced by the recent deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH; Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY; and Akai Gurley of Brooklyn, NY. As social workers we have a responsibility to stand up to injustice and to support the texture of this conversation, including the elevation of the lesser known names of Aiyana Jones of Detroit, and Shantell Davis and Kyam Livingston of NYC.

These incidents and thousands of others are reflective of the systemic problem of institutional racism and the continued criminalization of Blackness and poverty by the very institutions that are sworn to serve and protect. SWAC is proud to stand in resistance against mass criminalization and supports the efforts of social workers to build upon the resilience of communities of color.

Media Contact

Twitter: @SWAC_NYC                                                                                   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SocialWorkersAgainstCriminalization
Email: SWAC.NYS@gmail.com

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Quest for Social Justice

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President Ronald Reagan signing law establishing a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his widow Coretta Scott King looks on.

Those of us who have been around for a few decades can remember when having this day to reflect on the transformative life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared to be another dream just beyond our grasp. But thanks to many Americans, most notably Congressman John Conyers, the late former Senator Edward Brooke, and composer-musician Stevie Wonder, we have this day to remember a man who was the personification of social justice. His assassination on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39 years shocked a nation that was still trying to heal from the death of another iconic figure President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963, less than five years before Dr. King was killed. Fifteen years later, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 98-144 designating the third Monday of January as a national holiday honoring Dr. King.

More than any profession, social work embodies Dr. King’s commitment to social justice. Today is a fitting time to focus attention on a particular section of the National Association of Social Work’s Code of Ethics: “Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision-making for all people.”

From the time Rep. Conyers introduced a bill to establish a holiday in Dr. King’s honor four days after his assassination until the signing of the legislation, countless debates took place, heated arguments flooded the airways, and many protests were held on both sides of the issue. One turning point in the effort to establish a day in Dr. King’s honor was the release of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” in 1980 that became the rallying cry for millions who believed Dr. King deserved a holiday—not just because he was a great man—but that the nation needed a day to reflect on why his life’s work was needed and some time to consider the progress that has been made. Stevie’s musical tribute and six million signatures on a petition to Congress paved the way for passage of the legislation. There has been some progress made in advancing social justice since his Dr. King’s death, but we still have much more to do.

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As we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this holiday, let us renew our commitment to his dream of social justice. Let us take pride in the work social workers are doing at all levels of services. Social workers empower individuals and families. Social workers manage agencies and organizations. Social workers build communities. Social workers craft policy and legislation. Be proud to be a social worker on the frontlines of the fight for social justice.This is a new year and I will be changing the name of my blog. Beyond Advocacy speaks to the need for social work to flex its policymaking muscles in order to address some of the most vexing problems confronting our society—many negatively impacting low- and middle-income individuals and families.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how—in my humble opinion—the Democratic Party seems to be lacking a compelling message of hope that would draw people to the polls to support progressive candidates. Since social workers regard ourselves as purveyors of hope, we need to have a stronger voice in the policymaking process. It is critical that our researchers provide meaningful justification for policies that will reduce economic inequality, protect workers’ rights, limit the amount of money flowing through the political system, and decrease the number of Americans being locked behind bars. These are just a few of the issues that we face in the coming years.

NASW is Failing LGBT Americans

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The year 2014 was filled with significant momentum towards a more equal nation for individuals identifying as LGBT. After dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, marriage equality became the law in 19 additional states. In a matter of months, more states ushered in marriage equality than in the entire history of the nation. By the end of 2014, a total of 35 states and the District of Columbia were all allowing same-sex individuals to marry the partner they love.

The momentum for change was welcomed by President Obama and the Administration, who changed policies and enacted protections to ensure that married same-sex couples could file taxes jointly, receive Social Security and Veteran’s Administration benefits from their spouse, and take advantage of the nearly 1,200 federal protections and benefits of marriage. The President also issued an Executive Order protecting all 14 million federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With this new law, the President advanced the most significant protections for LGBT individuals in the history of our nation. To help craft these protections, the President worked hand-in-hand with major civil rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others. Groups advocating on behalf of LGBT Americans were offered an unprecedented seat at the table, helping to shape significant civil rights protections for millions of Americans. Noticeably absent from these efforts was the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The NASW is the national organization that represents the profession of social work, a profession founded on the core mission of advancing social justice and ending discrimination. Embedded throughout the NASW’s Code of Ethics is a clearly outlined ethical responsibility for all social workers to actively engage in social change efforts. In fact, the first two guiding ethical principles of the profession are to “help people in need and to address social problems” and to “challenge social injustice.” But is the NASW practicing what they preach? Have they been on the forefront by fighting for rights of LGBT individuals? Have they led the public discourse on the matter? Have they rallied social workers together to fight for advancement of LGBT rights?

Not in the least. In my opinion, they’ve done something much worse: they’ve remained silent. With all of the advancements in the rights of LGBT individuals last year, there were no statements released by NASW commending any of them. I combed every Facebook post made by NASW in 2014, not a single one of them pertained to LGBT Americans. When I asked the Florida chapter to release a statement on the state becoming the latest to allow same-sex marriages, I was directed to this statement by NASW released 11 years ago. An 11 year old statement is what we call advocacy? Is this how our profession fights for the rights of all people? While the President was passing the first and only anti-discrimination law in our nation’s history, the NASW called out of work. While countless federal courts struck down discriminatory bans on gay rights, NASW was taking a vacation. When asked to release a statement, NASW was on lunch break.

My point in writing this article is simple: it’s time for NASW to get back to work. Social injustices continue to be common place for individuals identifying as LGBT. Opponents continue to fight for laws aimed at disenfranchising and discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The rights of individuals and the advancement of our society depend on the hard work and relentless voices of strong advocates. There is no reason NASW couldn’t be the strongest social advocacy organization in the nation, if it so chose.

Equal rights for LGBT Americans can and will be achieved in my lifetime. As a social worker, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all individuals as part of my core commitment to the profession. The question is: will NASW be joining me?

NASW Florida released the following statement on Facebook: “NASW-FL congratulates the couples getting married today as we celebrate Florida becoming the 36th state to achieve marriage equality!”

*Update:

Valarie Arendt, member of NASW-NC, posted a response on Facebook stating,

This is 100% not true. NASW has published 9 articles in 2014 alone on LGBTQ issues and the importance of social work support for this community. Just because NASW didn’t use Facebook to communicate their efforts doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The author of this article should have done his research before making such claims.

Valerie, thank you for your comment. I did review the website that you linked to in your comment prior to writing the article. The website lists 2 resources for the year 2014 (“Paying an Unfair Price ” and “A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming”). The first article was “sponsored by NASW” and the later is a document from SAMHSA that was “endorsed by NASW”. If you can send me a link with the 9 articles released in 2014 I will review them and edit my article if needed. I spent quite a bit of time on NASW’s website researching this issue.

The main take-away from my article is not that NASW has never broached LGBT issues, it’s their deafening silence and failure to rally social workers into action when the issue reached a critical turning point over the last year. That’s why I combed their Facebook posts and press releases for the last year. I was looking for statements of support for LGBT advancements, statements condoning discriminatory policies, or calls to action for the social work community. None of which happened.

Endorsing articles is great, but my article is saying that they aren’t doing enough to advocate and promote social change for the LGBT population. In contrast, the APA was constantly engaging their professional community and actively seeking opportunities to advance social justice for the LGBT population. They also don’t hide their many resources on an obscure part of their website. They embrace the work they’re doing with the LGBT populations. Social workers are agents of change.

Editor’s note: The National Association of Social Workers has a national office with chapters in each state as well as US Territories. There have been several amicus briefs (friend of the court filings) on behalf of same sex individuals in various states.

Spotlighting the Launch of the DOJ’s Elder Justice Website

Recently, the United States Department of Justice announced the launch of the Elder Justice website which was created to help further combat elder abuse and financial exploitation of seniors. Being the caregiver of a member of the Silent Generation and being a helping professional, I understand how dire it is to protect the older members in our society, and to report any forms of abuse or neglect they may endure.

Elderly Black Woman 1With a plethora of resources out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out what information is appropriate and current to utilize and pass along to those who need it. The U.S. Justice Department has taken steps to provide an online informational “hub” for older Americans, their families, law enforcement, helping professionals, and other stakeholders who have a vested interest in ensuring that older Americans’ rights and humanness are respected.

The Focus Behind Elder Justice:

The need for such a new resource is imperative, especially since one in ten Americans over the age of 60 suffer from abuse and neglect in this country.  Elder Justice’s aim is to be another proactive measure to assist in preventing elder abuse and financial exploitation.

Elder abuse can consist of an older individual experiencing physical, emotional/mental, financial, and/or sexual abuse; and neglect in one’s well-being and care, which can include health care.  The devastating effects of elder abuse is not just felt by the individual targeted, but by those within the community as well.  Elder abuse dwindles the resources set aside for elderly individuals, families, businesses, and public programs (including Medicare and Medicaid) by billions of dollars each year.  This depletion causes tremendous strains on our healthcare, financial, and judicial systems to transpire.

Protecting the elderly has continued to be a priority of the Justice Department, which were evident by the remarks Associate Attorney General Tony West made at the outreach event of the website launch in mid-September:

The launch of the Elder Justice website today marks another milestone in reaching our shared goal of keeping older Americans safe from abuse and neglect  …  The more we embrace our elders with respect and care, the stronger our society will be.  This tool helps move us closer to that goal.

Various forms of abuse and neglect are not the only issues concerning our seniors the Elder Justice website tackles.  Financial exploitation by consumer scams and healthcare fraud are forms of deception this population experiences.  Seniors are estimated to lose almost 3 billion dollars each year from these kinds of exploitation.  The consequences can greatly diminish older adults’ quality of life by creating a loss of independence and self-sufficiency, and increasing the infliction of health and psychological distress.  The Justice Department has taken several steps to focus on these matters, such as prosecuting those who purposefully targeted seniors with scams involving reverse mortgages and lotteries.  In regards to healthcare fraud, the implementation of enforcement, prevention, and consumer protection initiatives has aided to curb financial exploits of our seniors.

What to Expect When You Visit the Elder Justice Website:

Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery made the following statement about what the public and professionals can find on the Elder Justice website:

The website provides resources and a means for improved communication among prosecutors, supports victims and families, and establishes a mechanism for collaboration for researchers and practitioners … While there are many other victim support websites available, we believed that the department could add significant value in this domain by consolidating information nationwide and making it more user-friendly.  The Civil Division will continue to strengthen its efforts to protect the elderly.

The website is easy to navigate, and seems to be very accessible for users of different technological abilities.  There are several tabs on the left column of the homepage that directs visitors to resources and information that may pertain to their unique situation or interests, such as “support for victims and families,” “practitioner resources,” “financial exploitation,” and “researcher resources.”  Each resource link provides several subcategories of information for that particular topic.

The “support for victims and families” resource link has the best information available on the website, in my opinion, because you can search for organizations in your particular state.  When I viewed the resources for South Carolina page, I was amazed at the simplistic layout the information listed was arranged in – the information was housed in an easy to read table format with the title headings “organization’s name,” “address,” and “contact numbers.”  Every organization listed was categorized under its appropriate mission focus, so that users would understand the kind of assistance to expect if they were to contact that organization.

You can also search for organizations by keyword, distance, zip code, or categories.  The various ways of finding organizations in your particular state/area is a great feature because it widens the possibility of connecting with agencies that could be a lifeline for you, your family, or your clients.  I critically viewed the functionality of the website through two lenses:  As a self-proclaimed semi-techie, I judge resource websites like this harshly because it should not be complicated or frustrating to search and locate information that could help and possibly save lives.

The website is accessible and can be effectively used by a layman or a professional equally with very little difficulty, which is how most websites should be.  As a helping professional, the Elder Justice website will make it easier for social workers and other professionals to be more aware of what resources they can direct clients and families to who are in need.  To me, the website is a great page to bookmark for future use, and to share with those who could benefit from the data compiled.

Final Thoughts About Elder Justice:

I was pleasantly surprised at the launch of a valuable resources such as this on the federal level.  As our elderly population grows with the Baby Boomers gracefully entering their golden years, the development of this website is indeed timely.  Though this website focuses on the elderly, it can be used for all populations that are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including those with disabilities.

As one ages, the likelihood of acquiring a disability increases exponentially, so many of the adults who make up our senior population are living with disabilities or will be.  Their quality of life and well-being matters, just as that of a younger person.  Our seniors need us to protect and support them as they adjust to aging, and possibly living with chronic health conditions.  Resources like Elder Justice makes it easier to inform, empower, protect, and advocate for them, and to encourage them to empower and advocate for themselves.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Healthy Black Woman.)

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