NFL Unintentionally Raises Awareness on Domestic Violence and Child Abuse


In the past weeks, many of you have heard of the reported incidents involving several NFL players all over the media and the internet sphere. First, it was the Ray Rice viral video of him assaulting his wife that made headlines, then Adrian Peterson later dominated the news cycle after being indicted on child abuse charges. Both of them are star sports personalities in the National Football League (NFL).

Naturally, most fans were shocked and disappointed over such events which have cast a shadow on the entire NFL organization and its members as the new season kicks off. However, prior to the recent high profiled incidents, social workers were already throwing flags to raise concerns on the increasing amounts of domestic violence incidents in the NFL, and recent events have spotlighted even further the darker side of the game. Like any other human beings, they aren’t perfect and struggle with different kind of personal and family issues.

Many grass roots organizations, fans, and other activists have come out publicly in opposition of how the NFL has handled these events. Pop-star singer Rihanna claims the NFL dropped her song after she issued an angry about the Ray Rice incident. For those of you who might not remember, former boyfriend and R&B singer Chris Brown has assaulted Rihanna back in 2009. You may or may not agree, but Rihanna, for her own part, has expressed in a vigorous manner her disapproval of that decision on Twitter. Meanwhile, Peterson has reacted lately to this controversy by apologizing for all the harm he has caused and has mentioned being currently seeing a psychologist to work on his difficulties.

I don’t want to conclude anything about these sad events too quickly as I do not know all the details and whole aspects of both of these situations.  However, I want to relate these events to the realities of many non-famous people, who might deal with these situations on a daily basis, without having the media spotlight on their personal lives and battles.

On domestic violence : a clear definition

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as:

The willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systemic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime. For More Information

Domestic Violence can be recurrent and lasting over time, but it can also be a single event. We often tend to believe that physical violence is the only form of domestic violence and while it can lead to very dramatic consequences such as death. Other forms such as emotional abuse, economic and physical isolation can be equally damaging. According to current statistics, 1 out of 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence in their lifespan with female young adults are at a greater risk for it happening to them. It is also important to note,  the existence and suffering of male victims of domestic violence as well as domestic violence in same sex relationships.

As a result of recent events with Janay Rice, a lot of people are asking, why don’t victims of domestic violence just leave? The article #WhyIStayed: Voice for Domestic Violence Victims on Huffington Post can provide some answers to this question for you. A lot of victims will hesitate to leave (or will do and come back to their abuser) for many reasons. Some victims will fear for their lives or the lives of their romantic partner when suicide is threatened. The murder-suicide perpetrated by Jovan Belcher of Kansas City Chief against Kasandra Perkins the mother of his child.

For many others, the problem has been going on for so long that their self-esteem is completely crushed and they do not have the confidence to step up and realize that they do deserve better. Some spouses will use the children to blackmail their partner and the fear of losing custody of their kid can be strong enough for the victim to decide to stay in the relationship no matter how toxic it is. Domestic violence is a very complex issue, and there is rarely one and unique cause to it.

What about child abuse?

Child abuse is a very sensitive issue to most of us, but abuse can take various forms to include emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Corporal Punishment is still legal in many states with the US. However, any discipline that leaves marks and bruises lasting longer than 24 hours can range from improper discipline to severe abuse depending on the severity of injuries to the child. Children are the most vulnerable citizens of our society and protective factors should be put in place that will allow them to develop and grow into their full potential. Children who are victims of child abuse experience increased risks for being victims of domestic violence or abusers in intimate relationships.

Where can you get help for domestic violence and child abuse?

If you suspect a child to be abused or neglected, you can call the National Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Crisis counselors are available 24/7 to listen to you and your concerns.

If you recognize yourself in this description of domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE or you can visit their website at for more information.

I hope this article has been helpful and if you want to discuss it more further, I invite you to submit your comments or to tweet with me at @kharosc.

After #Ferguson: Taking a Stand in Governance


In the wake of #Ferguson, we can all agree that something needs to be done. I think we can all agree that we need to stand in a way we haven’t for many years. We need to take responsibility for what is going on in our communities. We need to do better and there are ideas as to how to do this.

According to a recent article in The Root, it argues that “Black America Needs Its Own President”, and I wholeheartedly disagree. For years, we had something akin to this in the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but then we are still having the same conversations. We are still reactive and not largely proactive. We are still asking for the same things and making the same demands.

We don’t need our own president what we need is to take responsibilities for ourselves and form a coalition to directly address behaviour, policies and practices that are detrimental to the way we are viewed globally and treated locally. They need to be able to directly and assertively lobby for changes that obliterate racial disparities.

We need to develop a caucus that goes into our communities where there are issues and organize strategic action that doesn’t include violence or destroying our own communities. We are a people of immense and immeasureable talent and potential. We need representative voices that are not only saying something new but are about real action – strategic and targeted that would uplift and empower our communities.

Having one person we look to when things go wrong isn’t the answer. We are a diverse people living in diverse communities all over the country. If we had a caucus where individual leaders from Black communities could come together we can start having the conversations that lead to action plans. We need to address our economic needs and start to build community wealth so we are in a position to help each other instead of relying on others.

There is no reason our community shouldn’t be as prosperous as others. It isn’t about amassing wealth as much as it about being able to help our own through crisis. So many have been doing it for so long, meanwhile we are still waiting for our 40 acres. I can’t stand people who continue to perpetuate a myth. We are the only people who rely on our oppressors for progress. Are we serious? This is why we have made progress but have not become leaders and drivers of changes in our communities.

I agree that there needs to be a Black presence to represent our interests but it does not need to come in the form of one person who is on the media stage. It would be more empowering to go into communities and help develop local leaders who can then come to the table to represent their communities.

The problems individual communities face are problems our community faces on the whole. There are those who still see our problems as the problem of “Black Americans”, having amassed their own wealth through hard work and dedication and I believe this is what is needed. But we also need to realise that the resources to achieve this are not readily available to everyone and there are communities that are systematically disenfranchised and would benefit from assistance and motivation from their peers in order to see and experience success. We need to help each other out of the trenches and onto the the path of prosperity.

There is no reason for us to rely on others to take us out of the shadows; we have everything we need within. It is about having the conversations (new one because quite frankly, there have been apologies for slavery, we need to stop expecting our oppressors to help us progress – i.e. move away from the fairy tale of our 40 acres and a mule, and we need to wholly understand the impact of racism ourselves) that will lead to strategic plans to impact the world around us so it will change in favor of us.

A coalition of communities leaders could do this. Yes they will come with their own agendas and understandably, so they come from varied communities. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there are some issues that are pervasive and need to be addressed. We can balance the two, addressing issues of the Black community as a whole while helping individual communities develop.

To be more specific I think the remit of a caucus or a coalition could be:

  • making “community call outs” on any prominent figures – local, nationally, or internationally – who are doing or saying things that are counterproductive to change, prosperity and progression.
  • manage image of the Black community in the media
  • manage community issues before they become national statistics and fodder for stereotyping
  • sending consultants to communities to help in times of crisis (public relations, organizing, creating strategic actions plans for change led by local leaders)
  • sending consultants to communities where leaders appeal to the caucus for assistance
  • training of local community on change management, building community resources, and training local “champions” to manage local political processes
  • aiding in ensuring there is equal political representation and policing in communities where Black people dominate the population (to start)
  • re establishing town hall meetings as a means of addressing local issues and manage them independently
  • building of funds to fund community interventions
  • financial drives: possibly local drives to address their own issues
  • national drives: appeals to organizations and representation for national crisis fund

We have all the talent and ability to unite and do better. Having a national voice is part of it but listening to local voices is the bulk of it. Let’s build on what we have to increase what we have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Milwaukee Community Journal

The True End to the 2014 NCGA Short Session

legislative building

Legislators finally adjourned for the 2014 short session on Wednesday, August 20th which is almost seven weeks after originally anticipated. You may recall my Week 12 update where I claimed that week was a wrap but it did come with a catch. Legislators wanted time to decide if they needed to come back in November for a special Medicaid and/or Coal Ash Session as well as take up any number of other provisions. By law, legislators had to continue meeting every four days while leadership decided what to do. Legislators held skeleton (or no vote) sessions until they came back on Thursday, August 14th to really wrap up the short session.
Relevant bills with action

After a few committee meetings, Senators created 3 adjournment bills hoping the House would pass at least one of them:

House Joint Resolution 182 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November for a special Medicaid Reform short session.

House Joint Resolution 901 Adjournment Resolution: a bill that would end session but come back in November to discuss Medicaid Reform, conference committee reports, and a few other measures.

House Joint Resolution 1276 Adjournment: the winning bill that ended session with no plans to return in November. Unless the Governor calls legislators back for a special session, we won’t see legislators passing bills again until the 2015 long session which will start in January.

Legislators also wrapped up a few bills that were awaiting concurrence. Of interest to social workers:

House Bill 369 Criminal Law Changes was passed by both the House and the Senate and presented to the Governor for signature. The bill makes several changes to various criminal laws. Most pressing, section four of the bill directs the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission to work with various organizations, including NASW-NC, to study and develop age appropriate sexual abuse education to be taught in schools to students and educators.

Now that session is truly done for the short session, NASW-NC will now focus on work with our Political Action for Candidate Endorsement Committee (NC PACE) on endorsing candidates that support the social work profession. Through these endorsements, we hope to elect social work friendly candidates that can help advance our profession and support the clients we serve.

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation


As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

2014 NC Short Session: That’s Hardly a Wrap!

Senators wrapped up the 2014 short session shortly after a midnight on Friday when they finally approved a state budget. House members  followed by issuing their final votes on Saturday. But there’s a catch, legislators will return this week to agree on an actual adjournment date as the House made more changes to the Senate’s original plan.

On August 14th, legislators will return for a brief additional session to take up any bills that might get vetoed by the Governor, wrap up any bills that got assigned to a conference committee, and attempt to complete nine different other provisions held over in adjournment resolutions. There’s still one more catch, legislators will return again on November 17th for a special session to discuss Medicaid Reform and possibly Coal Ash, and there is no word on how long this session will last.

So, while legislators have adjourned, they have not technically finished working. We should have a better idea of  their plan to meet again in August by the later part of this week.

Relevant Bills with Action:

SB 744 Appropriations Act of 2014: This bill has been in the works since session started. When legislators couldn’t agree, they turned to appointing a 42 member conference committee. Last weekend, they reported that they had come to an agreement. The conference committee budget highlights are below. With the Governor’s signature, this will be the state budget for the 2014 fiscal year. View the Money Report for further explanation on the spending plan with accompanying page numbers listed after each highlight. Please note, it is difficult to capture all the provisions in the budget due to the amazing variety of the social work profession so information below is only a snapshot of changes.

  • Provides funds to support the costs related to the education of children in private psychiatric residential treatment facilities (F-6).
  • Provides funding for one year for group home residents who were determined to be ineligible for Medicaid personal care services on or after January 1, 2013. The maximum monthly payment is set at $464.30 and is based on providing 33 hours of service per eligible recipient (G-3).
  • Reduces General Fund appropriation for the Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) by 3%, leaving a balance of $31,808,889. Cuts are $969,549 (G-4).
  • Changes the income eligibility for the State-County Special Assistance (SA) Program from a method that bases income eligibility on the payment rate for the facility type where the recipient resides, to a method based on the federal poverty level for all recipients regardless of where they reside. The SA eligibility level is set at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. Current recipients of SA are grandfathered in and will continue to receive SA. (G-8).
  • Provides funding to replace $4.5 million in federal block grant funds that counties lost in 2013-14 that was utilized to pay for Child Protective Services (CPS) workers. An additional $2.8 million in funding is provided effective October 1, 2014 to reduce county departments of social services caseloads to an average of 10 families per worker performing Child Protective Services assessments (G-9).
  • Provides $4.5 million for Child Welfare In-Home Services to serve at-risk families (G-9).
  • Provides $218,538 recurring and $125,750 nonrecurring funds for the implementation of drug screening for Work First Benefits applicants (G-10).
  • Provides funding through incentives and rebates to end the waiting list of the Aids Drug Assistance Program (G-11).
  • Provides $2.2 million for community-based crisis services (G-15).
  • Provider rates are cut, once again, by 1% (G-18).
  • Mental Health Drug Management: Authorizes DHHS to impose controls including prior authorization, utilization review criteria, and any other restrictions on mental health drugs (G-18 and pg 87 of the budget).
  • Provision to hold special session in November to discuss Medicaid Reform (pg 87, budget).

Other Bills of Interest with Action:

HB 884 Dropout Prevention/Recovery Pilot Charter School: This bill establishes a two year pilot program for one charter school who has had students drop out. The purpose is to increase graduation rates and reengage students. The bill passed the House and Senate and was presented to the Governor for signature.

SJR 881 Adjournment: This bill directs legislators to adjourn but to return on August 14th and November 17th. As mentioned above, the November special legislative session will be focused on Medicaid Reform.

HJR 1276 Adjournment: The House version of the adjournment resolution. While the dates to return are the same as the Senate, the House has a few more issues to keep alive including any bills related to autism insurance reform. The House gives the Senate until Wednesday, August 6th to take up the new adjournment resolution.

2014 NC Legislative Short Session Nears End But No Deal on Budget

Last week, the General Assembly saw more action from the Senate than the House, and Senators have been meeting in Rules Committee the past couple of weeks to pass a few pressing bills. On Thursday, while discussing Medicaid Reform on the Senate floor, Senator Bryant sought an amendment to expand Medicaid. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the amendment failed.

Senators commented that this was the fourth time they voted down to expand Medicaid in the state. The House did meet on Thursday and Friday of last week, but they had little committee activity during the week. Despite filing an adjournment resolution for Friday, July 25th, the House does plan to meet this week. Rumors started over the weekend that legislators have reached another deal on the budget, so we hope to see the proposal this week.

Relevant bills with action:

short sessionHB 1181 Medicaid Modernization: This is the bill that would create a new department to oversee the operation of Medicaid and NC Health Choice run by a seven member appointed board, create full capitation by 2018 (instead of fee for service), integrate physical and behavioral health by 2016, and much more to reform Medicaid in our state. The bill went to committee to push back a few dates in the bill including the creation of the new department from August 1, 2014 to September 1, 2014. Senators will take a third, and final, vote on Monday night. The bill then has to get approval from the House before it is made law. No word yet on the House’s position on the bill.

HB 369 Criminal Law Changes: This bill passed out of the Senate last week and is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill will allow NASW-NC and other partners to work with the Human Trafficking Commission on age appropriate sexual abuse education for students and teachers. The bill also makes several changes to various criminal laws such as expungement for certain offenses and higher penalties for providing inmates with cell phones.

HB 1133 Technical and Other Corrections: A bill that normally marks the end of the legislative session, the House and Senate have been working on a technical corrections bill to tie up loose ends of the session. Usually very technical in nature (spelling errors, corrections to previous bills, etc), the bill had a surprise section that would eliminate the Child Fatality Task Force that makes statewide recommendations to prevent unnecessary deaths of children.

During the existence of the Task Force, childhood death has decreased by as much as 32% in the past three decades. During floor debate, Representative Grier Martin (D-Wake), ran an amendment to eliminate this section of the bill and it passed overwhelmingly. The bill passed out of committee and passed the floor Friday. The bill will now go to the Senate.

2014 NC Short Session, Week 10: The Newest Medicaid Reform Plan

Bay Area Activists Protest Cuts To Medicaid

What a week at the General Assembly! The Senate decided to work on bills that were sitting in the Senate Rules Committee all last week and move them to the floor for votes.The most controversial was Medicaid Reform which the Senate proposes to create a completely new Department. The House did not meet last week and have nothing on their calendar for tonight, but it is possible that they meet later in the week to work on the bills the Senate is working through their Rules Committee.

Relevant Bills with Action:

HB 369 Criminal Law Changes: This is the omnibus bill that will expunge certain drug offenses and includes language on Erin’s Law. Under Section 4(a), the bill directs the Human Trafficking Commission to study the inclusion of age appropriate sexual abuse education in the classroom as well as gather information on sexual abuse in NC. Under the bill, the Commission is directed to work with several organizations to do this, including NASW-NC. The bill will be heard a third time tonight and, if it passes the Senate, will be sent to the House for concurrence.

HB 1181 North Carolina Medicaid Modernization: Last week, the Senate came up with an entirely new Medicaid plan. Under the new plan, the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) would become an independent agency called the Department of Medical Benefits which would manage behavioral, physical and other specialized care for Medicaid and NC Health Choice recipients under a Managed Care Organization (MCO) or Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model.

The Senate scheduled this new Department to be created by August 1, 2014 and governed by a 7 member Board of Directors. The Senate plan also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately cease any activities related to Medicaid reform. This plan is certainly fast-moving in the Senate and controversial among many. The bill is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate tonight. If it passes, it will need to go to the House for concurrence. The Governor has already stated opposition to the new plan but the House has not spoken much for or against the bill.

Relevant Bills Filed:

HB 1276 Adjournment Sine Die: Yes, you read that correctly. The House bill filed last week sets adjournment for this Friday, July 25th. Keep in mind, the Senate filed an adjournment bill on June 27th, and legislators are still in session.

Looking at Labeling and Diversity: Interview with Philip Patston

Recently, I had to the opportunity to catch up with Philip Patston who is a phenomenal speaker, advocate, and expert on diversity and labeling. Philip is also one of Social Work Helper’s expert columnists who offer readers a global perspective hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Although he is located on the other side of the world, Philip helped me to realize through his writing and speaking the symmetry we all (human kind) share versus focusing on our differences.

Philip has traveled an interesting path and has seen the world from different lenses such as a counselor, comedian, and advocate to name a few. After viewing his Ted Talk with over 30,000 views, I wanted to learn more about Philip. We had an interesting conversation, and now I am going to share it with you.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you into the field of social work?
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland

I began a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Psychology and Sociology aged 18, but hated the University environment, so I quit early in my second year. I then trained to be a phone counsellor and ended up counselling by phone for nine years. I had also been a member of a youth group since my mid-teens and had been “dropped” into leadership roles (e.g. turning up at youth work meetings and being told to get up and speak about the youth group). So I did a lot of youth development work in my late teens and early 20s as well.

Then in 1990, when I was 22, I was accepted onto a two-year Social Work programme which gave me a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work and a Diploma in Applied Social Studies. The programme was known to be quite radical. There were only 40 students per year, half of whom were Maori (the indigenous people of NZ or Tangata Whenua, literally “people of the land”), a quarter Pacific people, and a quarter “other” (known as Pakeha in the Maori language).

It was an immersive bi-cultural programme, deliberately making Maori culture dominant. There were huge conflicts, particularly among the Pakeha group, who felt aggrieved by many processes in which they were not the majority. Being gay and disabled, I was fairly used to not being in the majority, so I was quite comfortable and amused by some of my colleagues’ inability to step outside of the process and learn from the experience of the tables being turned.

During my first year, I did a placement in a government care and protection agency and realised it wasn’t my thing. My second year placement was doing social research on the needs of disabled people for the Auckland Health Board. That turned into a two or three year job. After that I worked for the Human Rights Commission for four years, after which I became self-employed, raising awareness of diversity and doing comedy professionally.

So, I never really got to actually be a social worker! But the Diploma programme gave me a great grounding in radical social theory and direct action. If anything, I was an activist. Running awareness workshops as well as doing comedy, which led me to have a very high profile in New Zealand through television in the 1990s and 2000s, were a great combination of vehicles to create change.

SWH: Would you identify your work as being macro and/or mezzo focused, and what advice would you give other social workers who would like to do the work you are doing?

People have likened me to Nietzsche over the years so, yes, I do work in the macro/mezzo realms, I guess! I think it’s a hard place to feel effective because like any leadership or social change activity, it’s a long game and hard to see any tangible evidence of success. My suggestions for others working in similar spaces? Find like minds and check in regularly. Drink wine. Celebrate any success however small and, every now and then, pretend you’ve had a huge success and celebrate that! Finally, read Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed — the best book on social entrepreneurship and social change ever written.

SWH: Who are some of your biggest influencers in how you filter, provide and give information/advice to others?

Some of my favourite thinkers in the work I do are the authors of Getting to Maybe, Sir Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, Peter Block, Kathryn Schulz, and Adam Kahane. I also love Onora O’Neill’s definition of trust. Another fave is Prof. Brian Cox – he’s a cute, English educational physicist and I’ve used his layperson explanations of entropy and physics to explain diversity and relationship dynamics to school students. Finally, Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan, from The Proteus Initiative in South Africa. I’ve worked with them on living social practice twice now and they’ve had a profound influence on the way I work with people about diversity.

SWH: Your Tedx Talk on Labeling was a huge success. What was that experience like and what has life been like after your Tedx Talk?

It was surprisingly intimidating and nerve-wracking. Being a regular viewer of TED Talks, it really felt like I was wheeling into a TED video! Those big red letters and the round red carpet are quite iconic. I had refused to rehearse because as a comedian I would only ever rehearse mentally, so the guys running it (who hadn’t seen me perform) were a bit nervous and told my PA, Wai, who was backstage. Wai said, “Nah. he’ll be fine,” and halfway through they apparently said, “He’s killing.” Wai: “Told you so!”

Probably the most significant thing though was being able to present what I would call my soul work to 2,000 people live, in a funny, entertaining way, and have it videoed and put online under the TED brand so that it’s had over 30,000 views. That’s a great privilege.

Life after TED? Well, I did a conference call with the Diversity Group of IBM in California, which was a bit of a fizzer, and I’ve had a few speaking and facilitation jobs as a result. Not life-changing on the big scale of things, but definitely a highlight

SWH: Are you further developing your work on labeling, and do you have any other projects you are working on or have recently finished?

I recently made a music video about labelling that I’ve used a lot in diversity workshops. Music is a powerful way to simplify topics that can be quite complex, in order to have a conversation about the complexity. I was really lucky to work with an extremely talented musician, Arli Liberman, who put my words to music; and then some friends who run a superb creative agency, Borderless Productions, came up with the concept and produced the video. I’ve also recently finished some work on diversity in the media and co-wrote and published a children’s book.

Right now, I’m in an interesting space of limbo. Apart from running a leadership programme, which I love and is in its fourth year, a lot of my projects have either come to an end or have lost funding (we’re in an election year in NZ so Government funders have become super risk averse, unfortunately). So I’m in a space of seeing where I will be taken next. I’d love to make some more music videos, but they’re quite expensive and hard to get funded, even via crowdsourcing. I funded the first one myself, which meant I had a complete creative license and no accountability — that was extremely liberating!

So what’s next on the bucket list…oh and I started writing a book earlier this year and I am stuck big time. I need to give myself a good talking to and hopefully, I’ll get back into that soon too!

Short Session, Week 7 and Still No Budget

The end of session should be approaching soon. The evidence? The large volume of bills that were gutted, amended, and flew through the legislature last week. The House and Senate are still divided on how large the Medicaid shortfall really might be – up to a $248 million difference between the two proposed budgets.

Pope-Southern StudiesThis was evidenced when the Senate nearly subpoenaed the State Budget Director, Art Pope to show up at their second budget meeting on Medicaid as he and his staff did not show up to one the previous week. Legislators grilled Mr. Pope on not being able to give definite numbers on the shortfall or how many adults and children are enrolled in Medicaid in the state. This tension continues to hold up the proposed budget for the House and the Senate.

Today, the House read the Suicide Prevention Resolution. The resolution called on NC to develop measures to help prevent suicide particularly for youth and veterans. Those in attendance were recognized by legislators in the House gallery during session. Many spent the day talking to legislators about how important the resolution is for young people and veterans in our state.

Last week, the Governor sent a directive to state departments to operate with the biggest cuts in the proposed budgets, but this does not include teacher assistants and massive cuts to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled on Medicaid. This would also mean no pay raises for state employees and teachers- a major goal outlined by legislators prior to the start of the short session.

Relevant bills with action:

  • SB 3 2014 Budget Mods./Pay Raises/Other Changes: Deemed the “mini budget,” this bill is a smaller version of the budget bill Senate Bill 744 and adjustments to the current budget. Raises for state employees and teachers will be paid for with agreed upon cuts. The bill does not do much to Medicaid. The bill passed the House unanimously, 117 to 0, and was sent to the Senate for concurrence. It is unsure if the Senate will agree to this mini budget with all the controversy regarding the Medicaid shortfall calculations.
  • SB 493 Health and Safety Regulatory Reform: Last Tuesday, legislators split the large Regulatory Reform Bill (Senate Bill 493) into two separate bills. SB 493 became Health and Safety Regulatory Reform that includes measures for autism insurance for anyone up to age 23 that was diagnosed before age 8, establishes a behavioral analyst licensing board, requires all health benefit plans cover prescribed, orally administered cancer drugs, and prohibits tanning bed use by anyone under age 18. The bill quickly passed committee and went to the floor. On Wednesday night, after much debate, legislators approved the bill with a vote of 78 to 32. Because of changes made to the bill, the bill has to return to the Senate for concurrence. It does not have to go through Senate committees. and if the Senate confers, the bill will go to the Governor to be signed into law.
  • SJR 882 Honor Senator Martin Nesbitt: Both the House and Senate honored late Senator Martin Nesbitt who died suddenly on March 6th, a week after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. Senator Nesbitt, from Buncombe County, was a champion for the social work profession. He was a long standing legislator, serving in both the House and Senate during his time. He is greatly missed!
  • HB 369 Criminal Law Changes/WC Illegal Aliens: The original bill was gutted and new language was inserted in the bill to address several criminal law changes. This bill does multiple things: it will expunge certain drug offenses with no age limitation and it directs the Human Trafficking Commission to study Erin’s Law (a bill NASW-NC has been working on to get a licensed clinical social worker involved). It will be heard on the Senate floor tonight. If approved, it will only need concurrence from the House before it goes to the Governor to be signed into law.
  • HB 1220 Hope 4 Haley and Friends: After passing the House last week, a Senate committee debated the bill and it was sent to the Senate floor. The bill allows for hemp oil extract from the cannabis plant to be used for youth with certain seizure disorders when no other treatment has worked. The bill does allow for UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke Universities to develop, conduct research, and participate in clinical trials with the oil. Neurologists, patients and caregivers who prescribe or are prescribed the oil would have to register under the legislation with a registry established by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Once DHHS approves measures and establishes the registry, families can start using the oil. The bill passed the Senate, the House concurred with a few changes that were made, and the bill was sent to the Governor for signature. The Governor has stated he will sign the bill into law.

Related news:

While not a priority piece of legislation for NASW-NC, we wanted to address the comments made by Representative and Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam regarding sexual orientation in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV- TR (DSM-IV-TR) when discussed during debate on Senate Bill 793 Charter School Modifications. During debate, Representative Fisher put forth an amendment to prohibit charter schools from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The debate spurred questions on the definition of sexual orientation and Representative Stam shared with House members a memo from the outdated 2000 DSM-IV-TR on sexual paraphilias that listed a number of sexual perversions and disorders as well as homosexuality. The DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder in 1974. The amendment did not pass. On the second day of debate, Representative Ramsey pushed an amendment that would prohibit charter schools from discriminating based on any category under federal law or the Constitution. This amendment was approved and the bill passed.

NASW-NC does not support any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We are pleased that House members found common ground not to discriminate in charter schools to further protect North Carolinians.

Photo Courtesy of Southern Studies

North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) 2014 Short Session, Week 5 Review

By Kay Castillo, Director of Advocacy, Policy and Legislation, National Association of Social Workers, NC Chapter

Week five of the North Carolina General Assembly’s short session brought to us the House budget. Unlike the Senate, the House took extra measures to introduce and discuss their budget. Last Tuesday, House members reviewed their budget section by section in subcommittees to hammer out details before taking it to the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

North Carolina General Assembly
North Carolina General Assembly

Following Wednesday’s seven-hour committee meeting, the bill went to the Finance and State Personnel Committees before going to the floor for debate on Thursday afternoon with a final vote on Friday morning.Moving forward, a conference committee will be appointed to combine the Governor, Senate, and House budgets. While the House debated the budget all week, the Senate took up mostly non-controversial bills and adjourned early Thursday morning.

House Budget Proposal Highlights:

House Budget Money Report (special provisions, further descriptions about the budget)

  • No prior authorization for mental health medications (in Senate and Governor’s budget) or cuts to the medically needy on Medicaid (in Senate budget).
  • Medicaid Reform similar to Governor’s recommendation and funded at $1 million. (pg G-19 of Money Report)
  • Provides funds for implementation of drug screening and testing for Work First Program Assistance. This is only funded in the House budget. This comes from legislation passed in the 2013 long session but was never funded. (G-9 of Money Report)
  • Funds $750,000 to Critical Time Intervention (a social work supported model) to support short-term case management services for persons leaving inpatient psychiatric facilities, adult care homes, and other institutions. This is only funded in the House budget. (G-15 of Money Report)
  • Funds $300,000 for Child Protective Services (CPS) Initiative to help decrease caseloads to 10 per worker and other division changes. Additionally, the budget contains: $8.3 million in additional funding for CPS (same as Senate); $4.5 million for expanded in-home services (same as Senate); $750,000 increase for statewide oversight of child welfare services; $700,000 increase for CPS evaluation; and Foster Care Assistance is increased by $5 million. (starting on pg 81 of the budget)
  • Creates a strategic state plan for Alzheimer’s Disease including ways to improve research, awareness and education, caregiver assistance, long-term care, and more. (pg 88 of the budget)
  • Funds $5 million to expand community-based crisis intervention services. (pg 94 of the budget)
  • Funds over $2.3 million for Traumatic Brain Injury supports and services. (pg 91 of the budget)
  • Allows funding for Personal Care Services to residents in group homes that was provided in last year’s budget but will not all be spent by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, 2014 to be extended until June 30th, 2015. This is approximately $2.2 million left from the $4.6 million appropriated.

While not perfect, the House budget is much better than the Senate budget put forth. You can visit this link to see a House and Senate Budget Comparison for the Health and Human Services Budget. We thank House members for taking our state’s most vulnerable populations into consideration while developing the budget and providing extra money to mental health, developmental disabilities, child welfare, and other necessary services.

Using Twitter for Advocacy

Throughout history, advocacy has been used a strategy to help create awareness for an idea or cause, identify allies and partners, build coalitions, as well as influence shifts in attitudes and/or public perceptions. History has also taught us that major shifts resulting in the empowerment of an oppressed group occurred because of advocacy and not because the dominate group relinquished some of their power voluntarily for the betterment of society. Advocacy means having difficult conversations, taking a stance against the majority, going against long-held traditions, and challenging widely accepted beliefs.

ADVOCACY highlighted in greenIt’s not uncommon for someone in the majority or unaffected group to label someone advocating on behalf of a minority group as being “Radical” or not being validated by the majority of people. If this is the standard for assessing the existence of a problem, slavery would still be legal, LGBTQ Americans would still be in the closet, women would not have a voice, and Dreamers wouldn’t have the right to dream.

The purpose of advocacy is to speak up on behalf of those who are not being heard, falling through the cracks, and/or trapped within the margins as a result of policies and legislation with intended or unintended consequences.

If you can only engage in conversation or interact with people accepted by the majority, how does this affect your ability to advocate on behalf of those without representation? If someone raises an issue that does not align with the majority, why not investigate, identify the affected, and talk to them in order to draw your own conclusions? Advocacy requires a thick skin and the willingness to stand on your beliefs even when it’s not popular, and this is applicable whether your are championing someone else or yourself.

For week 4 of the Evidence based twitter chats, I wanted to explore engaging in advocacy on twitter. Dr. Kristie Holmes, a Congressional Candidate in the State of California, participated as a guest in the wake of the Supreme Court decision McCutcheon vs Federal Election Committee.


I used the live twitter chat format to encourage participants to use the #McCutcheon hashtag which is also being used by various advocacy groups to mount protest in favor or against the decision. By engaging in the Social Work Helper tweetchat using the #swhelper hashtag, I wanted to show how using a second hashtag in tweets could do two things. (1) Influence discussion of tweeters monitoring the #McCutcheon hashtag (2) Create a presence on the #McCutcheon hashtag by a specific group which in this case was social workers. You can view the full archive of the live chat using this link:

Best Tweets of the Week

Challenges, Barriers, and Limitations

From comments and feedback that I have received, social workers and students may feel condemned or pressured to not engage in debate whether its politics related or others areas if not widely accepted by the mainstream profession. Also, when using the twitter chat format with a research focus as I have, problem identification and hypothesis is a necessary component. However, a six week format on different topics for the purpose of research can diminish being solution focused when the nature of research is investigative.


Today, April 13th at 3PM EST using the hashtag #SWHelper, I want to do an assessment of the past four weeks to see what adjustments can be made to improve the last two topics of the twitter study. Next Sunday, April 20th is Easter, and we will not have a tweetchat on that date in observance of the holiday. However, we will resume on April 27th and May 4th for the last two topics of the Evidence Based Twitter Study.

McCutcheon Decision: Anatomy of a Policy Distraction


It is not my intent to diminish the import or significance of the McCutcheon v FEC decision. Obviously, this court composition has shown itself to be happy to adjudicate cases erring on the side of pure Juris prudence even when in opposition to precedence. I have an opinion on that, but my current point is that THAT DISCUSSION about the make-up, activism, and bias of the court is not the story of democracy.

Let’s engage in an exercise where we actually break down the logic in the ways that we are taught as policy analyst rather than resorting to emotional reactions based on a basic mistrust of money. I am in favor of laws requiring full disclosure of donors and sources of sponsorship. Yet, I am not with those who lament that the latest Supreme Court decision on related to campaign finance spells doom to our democracy. My analysis pivots on two questions. First, what is the fundamental activity of our democracy? Second, how do we operationalize that fundamental activity?

Two Questions
These two questions are important because their answers demonstrate the perspective guiding those who answer. I am in favor of a perspective that recognizes how grassroots organizing carries the day beyond political ads and fundraising dinners. The bottom line is that if the candidates I support are upset because they are outmatched by the money, they have lost sight of the equation that 3.2 million dollars from one donor is matched with $1 from 3.2 million individuals. I will wait while you make the larger realization… 3.2 million individuals offer a greater voting block—the core of democracy—when compared to the money of one individual.

Content Analysis
What is the fundamental activity of our democracy? It is the right and responsibility of every citizen to vote. Universally across the country, the voting experience is a private, unencumbered activity between an individual citizen and a ballot. In some polling places, the action is still shrouded in a booth with a physical curtain separating the voter from the influences of the world outside.

We must not lose sight of this fundamental activity. As policy analysts, we see content analysis as our opportunity to examine McCutcheon v FEC for its literal content. The decision limits the ability of the government to set limits on the contributions of any one citizen to a political campaign. Any argument based on the content of the decision necessarily sets up agreement or disagreement with governmental powers. We can have that discussion, even that disagreement, but the content of the case must not be a proxy for other discussions. The content of this case was not about corruption–bribery of elected officials. As shown in other criminal cases, most recently the verdict concerning Ray Nagin, the former New Orleans mayor, money accepted by elected officials in order to provide unfair advantage to donors remains illegal.

Process Analysis
How do we operationalize that fundamental activity of democracy? We have to activate our abilities as citizens within our sphere of influence. Get involved at whatever level you are comfortable with. Then, challenge yourself to act beyond that level of comfort. Every phone call, every presentation, every door you knock on, every check you write counteracts the money spent. We have to educate ourselves, inform others, mobilize voters, and construct the narrative.

As policy analysts, we see process analysis a our chance to examine what the McCutcheon case will mean in practice. This is where every citizen has real opportunity. One characteristic that separates the wealthy from the middle and poor is their political activity. Wealthy folks, certainly for a number of reasons, are more politically active. Yet, as far back as Howard Dean fundraising and as recently as Obama 2008, we are witness to what well-organized, grassroots campaigns with dedicated volunteers can do.

This case is a good example. Keep in mind, according to the NY Times, 43 percent of the 1% are non-republican. Republican-leaning citizens making more than $500,000 per year are deficit over economy focused, comfortable with more non-government solutions, and active in politics. We cannot allow the faulty logic of money amplifying one opinion over another to mask the reality that we each have a way to provide alternatives to those highly financed voices. We can vote. What’s more, we can support the vote of others. Not just the right, but the actual activity. Realize what the NY Times revealed about those with money. They are politically active, and that activity is not confined only to making contributions. They support others to make contributions, but they also make phone calls, host dinners, message friends, and speak within their venues of influence. Do not fail to realize the reality that those venues have fewer people in attendance than the other 99% of venues.

Granted, the Citizens United decision allowed for contributions from corporations. Granted, this McCutcheon decision increases limits for individuals. Still, I would like to think that people make their decisions about who to elect based on merits and research rather than political ads and billboards. I am further willing to ensure that reality through informing others. I will reiterate my appeal that we support disclosure so that we know where the money comes from and who all the donors are.

Please do not acquiesce to the position that the people, all of us, are less powerful than the relatively few, extremely wealthy individuals. Once we give in to that view, it ceases to matter what the law is. At that point, we have relinquished our greatest power– to organize ourselves.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Constitution Center

Burnout: Who’s Taking Care of the Care Takers?



Stressors are a given in the helping professions such as social work, teaching, and nursing which can often lead to burnout. These can include intense and long work hours, low salaries, mismanagement, lack of appreciation and support, lack of job autonomy and security, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, politics (both interagency and governmental), and even personal risk at times. As a result it’s highly important to establish and implement procedures that reduce and/or eliminate stressors in order to prevent burnout and ultimately employee turnover which negatively impacts the organization and those served. 

Burnout is preventable. However, helping professions haven’t typically focused on their employees in the same way they’ve focused on their clients. Reducing and eliminating the stressors that contribute to burnout would ultimately require a total revamping of society. Many of the standards set by organizations are established by outside sources that are often disconnected from the reality of service provision.

This can lead to organizations placing a greater priority on those standards rather than addressing and supporting the needs of their employees, which also directly affect the needs of those they are helping. In an attempt to meet particular standards, organizations often have limited resources to reach their objectives. This can manifest as low salaries as well as significant overtime due to limited staffing due to limited funding while occurring within a societal framework that often fails to provide sufficient vacation time, healthcare, or other programs to support well being.

Contemplating a complete overhaul of society is overwhelming and contributory factor in creating the circumstances for burnout. There are many protective factors helping organizations and employees as individuals can do to promote change. Many in the helping fields advocate for others as individuals and overall societal change, but often have difficulty advocating for themselves. Some of this is a result of societal traditions and some of it is a result of a lack of education on the issues that directly impact them. This is particularly evident in regards to pay.

Employees in the helping professions are often underpaid and since money equals value in our society this communicates how little our society values the services these individuals provide.  Of course most don’t go into their chosen field to make a ton of money. However, if one has a major financial burden due to the profession they chose, this can contribute to burnout. At a societal and organizational level, those in helping professions need to advocate not only for higher pay, but also shorter work hours and increased vacation time.

Research has demonstrated that working overtime has a direct correlation to decreased productivity while employing flexible hours has a direct correlation to increased productivity.  Such policies also promote overall well being in all aspects of life, therefore, they should be taken into consideration and ample time off should be provided to recuperate. This could also provide opportunities for more jobs in these fields thus decreasing the unemployment rate.

These changes alone could move the meter tremendously towards eradication of burnt out helping professionals. Additionally, there are smaller changes that can be made until organizations and society buys in to the value of taking care of its employees and citizens.  Since increased job autonomy and social support within organizations are directly linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, organizations should create an environment that promotes this. Supervisors need to be mindful of providing praise as well as allowing room for employees to create aspects of their job duties.

Many enter into their chosen field passionate about certain areas and when they aren’t allowed to be involved in their passions, lose enthusiasm for their job.  Encouraging employees to incorporate their passions can significantly improve job satisfaction and decrease burnout. As well, creating promotional opportunities along with salary increases adds to employees’ motivation to be productive and satisfied. Along with all of this, providing opportunities for professional development in areas of employees’ interests will promote growth that will benefit both the individual workers and the organization. Included in this should be stress management workshops because no matter how many of these changes are made, stress will still exist in the helping professions.

Employees and organizations need to constantly educate and empower themselves in order to most effectively advocate for those they help, their field, and of course, themselves. At first, it may appear selfish to advocate for oneself when many working in helping professions have been socialized to operate within society’s parameters. By instituting protective factors for helping professionals, it will not only benefit the employees and their fields, but society as a whole will also reap the benefits. It’s time to stand up for health and well being for all including those who traditionally provide such opportunities of empowerment.

What is Thunderclap and How can It Help Grassroots Organizing?

by Madeline Anderson, SCSJ Communications Intern

Thunderclap logoThunderclap is a free crowd-speaking platform that allows a message to be seen by a multitude of people on a variety of different social media sites at the same time. The purpose is to help maximize the chance of your message going viral by coordinating a multi-media strike alongside your loyal supporters. Thunderclap sends a message to each supporter’s preferred social media outlet such as Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr which automatically posts your message on their page at the same time. This technique could possibly expand your message and reach to thousands and even hundreds of thousands people at the same time creating a viral message.

So, how exactly does it work? In order to “thunderclap” a message, select a mission/message that you wish to broadcast widely over social media. Create a catchy tag line, add an image that illustrates your goal, and insert this information into the Thunderclap website. To avoid spammers, the message will go through an online approval process. For a message to go into effective “thunderclap state,” you must get a certain number of supporters to participate by a certain date which is set by you, the organizer. The default setting is 100 supporters within a week.  However, you may adjust the time and the number of supporters to best fit your needs.  The more supporters you have the greater the social media reach of your message.

When you create your Thunderclap, you share it via any social media sites which can include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Personal webpage, Tumblr or by e-mail in order to get your supporters to participate. When you have the amount of support you need, the Thunderclap message will be sent out on the date and time you specified. For example, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice set up a Thunderclap to remind North Carolinians to register to vote by the October 11, 2013 deadline, and we are seeking 100 supporters. When we reach this number, Thunderclap will arrange for our reminder message to be posted to the social media pages of each supporter at the same time on the same day. This will increase our chances of creating awareness on this important matter.

What about the supporters? What are they signing up for and what are their options? Supporters are allowing Thunderclap to share this one message on their behalf.  It will post on their feed ONCE at the time/date they agree to, and it will not be sent out as spam (i.e. a message sent to all their friends). Facebook and Twitter only store the information through a secure connection to spread this message so there is no personal information shared (i.e. passwords). Supporters are also able to opt out of the project at any time if they change their minds.

Thunderclap and grassroots campaigning In terms of increasing the scope of your grassroots message, this tool is phenomenal. IF you were to get 250 supporters for your Thunderclap message, the total social media reach could be well into the millions. The goal is to hone a strong, simple message and make it viral. Given the amount of media shared every day, trying to get a message noticed can seem daunting. With a Thunderclap coordinating a multitude of voices discussing your message at the same time, your message will be mass pushed to the forefront of all of your supporters’ feeds. Want to give it a try? Check out SCSJ’s Thunderclap – and please support it!

Watch the Thunderclap how-to video:

Using T-shirts for Promotion and Advocacy

Kim Kardashian GreenHave you heard of the phrase, ‘survival of the fittest’? If your organization can adapt and change over time, the possibility of survival and growth increases. This phrase is applicable in every sector whether it be the public, private, or nonprofit sector. If you are looking to operate in the major-leagues, your survival depends on many factors. However, promotion should be one of your highest priorities.

If people are not aware about your existence, the ability to achieve your goals will be greatly diminished. Promotion is not limited to for-profits, nonprofits and public sector organizations need advertising to create awareness as well as attract attendees and volunteers to carry out campaigns. It is essential to have frugal marketing tactics and t-shirts happen to be the most successful promotional merchandise in creating social awareness.

Social Issues

Visual appeal is always more attention grabbing than verbal. Keeping this in mind, non-profit organizations have been using t-shirts to create awareness about various social issues like deforestation, green conservation, cleanliness and so on. These can be done in both funny and in general manner. You can print direct messages on the tee like “Save earth!” or you can create funny comical characters to promote serious concerns related to society. If you wear a unique t-shirt, you will find people staring; use this opportunity to create social awareness and pass on your messages.

Health Issues

You can even use tees to create consciousness about serious health issues like AIDS, cancer, malnutrition and so on. The pictographic description is strong enough to make the onlookers understand the importance of these issues. You can even find t-shirts printed with funny quotes about losing weight and encouraging people to do exercise. Apart from these, there are many other health concerns, which have been often ignored but can lead to fatal impact in later part of life. For instance, you can promote the importance of consuming certain food items like milk, cereals, fish through the printed tees and draw attention of people.

Animal Protection Issues

A number of animal protection organizations have been using t-shirts for ages, to make the mankind realize the value of animals. These tees speak about care, love, friendship and closeness that people can enjoy with animals. You can even share knowledge about endangered animals, which required protection. For instance, you will find WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has been using t-shirts in promoting animal protection issues and at the same time advertising the organization to a large audience. Usually, animal protection tees are with pictures because images leave greater impact on mind than a message.

Budget is always a big concern for any organization. T-shirt can cost a bit more than creating a poster, but the awareness it creates is massive because you have essentially created a mobile bill board. You should consider restricting your resources on other marketing techniques and put more emphasis on t-shirt promotion to enjoy greater recognition. Giving out promotional t-shirts to people who can send out your messages to a large audience is one of the best ways to expand the reach of your organization. Use the power of t-shirts for promoting events and serious issues with style and creativity.

Is the VMAs Intentionally Upstaging Democratic Events to Prevent Celebrity Turnout and Advocacy

This past weekend, I had the honor and privilege to attend the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington organized by Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN). This event was both symbolic and historic in honoring those who sacrificed their lives during the Civil Rights Movement and made us the beneficiaries. As an African-American woman, it was a truly profound and an emotional experience standing in the presence of history. Despite the significance and enormity of the event, it was overshadowed by the VMAs dominating the news cycle in reference to Miley Cyrus. This week, I plan to write a series of articles in which I will reflect on Rev. Al’s keynote speech, renewing the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and role of the NAACP in our current political climate.  However, in this article, I want to examine the possibility of the VMAs intentionally upstaging Democratic events in order to prevent Celebrity turnout and advocacy to our youth.

miley-vmas-600x337On my drive back from Washington, DC today, I was listening to the radio and everyone kept talking about the VMAs. When it occurred to me, the same thing happened last year during the Democratic National Convention in 2012 when President Obama accepted the party’s nomination. On both instances, I noticed celebrity turn out was low due to the majority of A-listers, entertainers, and sports figures being in attendance at VMAs instead. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I decided to investigate this matter further.

Prior to 2008, MTV had a staunch no political ad policy, but this is where things began to get interesting. In 2008, President Obama reached out to MTV in order to purchase ad space for a Rock the Vote campaign to reach younger viewers. MTV responded by saying:

 “Given where we are in the election cycle, and how the youth vote has increasingly engaged and played a crucial role in past presidential elections, we re-evaluated the MTV policy and decided that campaign-approved ads would be a good fit for our audience, and would complement our ‘Choose or Lose’ campaign efforts,” she said. “It’s a good thing when candidates want to reach out to young people, and the best way to do that is through MTV.”  via Adage

According to the nonpartisan grass roots organization Rock the Vote, they reported registering 2.2 million people in its 2008 campaign which shattered all previous records. Currently, the 2008 record still stands, but what happened with the 2012 Rock the Vote campaign? Reportedly, President Obama reached out to MTV again in 2012 to purchase ad space for another Rock the Vote campaign, and this was their response:

The campaign called MTV’s internal ad agency, MTV Scratch, for assistance in mid-August, sources familiar with the conversations said. MTV Scratch, run by Ross Martin, former MTVU boss, and Anne Hubert, who was a policy adviser to Jon Corzine when he was a US senator from New Jersey, works across all the MTV Networks and helps marketers such as General Motors and Dr. Pepper understand the mind-set of young people.

The re-election effort wants to reconnect with youth, which were among its most fervent supporters in 2008.“The youth initiative is having trouble with big donors and youth votes,” said a person familiar with the discussions. “They asked, ‘Can you tell us how we should be talking to them?’ ” one source noted. Viacom’s unit took a few weeks before getting back to the campaign to decline its invitation, saying that it doesn’t do political work. via New York Post

You may be thinking, MTV has a right to change its mind and its not required to run Rock the Vote campaigns. Also, this does not prove any MTV conspiracy to prevent Celebrity supporters from turning out to events favorable to Democrats and progressive causes. I agree with you, which directed me to look at the historical airings of the VMAs to see if any pattern emerges. Following is the data set I used for my analysis courtesy of Wikipedia:

MTV Video Music Award - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • In 2008, the VMAs aired three days after the Republican National Convention where McCain-Palin accepted their party’s nomination. MTV finished second in ratings behind the GOP Convention for the week. *It should be noted that prior to 2008, I could not find any evidence to support the VMAs aired during a Republican or Democratic National Convention.
  • In 2009, the VMAs aired on Sunday, September 13, which just happened to be days following President Obama’s September 10th address to Congress on Health Care and his September 11th in memoriam address at the Pentagon for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • In 2010, the VMAs aired on September 12th, the day after President Obama honored the victims of the World Trade Center on September 11th.  *It should be noted that prior to 2009, the VMAs had never aired post memorial for 9/11 victims except for the first two years of Barack Obama’s Presidency.
  • In 2011, the VMAs aired on August 28th, which was the same day as the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and also marked the same day as King’s “I have a Dream” speech 48th anniversary. On August 24th, BET held its program honoring the memorial’s unveiling on August 28th, 2011.
  • In 2012, the VMAs aired on September 6th, which was the night President Obama accepted his party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention
  • In 2013, the VMAs aired on August 25th, one day after the start of ceremonies commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
  • According to Wikipedia, MTV has already scheduled the VMAs for August 24th, 2014 which also happens to coincide with planned events commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Lydon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

*It should also be noted that the VMAs has led in Nielson Ratings every year since coming behind 2nd to the GOP National Convention in 2008.


In the 1963 March on Washington, Celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Charleston Heston-Aka Mr. NRA, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, Sydney Poitier, and Bob Dylan to name a few were in attendance to support the march. These actors and entertainers where the A-listers of that era. MSNBC did a great article looking back at the 1963 March on Washington which can be viewed here.

What does it mean for present day politics when the wealthiest and most talented among us can be systematically benched from historic moments of civic engagement?

Photos Courtesy of Celebrity Buzz Feed, Wikipedia, and MSNBC

How Technology and Social Media Assists People with Disabilities

children with disabilities using ipads

There is no denying the impact technology and social media has on our ability to connect with others.  It gives us the ability to connect with like-minded people who are passionate about the social and political issues that are dear to us.  Whether these like-minded people are in our neighborhoods or on the other side of the globe, social media is removing the geographical boundaries preventing connection.  Most importantly, it has enabled people with disabilities the ability to effectively advocate and/or protest against policies and programs that affect their quality of life.

People with disabilities of all ages are seen using Twitter, Facebook, blogging platforms, businesses websites, and Kickstarter campaigns to share their life experiences.  Additionally, it is providing a platform for people with disabilities to voice the changes they want to see in expanding inclusion, education, employment, and advocacy opportunities.

The advancements in technology, for example iPads and other tablets, have broken down barriers to allow people of various limitation levels to display their presence on social media and in society.  The invention of these devices has opened doors when it comes to communication, therapeutic progress, and educational enhancement for students and adults with disabilities.

The creation of mobile apps on tablets and smartphones has provided a way for those who cannot use their voice to utilize  touch-and-speech technology at greater access and more affordable prices.  Traditionally, touch-and-speech technology would cost close to $8,000.  Whereas now, the purchase of an iPad at about $499 in price, making this technology affordable and accessible through downloadable apps.  Individuals who are hard of hearing can also download applications that can increase the volume for easier listening.

Physical therapists and teachers have found inventive ways to incorporate the use of technology and applications into their interactions with those with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities.  Such applications have increased individuals’ ability to improve fine motor skills by touching the screens versus having to move a mouse to direct the action they want to take.  Along with providing supplemental instruction methods in the classrooms, this technology seems to resonate well for students with autism who seem to grasp the use of tablets with ease.

With the advances in the tools we use to communicate, social media helps to bridge the gap between those with disabilities and those who are able-bodied, as well as allow people with disabilities to connect with others who share their health and medical conditions.  There are countless personal and organizational websites in chatrooms and other platforms for almost every medical condition that exists.

Speaking from a personal standpoint, I am a member of several Facebook groups for individuals with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), and I also follow numerous blogs on Tumblr and Twitter profiles for organizations and individuals with OI and other physical disabilities.  Social media is being used as a means to connect people with disabilities who may have shared similar life experiences.  This connection creates a sense of community with those who know first-hand the struggles and challenges of living with a life-altering and at times life-threatening, medical and/or psychological condition.

Social media also allows people with disabilities a platform to educate the public about what it means to be disabled while allowing people with disabilities to become self-advocates without having to leave their own homes.  Advocacy and self-advocacy are key components for people with disabilities in order to promote empowerment within the population.  Additionally, it allows for discussion and advocacy for the implementation of effective and efficient programs and policies in order to improve the well-being, social, educational, and economic needs of the group.

For example, social media allows those who utilize it to raise the public’s social consciousness about policies that can either greatly benefit or hinder people with disabilities when it comes to employment opportunities.  It can also create a wider awareness of politicians who seek to strip people with disabilities of their basic human rights by supporting discriminatory practices and legislation.

If the message broadcast through social media receives enough support through individuals resharing, retweeting, and the like, then the potential for that message to go viral on the web increases the ability for gaining the attention of mainstream media outlets.  The power of social media cannot be underestimated, and people with disabilities should consider using social media as a tool to gain allies in the fight for a more equal playing field in our society.

For the people with disabilities who follow Social Work Helper, how do you use technology in your everyday lives?  Has social media proven to be an effective tool to promote advocacy efforts, both personally and professionally?  If so, in what ways has social media proven to be beneficial?  What barriers are there when using social media?  How can advocates and helping professionals promote the importance of using social media to people with disabilities?

I am very interested in hearing the responses of those with disabilities, disability rights consultants, self-advocates like myself, helping professionals, parents, caregivers, or anyone who has witnessed the power of social media has in impacting the lives of people with disabilities.

Get Tested, Know Your Status – National HIV Testing Day

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, an awareness and call for action campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of People with AIDS in 1995.  This day calls for individuals to get tested so that they will be aware of their status, and to prevent the unknowingly spread of the virus.  The fight against HIV/AIDS is dear to me because I grew up during a time when groundbreaking research and medications were coming forth, as well as in-depth conversations about the myths and truths of the disease were taking place.  My mother, who is a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), use to give me health brochures, pamphlets, and books about different illnesses because I wanted to be a doctor when I was a child. Before the age of 12, I was educated about how the virus was acquired, how to protect oneself from infection, and the importance of advocacy when it comes to combating stigma and marginalization those living with HIV/AIDS endured.

Though I have given up my dream of becoming a medical doctor, I have made it my priority to be an advocate and supporter for those affected with HIV/AIDS.  I interned as a Master’s-level Social Worker with a non-profit organization that served those living with HIV/AIDS  along with educating the community about the illness in the northern-central Piedmont region of South Carolina.  This experience allowed me to meet those living with HIV/AIDS and listen to the challenges they face in coping with their status.  I was able to witness the steadfast spirits of individuals who were determined to not allow the virus dictate how they would live their lives.  Seeing such strength and perseverance truly brought home the realization that being infected does not mean that it is the end of your life.  This internship experience helped shape how I view the impact of HIV/AIDS on the lives of those infected 30+ years after the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported.

Though getting tested for  HIV can be frightening, not knowing your status and passing the illness to unsuspecting partners is even more devastating.  Whether you go to an HIV/AIDS clinic or buy an HIV/AIDS home-testing kit, please be knowledgeable about your HIV status.  You will not only be saving your own life, but those you love as well.  HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was over 30 years ago, and  people with the virus are living longer due to the advances in medications.  Every day, it seems that we are getting closer and closer to having an HIV vaccine, and ultimately, a cure.

Know your status, get tested, and advocate for those living with the virus so that we can eliminate the stigma that is still dominating this disease.  For the social workers out there, it is our duty to speak out and stand firmly in support and alliance for those fighting this virus.  We have to be the change we want to see for our clients, our neighbors, and in our communities.

We need to band together as a unit every day, especially to conquer the strength of the AIDS virus.

Dustin Hoffman

(Featured image credit:  Courtesy of the CDC.)

Advocacy Series: Strategy, Targets, and Tactics…Oh my!


As social workers, we have a duty to make sure our clients are treated with dignity and respect, in addition to providing advocacy and fighting for social justice. Part of our role as advocates and social workers is to evaluate the needs of our “clients” and the policies that may affect them and service delivery.  We must be mindful that the needs of vulnerable populations continue to grow in difficult economic times especially when programs for low-income families are the firs to be cut.

I started the beginning of the advocacy series with an overview of how advocacy influences policy. This article will take you a bit further by giving you strategies, targets and tactics as well as some ideas on how to market your cause.

There are many reasons why some people advocate which include things such as equity in health care, income disparity, education equality, and public awareness. There are several types of people whom make persuasive arguments as advocates which include:

  • Those who share a personal connection with the issue
  • Those who could be impacted by the issue
  • Anyone who wants to make a difference

Strategy – What are you advocating?

If you have decided there is an issue worth fighting for, then you need a strategy for a plan of action. An advocacy strategy typically is an approach aimed at persuading someone in power, usually in government or corporate, to  change action for the public interest.

Without a clear obtainable goal, your advocacy plan will lack purpose. You must first analyze the problem and decide what kind of solution is within your spoke of experience. This is for both short and long term goals. A short-term goal has a more immediate resolution and may be only a one step plan. A long-term goal is one you eventually hope to obtain, and it usually has many factors to address.

If the issue you are advocating is controversial or not supported by the community, you will need a longer time frame to make any affect. Also, you must frame the issue in a way that will gain the most support depending on whom you are targeting at the time. However, you do not want to use a “cookie cutter” approach to all your advocacy efforts.

In addition to analyzing the issue, research the counterpoints to your cause in order to be effective in presenting your issue. You must have knowledge of both sides of the discussion. Remember, if there wasn’t an opposing view, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

Make sure your key points:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Have a clear target
  • Result in meaningful life improvements
  • Instill a sense of power to the powerless

Targets – Who are the key players?

Targets are people who have a stake in the proposed change. Identifying the key players is crucial in determining the potential success of your advocacy efforts as well as knowing how to present information to them.  Determine which of these targets would have an interest to advance or protect your issue as allies. In addition, research those in opposition to your issue, and look at your issue from their perspective.

Possible stakeholders could include:

  • Elected officials
  • Federal, state, and local government
  • Organizations
  • Religious, civic,  public and private
  • Media outlets
  • Television, radio, print, internet
  • Family, friends, co-workers

Tactics- What’s the most creative way to make a point?

So, you have a cause and a plan. Now all you need is to carry it out. Tactics are activities used to influence targets to produce the desired change.  This is when advocacy can be very creative and fun. Tactics can be as simple as requesting a meeting to more creative activities such as a candle light vigil or a flash mob. Some advocacy groups have used innovative tactics such as displaying a life size Chutes and Ladder’s game to promote policy change for youth.

Some examples of tactics include:

  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Appointments with officials
  • Rallies /Demonstrations
  • Advocacy days
  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
  • Phone calls
  • Writing campaigns
  • Letters to the Editor and to officials
  • Petitions
  • Editorials
  • Media coverage
  • Grassroots, door to door campaigns

Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do in your advocacy campaign. Even with your opponents, you want to create a relationship where they welcome the opportunity to speak with you again. Also, follow up with the targets you have spoken too by sending them a thank you letter, email or phone call. Remember to provide a debriefing with allies and other participants to discuss where to go forward. This will also help to establish any new networks that have become supporters.

Stay connected to your supporters you will ensure your cause will grow!

Digital Divide Continues to Widen in South Carolina

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

If you’ve seen the movie Beautiful Creatures set in South Carolina, one might believe South Carolinians might not be very tech savvy when it comes to technology. Jeremy Iron’s character, Macon, often tells the towns people to “Google It” when he is quoting historical data. Most of the youth were ready to head to the big city to get out of there.

According to the latest data released, Beautiful Creatures, may not be that far off from its depiction of the diamond state as the digital divide continues to widen. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, over 21% of South Carolinians do not have personal computers in the home, and for residents  who do have home computers, almost 16% do not have internet access.

South Carolina ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes this circumstance; only Mississippi and New Mexico lagged behind South Carolina in the Census findings.

As a fellow South Carolinian, I wish that the Census data surprised me, but sadly, it does not.  Living in a rural area of South Carolina has afforded me the “opportunity” to see firsthand how damaging the digital gap is economically, educationally, and socially.  If you do not have your own computer and internet access at home, have arrangements with someone to use their computer or internet connection, or have transportation to visit the local library or technology center, then you will be left behind in the digital age.  Luckily where I live, we do have a newly renovated public library that has close to 20 computers available for residents to utilize.  However, given the mass closings of public libraries due to lack of funding over the past couple of years, this vital resource no longer exists in areas that may have high percentages of residents without computers or internet access in their homes.

An interesting statement that the head librarian made in the local news report struck a nerve with me and caused me write this post:  ”The digital divide will slowly become the knowledge divide.”  Her statement is already coming to life, given that everything we do, from taking courses, shopping, telecommuting for work, creating and managing businesses, finding love and companionship, are being done on the world wide web.  If you do not have reliable equipment and access to the internet, how will you be able to keep up with those around you who do?  How will you familiarize yourself with the new advances in technology that supposedly make our lives “easier” and more “efficient?”

I believe that it is imperative for citizens and professionals who work in our communities to become more vocal and proactive about the dire need for everyone to have access to the internet, whether it is in their own homes, or being able to visit establishments such as public libraries and technology centers.  If we are on the road to becoming a digital society, then full inclusion needs to be a priority so that everyone will have an equal and fair opportunity to participate.  Technology is not a luxury; it is a necessity in order to function and relate to each other.

What can you do to shrink this growing gap in your state?  Take a closer look at what resources are available (or not) in your community:  what agencies/organizations are present that will allow people to obtain new or used computers for personal use; help when it comes to financing the costs of purchasing, installing, and maintaining computer equipment and internet connection in their homes; and where can people go to access computers and the internet for free?  Once the analysis has been completed, then the next course of action would be to contact your local and state legislators about the gaps prevalent in your community in regards to the availability (and/or lack thereof) of resources, and how those gaps are negatively impacting the lives of residents, as well as the economic, educational, and social statuses of your area.  Without the call for advocacy and hopefully program/institution creations and policy changes, then the digital divide will become the new “haves” and “have nots” predicament.

Advances in computer technology and the Internet have changed the way America works, learns, and communicates. The Internet has become an integral part of America’s economic, political, and social life

Bill Clinton

(Featured image:  Courtesy of

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