Could You Tell a Stranger About Your Last Sexual Encounter?

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Could you tell a stranger about your last sexual encounter? Well, this is exactly what we expect children who have been sexually abused to do. Once (and if) they find the enormous amount of courage to tell a trusted adult such as a parent or teacher), they will then be expected to relate the sexual abuse to the police. Could you do that,and would a child even have the vocabulary to do this?

Many people uneducated in Body Safety Education often ask me, ‘Why don’t children just tell if they are being sexually abused?’ In Australia, a very prominent radio shock jock, John Laws, insensitively brought to tears a brave 80-year-old survivor who phoned in to tell his story of sexual abuse as a child. The poor man was bullied by Laws and basically told to just get over it. This kind of uneducated and insensitive reaction certainly does not help survivors to come forward.

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Let’s take a closer look at why children don’t and often can’t tell. There are a multiple of complex reasons why not but here is what I know.

  1. As stated previously, most children don’t have the actual vocabulary to tell what has happened to them. If uneducated in Body Safety, they won’t know the correct names for their body parts and will not be able to express exactly what happened to them.
  2. The perpetrator has told them no-one will believe them. End of story. And the child is so unempowered he or she believes the abuser without question.
  3. The perpetrator has threatened the child with horrific consequences if they tell, such as killing their pet, killing their parents, abusing their sibling, that they will be responsible for breaking up the family, etc. The list of terrifying threats is cruel and endless.
  4. Most adults will not believe a child’s disclosure. A child has to tell three adults before they are believed. (Aust. Childhood Foundation, 2010)
  5. The child is embarrassed because they think they are willing participant in the abuse and the perpetrator will only be encouraging this perspective, especially if the child’s body reacted to the sexual touch. The child, sadly, believes the abuse to be their fault. (Note: tragically, many adult survivors still believe this.)
  6. And if the child is brave enough to tell an adult that they are being sexually abused, and that adult does not believe them, than chances are the child will never tell again.
  7. The abuser has told the child that the sexual touch is loved-based and that this is what you do when you love someone. They may even show their victim child exploitation material to prove that this kind of sexual touch is normal between children and adults. A child, uneducated in Body Safety, has no idea that the sexual abuse is wrong.
  8. What we’re asking a child to do is to tell a stranger about their last sexual encounter. Could you do that? It takes an incredible amount of bravery to disclose. Adults find it difficult. How would it be for a child?

The bottom line is there are many complex reasons why a child or adult may never disclose sexual abuse. My advice to educators, parents and carers is to educate your child in Body Safety Education from a very young age. An educated child will know from the first inappropriate touch that it is wrong, tell a trusted adult straight away, and keep on telling until they are believed. By educating yourself and your community, the path of a child’s life may literally depend upon it.

Criminalizing Child Welfare: Retired Texas Ranger Takes Over Child Protection Agency

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“Child welfare is a continuum of services that ensure children are safe and that families have the support they need to care for them”, according to the federal Children’s Bureau.  The complexities of serving children and families are many. But, depending on the perspective of the speaker, some are advocating for more law enforcement presence, more substance abuse treatment, or more parenting education and the list goes on.

However, the state of Texas is playing out this high stakes human drama in court, in its state agencies, in foster homes and the Governor’s office.

In the courts:

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December 2015 that the state’s long-term foster care system had infringed on children’s civil rights and caused emotional and physical damage.  Recently, the Judge appointed two special masters to design plans to repair the embattled agency.

This month, U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to continue making plans, as Judge Jack ordered, to revamp the foster system.  The state has repeatedly gone to court to block the court-ordered changes in the foster system.  State officials have said improvements are needed, but the failings aren’t so bad that they “shock the conscience.”  The state’s lawyers wrote in their appeal:  “It is true that Texas’ foster-care system needs improvement in certain areas.  But the same could be said of most states’ foster-care systems.”

In the Governor’s office:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott was in office only six days in 2015 before a child in the state’s care and custody died.  In March, two more children in the state’s care died.  The Governor and his staff became involved in the daily operations of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The Texas Tribune received thousands of pages of email correspondence between the governor and his staff and the child welfare agency.  To staunch the hemorrhage caused by protective service workers quitting, the Governor’s office has approved hire high school and community college graduates who have work experience in a human services field. Currently, 200 hundred jobs are vacant today.

In the state agency:

Retired Texas Rangers Chief Henry “Hank” Whitman took over as commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services.  In Dallas, during the quarter September through November 2015, protective services staff were quitting at a rate of 57% per year.  This exit of experienced staff is associated with a steady increase in the number of investigations open for more than 60 days: from 571 in February 2015 to more than 1,300 in February of this year.  Beginning caseworkers earn CPS caseworker salaries are rock bottom, as low as $34,000 to start.

In foster care

In January the state removed dozens of kids from two residential care centers and dropped off at a shelter 400 miles away.  The disruption was so hard for the kids, some were placed in a psychiatric hospital after the move. Meechaiel Criner, was removed from his mother’s house at age 2 after he and his siblings were left alone in a home with no running water.  On March 24th of this year he ran away from his therapeutic foster home.  Ten days later, he attacked and strangled an 18 year old freshman on the University of Texas campus.

This month, Commissioner Whitman gave a long interview to the Texas Tribune and discussed his vision for protecting children.  He addressed a question about the appointment of a lawman to head the child welfare agency by saying,

“I ask staff ‘Which one of y’all think that a policeman is not a social worker?’ ..I’ve been an investigator 20 years… We have to be with those families during a time of tragedy.  We’re there with them many times to see what we can do because they’re poor.” 

One of Whitman’s first initiatives is to put 20 new crime analysts, trained by the Department of Public Safety, on board to provide background information to Special Investigators who step in after an initial assessment by a protective services worker.  The job description asks for: “experience interviewing perpetrators, children and witnesses, crime scene analysis, experience obtaining credible and reliable victim, witness and suspect statements ”….  98% of 140 the Special Investigators come from law enforcement.

The NASW continues to advocate for child welfare workers who are trained with either a Bachelors or Masters degree in Social Work:

Standard 2. Qualifications, Knowledge, and Practice Requirements Social workers practicing in child welfare shall hold a BSW or MSW degree from an accredited school of social work.

It is all bigger in Texas, but is it better?  Is Texas creating a new model of child welfare that puts an emphasis on investigation, law enforcement with social work assistants left to do friendly visiting?  Can social work reclaim the leadership in child welfare? This would be a nightmare in protecting 4th amendment rights of children and families from unreasonable searches and seizures because they seek or need help.

UTRGV Students Share Experiences During Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program

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UTRGV students Carlie Patrick (far left), a junior English/communication studies major, and Leroy Berrones Soto (second from left), a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students in late May for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program in Washington, D.C., for three days of education, advocacy and relationship building. (UTRGV Courtesy Photo)

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Carlie Patrick and Leroy Berrones Soto, students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, returned from Washington, D.C., feeling they had contributed to improving and strengthening the child welfare system in the United States.

Patrick, a junior English/communication studies major, and Berrones Soto, a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students May 23 to May 26 for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program, three days of education, advocacy and relationship building.

“It was an honor to be selected to represent Texas at the Shadow Program this year, and to share my story of what it was like growing up in foster care,” Berrones Soto said. “The way we change the system for the better is to let our elected officials know that we have solutions on how to make things better for millions of foster youths across the country.”

The annual program, now in its fifth year, is three full days of speakers, workshops, discussions and meetings designed to help young people learn about their Congressional representatives, their districts and how the U.S. Congress works. Current and former foster youths share their experiences with Congressional representatives, to help them gain a deeper grasp of the foster care experience and how they can improve policy.

After a busy first day, Patrick and Berrones Soto attended an evening reception, held in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center, where they met with members of Congress Karen Bass (D-CA 37th District), Robin Kelly (D-IL 2nd District), Diane Black (R-TN 6th District), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th District) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD 5th District).

“During a lively question and answer period, the representatives responded to our questions about child welfare policies and told us a little bit about themselves and how they got their jobs on the Hill,” Berrones Soto said. “After, there was a reception where we had dinner, then went into another theatre in the Capitol Visitor Center to see an episode of ‘The Fosters’ and continue talking policy and life-experiences with people who work in the child welfare arena.”

One of the workshops they attended was on understanding federal policy, presented by program staff from FosterClub and National Foster Youth Institute, two of several sponsors of the National Foster Youth Shadow Program.

“We attended an interesting panel, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where people who work on Capitol Hill talked about how they got their jobs and became members of President Obama’s team,” Patrick said. “Among those on the panel was Rafael López,Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Carlie Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

A highlight of the program was to meet and spend some time with an assigned Member of Congress and their staff. Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

“I actually ended up shadowing Robin Doody, Congresswoman Johnson’s press assistant and legislative correspondent,” Patrick said. “We discovered that we have lots in common. We are both from Houston, and we went to high school literally across the street from each other.”

Doody accompanied Patrick to a Congressional hearing on transportation of water supply and took her on a tour of the Rayburn Office Building and the maze of tunnels connecting the Capitol Hill buildings. He also attended the shadow luncheon with her, where the keynote speaker was Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) and his legislative aides Mary Moody and Stephen Janushkowsky. He shared his personal story in foster care, and they discussed ways to improve the child welfare system in Texas. Along with the aides, Berrones Soto attended a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) in the Cannon House Office Building.

Participants stayed in dormitories at The Catholic University of America, where some of the program activities and workshops took place. Going back and forth to Capitol Hill, they rode the DC Metro.

“This was my first time on a subway, and I loved riding the Metro,” Patrick said. “I liked it a lot better than the city buses I used to take in Houston.”

Also a subway first timer, Berrones Soto said riding the Metro was an “awesome experience” and he, too, became a subway fan.

“It was fast, clean and efficient,” he said, “though I think I was the only one holding onto the pole with both hands!”

Both Patrick and Berrones Soto said it was reassuring to hear from administration leaders on why advocacy by foster youth on the local, state and national levels is critical to affecting the decisions made by elected officials and policy leaders on their behalf.

By meeting other young people and alumni from across the country, leveraging their personal stories to create change, and educating federal policymakers about the experiences and perspectives of young people with personal experience in the foster care system, they feel they are helping move policy in a positive direction.

“Our voices and our stories matter, and I’m excited to have shared my experiences in Washington, D.C.,” Berrones Soto said. “I am extremely optimistic that after this great experience I will be able to continue advocating at a federal level to ensure my foster siblings have a more appropriate foster care experience.”

The Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program is an annual program sponsored by the National Foster Youth Institute, FosterClub, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, Foster Care Alumni of America, Casey Family Programs, Foster Youth in Action and Youth Villages.

For more information on the Shadow Program and other programs that support, empower and engage foster youth, visit .

More on Leroy and Carlie’s experiences at the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day in Washington, D.C.: http://www.lbsj.org/shadow-day/

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Marci Caltabiano Ponce, UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742
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Human Rights Campaign Outreach to Child Welfare Workers

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s All Children – All Families project is conducting a survey of public and private child welfare agency staff. Your responses to this survey will help us understand your agency’s experiences working with a range of resource parents, volunteers and youth. We will use this information to improve our resources and technical assistance for child welfare agencies, and we will also share it with policymakers.

  • Who can participate? Anyone who works for a child welfare agency in the United States is encouraged to take the survey. Your employer can be a public or private agency, and its mission could include working with youth, biological parents, resource parents, or volunteers.
  • What you will do in the survey: You will respond to general questions about yourself and your professional role, your professional experiences, and your opinions about specific topics. You will also answer questions about your agency’s work.
  • Time required: Completing the survey will take approximately 25 minutes.
  • Risks: There are no anticipated risks associated with participating in this survey.
  • Benefits: Some participants may find that the survey is an opportunity to reflect on their professional experience and practices. There are no other direct benefits to you of participating in this survey.
  • Confidentiality: Your response will be anonymous. No personally identifiable information will be collected. After the survey, you will have the option to be contacted by All Children – All Families staff, but your contact information will not be linked to your survey response.
  • Voluntary participation: Your participation in this survey is completely voluntary. If you learned about the survey through a professional association, your membership will not be affected in any way by your decision to participate or not participate.
  • Right to withdraw: You have the right to stop taking the survey at any time without penalty. To do so, simply close the browser window. Because the survey is anonymous, it is not possible for us to delete data that you have already submitted.
  • Payment: You will not be paid for your participation in the survey. However, participants who complete the survey will have the option to enter a drawing for one of five Amazon.com gift cards worth $25.00 each. The odds of winning a gift card will depend on the total number of people who choose to participate.

You can begin the survey on the HRC website using this linkIf you have questions about the survey, please contact:

Gabe Murchison
Senior Research Manager, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
1640 Rhode Island Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
gabe.murchison@hrc.org
(202) 789-8028

Best Practices for Grief: Foster Care

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Often, helping professionals in the lives of foster care youth struggle to understand the magnitude of losing a child or teen in the foster care system has experienced.  Abuse and neglect, loss of innocence, trauma, separation from parents, loss of security, and multiple placements are all factors affecting the wellness of children placed in the foster care system.

These heavy experiences not only impact children and teens in our foster care population short term, but they are also far reaching.  The long term impacts of these experiences of foster care youth are evidenced by the staggering statistics of foster care alumni such as homelessness, prison, unemployment, mental health concerns, and lack of education.

In order to effectively serve this underserved population, it’s time for us to acknowledge how much we really don’t know about foster care youth in the United States today.  It’s time to create more conversation about the needs of children and teens in foster care placement and the realities of their experiences.  It’s time we meet them where they’re at in their grief.

Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors. – Foster Care Alum Veola Green

Below is the first video in our series highlighting best practices for teachers and other key players impacting the lives of grieving foster care youth today.  In this video, I interview Evangelina Reina, LCSW, Assistant Regional Administrator for DCFS – Los Angeles and Adjunct Assistant Professor for The University of Southern California.

Reina offers her insight into best practices when working with children and teens in foster care placement as well as her expertise on what sets foster care youth apart from youth impacted by the other experiences of death, divorce, parental incarceration, and parental deployment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foster Care Youth: Using Technology to Provide Support

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Many social workers, other helping professionals, and foster care alumni have recognized the value in utilizing technology to support foster care youth. However, there is a gap in the scholarly research and development of technology solutions in this area.

In October of 2015, the Pritzer Foster Care Initiative sponsored a conference regarding “Web and Mobile app Solutions for Transition Age Youth.” at the conference, it was suggested that technology innovations for the foster care population should be amassed and made available via a single access point. At a similar event, the “Children’s Rights Summit” in December of 2015, they also discussed the myriad ways technology could be used to overcome legal barriers for foster care youth, families, and professionals.

The push for mobile applications, websites, and video games to engage and empower foster care youth is driven by the poor outcomes associated with “aging out”. Scholars define aging out, which occurs between 18 to 21 years old, as the process by which foster youth surpass the maximum age for foster care. Youth who leave foster care are presumed to join the ranks of: the homeless, undereducated, unemployed, incarcerated, substance abusers, those with unwanted pregnancies, and victims of poor credit and identity theft. 

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analyse and Reporting, the number of youth who aged out of foster care during 2013 was 238,280. The racial/ethnic breakdown of these youth was: white 45% or 106,487; black 24% or 56,053; Hispanic 20% or 48,661; and Bi-racial or multiracial 6% or 13,889.

National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) captures data in the following areas for foster care youth aged 17: financial, education, relationships with adults, homelessness, high-risk behaviors, and health insurance access. The data revealed that 28% of those youth were either: employed full or part-time, received job training, social security, educational assistance, or other social supports.

Additionally, 93% of the youth reported participation in educational programming, 93% denoted having a healthy relationship with at least one adult, 16 % reported being homeless at some point, 27% replied having a referral for substance abuse counseling, 35% indicated being incarcerated at some time, 7% reported an unplanned pregnancy or fatherhood, and 81% reported having Medicare coverage.

These figures do not evoke a brilliant future for those departing foster care. For this reason, social workers have become innovators by melding technology and research into mobile applications, websites, and video games that meet the needs of foster care youth. Some of the promising technology available are as follows:

  • Bay Area Legal Aid partners with the Youth Law Center and the Public Interest Law Project to provide trainings in foster care benefits and advocates for foster care youth.
  • Beyond ‘Aging Out’: An MMOG for Foster Care Youth is a gaming platform and support network for foster care youth.
  • Foster Care to Success (FC2S) has influenced public policy, volunteer initiatives, and programs for older foster youth.
  • Foster Club is an online resource providing peer support and information for current and former foster youth.
  • Focus on Foster Families is a mobile app providing video interviews with foster youth and caregivers sharing experiences, and expert legal, education, and child welfare advice.
  • iFoster is an online community offering resources, technology, tutoring, eyeglasses, job opportunities, and a digital locker for foster youth to secure personal information.
  • Kids Help Phone is a Canadian-based website providing 24/7 counselling and information services for children and youth.
  • KnowB4UGo is a mobile application connecting foster youth with people, places and programs that support the aging out process.
  • National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Mobile App (NFCAD) provides search information, including location and key contacts, for organizations, groups, agencies, and experts across the child welfare profession
  • Ratemyfosterhome.com is a mobile app designed to garner information about foster homes and foster care experiences in real-time.
  • TeenParent.net is a website offering information, resources, and a blog to support foster youth who are expecting or parenting and their caregivers.
  • Think of Us is an online platform to support foster youth, foster/adoptive parents, and social services.
  • Pathos game is a puzzle and fantasy video game created by FixedUpdate. As the main character, Pan, explores new worlds and makes new friends, players experience some of the emotions of children in the foster care system. FixedUpdate hopes that Pan’s adventures will connect with people inside and outside of the foster care system. The game, Pathos, will be available on the iTunes Store and Google Play Store in 2016.
  • Persistence Plus engages and motivates college students through a mobile platform that uses transformative behavioral interventions.
  • Sortli is a mobile application that provides information, step-by-step guides and support. Sortli gives you 7 paths toward independence to include identity, relationships, a place to live, health, finances, education and employment, and living skills.
  • Ventura County Foster Healthlink (FHL) is a new website and mobile application that provides foster parents and caregivers with health information about children in their care. The goal is for information to be shared electronically among the care team to better meet the needs of the children.

These are only a fraction of the technologies available to assist foster youth. Many people in the public and private sector are unaware that social work professionals are leading the way in the research and design of high tech for foster youth.

Social worker Ruby Guillen of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has developed the following apps: (1) an app to report and prevent child sex trafficking, (2) an anti-bullying app, (3) a foster care placement app, and (4) an app for risk assessment of neglect and child abuse. Guillen was inspired by her passion for technology and her experience as a social worker. Guillen and her colleagues developed these apps at two hackathons sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Although, the apps are not readily available, they foreshadow trends for the future social work practice.

Jay Miller, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Kentucky, understands the gaps in support that exist in the child welfare system. Dr. Miller has asked for backing to create and assess a mobile app to support foster care youth in transition. This research is being conducted in the Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky area.

He states that, “a foster kid will turn 18 and there’s some kind of expectation that they’ll be able to function in a way that other kids who are never in foster care don’t have the capacity to function or make big decisions at 18. We expect foster kids to do that.” He further adds that, “With child welfare in general and with foster care specifically, the problems that plague these systems they are community problems. It’s not just a someone problem. It’s an everyone problem” Miller suggests an ideological change in people’s perceptions about foster care. “We need to look at it as a service for people in need. It is a solution. Dr. Miller’s work will continue to bring the barriers to success for foster youth to the forefront. 

Innovative technology solutions have been developed to address systemic issues in the foster care system and to sustain foster care youth in general. These mobile apps, websites, and video games meet immediate needs allowing foster care youth to focus on future goals. There are a plethora of resources accessible to equip foster care youth in their transition into young adulthood.

By shifting the focus from data that exposes the many apertures of the current system to programs that produce confident and successful young adults, our outlook becomes much broader. Developing thoughtful products and tangible services for foster care youth can produce more positive outcomes.

Social Work Advocacy and Psychotropic Drugs in Foster Care

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In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act required states to begin developing plans to monitor health care for kids in foster care. This was strengthened in 2011 when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study of child Medicaid populations which found that children in foster care with Medicaid received psychotropic medications at a much higher rate than kids with Medicaid who were not in foster care.

Over the last 10-15 years, efforts to legislate, increase awareness about the impact of trauma, engage in advocacy for psychosocial therapies and the need for responsive caregiving have arisen across the country in an attempt to parallel the reduction of unnecessary or inappropriate psychotropic use for foster kids. In spite of those efforts, there is no question that the overprescribing of psychiatric medications for children in foster care has proven a tough practice to change.

The issue of psychotropic use in child welfare populations is clearly one where social workers should be at the forefront, it simply does not gain as much involvement as the psychosocial aspects of practice. Social work practitioners may not see it as being within their scope of practice, but kids in care need social work advocacy in this regard more than ever.

There are a number of reasons why psychotropic monitoring and advocacy has been tough to implement. Too many causes to cover in one article, but one factor may be that all of the efforts to build psychosocial approaches have seemed to exist separately from psychotropic monitoring and reduction plans.

It is unfortunate because better alignment of these initiatives would likely help those living and working with foster care populations to gain a broader perspective and would better illustrate that all therapies, psychosocial or biological, play variable roles. Some states are beginning to implement legislation, but that impact is not yet determined.

Another barrier is that psychosocial treatment modalities are still behind psychiatric medications in terms of research and evidence-based practice. At present, people may simply be conditioned to be more receptive to a medication therapy. Socially accepted norms and the desire for an instant fix can be difficult obstacles to overcome. Effective systems to assist in tracking and authorization of prescriptions for foster kids, as well as hesitant collaborative and information sharing practices between government agencies have proven to be barriers for many states.

Understanding the context of the quick fix

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Governments will wholeheartedly embrace a practice that is thought to offer a quick solution that also suits a budget and it can be several years before any fallout from a poor decision, lack of resources or policy is noted. Twenty years ago the idea of a chemical imbalance really started to become entrenched in American culture. If too much or too few of certain chemicals caused the imbalance, then a psychiatric medication could restore that imbalance. Psychiatric meds were designed to mimic neurotransmitters in the brain – they would “fix” the imbalance in the brain.

It is true that chemicals are important, but more than biology must be considered in developing treatment plans. The idea, intended or not, that mental illness is due to chemical imbalance has largely become accepted, along with a willingness to medicate children as if they will respond exactly as adults. The notion of a ‘chemical imbalance’ is frequently used as the reason for someone’s actions in the everyday vernacular.It’s not his fault, he has a chemical imbalance!” has been further cultivated by pharmaceutical companies and the general misconception of medication as an easy solution.

While none of this was geared directly towards foster children, they are the vulnerable recipients nonetheless. The focus on becoming trauma informed has directly impacted foster care populations and is gaining greater awareness today than ever before. Trauma informed practices can greatly assist in child welfare, but caution should be taken as well. Trauma informed practice does not represent a quick fix either.

Human beings are too complex. A true implementation of biopsychosocial practice which recognizes that age, development, experience, genetics and responsive support each play a role that must be considered in working with kids must be embraced. It is unlikely to be quick or a “fix”, but, in terms of cost it will certainly save in the long run in so many ways.

Polypharmacy and Child Welfare Populations

Kids in care present with a complex variety of behavioral and emotional challenges as a result of chronic poverty, abuse or neglect. They may have unrecognized developmental delays, medical concerns or mental health diagnoses in addition to traumatic experience. In a society where medication has become the accepted first line approach, kids in care are receiving polypharmacy prescribing far more than is appropriate and often without benefit of consistent psychosocial supports. Because foster children can present so intensively, they are susceptible to receipt of psychiatric medication when it may not be warranted.

The effort to medicate behavior, even when no benefit has been realized, makes no sense, but it happens likely increasing the risk of adverse events and placement instability. Caregivers may feel uncomfortable in questioning providers and many do not know what should be monitored and reported. Lack of information and history can be problematic. Providers are often limited in number and in the time they have to give during an office visit. When a foster child refuses a medication, he or she can be accused of noncompliance, but there may be very valid reasons why that child does not wish to comply. Consent is often overlooked or poorly defined.

Side effects associated with some psychotropic medications can outweigh the benefits and clinical trials for children have been in short supply. New science regarding child development suggests that psychiatric medication may have long reaching concerns for children that are not currently understood. In spite of all of the above concerns, efforts to vilify psychotropic use in children should be avoided. Medication can be a helpful therapy, it is simply not the only therapy and it should not be the first type of therapy sought in most cases.

Social Workers need to focus more on psychotropic drug use

Polypharmacy and inappropriate prescribing for foster care populations is more than the latest hot button issue. Efforts have been underway across the nation with varying degrees of limited success for years, often independent of efforts to improve psychosocial supports. There are no easy solutions, a fact that many social workers understand very well. However, social workers can play integral roles in shaping and supporting psychotropic monitoring and oversight at all levels of practice. By improving knowledge, collaboration, highlighting options and advocating for stronger monitoring and consent practices, social workers can make considerable inroads towards positively changing the lives of kids in foster care.

9 Mobile Apps for Social Workers

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Add digital skills to the many skill sets we wear as social workers. Our clients are carrying around devices that can serve as a secondary tool to support practice and our primary connections. Many practitioners feel that technology is taking away from the human interaction. However, technology can actually enhance our practice and empower our clients while scaling our efforts.

For instance, we can reach people in rural areas we weren’t able to reach before, empower clients to monitor their moods outside of sessions and have real time data to discuss in session, make connections with children on the autism spectrum that is difficult for a human to make, assess suicidal ideations, alert authorities/contact of domestic violence situations in real time, and the list goes on.  We must not fear technology as it is here to stay.  In fact, they are now moving into the world of the Internet of Things (IOT) such as wearable technology.

The social work practice will not progress by chance, we will have to embrace and educate ourselves on technology in order to most effectively advocate for our clients and the profession.

  • “Most social workers have no access to data in the field, even though worldwide global mobile access is above 87%.” Northwoods Business Brief
  • “Smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their [in app] time on just five apps.” Forrester Data
  • “To date, 85.5 percent of the world subscribes to mobile phone services…” Technology for good: Innovative use of technology by charities

Mobile apps are a wonderful tool, however they are just that: a tool.  They should not replace the relationship but rather enhance and augment the work you are doing.

1.     PTSD Coach – “The PTSD Coach app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that often occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms
  • Convenient, easy-to-use tools to help you handle stress symptoms
  • Direct links to support and help
  • Always with you when you need it

Providing you with facts and self-help skills based on research.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Veterans, Mental Health

2.     Northwoods Compass CoPilot – “It’s the ideal solution for mobile social workers at child and adult protective services agencies, and other workers who visit clients in their homes or other locations. Social workers in the field use Compass CoPilot to access all case and client information, forms, and documents, just as they would in the office. It’s the only social services software to ensure that social workers are never without the files and information they need while they’re on the road. During client visits, social workers can use Compass CoPilot to record interviews, take photos, document, and notate their findings — all while they are in the field. Being able to accomplish all of this with a tablet makes the information gathering less intrusive, which helps put clients at ease and allows for better interactions. Our innovative social service software syncs the new information with the agency’s Compass® system back at the office.” (iTunes)

Tags: Child Welfare, Case Mangement

3.     Classdojo – “Easily encourage students on participation, perseverance, or something else? Customize ClassDojo to work for your classroom.  See a timeline of students’ progress, share a beautiful timeline of all the wonderful things your students do. Students love how positive classrooms are and it saves teachers valuable class time, too.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: School Social Work, Autism

4.     TF-CBT Triangle of Life – “new [free] mobile game app helps children who have experienced trauma by letting them use their tablets or smartphones to practice life skills they have learned in the therapist’s office. With the tagline “Change how you think; change your life,” the TF-CBT Triangle of Life game is designed to help children age 8-12 better understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and move toward a better quality of life. During this game, the player takes the role of the lion in a jungle story, guiding other animals toward more positive experiences and relationships.” (iTunes,Google Play)

Tags: Mental Health, Trauma, CBT, Therapist

5.     Aspire News – “A domestic violence app is disguised as a normal icon and even has a decoy home page, so you’ll be safe if your abuser takes your phone. The most important feature of the Aspire News app is called the GO Button, which you can activate the moment you are in danger. Once activated, the GO Button will send a pre-typed or pre-recorded message to multiple trusted, preselected contacts, or even 911, saying that you are in trouble. Additionally, once the app is activated, your phone will begin recording audio of everything that is going on in the room, which can be used as evidence for any legal proceedings that may stem from the incident. Robin emphasizes that it’s important to always have your location services activated, as many of the app’s features require it. For example, the app can be used to locate the shelters and resources closest to you.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Domestic Violence

6.     The Savvy Social Worker – “Trying to stay abreast of developments in social work and human services practice? Few practitioners have the time to identify all the key sources of information on the web. This app, developed by the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will help you stay current with new developments in social work practice, especially evidence-based practices and best practices. We bring information about key practice resources and practice research findings to you all in one place, in an e-news reader format. You select the information providers (channels) that you would like to monitor, and we do the rest. Included in our list are key sources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Cochrane Collaboration, the Campbell Collaboration, ad Information for Practice.” (Google Play)

Tags: Social Work, Resources

7.     Suicide Safety – “Suicide Safe, SAMHSA’s new suicide prevention app for mobile devices and optimized for tablets, helps providers integrate suicide prevention strategies into their practice and address suicide risk among their patients. Suicide Safe is a free app based on SAMHSA’s Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage (SAFE-T) card.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Therapist, Suicide, Social Work

8.     The DBT Diary Card – “DBT Diary Card is the only DBT iPhone app designed and created by a licensed and DBT intensively trained psychologist.” (iTunes)

Tags: Therapist, Social Work, DBT

9.     Dialysis Finder – Dialysis Finder App quickly identifies your location and lets you choose the nearest Dialysis Clinic as well as get other information about the location. A convenient way to find a US Dialysis Clinic near you. (iTunes)

Innovating Social Work Practice for the Future

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Dr. Richard Barth

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Richard Barth at the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) conference in Washington DC. Dr. Barth is President of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) in addition to being the School of Social Work Dean at the University of Maryland. Dr. Barth has previously served as a chaired professor at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley.  He is also a past recipient of the SSWR Lifetime Achievement Award.

We got together to discuss the Grand Challenge initiative launched by the Academy during the conference, and its potential impact on the future of social work practice. The Grand Challenges for Social Work is a groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science, but it is also a call to action for all of us to work together to tackle our nation’s toughest social problems.

SWH: Why was it important to launch the Grand Challenge initiative, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

Richard: The goal is for the profession to improve its capacity to assist society to be safer, more supportive, and healthier. Our aspiration is to identify areas where we already have a history of accomplishment and those which we can be expected to have significant future accomplishment if we strengthen our focus and our scientific work.

In some cases, this may require readiness to take the interventions we are already engaged in to scale and testing them in different ways. This also means expanding partnerships with professionals, organizations and businesses who are interested in the same outcomes as we are. For other Grand Challenges we will need a longer period of development although we have identified measurable improvements that can be achieved in the next decade for all the Grand Challenges.

An additional benefit is to help the entire nation understand what social work does, what w are good at, what we care about, and why social work is such a vital partner in addressing each of these issues.

SWH: How do you envision turning the Grand Challenges into actionable policy changes?

Richard: As we develop interventions or take existing interventions to scale there will be policy implications all the way along. Sometimes those policies are just to identify newly needed research.

As an example, we have a grand challenge on ending homelessness and we are looking at youth homelessness. This is a significant problem and so to start attacking that problem one of the things we would need to do is to get very good estimates about youth homelessness, and the array of causes, that would the help us to see what are the opportunities to devise additional interventions that have compelling results. This may include changes in policies for child welfare, mental health, education, and juvenile services that help support youth in a broader range of ways.  There will, undoubtedly be some homeless youth who we can’t help right away and who may require a different policy approach, which could include finding ways to help them stay out of jail or otherwise not become part of the incarceration of America during their period of homelessness.

This leads to another one of our grand challenges, which is “Smart Decarceration”. We expect that these grand challenges will integrate with each other and what we learn about ways of achieving decarceration–such as modified family courts–may be helpful for runaway homeless youth and people with behavioral health problems.

We’re interested in policy changes that affect as many people in a positive way as soon as possible. But that said, there are certainly policies that are primarily governed at the local level. Education policies for example are often determined at the school district level because most of the money to support education comes from local taxes. There are school and school district policies and procedures related to suspension and expulsion, which we talked about today in our discussion about success for African American children under the grand challenge of “Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice”.

There are other areas where federal policy would need to be changed. For example, Medicaid supports groups for smoking prevention but they don’t support groups for parenting and yet if you’re really going to change family violence then you need to improve parenting.  This is also true if we are going to achieve the Grand Challenge of “Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth”. We are looking at ways to work at the national level to address that issue. Policy implications that arise out of the Grand Challenges will in many ways depend on the question that is being asked and the way that it’s currently being supported.

SWH: The Grand Challenges are being launched at a macro level, how do you plan to reach frontline social workers?

Richard: We’re hoping that each of the grand challenges will end up with a cadre of interested members putting their ideas on the website at www.aaswsw.org and who go to the grand challenge section clicking over to the areas that they are interested in and signing up to get information. People will be able to post and retrieve information there. We are also encouraging all the grand challenges work groups, which are currently in their formative stages, to do what they can to reach out to practitioners to get their voice and to reach out to consumers to hear their voice.

In terms of frontline practitioners, one of the things we talked about today was trying to cohost some webinars with National Association of Social Workers. For example, we would like to open conversations with state social work organizations and non-governmental organizations about the goals of the grand challenges and ways we can collaborate for collective impact. For instance, when talking about our goals for education or goals related to decarceration, it’s important for us to connect with groups already specializing in those areas. We’re going utilize as social media as much as possible to expand our efforts and reach.

SWH: If the Grand Challenges has any hope of being successful, how will the Academy support Child Welfare social workers?

Richard: The Grand Challenges do not have a specific grand challenge about child welfare services. Yet, I expect that a grand challenge touches the lives of every child welfare involved client related to homelessness, decarceration, education, education pipeline, family violence, equal opportunity for all, and improved health for all.  By making progress on these Grand Challenges we will create greater opportunity for families to succeed and will greatly strengthen child welfare’s capacity to help families to live together safely.

There’s a group that’s forming that’s dedicated to ending gender based violence, which of course intersects with family violence. There’s a very interesting grand challenge about “Build Financial Capability For All”, which has to do with helping low income families to manage the challenges they have around their resources, debt collection and management, eviction, and the many financial challenges that plague families. Further many of the approaches that will be further developed and disseminated under this grand challenge will be preventive in nature. Child welfare workers have to often try to address these issues after they’ve already impacted families. The Grand Challenge will look at preventive tools and also research how to help families maintain benefits they have received from their interaction with a child welfare worker.

SWH: How is this research going to be translatable to frontline workers and people in the field?

Richard: It is our goal to put really good science together and create intervention models that are more powerful than what we have now. As an example, the work on ending or reducing severe and fatal maltreatment is one of the working papers we are working on under “End Family Violence”. There has been a discussion about using birth records and prior child welfare records and other data to predict what cases should be screened in and looked at rather than screened out even though they’re high risk. So we’re trying to look at the groups that are working on testable questions that actually have a benefit in reducing the rates of untoward outcomes.

We’ll have to talk to child welfare workers to figure out how they would use that information. Let’s imagine we could create some excellent predictive analytics. Even so, we will still find it  important for us to work with child welfare workers to see for example, how do you want to see that information? What don’t you want to see included in those predictions that might institutionalize bias? What do you think would actually lead to unfair uses of this information and how can you help us to take our science and use it to make a difference? We don’t want to overwhelm frontline workers with either too many ways or vague suggestions about what they would like to see.

SWH: If you could tweet one message about the Grand Challenges, what would it be?

Tweet: The Grand Challenges will be transformative if people buy in, join a challenge, & commit to partnering with others to make it happen. #Up4theChallenge

Self Care: Placing An Oxygen Mask On Yourself Prior To Assisting Others

Traveling with friends and family to events is something I like to do for two reasons. One is the fact that I like to share experiences with others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to travel. If I can help them create new memories and expand their minds I always try to. Two, I simply prefer to have company when I travel for speaking engagements or HipHop performances.

But there’s one specific time I recall that I’m sure my travel companions may have wished they had missed out on my excursions.

Primarily filled with judges and lawyers, this 1000 person audience threw me for a loop and off my game. What happened was both humbling and embarrassing. It also opened my eyes to some internal emotional work that I had yet to address. I wish it wouldn’t have unfolded on stage, but everything happens for a reason and this was no exception.

I stayed up until 5AM the night before the big conference preparing my notes and pacing in my hotel room, undoubtably irritating both my sister and friend/videographer who were sharing the two room suite that had been provided to us. I was noticeably more nervous than usual. Rightfully so, it was an entirely new audience. This nervousness led up to a level of self-exposure that was not planned nor pretty.

Keep in mind that keynote speaking is my full time career. These organizations don’t hire me just because of my fancy website or produced videos, they hire me because I have personal experience in the system and spent 15 years working as a Registered Nurse and child welfare advocate prior to launching my platform and publishing my book. Hopefully this tells you that this mishap was not due to inexperience, but rather a lack of awareness in the self-care department. It was not something that was obvious.

A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)
A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)

I have spent nearly a decade engulfed in self-development and improving my approach to self-care so it was not for lack of trying. It was simply something that went under the radar. I think that we all have little things that sift through the cracks of our diligent efforts time and time again. Which is why we need to regularly and consistently be reminded of the importance of self-care.

No matter how many times you have flown, the flight attendants always remind you to take care of yourself first. If the cabin loses oxygen then make sure you have your oxygen mask on prior to assisting others even children. You’re no good to anyone if you die before getting to them. And that is what happens when we keep letting little things slip through the cracks.

We die a little inside and aren’t able to be the great people we were meant to be for our friends, family, and clients. How many social workers do you know that need a social worker? Probably a lot. Remembering this can save your life and your relationships.

Therefore, at the risk of exposing my own insecurities to yet another large audience, I offer this story to inspire your own self-reflection in hopes of allowing you to be better prepared to face the unknowns in your life and work. Allow yourself to care for your own hidden emotional barriers before making a fool out of yourself in front of friends, co-workers, and most-importantly family members and clients.

During my presentations, I often speak about my relationship with my mother and the impact it had on me as a child as she was absent and often emotionally abusive. Shortly before this presentation, I learned more about the truth behind my mother’s behaviors during my childhood. I learned that she had been labeled with multiple mental health diagnoses and placed on several psychotropic medications that impaired her ability to function, much less parent.

It gave me a sense of relief. So much of my life, I had hatred pent up in my heart for her inability to provide love, compassion, trust, and understanding. But, this new knowledge gave me a new direction for that anger. It allowed me to blame others or simply blame the system.

During this presentation, I spoke about those new findings. Self-exposure is generally very moving, right? I thought so too, but I found that to be the case only if done strategically and with purpose.

There was no purpose for my ranting about the corruption of the system. I was simply ranting.

Afterwards, a lady who looked my mom’s age and as if she may have had a rough life herself gave me a note. She told me to open it when I get back to my hotel room, and I did. It read: “I’m glad your aunty was there for you when I wasn’t able to be. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be who you needed me to be. I love you very much. -signed, Mom”

I didn’t know it, but those were the words I had been longing to hear my entire life. And this woman knew it. Something tells me she was in my mothers shoes most of her life and possibly was once in my shoes as well.

Sitting in that hotel room, I broke down in tears immediately upon reading those words. She got it. She found a gaping wound and she picked up on it from my ranting on stage when I should have been providing actionable steps for the audience.

50 percent of the reviews from this event were negative. I obviously didn’t follow through with what the audience needed. I am embarrassed to say that, but hopefully this is a reminder that it is okay to need help. It is okay to take time away. Self care is essential, and it is okay for the counselors to seek counsel. Actually, it is necessary so that you don’t cause 50 percent of the people in your life to feel negative about your interactions with them.

We are here to help others, but we must help ourselves first.

ReMoved: A Poignant Short Film on Foster Care

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“It’s natural for you to think about how fostering will affect your life.  About how hard it will be or how it will impact your family. But try to imagine what it’s like for that kid in foster care. And how much harder it is for them. Because you’re an adult after all, but they’re just kids,” explained Chris Poynter, a foster parent trainer and child advocate in Southern California.

After showing a short slideshow of sentences that kids in foster care wish adults knew about what it’s like to be in care, prospective foster parents Nathanael and Christina Matanick were so inspired that they decided to make their next short film about the experience of foster care from a child’s point of view.

Their film proceeded to win at the speed film festival they created it for (the 168 Film Festival), and then went on to win numerous awards at various other film festivals worldwide (Enfoque International Film Festival, St. Tropez International Film Festival, Sikeston Film Festival). Most notably and of most affirmation for the Matanicks, the film spread virally online in March 2014 and quickly became embraced by social workers, foster parents, child welfare agencies, court appointed special advocates, and current foster youth and alum.

The film follows the emotional journey of Zoe, a 9-year-old girl who is taken from her abusive birth home and placed in the tumultuous foster care system. Separated from her brother, Zoe bounces from foster home to foster home, experiencing additional trauma within the system, and finally lands in a good foster home but experiences flashbacks and behavioral issues stemming from triggers in her environment. Through it all, she lugs her black trash bag from place to place, which contains the few items that belong to her.

The uniqueness of the 13-minute film lies in its perspective from the child’s point of view. The entire film is driven by Zoe’s voice-over, articulating the thoughts and emotions of her experience.

Says Janet Magee, founder of Blue Sunday, an initiative to raise awareness and prevent child abuse, “[ReMoved is] the most authentic video I’ve ever seen! They have it down to the trash bag she used as a suitcase – my personal pet peeve.  It’s the wake up call of the century for a nation where child abuse is epidemic.  It’s a 12 minute investment thank can change your life and hopefully a child’s.”

Child abuse is rampant in the United States—and exists everywhere worldwide as well. Current figures have the number of children in the United States foster care system as around 400,000. Rather than escaping from neglect and abuse they encountered in their birth homes, many of these children entering foster care experience additional trauma through repeated moves, unloving caregivers, separation from siblings, et cetera.

Says Nathanael Matanick, creator and director of ReMoved, “Film has a way of bypassing the intellectual arguments and getting straight to the emotion of an issue.” ReMoved does just that, usually bringing viewers to tears as they resonate and understand Zoe’s story and determine in their hearts to do what they can to make a difference for the children in their own communities.  ReMoved and its sequel, Remember My Story, can be licensed through the film’s webpage: www.removedfilm.com

Understanding Foster Care Youth With The Help of the Documentary Foster Care Film

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When I tell people I am a former foster youth they usually have a similar response (something along the lines of) “I would have never guessed that about you.” Since many people wrongfully equate the foster care system with the juvenile detention system, I usually understand the source of their surprise.

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Charell and her Sister

Being a former foster care youth comes with its own set of challenges: lack of family support, lack of money, having to take care oneself from an early age. There are tons of disheartening statistics stating things like less than 50% of foster youth will graduate high school, only 3% will graduate from college and 20% will be homeless by age 18. Challenges like these make it hard for youth in foster care to believe that they’ll move past their current reality.

The truth is foster care kids are less likely to achieve the things they want most in life but that is directly proportional to the fact that they are less likely have people who support them in life. It’s much easier to write groups off as simple statistics then it is to lend a hand to ensure these youth don’t become statistics in the first place.

One way to help foster youth is to take some time to learn about their experience. Yasmin Minstry’s documentary film project – Foster Care Film offers a way for caring individuals and community members to learn more about the lives of foster youth.

Youth-Screening-Film-300x226Her first film – Feeling Wanted (of which I am the subject) – provides an honest portrayal of my journey through the system and life after foster care.

It is the first completed film of several that Minstry has in the works as part of her film project. You can order a copy or check out some powerful clips to gain some engaging insight on foster youth.

Being a former foster youth has given me a unique perspective on life, but it hasn’t made a different breed of human. The people I encountered growing up who knew that are the ones who were able to motivate me to go after what I wanted in life.

Being able to help youth in foster care starts by trying to understand who they are. Checking out Foster Care Film is a good first step in that direction. Here is the Foster Care Film – Feeling Wanted trailer:

Feeling Wanted: Trailer

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

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

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

1. Be a Scammer

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

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

 Password scams

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

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

Premium items, membership or free stuff scams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on how to Avoid Scams

2. Be a Phisher

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

Fake websites

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

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

Emails

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

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

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

Threatening in-game behaviour

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

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

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

3. Be an Internet Troller

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

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

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

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

Case studies

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

Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 -2003

Amanda Michelle Todd 1996-2012

Megan Taylor Meier 1992-2006

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

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

4. Be a Gold Farmer

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

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

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

Cases of interest

Zynga Inc. v. Playerauctions.com

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

Bot busting

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

Blizzard Entertainment v. Peons4Hire

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

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

5. Be a Botter

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

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

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

Macro program risks

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

 What are keyloggers?

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

Final reflections

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

Further reading

Little book of scams

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

Trolls just want to have fun

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

Computer malicious software – Further reading

Preserving the Therapeutic Relationship as a Mandated Reporter

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If you find yourself a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect and have ever had to report a client or patient with whom you have worked so hard to build rapport, the disruption of the therapeutic relationship probably appropriately concerns you. You know you have to call, and you can easily imagine that Jenga tower of rapport and trust you and your client built together toppling over completely.

Furthermore, you may already know that many cases of abuse and neglect do not spring from the woodwork, and there may be a complicated context. It may be important to you as a clinical practitioner to preserve the relationship if possible, so you can help your client and their family further.

HOWEVER: Not all is lost! In both the research, and this writer’s personal experience, The therapeutic relationship can be preserved, or the damage at least mitigated. Others have done it and you probably can too. After you accept that you need to/have to/are going to report (the definitions of abuse and neglect vary from state to state but generally follow the definitions in federal law) consider the following steps:

  • Be realistic and own your role. Be comfortable with the fact that you may damage or extinguish the therapeutic relationship. You are fulfilling your responsibilities as a mandated reporter and these responsibilities are in place to protect your client and their child. Plenty of data illustrates the importance of your mandated role. The CDC notes the stakes when they report that many incidences of abuse and neglect are not reported. In a nutshell, the importance of your therapeutic relationship does not outweigh the importance of reporting.
  • Be as honest as possible. Fulfill your responsibility to make the call, but also be responsible for informing your client, unless contraindicated. Give as much information as possible about the process, which can increase their sense of control over the process. It’s also extremely important to make sure they understand what caused the report, if you can safely do so.
  • Educate on the process. Be familiar with the process and give updates as you have them. Advise how they can advocate for themselves and use your local Child Protection agency as a resource. Provide your client information on advocating for themselves if they are concerned they will not be treated fairly.
  • Acknowledge feelings and emphasize your supportive role. You can be a mandated reporter and still available to be supportive to the client and family throughout the process. You can still listen to and reflect their frustration with the call and the process. Acknowledging feelings  is therapeutic in almost every situation. You can always acknowledge feelings without condoning specific actions.
  • Stick to your guns and do not waver on the report itself. You can acknowledge and validate frustration and still be comfortable with your call. Clarify what those criteria were that led to the call and how you can still be available to prevent them from resulting in a report in the future. The only thing more irritating than knowing someone reported you for suspected abuse or neglect may be the perception they reported you when they did not know it was required.
  • Diffuse some responsibility. If you made the call, own it but you can still spread the responsibility around. You can probably sincerely say:
    •  Law and probably agency policy requires you make the call given the previously discussed situation (what was said, what you observed)
    • Your supervisor advised you are required to make the call, if you consulted them first.
    • You consulted with other clinical team members as well, if you did so.
  • MIX AND MATCH FOR COMBO POINTS! As with many therapeutic techniques, you can use more than one of the above. Acknowledging feelings + being honest about the criteria that led to the report available for support + educating on the process = a sort of “gentle reality check”. It sounds like they are very angry about this situation, they are entitled to feel angry at you and/or the system, but the specific situation required this report.

Again, rest assured that any good faith report that you make of reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect always wins when compared to not reporting. You are mandated for a reason. Most reports of abuse or neglect were made by mandated reporters just like you and as noted above, the number of incidences of child abuse and neglect, and the resulting damage to those children and our society at large, already greatly outnumber the number of reports.

If the very real potential for the Child Protection System to be used as a tool of oppression concerns you, you have other options as a social worker, and these concerns should not impact your decision to make a report:

  • If prevention remains a possibility, or if you do not already reasonably suspect abuse or neglect, make sure your at-risk client is aware of the risks. A large part of this writer’s Pediatric Clinic role is advising families at risk of abusing or neglecting their children of the definitions of abuse and neglect, the mechanisms for reporting, interviewing them to identify the psychosocial context that they feel causes those risks, and connecting them with appropriate education and/or resources.
  • If you fear your client may be treated unfairly after the report, you can still be their advocate throughout the process. Share your knowledge of the process. Again, making sure they know you remain available is an important part of maintaining the therapeutic relationship.

SAFETY NOTE: Much of the above bears the assumption that you can safely discuss a report with your client. If you or your supervisor have any realistic concern about your safety, particularly if you work in the client’s home, it is okay to skip some of the above steps. While it may be better for the therapeutic relationship to be honest about making a report, since the client may be aware of you as the possible reporter from the context or reading of your non-verbal cues, as far as the therapeutic relationship goes, your safety outweighs the importance of that relationship in the same way a child’s safety does.

If you do not feel safe speaking honestly and sincerely with your client about concerns that you have for their safety or the safety of children in their care, you may not be the best therapist or social worker for them anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

You can find more information child abuse and neglect, including the laws in your state, at www.childwelfare.gov.

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

kids-and-computers

Time to get digitally competent

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sexual content
  • Talking to Strangers

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

Checking into HabboLogo_Habbo_1

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

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

Online Moderation and Safeguarding

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

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

Read more of reporting and blocking in Habbo Hotel.

Case study

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

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

Kick the Hab-It

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

Being open and honest

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

Read more on Habbo’s Terms Of Service

Learning the “Habbo Way”

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

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

Read more on the Habbo Way

Call for help

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

Read Habbo Hotel information on reporting and blocking.

Keeping your pixels privateSafety_Page_details

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

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

Read Habbo Hotel information on how to change privacy settings

Checking out

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

Read more about online safety at Habbo

Further Reading

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

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

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

New Field Placement Model With Crittenton Earns Award from CSU Fullerton for its “Teaching and Mentorship” Culture

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Fullerton, Calif. – Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) is proud to announce the agency’s nomination and selection as this year’s recipient of the Most Committed Partner award by both the CSUF Social Work Department and the CSUF Center for Internship & Community Engagement (CICE).

Each year CICE hosts its annual Community Engagement Awards as a way to highlight students, faculty and community partners in their efforts to strengthen the bonds of engagement that connect the University and the community. CICE’s main mission is to bring faculty, students, and community partners together to create high impact practices for student success.

“Our collaborative partnership with CSUF extends learning from the classroom to the community, giving students experiential learning opportunities that will build their skills, their resumes, and their ability to positively impact the world around them. It is truly a win-win,” said Joyce Capelle, Chief Executive Officer, CSCF, “We are honored to have worked alongside outstanding faculty and staff of CSUF for more than a decade, in order to provide students practical work experience while at the same time making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable youth.”

Under the “Stellar Support of Students” category the CSUF Department of Social Work nominated Crittenton as an organization that has made a difference in the career trajectory of students via mentorship.  As part of the non-profit’s mission, Crittenton, has made it a part of its strategic plan to make the idea of a “teaching institution” a reality and part of the overall agency culture. For its efforts in guiding and mentoring students, Crittenton has been recognized for going above and beyond its duties as an experiential learning host site.

In addition, as of 2015 both Crittenton and CSUF celebrate a 10-year anniversary of working together to serve vulnerable children and their families curtail the effects of child abuse, neglect, and trauma.

Since the inception of this evidenced-based field placement opportunity for social services, human services, and social work students have been able to take ample opportunity to earn academic units, licensing requirements and gain valuable work experience at a nationally accredited agency.

In fact, throughout this 10-year partnership period, roughly 121 undergraduates and 35 graduate students from CSUF have been given the opportunity to take part of a non-profit’s mission with a connection to a proud national child welfare legacy that goes back to 1883. Nearly 30 CSUF students have been hired as Crittenton employees via this partnership.

At the helm of this internship program collaboration with CSUF is executive team member and CSUF Alumna, Denise Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Crittenton Services.

Cunningham has been a strong advocate of community partnerships between Crittenton and higher education institutions, and has also served in the capacity of a mentor. Her commitment to student success is such that as of this year the CSUF Social Work Department has appointed her Chairperson of the department’s advisory council.

To build tomorrow’s workforce in the human services fields it takes the acquisition of knowledge in the classroom in tandem with developing skill-sets in the community. Crittenton’s partnership with CSUF is an excellent example of this collaborative approach to developing effective practitioners and future change agents.

SASW Weighs in on the Children and Young People Act of 2014 (Scotland)

The Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) have commented on the proposed guidance to the Children and Young People Act 2014.

SASW is committed to speaking out on these matters so social workers can play the part they want to and are trained to do, in making a difference. We are not simply working with “cases”, the children and families we get1support and must protect are real people, and they live within our communities. Getting it right for every child must start there, and we need to resource these services so “in need” does not become “at risk”.

We welcome what we believe to be good legislation which aims to put the child or young person central to any form of support or intervention. We remain concerned however that the well-intended approach does not recognise the importance of supporting families, within what are untold troubled times for many living in poverty, suffering from the impact of austerity measures and/or unable to access relevant support which may prevent escalation of issues.

We appear to develop “systems” such as the Named Person, which has the potential to raise the bar to reporting on “concerns about wellbeing” as opposed to “at risk of significant harm”. We are not investing in a public health model that would facilitate a culture change. Resources for families, the approaches that would allow people to develop a relationship with workers in order to make lasting improvements are not able to progress as the savage cuts to public spending bite.

We are concerned that young people may not access services if they are not convinced they are going to be listened to. We are also worried that “preventative” services will not have the backing needed to really allow parents, carers and families to feel they are being worked with, as opposed to monitored.

See SASW’s full consultation response below:

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/00469598.pdf”]

Social Workers Must Speak Against Austerity Says BASW UK Chair

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

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

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

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

guybasw
Guy Shennan Chair of the British Association of Social Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

“A sick thing”. “Human trafficking in children”. “A gaping loophole with life threatening outcomes”. These are just few of the ways experts, legislators and judges have named unregulated private transfers of child custody, a practice referred to as re-homing.

Private re-homing occurs when adoptive parents transfer the custody of a child bypassing official channels. In such cases, parental authority is transferred with a simple Power of Attorney to non-family members.

Very often these people are perfect strangers whose parenting abilities have not been screened by child welfare authorities or, worse, have been judged so poor that their biological children have been taken away by child protection services.

According to an investigation published by Reuters in 2013, hundreds of children are victims of re-homing in the USA every year. 70 percent of them are children adopted from abroad.

“Rehoming can be an appropriate change of placement for a child if it is done with court approval and with home study that look at the needs of the child and the child’s best interests,” said Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and current President of the Partnership for Strong Families, in an interview.

However, the problem with private rehoming is that it is not done with that oversight and the necessary background screening on the prospective placement. “This can lead to some pretty horrific consequences for children that are moved under those circumstances,” Pennypacker said.

One such case happened in Arkansas in 2014, when a six-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man who had obtained her custody via a private re-homing procedure. The case received intense scrutiny only last February as the media reported that the adoptive father who gave the little girl away was a state legislator, Justin Harris.

Arkansas has since then passed two laws to prevent this practice, becoming the fifth state to have regulated it. A few other states are slowly discussing bills to this effect, while no federal law regulates it.

In a court decision in the State of New York last December, Judge Edward W. McCarty III defined the practice “unmistakably trafficking in children” and called on the Legislature to amend domestic law to prohibit this “unsavory and unsupervised practice”.

This judgment came to no surprise to Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. “Rehoming sounds like a positive experience that is looking at the best interests of the child, but actually it simply transfers a child to another person without any required review by child welfare, family judges, or other officials. So it could be easily a cover for trafficking in children.”

Other child experts echo the concerns about the risks that unregulated re-homing poses to a child’s wellbeing, although they do not consider re-homing as trafficking because parents do not move children to exploit them, but to get rid of them. “All under the table dealing on children’s matters entails risks of exploitation,” said Michael Moran, INTERPOL Assistant Director, Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, in a phone interview. “Unregulated re-homing creates opportunities for sex offenders. If loopholes exist, sex offenders will use them.”

Reasons that push parents to resort to private re-homing vary from case to case. The most common explanation given by parents engaging in such a practice is that they feel overwhelmed by the behavioral problems of their adopted children. They also claim that the support they receive from child welfare authorities to deal with difficult adoption cases is inadequate. In another case, parents may fear to be charged with child abandonment if they seek to transfer custody to the state. Financial considerations may also play a role because certain states accept taking a child under their custody only on the condition that parents pay for the child’s care until a new adoption takes place.

Some state and federal authorities have acknowledged these problems and are trying to address them. State legislation has been adopted in Arkansas to strengthen post-adoption services and allow parents to give children back to the state’s care if they have exhausted the available resources – although no definition of what these resources are is provided. At the federal level, the US President’s 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.

Whether such initiatives will suffice to prevent rehoming is an open question, though, in particular as the practice remains largely lawless in the USA. So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin – have adopted legislation to prevent re-homing. Five other states – Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and North Carolina – are discussing bills to this effect.

“This kind of regulatory void is enormously concerning,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, we need much tighter regulation and more supervising and support to families.”

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