Not an Average Day in the Office: Social Workers from the US to Madrid Come to UK Workplaces for a Day of Unique Learning


Social workers from across the world will be turning up at workplaces in the UK for a series of seminars on the final day of the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) European Conference and Social Services Expo in September.

The event hosted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) aims to give practitioners a chance to learn about an area of practice in a real-life setting while also building links with colleagues in other countries to further their learning and development.

Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, said: “There will be presentations, workshops, meeting people who use services and colleagues from across the globe. These will look at new ways of working but also establish ongoing networks which will be supported by BASW and IFSW for future exchange and mutual learning.

“We do not want just a one-off talking shop. We are investing in new ways to stimulate the thinking that will be needed in the years to come of how we can co-construct with the people we work with to find better ways of achieving the outcomes that enable people to lead better lives.”

The seminars will include work with Roma families. A number of local authorities and NGOs recognise that with the discrimination experienced by families in parts of Europe, many have been moving north to escape.

“Listening to families tell of their experiences of housing, health and school systems that discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, and bullying and intimidation from those in authority, speak to the feelings of exclusion that many of us joined social work to combat,” said Ms Stark.

“But in reality, how do we work with people who have been displaced from their homeland and find themselves in countries where they can live together inclusively?”

There are also new issues of language, culture and religion for generations that are subsequently born in a new country. Different generations have different languages that could cause tension among families. How are social workers equipped to deal with it?

Ms Stark added, “Sharing knowledge not only within our own teams but from across Europe and beyond will enable us to understand these cross-border issues more intelligently and therefore improve the quality of our work.”

The seminars will include how social workers in France or Sweden work with mental health issues – what laws cover deprivation of liberty and how social workers are involved in protecting human rights. And do the people who use the services experience the same frustrations as those in the UK?

In the Nordic countries, the criminal justice systems are held up as more progressive than those in the UK, but there are still horrific crimes of violence. A joint presentation from Scotland and Sweden will show how partnership working can help boost knowledge in key areas and how reduction of violence programmes in many countries are learning from each other.

In child protection, the seminars will cover how countries in the post-soviet era are developing models of intervention. Are they evolving new methods that would help in this complex area of work? Some countries treat child abuse investigation as solely the remit of law enforcement agencies like the police, while in the UK it is a joint responsibility between police and social work.

Other subject areas include children in public care – how are countries across the world responding to growing calls from victims of institutional abuse for social justice? Some have given compensation and some have held public inquiries but none have really tackled the behaviour of those with power and control who commit offences against children.

Good practice in public care will be the focus of a seminar organised by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration. This will take in the principles of the Kilbrandon Report – needs not deeds – which underpin the children’s hearings system that has been operating in Scotland since 1970.

A seminar in Renfrewshire will focus on some of the work in the Netherlands and Denmark to create dementia-friendly living environments, enabling people to have a more “normalised” life in their later years. This could revolutionise how joint health and social care budgets are used more effectively.

South Lanarkshire will host a seminar on social work education. The authority has a renowned reputation for the quality of its student social workers – some winning Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) awards – and is keen to share its knowledge of good quality training. Its particular problem is a large geographical area where it has to “grow its own” – a challenge faced by many parts of Europe from Finland and Sweden to Spain, Greece and Portugal.

Ruth Stark said, “These seminars will lead to international networks that will continue to support social workers’ learning and development. There is much to learn from our European colleagues – come and join us!”


As Arkansas Outlaws Re-homing, Other States Might Follow Suit


Re-homing, a practice which consists in transferring a child’s custody to non-family members without the oversight of child welfare or judicial authorities, became a nationwide issue after Reuters published an investigation in September 2013. The 18-month investigation revealed that parents used Internet discussion groups to give away their adopted children and sparked heightened debate across the country. In May 2014 the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) sent a Memorandum to state child welfare authorities encouraging an overhaul of legislations to “adequately address the implication of re-homing” and putting an emphasis on post-adoption services.

So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana and Wisconsin – have regulated it. Since February, lawmakers in Maryland, Nebraska, New York and North Carolina are discussing bills to address re-homing.

At the beginning of April, Arkansas became the fifth state to have regulated the practice when its Governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed two bills to this effect.

The first law, signed on April 2, ensures post-adoption services to families and the screening of prospective guardians. The second, signed four days later, makes re-homing a felony punishable by up to five years of prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.

The laws were speedily adopted in the wake of a dramatic re-homing case which involved Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris. In February, Harris admitted to have given away two adopted daughters bypassing child welfare authorities. The eldest child, 6 years old, was eventually sexually abused by the man to whom Harris had transferred the custody.

This was the tenth re-homing case in two years occurred in Arkansas that the local child welfare authorities were aware of.

“The story in Arkansas and other stories that have been in the media recently about re-homing tells us that many adoptive parents are struggling to meet the emotional or behavioral needs that come out after they have adopted a child,” said JooYeun Chang, associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in an interview.

One study reported that only 26 percent of adoptive families in the United States felt they received quality mental health services. Parents engaging in re-homing often mention the lack of support as a reason for their actions.

Acknowledging the high vulnerability of children in rehoming cases and the inadequate support available to families overwhelmed by children with behavioral problems, Chang underscored the federal government intention to change the situation. “This is an important policy change that really needs to happen. The President 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.”

The proposal Chang refers to involves $587 million over the next ten years to help state agencies offer adoptive parents crisis counseling and other support. “Maybe States will not have all of the prevention and post-adoption services ready at year one. But over time if there is a dedicated federal funding stream that is going to support these types of activity, States will continue to build their capacity to provide them,” Chang said.

Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and President of the Partnership for Strong Families, welcomed the federal proposal as a rare intervention on the front and back-end of child protection services. “These services are integral to prevent abuse from ever occurring. Some adoptive parents legitimately reach our for assistance and try to get help but then, because they are either unable to get it or the help that they access is inadequate, they turn to self-help remedies like re-homing. When an adoptive family starts to struggle we need to have something available to them rather than having to turn to the Internet or some other ways to make a child placement”.

Some doubt whether the proposed funding alone can prevent re-homing. “Enhanced support for adoptive families is certainly positive,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Whether it will have any impact on re-homing is not clear however. This will depend on targeted risk assessment and careful monitoring of at risk families and adoptive children that may well tend to fall under the radar normally.”

A leading expert in the field of children’s rights, Professor Bhabha stressed the importance of more progressive policies in the whole adoption system, in particular as regards international adoptions, and the need to improve the scrutiny of parents’ suitability and children’s adoptability. “Even before you get to the re-homing, if you look at the homing there are a lot of practices that are very troubling. Families which are not well qualified to be adopting are allowed to adopt. Much more supervision is needed.”

Progress in U.S. legislation and policy might have positive repercussions in Canada too, where cases of private rehoming, including across the border, have occurred in the recent past. “The U.S. is providing needed leadership that Canada should emulate to develop a more serious incentive program and also ensure better surveillance and monitoring of children’s rights,” said Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. Warning about the risks that re-homing can pose to children, she advocated a stronger focus on children’s rights and pointed at European initiatives “which appear to be more understanding of the possibility of systemic exploitation”.

In Europe, where no re-homing case has been reported, states are required to act in the best interests of the child in all child matters. In Germany, a federal country, “nobody can relinquish his parental rights without the authorisation of youth welfare and judicial authorities. Post-adoption services and supervision are obligatory,” said Tanja Schwarz, a German family lawyer.

Officials at the Government Accountability Office confirmed that they expect to publish a study this fall on state and federal laws governing this practice.

When asked whether there is a need for further federal intervention to ensure uniform laws on re-homing across the country, Chang said that “the current definition of abuse and neglect is broad enough to include re-homing. It is up to the State to enforce both criminal and dependency laws.”

Foster Care Youth Trapped in the School to Prison Pipeline

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 careEducation reform is one of the foremost civil rights issue of our day, and at the heart of the dilemma is a set of very simple questions. Why do we not utilize evidence base practices that will have far-reaching benefits in establishing a foundation for better life outcomes? Why do we not create solutions that create benefit the poor?  The answers to these questions are chilling, downright cowardly, and unpatriotic. The American society is afraid of change.

A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder. – Stir Journal

For moral, social and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that an array of  supports be put in place to help support foster alumni develop a strong family structure which is paramount to sustaining future successful outcomes. A primary marker for the healthy development of  young families is a solid home life which can anchor children right from the start while benefiting society overall. A basic premise of sociology is the interconnectedness of  society to the community and community to  family. Healthy families mean strong communities, and strong communities increase the functioning of society as a whole.

Education is more than a pedagogic issue, it is a basic human right as well as society’s collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education. Currently, the issues  related to education and its impact on the most vulnerable are a matter of national security. As evidence, the United States prison system is a direct reflection of the failures of our education system. The future of our society lies within the margins of the discarded, the poor, and the orphaned in this country.

There is no greater work more urgent, more exhausting, and more spiritually rewarding than helping to create opportunities to engage, inspire and ignite foster care alumni. Many of whom have had a lifetime legacy of being impoverished, ignored, as well as unwanted. Together, the economically fragile and advocates, can create a new reality of hope and global opportunities of economic and social mobility.

While our nation, and specifically Massachusetts, has made considerable progress in child welfare, social service delivery systems, and  education, we  must not  lose sight of the challenges ahead.  We must be purposeful in ensuring foster care alumni receive needed supports while in  placement as well as opportunities for advancement post placement in order to elevate their social  mobility and educational opportunities.

Paving the Way for Change is #YSocialWork

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

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

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

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

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

#YSocialWork - Laura Hughes

#YSocialWork - Kristen Hamilton

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

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

Happy Social Work Month!

96 Percent of Social Workers Want Mobile Technology


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

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


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

1. Time Spent on Paperwork

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

2. Accessing Information in the Field

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

3. Limited Time with Families and Children

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

4. Burnout

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

5. Data Collection and Quality

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

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

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

Peace And Love Movement Brings Awareness to Foster Care Normalcy Law

In 2013, Florida lawmakers chose to implement the Normalcy Act; a law that requires their state government to allow foster parents to have the right to make decisions about allowing foster children to do simple things such as attend school outings and participate in sports.

In this article, the Florida Department of Children and Families called this the “Let Kids Be Kids” Law.

Most people who I’ve talked to even some child welfare professionals are unaware that such restrictions ever existed. I get to travel the country on a regular basis speaking to judges, lawyers, social workers, foster parents, CASA workers, and foster youth so I have talked to a large amount of these populations.

In actuality, these restrictions causing a foster child to jump through hoops just for permission to attend a school outing still exist in most places.  Sometimes they even have to go all the way back to a judge through social workers and case workers prior to getting a permission slip signed.  This Salt Lake City, UT article shares about a teen girl who had to battle just to be able to join her teammates at a state cheer competition earlier in 2014.

When I was in care, I ended up with a biological aunt who allowed me to forge my mother’s signature to avoid this process. Although some people may not think that is right, I am ever so grateful for that common sense move that she made to simplify my complicated childhood.

But not everyone has such an advocate on their side who is willing (or legally able) to do what is truly in the best interest of a child without serious reprimand.  Therefore, this issue shows up with almost every group of foster youth that I speak to.

After speaking to them to inspire hope for their future, they usually want to take photos with me, but if they are under the age of 18 they can’t because it takes too long to get signed permission for a “media release”.

After a while, I got sick of seeing disappointed faces when a program director would tell kids they can’t take a photo with me.  So, one time in South Dakota, while touring with the Unified Judicial System, I found a way to work around the system.

I asked the entire group of kids to stand facing the wall and I stood in front of them facing the camera.  All of them proceeded to hold up “peace” and “love signs, giving birth to the #PeaceAndLove Movement.

Here is the original group of foster youth who started this movement:

Peace And Love Rapid City, SD Foster Youth | Normalcy Law | Foster Care Speaker Travis Lloyd
Peace And Love Rapid City, SD Foster Youth | Normalcy Law | Foster Care Speaker Travis Lloyd

I now do this Peace And Love activity with almost every audience I speak to.  You can see several of the audiences that have already faced the wall and joined the movement in 4 other states by clicking this link (scroll to the bottom of the page to see all of the photos)  In these photos you will find college students, fortune 500 corporate executives from businesses like Luxotica and Ray Ban, as well as foster parents, judges, and lawyers.

This #PeaceAndLove Movement needs awareness.  The next time you’re with a group, large or small, ask them to turn around and hold their Peace And Love signs up with both hands, as high as they can.  And then take a photo of yourself standing in front of them then add the hash tag #PeaceAndLove.

Don’t forget to check out the other awesome photos and share them with your networks.

Translating Neuroscience into Policy and Practice for At-Risk Children, with Dr. Jack Shonkoff

Neuroscience has yielded new understandings of how the brain can affect mental illness, addiction, reaction to trauma, and other psychosocial conditions. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who runs the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, is at the forefront of the movement to figure out what neurobiological findings could mean for the treatment of at-risk children. His most ambitious collaboration to date is the Frontiers of Innovation initiative, which draws on the biological, behavioral and social sciences in hopes of producing breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity.

Dr. Shonkoff and Kat Brewer, surrounded by art from the Frontiers of Innovation Knowledge Wall.
Dr. Shonkoff and Kat Brewer, surrounded by art from the Frontiers of Innovation Knowledge Wall.

A doctoral candidate at the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), Kathryne (Kat) Brewer and I were pleased to have the chance to interview Dr. Shonkoff about the initiative for CSSW’s podcast program, Social Work Matters. The night before we recorded the episode, Dr. Shonkoff had delivered our School’s 2014 Lucille N. Austin Lecture, in which he talked about the discovery that children who are exposed to high levels of stress through abuse or neglect have trouble developing the circuitry in the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) necessary for controlling their impulses and solving challenges—the “executive functions” that would help them succeed in adulthood. He also spoke about ways this could be addressed through research, policy and practice.

During our podcast, we went a little deeper into why Dr. Shonkoff is so determined to take findings like this one and try to build a new brain-based model of family and child welfare practice. He told us that before he went into academia and was still practicing as a pediatrician, he had gravitated toward helping families with children with disabilities. That experience had taught him there are limits to what a care provider can do in the face of overwhelming odds, but he also came away thinking he should not be satisfied with just trying to make the best of the situation.

This conclusion has colored his feelings about the fiftieth anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, he went on to say. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to demean the work done in the past five decades and the progress made. On the other hand, he’s “not happy” with how far we’ve come, particularly as it affects children. He said he would propose using the best of what we have out there as a starting point to take anti-poverty programs to the next level. Some of the principles we developed 50 years ago have withstood the test of time. But we have also made some new findings that need to be incorporated.

For more information on the Frontiers of Innovation initiative, I suggest that you listen to our 20-minute podcast. Dr. Shonkoff is particularly enlightening in his responses to Kat’s questions about how to ensure that research findings influence policy and how to work across disciplines. He is also unusually open to the social work perspective, having at one point served as dean of the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.

Post Partum Depression Can Be a Child Protection Issue

Post partum depression (PPD) occurs in about 20 – 25% of women after giving birth. Some level of the “baby blues” might well occur in larger numbers. The risks of PPD are that women can then go on to experience longer term depression or, in a small number of cases, go on to post partum psychosis. The latter can often be quite dangerous as it can include risks of suicide and homicide. It tends to be a psychiatric emergency.

pregnantPPD has the potential to interfere with the attachment process between mother and child. It can reduce the mother’s desire to interact with the baby and to provide stimulation (physical and emotional).

The good news is that it is highly treatable. A review by The Cochrane Library has shown that some very simple interventions can make a significant difference.

The piece of their extensive review showed that one intervention that is simple to manage and effective is peer support. Simply having someone touch base and ask, “How are you doing?” makes a difference. In essence, it is someone who just cares, is there and allows for the expression of a mother’s true feelings. This can be a major preventative tool that reduces PPD. The Cochrane review found this to be the case.

The research also found that home visits by such people as community nurses are beneficial. Interpersonal psychotherapy was also valuable.

When we reduce PPD, we improve the situation for families which in turn will reduce the need for child protection intervention. What is most appealing about the results of this research is that we do not need to build new and elaborate programs. Peer or lay support by phone works. Keeping up with nursing post delivery visits work. And, when needed, access to basic mental health support.

We should also be mindful that recent research suggests that post partum depression may have an onset up to two years after birth. There is also data indicating that fathers can also suffer from depression after the birth of a baby. Untreated there is a real risk of abuse or neglect.

Answering a Child’s Questions About Out of Home Placement

Recently, a colleague of mine came to me for advice on addressing a very tough question from a child: Why don’t I live with mommy anymore? With roughly 400,000 children in out of home placements in the United States, this is a question that gets asked by hundreds of thousands of children every year. If you’re a foster parent, you’ve probably answered this question many times. However, if you’re a relative taking custody of a child, this question may not be one you’ve prepared for. Instead of anxiously awaiting the child’s question, I recommend being proactive and facilitating a meaningful discussion with the child about the move.

The first step is to figure out what the child already knows (and feels) about the situation. This can be done by creating an opportunity for the child to talk openly about the situation with you. Ask the child why they think they came to live with you. Let the child’s response be your guide, it will reveal a lot about their current perceptions of the move. If the child responds that they “don’t know” or “don’t want to talk about it”, do not push for a response.

Instead, let the child know that you’re there when they are ready to talk or ask questions. You may say something like “This move must be so confusing for you. I understand that you might not want to talk about it right now, but I want you to know that I am here for you when you would like to talk.” Children who have been removed from their parents can be cautious about trusting others, so allowing the child the space to talk about the situation on their own terms creates an opportunity for them to build trust with you.

However, if the child is ready to talk when you ask them, pay attention to what they say about the situation. Are they angry at mom/day? Are they scared or confused? Are they feeling guilty? Really hearing what the child is telling you will likely reveal the answers to these questions, without them explicitly having to tell you. Recognize and validate whatever feelings the child may be having. This shows the child that you care and are genuinely interested in them. If younger children are having a hard time verbalizing their feelings, try having them draw a picture of what they are feeling.

Talking about the reality of the situation is an important part of the conversation. I’m a firm believer in what I call “age-appropriate honesty”. This means telling the child the truth in a way that is both understandable and tolerable for the child. When the child asks the inevitable questions: why did I have to leave mom/dad, when will I be able to go home, when will I see mom/dad again – provide an answer that is both genuine and appropriate for the child’s age. “Mommy loves you very much and wants to be the best mommy she can be to you. But sometimes, parents need a little help to be the best parents they can be. While mommy is doing this, you’re going to stay with me.” If there will be visitation, tell the child how often they will visit the parent(s) and where these visits will be.

The most important part of this conversation is to make sure the child knows they are not part of the problem. Because the move can be so confusing and emotional for children, they may feel like the move is their fault or they are being punished for something they did. Most children won’t verbalize these feelings to you, but it doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t there. Be proactive and remind the child of this if you notice any self-blaming.

And remember, the child’s case worker and/or social worker can help you through these important conversations. You don’t have to go through it alone.

For more tips on answering questions of children in out-of-home placements, click here.


Kids Matter, Inc. “Talking to children about foster care.” Available at:

What About Repeat Child Protection Families?


A study just released in the United Kingdom, talks about repeat families within the child welfare system. Researchers from Manchester and Brunel Universities discovered, upon reviewing court records, that 7.143 mothers were involved in repeat child protection cases involving 22, 790 children. Those who work the front lines of child protection will feel a certain familiarity to the theme. There are clearly some families where problems are so entrenched that interventions are almost inevitable.

How then to stop the repeating cycle? This is very tricky indeed. Early intervention services may be an important step helping mothers at high risk of losing their babies to parent differently. This would require identifying these mothers during pregnancy and offering parenting education. It would have to be education that differs from the norm for sure. It would need to help mothers understand high risk behaviors in pregnancy and once the child is born. It would also have to support mothers in changing behaviors. This might well work with mothers who are at least in the contemplative stage of change where there is some recognition that something needs to be different.

Such an intensive approach could be seen as costly but would be quite inexpensive when compared to the costs of bringing a child into care. More controversial approaches consider talking with these high-risk mothers about adoption upon birth. This places the mother in quite a difficult corner. There are many ethical problems with this. Perhaps the most important is that child protection or health authorities are really giving the mother a no-win choice – give the baby up for adoption or risk the child being apprehended by child protection.

Even further up the ladder of ethical challenges is trying to convince high-risk mothers to not get pregnant again. This looks at contraception alternatives that can range from birth control pills through to sterilization. It seems quite fair to talk about taking birth control pills or ensuring the use of a condom but sterilization is a permanent choice. Whichever approach, the message is clear – you are not a competent parent so don’t get pregnant again. If you do, we will take the baby.

There seems a fine line between coaching a high-risk parent and essentially using the power of child protection to impose a behavior. This is a complex ethical debate in our society. The possibilities of abuse of power are obvious because it has happened before. The recent film Philomena starring Judy Dench tells one such story based on the infamous Magdelene laundry stories in Ireland. The eugenics movement in North America from around the 1920’s and on up to the 1970’s would be further examples.

On the other hand, what is the benefit to the mother and her children to have pregnancies followed by repeat apprehensions of children? There are things that we need to do to stop the flow of repeat interventions from the same families. Surely education on family planning, coaching during pregnancy and intensive supports following birth seems like obvious steps. Yet, for parents who remain unwilling to change, these efforts are unlikely to succeed. Is repeat apprehension of children our only other option?


ICE’s New Policy on Protecting Parental Rights

In cases involving undocumented parents and U.S. citizen-children, the child welfare system often has little power to ensure family preservation. Despite family preservation being one of child welfare’s primary goals when parents are detained and/or deported by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Agency (ICE), protective child welfare policy has a tendency to backfire causing havoc on thousands of mix-status families.

dpr_parents_kidsUnlike other forms of child protective removal, undocumented parents need not present any previous risk to their child’s safety; removal can be entirely warranted by the parents’ forced detainment and deportation. According to a national study by Race Forward, once a citizen-children of an undocumented parent enters the child welfare system, the parents are at higher risk for termination of parental rights because detainment and deportation significantly impairs their ability to participate in child welfare planning and custody hearings. The citizen-children of undocumented parents are also more likely to be placed in foster care with strangers or in institutions compared to other children as potential kinship-care candidates are less likely to be U.S. citizens.

In 2011, the United States was home to over 5,821,000 citizen-children with undocumented parents. Over the same time that the general rate of deportation has doubled, the rate of deporting parents with US citizen children has quadrupled. In 2011, about 22 percent of deportations were parents with citizen children compared to 8 percent between 1998 and 2008. According to Race Forward’s ,“conservative estimates” there are currently at least 5,100 children living in foster care because their parents have either been detained or deported. This number is estimated to rise to at least 15,000 in the next five years given the increasing rate of deportation in the U.S.

This unique intersection of child welfare and immigration policy represents a fundamental failure to realize the goals of both the child welfare system and the immigration enforcement system and is an affront to the American value of family.

dpr_parents_deportedOn August 23 2013, ICE released a new set of policy directives entitled, “Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Activities.” This directive is the first national attempt to address the growing social problem of separated mixed-status families and its implications have the potential to be very beneficial. However, unless social workers and child welfare professionals are made aware of these new requirements (and hold ICE accountable to them), this directive may only have a small impact.

Below is a a brief overview of the policy directive and other critical policies affecting parents in the immigration system and child welfare system. Following this breakdown is another quick overview of the issues that remain unaddressed and will continue to plague mixed status families who at risk for losing their children due to their entanglement with the immigration and child welfare system.

Key Current Policies

  • The primary ICE personnel for assisting in child welfare cases are called “Field POCs (Points of Contact) for Parental Rights.” Filed POCs must respond to and investigate complaints about parental-interest matters and complaints may be submitted by any concerned party. Each local Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office must have at-least one Field POC for Parental Rights and information about contacting these individuals in available online and should be posted in all detention facilities
  • When a detainee is identified as a parent, this information must be reported to the ICE database known as ENFORCE. ICE is not responsible for relaying this information to child welfare administrations.
  • Prosecutorial discretion in immigration hearings is permitted in cases involving parents with citizen children. This includes the ability to release parents into the community under supervision while they await trial, the ability to expedite a case, or throw the case out on humanitarian grounds.
  • Field Directors must attempt to place parents close to their children or family court jurisdiction and must attempt to limit transfers away from these locations
  • Detention facilities must allow parents to attend child welfare proceedings either in person or by video/phone conferencing
  • If court-ordered, children are allowed to visit their parents in detention facilities
  • Parents with citizen-children must be given advanced warning of their scheduled deportation and must be provided assistance in making arrangements for their children
  • ICE can approve a parent’s re-entry into the US for the sole purpose of attending their child’s custody hearing. This is determined on a case-by-case basis and parents must pay for all travel arrangements
  • Undocumented citizens are allowed to be kinship care parents in certain jurisdictions

What Policy Does Not Address

  • Most child welfare agencies have no formal policy for communicating with detention centers and ICE in general and handle cases with detained/deported parents on an ad-hock basis
  • Upon apprehension, ICE officials rely on local law enforcement policy which often does not allow parents to make arrangements for their children at the time of their arrest and requires protective services to be called
  • Potential foster care candidate who are undocumented citizens often do not come forward out of fear of deportation despite eligibility in certain jurisdictions
  • Very few services are available for people while in detainment and almost none of the services often required to regain custody of a child, outside child visitation, are available
  • Despite authority to use prosecutorial discretion, this privilege is seldom granted for parents
  • Foreign consulates can be very helpful in keeping mixed status families together, yet no formal policy addresses engagement and communication between consulates and child welfare

ICE’s new policy directive is a long-awaited step in the right direction for mixed-status families. Yet, Emily Butera of the Women’s Refugee Center’s explains in her blog, child welfare advocates support the directive with “cautious optimism.”

The directive will provide relief for thousands of mother and fathers who face separation due to their entanglement with immigration and child welfare systems. This policy enables parents to fight for their rights while in detention centers and after deportation by allowing them the opportunity to comply with child welfare case planning. It increases accountability and service coordination by designating field personnel and directors to oversee the facilitation of parental rights. At its core, this policy reduces the due process violations experienced by detained and deported parents and better reflects American’s values about family unity and wellbeing.

Despite these gains, the ICE policy directive has not resolved a number of key challenges undocumented parents face in the immigration and child welfare system. Most importantly, parents with citizen children will be at a similar risk for detainment and deportation as they were before the policy. In addition, their children will also be at the same risk for entering the child welfare system, as ICE officials will still deny parents the opportunity to make informal childcare arrangement. This unaddressed challenge will continue to unnecessarily place children at risk for foster care entry and termination of parental rights.

In closing, while it may seem easy to demonize the US Customs and Immigration System, it is important to recognize they ICE is the only federal administration to formally address the challenges faced by mixed status families in the immigration and child welfare system. So far, no policy action has been taken by the Administration for Children and Families. It will not be possible to effectively respond to this issue unless both systems are at the table and communicating with each other.

Key Studies & Reports

ICE Parental Interests Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions about the Parental Rights Directive

Race Forward’s “Shattered Families” Report (2011)

 The Southwest Institute for Research on Women’s “Disappearing Parents” Study (2011)

The Women’s Refugee Commission’s “Torn Apart by Immigration Enforcement” Report (2010)

 Sentencing Project and First Focus’s “Family Unity in the Face of Immigration Enforcement” Article (2013)

 The Immigration Policy Center’s 2012 “Falling Through the Cracks” memorandum (2012)


Milton Hershey School: Interview with Ric Fouad

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview F. Frederic Fouad who is an attorney for a Japanese commercial law practice, but he also uses his free time taking on pro-bono child welfare cases. Last year, Fouad gave a speech at the Harvard Law School on the Milton Hershey School called “Making Bitter Chocolate Sweet”.  The presentation had three main themes emerge which identified poor outcomes for the children in their care, systems failures and policy making that affected the ability to improve outcomes, and  a system of patronage to maintain the status quo to prevent reform and any meaningful changes from being implemented.

As President of Protect The Hersheys’ Children, Inc., Fouad along with other Hershey alumni and supporters have united to increase awareness about their concerns at the Milton Hershey School.  According to Wikipedia,

The Milton Hershey School is a private philanthropic (pre-K through 12) boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Originally named the Hershey Industrial School, the institution was founded and funded by chocolate industrialist Milton Snavely Hershey and his wife, Catherine Sweeney Hershey. The school was originally established for impoverished, healthy, Caucasian, male orphans, while today it serves students of various backgrounds. Read More

Fouad was very passionate in our discussion about the metamorphosis of the school in which he feels is not in the best interest of the majority of student’s who enroll. Although Fouad states that his personal path ended well, his concerns are focused on the overall outcomes for the majority of children in care. This interview has been separated into two parts, and here is the first part of our interview:

SWH: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and your history with the Milton Hershey School?

Milton S. Hershey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an attorney with a Japan-focused commercial law practice and do pro bono work in child welfare. I split my time between Tokyo and New York. My childhood was spent in various forms of residential care, including foster care and seven years at the Milton Hershey School.

Hershey provided the first stability I had as a child and led to dramatic turnaround. I went from being the problem foster kid who participated in no school activities and was constantly kicked out of class elsewhere, to Hershey, a place where I found enough structure to turn a corner. I became a distinguished honor roll student, class salutatorian, an Eagle Scout, student body president, and wrestling team co-captain. Then, I went to the University of Pennsylvania where I also wrestled, was in student government, and graduated cum laude. Overall, I feel I’ve had a charmed life and caught some key early breaks despite a less than promising start.

The combination makes me mindful of residential care as an essential component of the child welfare toolbox, and of Hershey’s saving-grace potential, tempered by awareness of the drawbacks too. To elaborate, when you think of Hershey today, with its $11 billion and probably the best frontline staff of any such facility anywhere, whether teachers or houseparents, there is no doubt that just about any child in America could obtain much more materially in Hershey than in his or her own household, other than the 1% class, of course.

SWH: Making Bitter Chocolate Sweet is a reference to the operation of the Milton Hershey School, what was the specific incident that made you decide to champion this cause?

If there was a single trigger, it was returning to Hershey one day, after college, and having an administrator smugly tell me that Hershey had “raised its standards” such that I would not be admitted if I had tried to enroll then. There was no effort even to hide what they were doing; i.e., moving to a kind of “boarding school” model for moderately low-income kids, who would be drawn by the school’s vast wealth, while rejecting kids who had nowhere else to turn and needed Hershey as a true refuge.

In essence, they didn’t want to start with the difficult child who needed a leg-up and help him or her, but sought instead to “recruit” children who had no behavioral issues and who faced minimal risk factors. A lodestar was the introduction of “college scholarship” offers, which were required to entice kids into enrolling when they otherwise would not do so.

SWH: Is the Milton Hershey School a nonprofit, private school, or a residential facility?

Good question! They don’t know, and that’s the problem! But looking at how they try to be all three at once illustrates this, so let’s do so:

In legal terms, the Hershey charity is a nonprofit (501(c) (3)) entity. But the self-selecting and unaccountable board pays itself compensation surpassing the hourly rates of Wall Street hedge fund lawyers. In some cases, the total annual pay for these part-time board positions is over $500,000 and the minimum pay is about $100,000. Compare this with say Harvard University’s board, comprised of vastly more accomplished individuals, but who pay themselves no compensation, as is generally the case in the nonprofit world.

The Hershey board members also appoint themselves and their allies to the lucrative boards of the three for-profit companies owned (or controlled) by the charity: HERCO (the entertainment and resort company); the Hershey Trust Company (a private bank); and the Hershey Company (the candy manufacturer). This heady “appointment power” gives the board the ability to make themselves and their friends millionaires, whether or not they know the first thing about residential care.

Now, the first two of these “for-profit” companies constitute a total sham: these entities are “for-profit” in name only, and the charity should simply divest them, rather than continuing to use them as a self-enrichment vehicle or patronage slush fund. The third one – the candy company – creates a gross conflict of interest. Collectively, all of this breeds a system that attracts the wrong (pay-seeking) people.

However you slice it, those in charge have learned to game Hershey’s odd governance structure in order to enrich themselves and their allies off the for-profit entities, while claiming to be a charity. This lucre is also what attracts the politicians and that’s a worse disaster.

Viewed as a private school, your question’s second category and the role that the charity has basically stumbled its way into. Hershey is failing and misspending money on a grand scale because vastly more kids depart each year than graduate, and loving families have been needlessly destroyed as a result. Over the last 10 years, 2,034 kids were removed while only 1,439 graduated. On average, more than one child is removed from Hershey every school day, resulting in massive dislocation and trauma for the children and families affected. Net-net, it’s arguable that Hershey is doing more harm than good, given these figures.

And when you look at the primary demographic being served today by Hershey “successfully” (i.e., kids who actually stay and graduate), at an annual cost of $100,000 per child, these kids and families would be much better off in many cases if served closer to home. This would keep families intact and provide what the majority of the kids seek anyway; i.e., a quality education, material assistance for households that have very little, and the Hershey “college scholarships” (which are in fact a bizarre bribe used to entice kids into enrolling and remaining enrolled, when they otherwise would not do so).

Basically, low-income children are told that to access Hershey’s free education, clothing, and “college scholarships,” they must also submit to Hershey’s group home environment. This is more often than not the wrong prescription and in any case, it is exceedingly costly.

But viewed as a residential care facility, the third category in your question, the Hershey failure is greatest of all: programs are primitive; enrollment policy is irrational (e.g., foster care kids and wards of the court are not accepted in any meaningful sense); and the children who truly need the residential component the most are also the ones most likely to be expelled, after Hershey policies cannot meet their needs.

Nonetheless, with $11 billion and the best physical infrastructure that money can buy, it is easy to be mesmerized by surface appeal and ignore what’s happening to kids on a systemic basis –which is why one has to look closely at actual numbers.

In sum, it is supposedly a charity –but its board fancies itself to be a for-profit operation, solely to rationalize its whopping pay. It promotes itself as a boarding school for poor kids –but this is irrational, wasteful, and ultimately harmful to kids from loving families who are best served at home.  Its legal/historic mandate is as residential care facility, but it has lost its way in fulfilling this role, and won’t even accept kids from the foster care system in any real sense.  According to,

High in concept but thin on outcomes, the nation’s wealthiest school for needy children now says that Springboard belly flopped and will close in June after burning through $40 million to $45 million in capital and operating costs.

It’s the latest setback at the institution that seems in a constant state of construction, rebuilding, and unfulfilled potential.

The free school, with $7 billion in assets and financed with profits from Hershey Co. chocolate sales, recently announced that it won’t hit a widely publicized goal of 2,000 students by 2013 because of weakening income from its endowment. The school had said it would reach that enrollment after a late 1990s public outcry that the Hershey School, located southeast of Harrisburg, was failing its charitable mission to educate impoverished children.  Read Full Article

The board stubbornly refuses to recognize its failures lest it lose its grip on power and wealth. The result is a financial and social catastrophe. At present, not one member of the Hershey board even has child welfare qualifications. Hard as that may be to believe, it is as though they willfully eschew the only skill set that they must have to perform their core duties properly in favor of individuals who will join them in preserving the status quo.

View below:  “Making Bitter Chocolate Sweet: The Milton Hershey School’s Past and Hoped for Future” October 29, 2013 Harvard Law School/Child Advocacy Program Presentation by F. Frederic (Ric) Fouad. Leveraging Hershey charity’s $11 billion to better serve needy children and families via Harvard Law School.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of

Licensed Social Workers Do Not Mean More Qualified

Recently, I came across a Boston Herald article questioning why 34 percent of the Boston Division of Children and Families (DCF) were unlicensed social workers. The tone of the article suggests that unlicensed workers are not qualified to perform their duties while indicating that licensed social workers equated to a higher standard.

As a former Child Welfare Investigator, those who follow Social Work Helper is well aware that I am a strong advocate against the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW or equivalent) becoming the standard for all social workers especially in the public sector and child welfare. Many hear the word licensed and assume it means in compliance or adherence to a certain standard, and it does if you are providing mental health services. Until the LCSW, a doctorate in psychology was needed for diagnosing and treatment. Social Work Licensure Advocates for the LCSW changed that dynamic and have helped to make mental healthcare services more accessible. However, each state develops their own licensing requirements which often varies from state to state.

As it relates to the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) under Massachusetts’ licensing law, it means the individual social worker has a master degree in social work, and he/she is licensed to diagnosis clients with a mental health disorder and/or provide treatment to help improve their outcomes after being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Additionally, Massachusetts provides licensing for Bachelors level social workers. However, this is not the standard in North Carolina or the majority of states.

Currently, most Child Welfare Agencies require at minimum a bachelors degree in Social Work or related field. However, by requiring social work licensure, I believe it places additional financial burdens on social workers working in traditional social work roles while the Council for Social Work Education fails to address the barriers and challenges those in the public sector face in pursing a social work education.

Both Child Welfare Social Workers and Police Officers are given powers by statutory law. However, child welfare agencies are not required to be accredited and maintain minimum training and standards certifications like police departments despite recommendations by the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO). Although studies show a social work degree is the recommended degree for a child welfare setting, studies also recommend accreditation as the best course of action to improve outcomes for children and families. Having licensed social workers do not guarantee their course work was specifically for working in child welfare nor does it institute transparency, accountability, program evaluation, and minimum standards of care as well as creating standards for the Agency’s administration of policy.

Many social workers are deterred from pursing a social work education due to the barriers and oppressive polices against older, working practitioners, and/or the underpriviledged. Although I had a BSW degree and working as a Child Welfare Investigator, I had to quit my job and work for free at another human service agency in order to be in compliance with the internship requirements. Social Workers are finding themselves without health insurance and in economic turmoil in order to comply with a licensing standard that is geared towards clinical practice and not macro/public service.

The Division of Child and Family Services and other child welfare agencies act under the authority of federal, state, and local statutory laws to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect, and dependency. These agencies are also charged with making recommendations and monitoring the fitness of parents once a determination has been made following a family assessment or investigation. As a result of this statutory authority, licensing law advocates have been unsuccessful in eliminating the licensing public sector exemption for child welfare and human service agencies. However, they have been successful in creating this mandate in the private sector.

Governor Deval Patrick Addressing the Media on DCF
Governor Deval Patrick Addressing the Media on Division of Children and Families

As a Child Welfare Investigator, I brought a knowledge base of almost 14 years of interview and interrogation experience in addition to a Bachelor of Social Work. Later, I pursued a Master degree in Social Work with a concentration in management and community practice.

However, without doing an additional two years in post graduate doing therapy, I am not eligible for licensing in the State of North Carolina. Because someone can go straight to undergrad, then to graduate school, and then work an additional two years post graduate doing therapy for less than minimal wages to get a LCSW in the State of North Carolina, it does not make them more qualified as a child welfare social worker. It makes them more privileged.

Child Welfare social workers act as brokers when treatment services are needed or recommended. We connect families with community providers and resources who are trained to provide those services and make expert recommendations on their progress or lack of progress.

Child Welfare Services must coordinate between schools, police department, hospitals, and other community providers in order to obtain information and coordinate services while maintaining case documentation and hourly billing for reimbursement from the federal government. Unlike private sector project managers, child welfare social workers must complete this high wire act with limited resources and access to technology while dealing with a load of bureaucracies in poor work environments. Child Welfare Social Workers live and work in fear because the bulk of your time doing triage and cases with low activity often get re-prioritized due to high caseloads and staff shortages.

When I investigated cases, the police investigators relied on my evidence and case gathering to determine whether charges should be filed because social workers are more educated and are the experts in these cases. Social worker have both education and training in many aspects police investigators do not. Yet, often the police investigators that I interacted with had higher salaries than I did, received over-time pay or comp time in excess of a 40 hour week, and most only a high school diploma or at best a bachelor’s degree despite our jobs being classified as hazardous by both the county and the State.

If there is a tragedy, the media is asking the wrong questions, and Agencies are not going to steer you into asking the right questions. Child Welfare and Human Services Directors answer only to their Board of Directors, and they operate independently of the county or State unless State legislation has addressed this. State oversight is limited because Child Welfare Agencies predominately operate by mandate of Federal law as adopted by State law.

If you want to know why something happened, find out the case number ratios for each social worker and the amount of hours each worked. See how many children a social worker has on his/her caseload and their risk level which determines the amount of times each social worker must visit each child monthly. Look at the administrative time logged for each social worker which provides insight into actual days work,  time in meetings, time spent in case supervision, and training records. You will find the numbers won’t add up to what is humanly possible.

Do you automatically assume that each case only has one or two children in the same household or go to the same school? Eight-teen cases don’t sound like a lot, but you could easily have over 55 children with moderate to high risk levels. Moderate risk requires bi-monthly visits and high-risk requires weekly visits. Low risks require monthly visits, but they are often not enough to keep a case open for services.  No matter how many children on your caseload, you don’t stop getting cases. 

It is not uncommon for kids to leave for summer camp or go visit relatives especially when they are not in school, and a courtesy request home visit made to another Agency in another state could take months to occur. States are not connected, and sending out an alert on a missing child equates to an email and a report to law enforcement which often don’t go anywhere due to being out of their jurisdiction for investigation.  I believe the cases in Boston will expose systems failures if the right questions are answered. 

Ask for the same records and standard operating procedures, you would seek if you want to know if a police officer or police department was malfeasance and whether proper in-service training was up to date. Under current federal mandates, it is statistically impossible for the best qualified social worker to adhere to every standard and best practices. Front-line staff often take the fall while policy and system failures are not being properly identified.

Where are the supervisory case notes by each supervisor who is suppose to meet weekly with their subordinates to discuss all the children on their caseload? Are the checks and balances clearly defined by supervision and the administration to account for the whereabouts of children falling under the scope of child welfare services, and how is it monitored? 

I challenge the media to ask the right questions. In the video below, the Governor addressed allegations relayed by the school superintendent after the fact. I could write another article on the improvements needed between child welfare social workers and teachers. Social Work investigators’ caseloads are tremendously exacerbated because teachers are not trained on the differences between abuse/neglect and poverty. However, I will have to address that at another time.


Want to Work With Children: 5 Skills and Qualities You Should Be Working On

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Most people love the idea of working with children but not everybody has the skills or the personality for it. Kids, contrary to what you might have been told or brought up to believe, are not simply “regular people in miniature form.” They are unique beings who are still developing into the people you’re used to dealing with in the adult world which means they haven’t yet learned most of the skills, coping mechanisms, and boundaries that you take for granted as being inherent.

Working with children is much different from working with adults. And furthermore, working with little kids is much different from working with older kids. If you’ve got your heart set on working with children (whether as an educator, an entertainer or in human services), here are five skills you need to hone.


Patience is listed first because it is the most important. Remember: children are not adults. They process things differently than adults do and bridging the gap between what you know and what they understand can be frustrating. You’re going to have to repeat yourself a lot. You’re going to have to explain a lot. You’re going to have to deal with distractions and a bunch of other focus-grabbers. You are going to need a deep well of patience to keep from getting frustrated.

Note: Kid time is much different than grown-up time. If you have ever played “house” with a young child, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

The Ability to Hide Frustration or Annoyance

Kids can pick up on even the slightest shift in your demeanor. It is important that you learn how to hide tiredness, frustration, etc. You don’t have to be happy all the time and it is okay to let a child know that you are not happy with him when he or she misbehaves. Groaning when they insist on a twelfth read through of The Hungry Caterpillar, however, can be demoralizing for them. Learn how to hide your boredom, frustration and exhaustion.

Hint: Movie night wasn’t invented out of thin air!

Keeping Calm in an Emergency

Kids freak out when adults freak out. This can make a stressful situation infinitely worse. It is important, then, to learn how to keep your cool when things go awry—even if your heart is pounding and things around you are chaotic. Working with children—especially in large groups—means maintaining a calm presence even when everything else is overwhelming. Remember—your kids will look to you for how to act and deal with everything.

Pro Tip: The best way to develop this sense of calm is to learn how to deal with difficult situations yourself. For example, going through first aid training and child and infant CPR classes will help keep you calm when emergencies happen because you’ll know what to do.


A lot of adults think that, to work with kids, they need to be able to “dumb down” the information they’re sharing. This is an unnecessarily burdensome misconception. There’s a difference between “dumbing down” information and using examples children can relate to when you need to illustrate an idea. Children learn primarily through examples and stories, so talking about situations they can relate to is the best way to teach them new skills and explain new concepts.


You have to actually like and enjoy spending time with kids if you ever want to work with them successfully. Kids know when an adult is uncomfortable and many get a kick out of exploiting that discomfort. You also have to have enthusiasm for the things you’re trying to teach the kids you’re working with. Kids aren’t going to want to do or learn anything that you talk about with a frown.

These are just five skills and qualities that you need to master if you want to successfully work with children. Most of the more technical skills, you’ll find, will fall under one of these umbrella traits.

Social Workers Respond to the LA County Social Workers Strike

LA Social Workers Strike
Social Workers Strike in front of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services

For social workers with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Friday marked their second day on the picket line with no progress being reported towards reaching an agreement with the County. Social Workers initiated the strike due to low pay and high caseloads which prevents them from properly investigating reports of abuse, neglect, and dependency as well as providing other emergency services. The strike is being led by Bob Schoonover, president, of the local Services Employees International Union (SEIU) 721 which represents approximately 3,500 social workers.

As a former child welfare investigator, I fully support the efforts of the L.A. social worker’s strike, and I hope it will help elevate the plight of public sector social workers from their current invisible status. As a result of the Great Recession and self-imposed austerity measures from all levels of government, public sector social workers have silently shouldered the burden of responding to the increased need for services despite having resources and manpower levels less than they were before the recession.

Public Sector social workers lack the national lobbying power of teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, and nurses which often leaves us out of any legislation protecting educators and first responders from cuts. Social Services agencies are also not required to maintain any accreditation standards like schools, hospitals, and police departments which means administrators and government officials are unregulated in their policy making. In this case, if the union is unsuccessful in negotiating reduced caseloads for the workers, there is no other body of government to seek redress.

The federal government only monitors outcomes and whether a social worker completes cases within the allotted time frames. It does not take into consideration how many cases the social worker has on his/her caseload. Every day, social workers are forced to maneuver a broken system while trying to restore hope to children and families in need of help, but what happens when the social worker’s hope is gone?

Social workers and other key stakeholders who have taken an interest in the LA social workers strike have been quite vocal in either their support or opposition. According to a post from a social work forum against the strike, Annette Mahoney-Cross an administrator with a New York Child Welfare agency stated,

“So I have to comment on the strike of public child welfare workers in LA. I finally had time to read articles from other media outlets and I cannot support this work action. I am an administrator at one of the largest public child welfare agencies in the country in a suburb of New York City. I am also a union leader who sits on the board of directors of my union.

In NY public employees are prohibited from striking as per the Taylor Law, with good valid reason. There appear to have been other options available to staff and in fact two union delegates stepped down because they felt intimidated by union officials, Yes it is abundantly clear they more staff need to be hired, but why has the union not directed a work action before a full on strike? Workers refuse new cases, get written up and then use the grievance process. Involve the Child Welfare League of America to discuss recommended caseloads? These are only a few options which could have been explored, but SEIU does seem to like to strike first to try to force management’s hand. Sadly the only ones to suffer will be the families.” via Facebook

In my opinion, I believe the above stated view is limited in its thought process while failing to take into consideration the larger picture. In this country, Red states have the highest poverty rates, reliance on social welfare programs, and the poorest outcomes for children living in America, and social workers in these states are barred from unionizing as a result of Right to Work legislation. By continuing with the strike, LA social workers are not only exposing systems failures preventing social workers from providing quality care to children and families, but they have the ability to become the voice for other social workers who have been silenced.

Despite outcries of opposition, support appears to be growing for the social workers’ strike and is evidenced by the comments on the SEIU Local 721 Facebook Fanpage. You can also stay up to date with SEIU 721 on Twitter @seiu721using the hashtag #721strike.

Photo Credit: SEIU 721 Facebook Page

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

A news story regarding abuse animal recently resulted in thousands of dollars in donations. The community was appropriately outraged when pictures and details of the abuse were aired by local television stations. The community responded with donations and tips that led to the identification and arrest of the abuser. It was striking that the community immediately mobilized to provide care for the dog, supporting the local rescue organization, and law enforcement in their efforts. The response was immediate and generous.

For me, the more striking aspect of this story was something unrelated. A story on Page 6 of the local newspaper reported the same day that three children had been removed and placed in foster care. A two-year-old had tested positive for exposure to three different illegal drugs.  Their babysitter called authorities when they observed that the toddler was not acting normally. The story went on to state the children lived in deplorable conditions and two children were hospitalized, but there were no donations. If there was an arrest, it was not reported. Instead of support for the organization charged with providing emergency care for the children, there was criticism that the abuse was not identified earlier.

boy with dogThe contrast in the two stories was readily apparent. The community rallied to support the animal rescue organization, law enforcement, and the veterinary clinic providing medical care for the dog. There were donations of money and supplies, assistance to law enforcement, and offers of care for the dog. The animal rescue organization issued a statement saying they did not need a home for the dog 24 hours after the story was reported; they had more than enough donations and offers of assistance.

Meanwhile, the child welfare agency was criticized, the medical provider not identified, and the role of law enforcement was not acknowledged. I doubt the story of child abuse prompted many calls offering a home for the children. Generally only stories of abandoned or abused infants generates calls from potential new foster parents or inquiries about adoption.

Why was there such a difference in response? I believe that, in part, confidentiality played a role. The names and locations of the children were not included in the news story. Details of the care required for the dog were shared while the care of the children remained confidential. The names of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the dog were widely publicized, including their ‘mug shots’. The rescue organizations and other community support agencies were identified. Conversely, the names of alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the children were withheld. Rarely are details of child abuse shared with the public. When there are news stories, they tend to be only the horrific cases where a child has died, has been starved, or is severely abused, and the focus generally is on ‘system failures’. For the record, I would not advocate for publicizing ‘mug shots’ of abusers in most child abuse cases. I firmly believe in a strength-based approach to treating and ultimately ending child abuse.

I understand the interest in shielding vulnerable children from media coverage, and my intent is not to compare children to animals. It is worth noting, however, that child protection emerged as a field as a result of animal protection laws. I am not one of ‘those people’ who bemoan the support received by animal rights organizations.

However, maybe child welfare could learn something from animal protection efforts. Maybe the public reporting of child abuse should be accompanied by a request for support, a list of opportunities to help. Maybe child welfare should be more transparent about the important work they do every day so that the next time a child is abused finger-pointing is replaced by offers of support. I look forward to the day that shelter care facilities for abused children are obsolete because of the abundance of foster homes available. And perhaps one day child welfare will be able to turn away offers of support. Better yet, maybe one day communities will be so engaged in protecting children that abuse reports are a rarity and replaced with a ‘norm’ of citizens reaching out to ensure children are cared for and nurtured. Perhaps one day….

Children from Adversity: Ronald Maloney Debuting Powerhouse Road

There are many lessons to be learned from children of adversity who able to thrive despite the circumstances placed upon them through no fault of their own. Native North Carolinian, Ronald D. Maloney, was the first bi-racial child placed in the State’s colored orphanage in Oxford, North Carolina as a result of his mix-raced status. Ronald Maloney will be returning to North Carolina to begin debuting his memoir Powerhouse Road.

In 1959, Ronald’s circumstances were unique because he was denied acceptance by both the black and white community, and he remained in the colored orphanage from first grade until the day he left for the military in 1972. As a Bachelor’s of Social Work student, he graduated from North Carolina State University in 1977, and he went on to obtain a Masters in Social Work from the University of California at Berkeley.

According to an article written by UC Berkeley Social Welfare, when asked what led him to California, Ronald Maloney stated,

“I had wanted to go to USC or UCLA because of their sports programs,” says Maloney of his initial choices for graduate school. “But then I saw that Berkeley had the number one program in social welfare, so I knew that’s where I had to go.”

Maloney drove across country with whatever belongings he could fit in his army duffle bag to start his new life in the Berkeley and the Bay Area, a place where he remains to this day. He explains that he knew he was definitely no longer in North Carolina when he spotted “a guy with dreads” while coming up University Avenue to the campus. “Oh, I am at UC Berkeley now!” he remembers thinking.

Also among his earliest memories was the very first School of Social Welfare orientation he attended in Berkeley’s famous Rose Garden, complete with wine and cheese.

“I’ll never forget when an older man came up and asked me, ‘How does it feel to be at UC Berkeley?’” recalls Maloney. “I didn’t know who he was, but I figured it had to be somebody important – and it was. It was Dean Specht. He said to call him Harry.

“When Harry asked me that question, I answered, ‘Do you want me to tell you how I really feel or what I think you want to hear?’ He said he wanted to hear my real feelings, and I said, ‘I feel academically inferior because all these people around me are coming from big-name and Ivy League schools.’  Read Full Article

The article is a great read for anyone wanting to preview the upcoming book signings by Robert Maloney. You can also view a segment about his journey on UNC TV using this link.

“Crack Babies” and Poverty: Finding the Right Target

The inspiration for this article is the result of a recently published article: “‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result.” Having worked in child welfare long enough to remember and experience first hand the so-called ‘crack babies’, this caught my attention immediately.

The article is a summary of a study that followed children exposed to cocaine in utero, the ‘crack babies’ as they came to be known, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  I held some of these babies, placed them in foster care, and accompanied them on visits to doctors.

My colleagues and I discussed their future, cautioned foster parents about what to expect, and advised the courts on their progress. I took the calls from distraught foster parents at wits’ end who were struggling to care for infants who would stiffen like a board and whose cries were louder, longer, and much more ‘ear piercing’ than a ‘normal’ baby cry. Thankfully most of these foster parents were completely committed to caring for the children and were calling mainly to vent because confidentiality prevented them from sharing their frustrations with others outside of the child welfare system.

crack cocaineWe told the foster parents what the doctors were telling us, “we don’t know what to expect”. We feared the worst, a lifetime of intellectual delays and medical challenges, and hoped for the best, that they would outgrow the trauma of exposure to cocaine during their early development. Over time, we saw infants grow into toddlers and young children who had some challenges but for the most part, seemed to overcome the early exposure.

The study referenced above sought out evidence, more than the anecdotal evidence such as that my colleagues and I had collected, regarding the future of ‘crack babies’. They found some unanticipated results. Perhaps most significant is summed up in this quote, Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine”. Yes, they are suggesting that poverty is more damaging to children than cocaine.

While this is just one study with a moderate sample size (over 200 children were followed), there are compelling reasons to pay attention. This was a longitudinal study spanning 25 years, what many consider the ‘gold standard’ for identifying cause and effect in social science research. The researchers were thorough in examining the many factors that might influence findings.

The most important message here is the influence of poverty on children. This suggests that we should be doing everything possible to address the issue of poverty especially as it impacts children and families.

Tell Your Story or Someone Else Will: Child Welfare’s PR Problem

Ones’ opinion regarding the field of child welfare is largely influenced by what they have read or viewed in the media. Less often, it is influenced by their interactions or experiences with ‘the system’.  In either case, it is generally the testimony of the more vocal dissatisfied observer that draws attention. In child welfare, case workers are often perceived as child-snatchers or uncaring public employees whose inexcusable failures result in child injuries or deaths. Foster parents are often accused of ‘being in it for the money’. Administrators may be characterized as over-paid paper shufflers who rarely do any ‘real’ work, and advocates are perceived as whiners who want more money to fund this dysfunctional system. This is not far off from the general impression one gets from reading news reports about child welfare.

This was the advice of a marketing professional during a chat on Twitter: tell your story or someone else will. So who is telling the child welfare story and what story are they telling? Using the key words ‘child welfare’ and ‘foster care’, a search of Google News yielded the following stories:storybook

Former Foster Kids Protest RI Funding Cuts

Cases Highlight What Many Consider a Broken Child Welfare System

Arizona CPS’ struggles mount as abuse, neglect reports rise

Minnesota’s child-protection system is inconsistent and underfunded

Oregon’s $40 million child welfare computer upgrade has glitches, some serious

Now, Russians protest against Norway’s child services

Death of Dominic James led to changes in foster-care system

These are just a few of the thousands of suggested pages. They were all in the top 15 matches.  What I did not find were stories about successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. I’m sure that if I had worked my way through pages of links using my search words, I would have found some. I know they exist. I follow several incredible foster and adoptive parents on Twitter who are living proof that they exist. And I have been fortunate to have worked with hundreds of dedicated foster and adoptive parents as well as committed, hard-working case workers, administrators, and advocates over the years. So why do their stories not show up on the first pages of an Google search?

I believe it is because child welfare, as a field, has been content to let other people tell their story. There are many reasons for doing so, including what is probably at the top of the list: confidentiality.  Yes, there are laws and restrictions regarding making public information about children and families involved in the child welfare system. However, there are ways to address this issue. Obtaining releases of information, de-identifying information, redacting or ‘sanitizing’ reports, or changing minor details to protect the confidentiality of individuals or families are possible solutions. These are all approaches that have been used when the press covers a story that includes sensitive information. They are used by the health profession in conducting medical research and in dozens of other fields dealing with sensitive issues. So why is it that the field of child welfare does not employ these strategies more often?

I suspect that the second reason or excuse is time and/or resources. People who work in this field generally are overworked, underpaid, and their programs under-resourced.  This usually is not a line-item in child welfare budgets. Maybe it should be. Maybe there should be a concerted effort to improve the image of the field in the media. Other fields have figured this out when addressing anything from environmental issues to employee satisfaction. If one thinks about various professions, it is easy to find good and not-so-good examples.

The railroad industry has successfully improved public perception through advertisements highlighting their essential role in the economy and energy-efficient transportation of valuable resources. At the other end of the spectrum, we all are familiar with the expression ‘going postal’ which describes a public perception that working for the postal service somehow is associated with unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviors. However, many people believe this statement holds some validity, and it pains me to even repeat these sentiments.

The child welfare stories we should be sharing are successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. We should be sharing outcomes for children forming attachments when it was thought impossible. What about sharing the success of newly created families with siblings, loyal friends and protectors, or youth finding the guidance needed to prepare for adulthood through college or a career? Should we not help share the stories of adult children who overcome child abuse and neglect with the support and love from their foster parents? Until we make it a priority to tell these stories, the press about Child Welfare will continue to be dominated by stories told by someone else using their lens.

Child Welfare: Where Are We Going And Where Have We Been

Child Welfare refers to a set of government services that are designed to protect children, and also to encourage stability within the family.  These types of services include, but are not limited to:  foster care, adoption services, and child protection services.  The “child protection services” were aimed at investigating child abuse and neglect, and if necessary, removing the child from the home.

Policies and legislation regarding child welfare trace back all the way to 1825, when states were given the right to remove neglected children from the abusive parents and the home.  The children were then placed into an orphanage or in another home, which later became known as “foster care”.  In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue.

These agencies had the authority to investigate child maltreatment.  It the late 19th century, private agencies, decided to follow the Humane Societies’ agenda and were able to investigate maltreatment, present cases to the court, and advocate for proper child welfare legislation.

Moreover, in 1874 the first case of child abuse that was criminally prosecuted in court was in regards to Mary Ellen, a young girl that was moved from place to place and beaten by her stepmother.  Etta Wheeler, a Methodist social worker, sought assistance from Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, to use the defense of “cruelty to animals”.  Mary Ellen was removed from the home and placed into a safe environment.

Government officials continued to make changes and create policies to benefit workers fighting for neglected children.  President Roosevelt, in 1909, created a “publicly funded volunteer organization to establish and standards of childcare”, and in 1930, the Social Security Act provided funding for interventions needed for the “neglected and dependent children in danger of becoming dependent”.  In 1958, the Social Security Act was amended and mandated that states would fund child protection efforts.

However, the Child Abuse Prevention and Tax Act (CAPTA) was passed in 1974, and US Congress implemented a number of laws that made a major impact on the state child protection and welfare systems, by providing federal funding wide-ranging federal and state child maltreatment research and services.  This helped lead up to Congress passing the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which was the first federal child protective service act which primarily focused on the state economic incentives to help decrease the length and number of foster care placements.

Interesting enough, also paving the way for social workers today was Helen Boardman.  She earned her Master’s in Social Work in Chicago, and worked as a Social Worker at a Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles until 1972.  It was there that Boardman developed a passion for advocacy for children and the prevention of child abuse.  She was the first to recognize the true depth of child abuse and make it known to the medical and legal systems.

Boardman pressured Henry Kempe to write, Battered Child Syndrome Awareness of a Child, as a social issue, and pressed the National Children’s Bureau for mandatory laws in reporting child abuse.  Helen Boardman was the founding member of the Social Workers Association of Los Angeles (SWALA), which played an enormous role in the planning and development of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) (Univ. of SC, 2005-2006)

Therefore, the mid-70s through the 1980’s seemed to be where child welfare gained a lot of momentum in the policies and reform.  However, policies will continue to be amended and added in efforts to ensure that children remain safe and secure in their home environment.  Following the footsteps of Etta Wheeler and Helen Boardman, social workers must continue to advocate for the voices that cannot fight for themselves.


American Humane Association. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

Bryjak, G.J. (2011, April). Parents, Children, Faith Healing, & the Law. Retrieved from

Michel, S. (2012, April).  Child Care: The American History. The Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from american-history/

North Carolina Division of Social Services. About Child Abuse and Neglect.

University of Southern California. (2005-2006). California Social Work Hall of Distinction.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Major Federal Legislation Concerned

With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved from

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