Let People Who are Non-Verbal Communicate in their Own Way: A Social Work Challenge

While working at a disability group home agency, I came to know“ Jane,” a person with Rett Syndrome. Jane was non-verbal and was unable to walk independently. She used a specialized walker to move around. In addition, she developed her own sign language in order to communicate. During the day, Jane would attend a day program which gave all nonverbal clients computers that had the “Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)” system on it.

Jane was required to use it at the day program and was also encouraged to continue using it at the group home. Yet, when Jane would take home the computer, she would leave it in her bedroom. Jane did this because she didn’t like it and was comfortable with her own form of communication. The day program became insistent on Jane using the computer at home, so the director insisted Jane use the form of communication provided to her. Jane refused to use the computer and threw it across the room because she was so upset about being asked to do so. The day program still required Jane to use the computer while at the day program, however, once she was in her home she didn’t use it and the staff did not force her to do so.

As a social worker, I would first ask whether Jane wanted to use the PECS system. When disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare was discussing the social model of disability which infers society is disabling versus the person who is disabled. He argued the idea of this practice is to make society adapt to people with disabilities which would include allowing for people’s own communication choice to be honored or it could include providing accommodations like the PECS system for non-verbal clients. One of the barriers of the social model of disability is trying to make accommodations for people with disabilities without choice.

The PECS system might work well for one client who is non-verbal, but it did not suit Jane and she did not want to use it. Shakespeare described limitations with the social model-informed practice as assuming there could be a “utopia” for people with disabilities as there would be no barriers. People with disabilities do not all function or adapt the same way so it is unrealistic to be able to accommodate everyone and it is insulting to force accommodations on people with disabilities if they do not want to utilize that specific accommodation.

If Jane was given the option to use or not use the PECS system, it would be realizing the social model-informed practice because society is making the change and not expecting her to change. By forcing the PECS system on Jane, it is reverting back to the medical model practice because the program is making Jane adjust instead of learning Jane’s sign language.

Jane also used a specialized walker. I would engage in medical model-informed practice (where the focus is on the impairment that leads to disability) by acknowledging it was Jane’s body part that was impaired, and therefore disabled her. This is another limitation of the social model-informed practice.

As social model-informed practice is so focused on society being the barrier that it does not always acknowledge that a person’s body can also be the barrier. The medical model-informed practice is what helped Jane receive the specialized walker because Jane’s body was the barrier and she wanted to walk as independently as she could. The social model-informed practice can also be used by ensuring there are ramps for Jane so she can have easy accessibility.

From the macro level of social work, I believe we are on the right track with the social-model informed practice. However, this model is not complex enough to include everyone. Intersectionality does not seem to be taken into consideration with this model, which is a complicating and limiting factor.

A strong model needs to be developed to acknowledge the complexities of people and their disabilities. A person’s environment, gender, race and other social identities need to be considered when developing models which was not the case since the group of activists who rallied for this model were white heterosexual men.

The first step to be taken by every social worker should be to ask the person with the disability “what can be done to support you?” or “what do you believe needs to be changed so you do not continue to feel oppressed or feel like your voice is not being heard?”

From Civil War Letters to Instagram: Social Media Trends Are Nothing New

It might seem new, and maybe narcissistic, that people feel the need to share their lives with the world – tweeting about what they had for breakfast and sharing videos on Instagram of their kid getting a haircut.

Think again.

In a new book, Lee Humphreys, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, argues that the act of documenting and sharing one’s everyday life is not new – nor is it particularly narcissistic. “The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life” puts our mobile and social media use in a historical context, and shows how pocket diaries, photo albums and baby books are the predigital precursors of today’s digital and mobile platforms for posting text and images.

“Like social media accounts, these are shared and circulated and commented on. They are not just about the self but they are about other people and their lives,” said Humphreys, who studies the social uses and perceived effects of communication technology. “What people are doing with social media – how they’re using it to communicate, to understand themselves – is quite an old practice.”

The book stemmed from Humphreys’ empirical study comparing a Civil War diarist to a U.S. military blogger in Afghanistan. During the Civil War, the letters and diaries soldiers sent to their families provided an important source of news for the larger community back home. They would routinely be circulated around town and printed in the local newspaper. “There was this sense that they were writing for a potentially broader audience than just the addressees of the letter,” Humphreys said. “And of course the blogger did a similar kind of thing.”

She also analyzed the content of tweets and so-called “accounting diaries” from the early 19th century – and found similarities there, too. Both have entries that consist of a few words or sentences that catalogue daily activities and events – such as a morning trip to Starbucks or who stopped by the house that day – and these accounting diaries would commonly be shared with friends and family.

“We see people sharing everyday, mundane moments as a way of reinforcing social ties,” Humphreys said. “That was certainly the case historically and it’s one of the main reasons why people share things like that on social media today.”

However, one thing dramatically sets apart how we account our daily lives now: the fact that social media companies commodify people’s activity. “They have a financial incentive to get you to post and share, because the more you do, the more they can learn about you and the better they can sell to you,” she said. “And there’s more content for other people to look at, as well.”

In contrast, Kodak, for example, printed the photos that a family would put in its scrapbook; the company had access to the photos but didn’t commodify them. “This is a very different role for corporate entities,” Humphreys said, “to have not only access to our media accounts but also the ability to use that information and couple it with other forms of data to sell us things.”

9 Reasons Why Text Messaging is the Key to Efficient Communication in Social Services Agencies

Anyone who works in the social services industry has noticed a growing trend. The number of clients who request that you use “text messages” to reach them has skyrocketed.

Not email, not voicemail, but text messaging.

Seamless, effortless, and efficient communication is the key to success for both for you and for your clients. Without it…

  • Your clients don’t get the help and support they need.
  • Your organization’s very reason for “being” is compromised.
  • Funding from governments and other sources that is tied to performance metrics may be impacted.

But, why is text messaging the ideal communication channel for social services organizations?

There are 9 reasons…

1. Everyone has a cell phone.

Current data shows that 95% of Americans own a cell phone, with almost 80% of users owning a smartphone.

Only a tiny percentage of your client base does not have a mobile device, and that percentage is shrinking daily.

2. Everyone “texts.”

Because text messaging is such a simple, non-intimidating technology, its use is widespread across all demographics. Recent data from Pew Research Center breaks down text usage like so…

  • Age 18-29: 100% of people use text regularly.
  • Age 30-49: 98% of people use text regularly.
  • Age 50 and over: 90% of people use text regularly.

3. 99% of all texts are opened and read.

Send a text message, and within seconds, your contact’s phone is signalling its arrival, and shortly after that (no more than 3 minutes for the vast majority of messages), it is opened and read.

Unlike emails, which are often missed, or voicemails that are ignored, text messages boast an incredible “open rate.” That “open rate” exceeds 99%, according to a report commissioned by Single Point.

4. Texting is cheap (it’s almost always free).

For those down on their luck and under financial strain, text messaging is the most affordable way to communicate. Email requires either a smartphone or tablet and a data plan or regular Wi-Fi internet access, or it requires a computer and a monthly subscription fee for Internet access.

On the other hand, “pay as you go” cell phones offer an affordable text communication option for those under financial strain, without the pricey security deposits and monthly fees of a landline, or the big ticket price of the newest smartphones or tablets.

5. Works on phones long considered obsolete.

Your contacts don’t need to have the newest and most expensive smartphone to access text messages. Unlike mobile apps, this technology works on phones long considered obsolete.

6. No Data Plan Required.

Internet data plans are required in order to have consistent Internet access with a cell phone or tablet. Such plans can be an expensive luxury for people under financial strain. The good news is that no such plan is required to access text messaging. Text messages are available on the most basic, cheapest cell phone packages, including pay as you go options!

7. No software to Install.

Text messaging is a standard feature on all phones, which means your contact won’t need to download and install special software in order to communicate with you.

8. Text Messaging Identifies You As an “Insider.”

Why don’t people respond to calls received on their cell phones? Because everyone in their immediate circle knows that “text” is the best way to reach them. Voicemails and emails often come from outsiders – telemarketers, creditors, and so on.

Using text messaging “brands” you as being part of their inner social circle, and as a result, your messages are quickly seen and acknowledged (conversely, using emails and voicemail labels you as being outside of that social circle).

9. They’re Fast & Efficient

Quick, on-point communication works incredibly well in text messages. The brief nature of the medium means there’s no need for the usual niceties that would be expected in a phone conversation, for example. As a result, your staff can communicate quickly, which frees up the time they have to devote to other things.

More and more, many of your clients are…

  • Dropping their landlines and relying 100% on cell phones.
  • Maintaining basic talk & text plans only, which are much cheaper than service plans that contain Internet data.
  • Communicating almost entirely by text message, since it’s cheap and efficient.

As a result, in order to stay connected and relevant, you and your organization must start communicating with text messages as well.

Why 2017 Is the Year to Join Instagram

Did you know that by the end of 2017 around 70.7% of all brands are expected to have a profile on Instagram, or that businesses who have utilized their post boosting advertising options have been successful in 70% of cases?

A new report looks at these stats and a lot of other interesting data, which suggests 2017 is the year your business should join the popular social network.

A Large and Engaged User-Base

To have success in your marketing campaigns you must be able to get consumers invested in your products or services by creating an emotional response. Interacting with your target audience is the only way you can build their trust and accomplish this goal. This is where Instagram becomes such a powerful tool.

The platform is growing at a fast rate with over 300 million users logging on every single day. These users make an average of 95 million posts, which generate 4.2 billion likes!

The 18 to 30 demographic (the holy grail for a lot of businesses) accounts for 55% of Instagram’s users in the United States.

Furthermore, around 50% of all users follow at least one business’s account.

If you want access to consumers, Instagram offers a direct link which an audience broad enough to benefit any business large or small. Where the network really stands out, however, is its ability to engage users like no other.

Despite having far more active users every day, Facebook, for example, is not able to generate the same rate of likes, shares, and comments on posts. This is because Instagram focuses mainly on visual content, including photos, video clips, live streaming, and stories that expire after 24 hours.

Visual content is simply much more eye-catching and requires less mental attention than walls of text. The savvy marketer who can post professional shots of products, add value with informative videos, and craft a friendly and accessible brand image by showing the inner culture of the business – is almost certain to boost conversions and sales.

The Right Approach

Of course, accomplishing this is easier said than done. Fortunately, the infographic also gives us some insight to get you on the right track.

Building trust requires you to tread a fine line between over-selling and under-selling. Top brands post on average 4.9 times a week, so it’s wise to follow a similar pattern.

You must also remember to post at the most opportune times. Business accounts offer all sorts of analytics, so over time, you can narrow down what time is the best for your individual target audience. However, in general, the most users are active on Wednesdays at 5 pm. For newcomers, this would be a good time to post your most important content.

The data also explores the most popular emojis and hashtags, which can also be important when targeting your audience and getting them engaged.

Five Reasons to Embrace Conflict

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Conflict — it’s easy to avoid. In fact, we often do anything we can to avoid it (well, I do) which often means not doing anything. However, within the last 24 hours, I was involved in a conflict situation with a colleague. I won’t go into the detail because it’s irrelevant.

But, the process the two of us went through — an action, a reaction by me that created conflict and then a conversation to come to a resolution — reminded me that, even though it is acutely uncomfortable when handled constructively, conflict can truly have a positive outcome.

Here are five reasons to embrace, rather than avoid, conflict.

1. YOU GET TO KNOW WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW

I discovered that, behind the action to which I had reacted, were circumstances I hadn’t been aware of. It’s possible that, had I not reacted, I may have not become aware of these circumstances as quickly as I did.

2. YOU DON’T HOLD GRUDGES

Reacting in real-time stopped me building up resentment and negative feelings that, in light of the circumstances, were illusions — unreality, not reality.

3. YOU LEARN (OR REMEMBER) STUFF

Through the conflict process, I learnt (or remembered) that there was another side to the situation that I hadn’t, for many reasons, been aware of. I remembered that, when someone acts differently, to say, “This is unexpected. What’s happened to create a different than usual action?”

4. YOU GET TO COMMUNICATE OPENLY AND BUILD A STRONGER RELATIONSHIP

Because I was open to resolve the conflict with my colleague and, fortunately, so were they, we had a wonderful conversation where we both apologised and accepted each other’s apology, talked about the wider context we were working in and, in my case, acknowledged projections (of past events and people) that triggered my reaction. This led to genuine tears and hugs — how often do you get those wholesome, healing gifts to become closer to someone in a day’s work?

5. YOU LEARN ABOUT DIVERSITY, COMPLEXITY, UNCERTAINTY AND CHANGE

In the course of our courageous conversation, we learnt about our own diversity more specifically the meanings and understandings we held that were common/similar and unique/different, the complexity of the environment in which we are working and our responses to that; the uncertainty in which we are both working (for us this is quite overt, but its presence is a possibility for everyone); and change (again, obvious for us but, as the adage goes, the one and only constant an every manifestation of our lives).

What can we learn from conflict?

It’s so easy to strive to keep the peace, chill out and not confront things. We see this as a way of creating harmony and getting along. But it’s not. Embracing conflict is not about petty in-fighting and unreasoned arguments. It’s about recognising schisms or differences in opinion or belief as early as possible and naming them in objective and non-affronting terms.

Most of all, constructively embracing conflict requires the desire and intent to foster closer relationships, rather than the fear or reluctance to build them.

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

kids-and-computers

Time to get digitally competent

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sexual content
  • Talking to Strangers

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

Checking into HabboLogo_Habbo_1

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

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

Online Moderation and Safeguarding

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

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

Read more of reporting and blocking in Habbo Hotel.

Case study

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

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

Kick the Hab-It

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

Being open and honest

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

Read more on Habbo’s Terms Of Service

Learning the “Habbo Way”

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

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

Read more on the Habbo Way

Call for help

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

Read Habbo Hotel information on reporting and blocking.

Keeping your pixels privateSafety_Page_details

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

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

Read Habbo Hotel information on how to change privacy settings

Checking out

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

Read more about online safety at Habbo

Further Reading

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

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

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

Social Workers, Watch Your Language

How often do you stop to check the words you’re using with client groups, whether verbally or in writing? Are you sure that you’re using a commonly understood language? Or have you slipped into the comfort zone of everyday “colleague speak” when communicating with your clients? At the root of every social work intervention, micro or macro, is communication. Communication is an interesting mix of words and non-verbal cues.

JARGON PICThis is one of the most basic learning curves in our early social work training. We’re taught all sorts of aspects of effective communication such as how to establish rapport, how to structure a sentence so that the question is “open”, what active listening involves and even how to place seating arrangements to avoid barriers.

We spend months learning how to facilitate groups, identifying roles that participants take on, learning skills to redirect conversations, applying conflict resolution skills and ensuring we maintain a cohesive group where everyone benefits from participation.

We also learn how to gather interested stakeholders to lobby for community justice solutions, empower community groups to represent their views to significant bodies and write reports to further the cause and inspire collective action.

All these processes require effective communication skills. And most social workers pride themselves on their communication skills.

When reflecting on practice, how often do we focus on the actual words we’re using?  The words we string together when interacting with our clients. Somehow, through our social work education and consequent experience in the sector, we start to use words that the sector understands but can fail to convey meaning when it comes to many client groups. Not only do we use terminology that is foreign to our client groups, we actually forget how and when to use “plain speak”.

When someone speaks to us in a language we’re not totally familiar with, there is a shift in focus  on trying to understand the words, as opposed to listening to the message that is being conveyed. At best it’s a distraction, at worst a barrier to understanding.

SOCIAL WORK JARGON

What are some examples of social worker jargon?  For starters, there are so many acronyms in both service language and diagnostic language I’m surprised we understand each other: “Mr and Mrs Brown state they are having issues with parenting, mother has diagnosed BPD but no current treatment, eldest child diagnosed with ADHD. Recommend referral of mother to GP for a MHCP,  both parents advised to contact local C&FS for support and Triple P, and check possibility of vacancy in OOSH for eldest child.”

How many social workers have suggested in conversation to their client that they make an appointment with their GP ? What happened to the word “doctor”? Yes it’s easier and faster to abbreviate titles and labels in reports and in rushed conversations with colleagues. But isn’t it ironic that we express concerns at the social media trend of abbreviations such as LOL, OMG and ROFL yet continue to add more acronyms to our professional vocabulary?

Besides acronyms, what about some of those words that we use every day? Words that are part of daily life for us but confusing for client groups? Examples are   Intervention, advocacy, rapport, consumer, resilience, empower, auspicing  and engagement

Ask Joe Public what he thinks these things mean. Don’t be surprised if he  perceives “intervention” to mean “interfere”;  “to build rapport” is to write a report, “consumer” is someone who does the shopping, advocacy is a lawyer thing, resilience is about the strength of metal, community engagement is lots of couples planning a joint wedding, and auspicing is something to do with orphans. Yes, these are real responses!

THE NECESSITY OF JARGON

Jargon is expected in the formal realms of our profession. Report writing, funding submissions and academic reviews are just some examples.  Using complex language is almost a kind of intellectual segregation.  It says I’m educated, and additionally specifies my expertise in a certain realm. It’s a kind of “tribal speak” . My colleagues know exactly what I’m talking about, and by using this same “language”, I portray that I am worthy of being in this tribe called “social workers”. I prove my belonging by speaking native social work. It’s okay to mix in some native doctor speak if I work in a hospital setting, and some native psychiatrist speak if I work in a mental health setting.  I guess I could choose not to, but then I would not be taken seriously by these allied tribes.

But when I transfer this “social work native” language to those outside the profession, I have to remember that translation may well be required. After all, someone coming to me for support, who is already feeling vulnerable, does not need the added distraction of words they don’t understand.

BACK TO BASICS

In summary then, spend some time reflecting on the words you use when communicating with clients. Use language that most will understand. Keep it simple. By going back to basics, you will ensure that meaning is conveyed without doubt or misunderstanding.

Instead of building rapport, “get to know each other”; instead of talking about resilience let’s discuss “the ability to bounce back”; instead of engaging, we’ll “get together and work on some solutions” and instead of advocating let’s “chat to that person on your behalf”. For the sake of those we seek to support –  please mind your language!

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