How to Provide the Full-Service Community-Supported Public Schools We Need

All students have potential, but access to support and opportunity is not equally distributed. As a high school principal for 10 years, I encountered well-intentioned teachers and students racing toward adulthood with an endless variety of needs: students struggling with poverty; transience; family changes; immigration; addiction; the negative effects of trauma; and emotional, physical, and social health.

In most cases, these challenges directly affect a student’s ability to thrive in the classroom, and schools struggle because there is no prescribed or easy solution. The response to the academic struggles of our students has traditionally included longer days and school years, improved instructional strategies, targeted remediation, and focused test preparation. But schools have rarely attempted to combat the non-academic root causes which are negatively affecting the achievement of our students.

Simply put, not enough is being done to address the lack of equity experienced by students and their families. So we must ask ourselves a few questions: How can I ensure my students have the access and opportunity to fully realize their potential? How do we help each student understand his or her personal aptitudes and assets? How do we instill within a student a sense of optimism and a sense of purpose?

A Comprehensive School Offering Wraparound Support

To really help students succeed, schools need to implement a holistic approach by supplementing our extensive instructional efforts and becoming “full service” schools. With embedded essential community services such as basic needs provision, mental and physical health services, hard and soft skill development, and workforce exploration, students have their best chance at a successful start following graduation.

A comprehensive wraparound school is a place of hope, connection, and opportunity — a school that’s actively striving to make equity and future success attainable for its students. This means monitoring student setbacks and successes, providing academic and behavioral interventions in a timely manner, connecting students and families with support services, and offering high-quality aptitude-based career and college transition counseling.

“Whole child” schooling, paired with collaborative community partnerships, is a cornerstone in the common-sense revisioning of public education and a powerful solution we need now. Here are some tips to improve a school’s ability to provide comprehensive, wraparound community services and partnerships to ensure all students have the support they need and an equitable opportunity for success:

1. Evaluate Students’ Needs

A comprehensive full-service school is designed to meet the needs of its students by working with local individuals, agencies, and businesses to strengthen the community. First, schools must identify needs and establish priorities. Schools uncover specific barriers and concerns students are facing by speaking in depth with students, parents, and community members. High-quality needs assessments provide data that schools and communities use to prioritize the most pressing needs and opportunities for support and partnership.

2. Give Students Hope, Purpose, and Relevance

For struggling students, some of the most powerful interventions regarding post-high school planning lie in the realm of social and emotional learning — the development of a student’s self-discovery and aspiration leading to optimism, self-worth, and purpose. Aptitude-based assessments are capable of helping educators and parents learn much more about our teens than what is typically gleaned through traditional academic testing.

While I was a principal at Marietta High School, we partnered as a pilot school with YouScience, an aptitude assessment tool. YouScience uncovers students’ natural talents and matches them to careers in which their abilities add value to the workforce. Too often, we point students in directions or make course recommendations for them based on what we have available for scheduling, what we can gather from their academic test results, and our own personal hunches about what they might be good at or interested in. Typically, educators have little information which is relevant to whether the direction recommended is the best fit for the individual student. YouScience equips schools to engage in individualized goal-setting with students and parents through a process that is informative and inspires hope.

3. Compile Resources

With students’ needs in mind, schools must search the community to identify local resources, partners, service providers, and funding sources. Consider looking beyond the local community for resources if need be, and then connect students and families with the available services. Some schools might want to start small, with partnerships providing care closets, apprenticeships, job placement assistance, mediation services, or wellness coaching, and then gradually grow the number of services offered over time. Other schools might have the resources to introduce multiple community partners to work with students and their families on a regular basis. The important thing is that students are connected with community resources providing the support they need.

4. Commit to the Long Term

It’s important to remember that developing a school which provides comprehensive support is a process that takes intentionality, time, and patience. School districts must commit to discovery, innovation, and collaboration, and they must focus on a long-term goal of community improvement. It’s deep work that’s dependent upon trust and building relationships with students and community members. Start small and commit to the long haul.

Schools are microcosms of their communities. The time and energy invested in this process will benefit not only students and their families but also the community as a whole. Creating a “one-stop shop” of support and coordination of essential community services is the best way to address the most significant barriers our students face today, as well as set them up for success for years to come.

Is It More Than Just A Shooting?

Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at PTSD and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.

Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors.

When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.

So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues.

Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.

In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.

It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own.

Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.

So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases.

Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.

Issues for Immigrant Parents and Their Children

Immigrant families to Canada and the United States can face many issues complicating their adjustment to the new host culture.

Often unconsidered is the implications for intra-familial culture clash when children take to the host culture sooner or more wholeheartedly than their parents. Risk of conflict between children and their parents is heightened on issues of socialization with opposite gender friends, developing friends of other cultures, issues of rights and freedoms and expectations for academic performance.

Further, it is important to appreciate that immigrant families come to Canada generally seeking to provide a better life for their children than what might have been available in their country of origin. Hence when these parents come up against conflict with their children owing to adaptation, the conflict can be felt by the parent as tremendous disrespect by the child who doesn’t understand the parents’ rationale and sacrifice in coming to the new country.

While there are common challenges faced between immigrant parents and children of both gender, risk of pregnancy is a potent issue that can intensify concerns for the well-being of girls. In addition, strong cultural imperatives with regard to dress, deportment and socializing with the opposite sex can at times place greater demands on girls than boys.

These differences can erupt into serious fights between daughters and parents. Even when a fight does not erupt, some teenaged girls may seek to lead a double-life; keeping secrets about relationships and even their dress when at school or in the community. Other teenaged girls may seek to subordinate their feelings to the will of their parents only to find themselves depressed and anxious over the difficulty with cultural and family adaptation.

Boys do face cultural imperatives and conflicts too, but the absence of risk of pregnancy can lessen the scrutiny placed upon them by parents. However, the boys may be more subject to high expectations for academic excellence, which may or may not be taken well. If not taken well, boys may come to reject their own family’s culture, falling prey to the illusions of freedom from authority by gravitating to counter-culture groups or gangs. This in turn can lead to a risk of conflict with the law and abject academic failure as well as extreme conflict with their family.

The challenge is on the parents to adapt and find reasonable strategies to support cultural expectations in view of the greater likelihood that their children will be affected and changed by the new host culture. It is less a question of whether the children will be changed by the host culture, but rather how and to what degree.

Further, some immigrant parents may hail from cultures where the norm is to tell a child what to do and expect obedience. This quickly erodes for the children socialized particularly in western culture where individual freedom is valued and rewarded. Thus those parents who adjust and develop strategies that minimize the risk of conflict with their children stand the opportunity to remain more influential in their children’s lives than those parents who rely solely upon control strategies.

While not nagging their children, sharing stories as to why parents chose to immigrate and their hopes for their family’s future can inform their children as to their family aspirations. Further, when parents invite their children to engage in a dialogue about the differences between their respective lives non-judgmentally; parents and children may be apprised of their respective experiences and may be in a better position to discuss differences between themselves.

The challenge here is for the parents to develop skills that rely more upon influence than control. This can also be facilitated by participation and enjoyment of cultural activities and inviting their children’s new friends to join in. Co-opting children’s friends can serve as a better way of maintaining family integrity than isolating from friends.

Foundations for Tomorrow: Helping Huntsville’s Homeless

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Foundations for Tomorrow is a community initiative that provides a tiny home community where Huntsville’s homeless can reside whilst transitioning back into society. This unique initiative was founded by Nicky Beale after the eviction of Huntsville’s Homeless from tent city in the Spring of 2014.

Foundations for Tomorrow has set its sights on building 30 tiny homes that will populate an acre of land, and allow its inhabitants to develop a community where they will live, eat and work together, according to the group’s fundraising site. Foundations for Tomorrow gained tremendous community support, helping this unique organisation help those who need it most.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision you have for Foundations for Tomorrow?

Beale: Our mission is to provide a tiny home community in which Huntsville’s homeless can reside while transitioning back into society. We hope to have a village for our homeless to temporarily reside in while they find a job, apply for public housing, and get the services they need to help them contribute to society.

SWH: How did your first tiny homes project come about?

Beale: It all started with my passion for tiny homes. I am a single mom with a five year old so living tiny would be a hard transition for us. But, I had a passion to give back to my community and a passion to change lives, so I decided to start building tiny homes and letting the homeless live in them. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I googled it, Andrew Heben with Opportunity Village has just stood up a village in Eugene Oregon. I connected with him and people in the Huntsville community and it all started to come together in a snowball way. I truly believe that if you start living your purpose, things will align in a divine way. At least with me, it did and still is.

SWH: What types of challenges and barriers have you run into?

Beale: There are a lot of challenges and barriers when trying to implement tiny homes as a viable solution to homelessness. First and foremost are zoning codes. Tiny homes are considered camping and in most cities, you are not allowed to camp within the city limits. These rules are to protect property value so it is hard to get city support to allow tiny homes. Another challenge we face is the lack of education on homelessness. People have stereotypes about the homeless that have to be undone.

City officials here believe that our tiny homes are inhumane because they don’t have running water or electricity. This is understandable coming from a person with a house, but when you spend any time in tent cities you realize that providing a hardened structure for our homeless citizens is the first step to reintegrating them back into the community. It provides them with security, privacy, a dry place to sleep, an address, and most importantly gives them a big dose of hope that living in a tent takes from them.

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SWH: For people who are interested in replicating what you did in their local communities what steps would you advise them to take?

Beale: First and foremost educate yourself by reading Andrew Heben’s book Tent City Urbanism. It walks you through all the important steps of taking a tent city and transitioning the people to a hardened structure. He touches on all the barriers and challenges and how they overcame them. Second, would be to start talking to people in the community that already deal with the homeless on a regular basis to try and build support through other non-profits.

They can be very helpful in addressing who the important stakeholders are in the community. Another step is to familiarize yourself with the homeless in your city. See what challenges they face and what their day consists of so you can be an educated representative for them. After all that preparation and homework you can start to address city leaders.

SWH: What is next for Foundations for Tomorrow, and how can people support your efforts?

Beale: Foundations for Tomorrow is currently finishing our third house. We have an event with a local brewery and pizza place on Valentine’s Day to raise money and awareness. The Foundation is hosting a Tiny Home Build Workshop in April so people can learn how to build a tiny home and give back to the community at the same time. If anyone would like to help in our mission they can donate on our website, foundationsfortomorrowal.com

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness

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Did you know that 1 in 4 American people suffer a mental illness?  That is an estimate of 56% of the population[2].  Creating awareness is a difficult task [5].  We make sure to fill one day or month with the “green ribbon.”  But do we really know what the green ribbon means? When there is awareness about mental health it eases identification and early treatment for these individuals [4].  These individuals could be our father, mother, son, daughter, neighbor, friend, or it could be ourselves.  Early intervention can help our loved one receive appropriate care.  As a result, recovery is faster [4].

If a loved one is experiencing some issues and you know for fact they need to see a professional, do you know how to access the service?  We found that out of 176 people, 50% did no access mental health services because they were unaware of how to [2].  Lack of access can be due to misinformation about where to go [2]. Mental illness cannot be treated by simple desire, treatment is necessary [4].  We found that in many cases people may not access these services because it is difficult due to cultural or language barriers [2].

Awareness also eliminates stigma for these people.  If we are aware of their limitations and strengths, stigma may disappear.  Let’s just say, your daughter was just diagnosed bipolar disorder.  Would you like those around you comment, “she is crazy, lock her up.” Stigma refers to the opinions and thoughts of the community [3]. Stigma shames the mentally ill.  Creates a community where minds are closed off and rejects acceptance of those who are “different.” Attitudes and behaviors move a community into either a positive or negative trend.  If there is a negative trend than the implications may cause a combination of denial and hatred [3].

Awareness can also create new improvements for the mentally ill. As there is more demand from the public, it can produce a flow of attention.  This attention can eventually result in great changes for the mentally ill.  It can lead to improvements on policy, research, and service development [6].  Let’s make this issue a priority because we have a high demand.  If we raise more awareness, the demands may increase and can result in more funding for our needs.

In addition, there is a great misconception for the mentally ill. Many think these people are lazy or just making it up.  There is also the attitude that these people are either crazy, possessed by demons, violent, out of control and unsafe.  These are negative labels that have been attached due to the lack of awareness.  Raising awareness can reduce misconceptions.  Imagine your daughter with bipolar disorder being described by these words.  How would this make you feel?  Why continue to live in a community where there is judgment, if we could promote awareness on the issue.

Mental health awareness should not only be for a day or two or even a month.  We must be informed about it because it can easily happen to someone close to us.  Community awareness for mental health reduces stigma. Mental health awareness increases the chances for early intervention, which can result in a fast recovery.  Awareness reduces negative adjectives that have been set to describe our people with a metal illness.

By raising awareness, mental health can now be seen as an illness.  These illnesses can be managed by treatment.  We should not isolate mental illness from the physical heath conditions, such as diabetes, blood pressure, or cancer [1].

Awareness is a form of education.  The more you know, the more power you have.  Knowledge is power.  This power can cause a positive effect in our community.  Awareness is key for understanding what mental health is and how families can receive the help they need. Public knowledge is important in accessing community resources.  Lack of awareness of mental health is not just “their” problem, it is our problem as a community.

Awareness does not just end here. Attend health fairs, resource fairs, read more, listen to it.  You could even get more information about the resources and services offered in Imperial Valley.  And overall pass it on.  Talk to a someone about this article and ask them to share it with someone else.  Let’s start a domino effect for awareness on mental health. Don’t be scared to talk about it. It’s hard work, but the power to reach and teach the community is well worth it [5].

References:

[1] Aferrigno. “What one update to national mental health policy would you like to see instituted in the next five years, and why?” IMHRO. N.D.Web. 22 July 2015.

 [2] Gonzalez, C. “Innovation Work Plan County Certification.” Imperial. 4 Nov 2014.  Web. 21 July 2015.

[3] Mental Health News. “Mental/Behavioral Health” Network of Care. N.D. Web. 22 July 2015.

[4] NAMI. “What is Mental Illness: Mental Illness Facts.” NAMI. N.D. Web. 21 July 2015.

[5] Serani, D. “The Importance of Health Awareness Days.” Psychology Today. 6 Oct 2013. Web. 20 July 2015.

[6] World Health Organization. “Advocacy for Mental Health.” WHO. 2003. Web. 21 July 2015.

Authors: 

Urias, Aday, BSW & MSW Student

Fuentes, Dora, BSW & MSW Student

Acosta, Guadalupe, BSW & MSW Student

Global Citizen Encourages You to Help Eradicate Extreme Poverty by 2030

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With poverty and inequality being extremely prominent in the media recently, the Global Citizen’s Festival is well timed to advocate on behalf of their goal to end extreme poverty by 2030. So what is Global Citizen and how does it aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030? It’s a mission that can not be achieved without your help.

Global Citizen is a community of people committed to tackling societal challenges in the world and encouraging other people to do the same. Global Citizen believes courageous actions taken by those who believe in a better world will shape history and change society. Extreme poverty is one of the greatest injustices at the present time and it strips people of their basic rights as well as access to opportunities.

Whilst extreme poverty has halved in the last 30 years, there is still more work to do. Poverty can be a vicious cycle but if we come together to learn and take action we can change the rules trapping people in these cycles. Global Citizen does not ask for charity, it asks for help in fighting injustice. Global citizen wants people to advocate and use their passion to take action on issues that will help eradicate extreme poverty.

Global Citizen have several themes that we all can become involved in:

The first theme is food and hunger, and it is thought that people who are well fed will perform better in education and create more stable communities which will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities to end extreme poverty. The world has enough food to feed everyone, and we need to ensure this is spread more equally! The second theme is education, and by focusing on education for all children, it will encourage more leaders to lead society out of poverty and build communities that will thrive.

There are still millions of children without a good standard of education. Education is a basic right that we all deserve. The third theme focuses on health because everyone must be healthy in order to end extreme poverty. Healthy people can live fuller lives and take more opportunities to develop themselves. Health is vital for pregnant mothers, new-borns and children who require vaccines and access to healthcare that many are not receiving.

It is estimated that over a billion people suffer the indignity of having to defecate in open areas which is why water and sanitation is a top priority of Global Citizen. Waste systems and clean water are not a luxury, and it is a necessity that could save millions of lives each year and help eliminate diseases. Finance and innovation is also highly important. By funding development, it will help the global community to empower people to make changes and innovate in order to help themselves break the poverty cycle.

Women and girls are often subjected to some of the harshest aspects of poverty.  Global Citizen believes promoting better education for women and girls will also them become powerful leaders. A great example of the power of education for women and girls is Malala Yousafazi who was shot by the Taliban for speaking publicly about the importance of girl’s education. I received an email that Malala has now started a petition to encourage support to stand up for over 60 million girls around the world who do not receive the opportunity of education, which you can also sign here. This shows we can all make change, but we need to take the steps to do it like Malala Yousafazi.

Most importantly, we should not forget about the environment. Working towards these goals will mean more healthy people who can help take care of the earth and protect those who live on it. To participate and work on these themes Global Citizen have recommended actions such as tweeting, writing, making phone calls and/or email. These can all be found by clicking on each theme on the Global Citizen website. By completing these simple actions, we can make the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 happen a lot sooner!

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Anthony Quintano via Flikr

On September 26th, Global Citizen will host its annual Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park which also coincides with the launch of the United Nation’s global goals. To date more than 150,000 people have attended the festival with more than 30 million watching the festival.

The festival channels the power of thousands of global citizens to achieve policy and financial commitments that shape success. The Global Citizen Festival is supported by many brands from YouTube, to H&M to Unilever and many more. YouTube will feature a special livestream and a live simulcast of the full concert will be available on MSNBC and msnbc.com.

Screenwriter Richard Curtis will also produce a one-hour special to air on NBC on Sunday, September 27th. For all those in the UK, don’t worry. It will also air on BBC One on Monday, September 28th. The festival also involves artists such as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay to name a few. The Global Poverty Project is a registered non-profit organisation who works in partnership with business leaders, world leaders and global citizens to call on governments to support policies that would impact the poor.

So far, Global Citizens have taken a massive 2.3 million actions to fight against extreme poverty in the last four years which have resulted in 87 commitments and policy announcements including cash commitments which are valued at around $18.3 billion.

With your help, extreme poverty can be ended and Global Citizen encourages us all to help in that journey. We tweet and email every day, let’s do it today to create change! Global Citizen has taken on an amazing goal which encourages everyone to participate, and we can eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

Virtual Worlds: Are They Good or Bad for Children?

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Playing in online worlds is a growing phenomenon and children and young people are being exposed to many online games, social media apps and other community based platforms. Playing online appears to have many positive strength for children, from learning new social and communication skills that can have educational benefits for them in the future.

Lydia Plowman, Professor of Education and Technology at Edinburgh University, has commented children can learn through apps and games and how parents can obtain the benefits of technology. Plowman suggests that one of the key focuses in this learning is allowing children to explore through parental guidance, and part of this process is to allow children to make their own choices and decisions, Plowman refers to this as the ‘learning how to learn’.

What is a virtual world?

As discussed in previously, children and young people are spending a greater amount of time on social media platforms, online games, and online communities. However, for the purpose of this article it is important to have an understanding of what is meant by a ‘virtual world’.

Virtual worlds have a variety of different elements, for example:

  • It is an online computer animated 3D or 2D environment
  • A massively multiplayer online (MMO) experience
  • Interacts with others people in real life
  • Rules and guidance on how people effect the virtual world around them
  • Individual use ‘avatars’ or characters to represent themselves in the virtual world

To put it more simplistically, a virtual world is a platform where individuals can interact with each other, solve problems, explore and communicate with each other.

Here is a short list of virtual worlds you may be familiar with, please be aware there are many more:

  • Habbo Hotel
  • Moshi Monsters
  • Club Penguin
  • ourWorld
  • Fantage
  • Sims

In 2014, there were supposedly over 158 virtual worlds designed for young children, with the top three for primary-age being Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters and Habbo Hotel. It was found in AVG Digital Diaries in 2014, 6-9 years old who were surveyed found 46% spend their time playing an online virtual world.

Even though there are many online virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games, parents and teachers feel allowing children into these environments can be dangerous, unsafe and damaging. Yet, throughout the course of this article we will be exploring some of the positive and negative aspects of online play.

The Positives

SW5As commented in the above, this new era of technology has allowed us to enter a new dimension of communication and learning, not just for children and young people, but also for adults.

This has been successfully achieved through the use of email, forums and social networks; but yet we can also connect in real time through Facebook messaging, texting and twitter tweets. We have a vase social community online and this can have profound implications for children’s social and emotional development not just online, but also offline.

The use of the immediate communication technology perhaps can support children and young people maintain friendships and family networks more effectively. In addition, parents will be able to gain deeper insight into their children’s lives through the use of this technology, (e.g. Facebook); in order to gain an understanding of their child’s lived experience. Face to face communication between young people and parents can pose challenges from time to time; therefore this technology can bridge the gap and loss in communication.

Dr. Jim Taylor comments digital communications can also enable young people who are shy engage in wider social environments and be able to find others with similar hobbies and interests within an online community, promoting young people to grow and be creative within this online environment. Johnson (2014) even suggested digital communication and online environments improves children and young people’s emotional connection and comments this teaches children to become more empathetic towards people rather than learning the traditional face to face methods.

The Negatives

As discussed previously, there is an array of positives to using online technologies to support children and young people’s social, emotional and educational development in a variety of different ways. However, this does not go without saying within their social communities children are certainly exposed to a wider range of people, material and risks.

The EU Kids online conducted a survey and found that many children have experienced some kind of cyberbullying, trolling and sexting. Furthermore, it was found 12% of 9-16 years olds were exposed to distressing images, (Livingstone et al, 2014, pg.6).

For instance, it has been suggested children who play violent video games and lead to more aggressive behaviour and this can have an impact on social interaction with others. Taylor (2013) however, does comment the research is unclear about the ‘direction of causality’. Meaning, it is inconclusive whether violent video games make children violent, or if naturally more violent children are attract to this genre of game. In addition, research has also suggested children who are exposed to digital networks to become more narcissistic, (Taylor 2013)

Mixed messages  

Throughout the course of this short blog, we have drawn upon some the positives and negatives of virtual worlds and some of the research that underpins this thinking. But what does this all mean? Well, it is clear virtual worlds are offering a rich source of new learning for children and young people that are certainly different from the traditional methods but has brought round positive outcomes for children and young people’s social, emotional, behavioural and educational wellbeing.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the problems and risks that technology and virtual worlds may bring. Parents, educators, social workers and other professionals have to clear understand of how children and young people are engaging in online social environments and how negative implications may emerge from them.

Where do you stand?

Even though this blog has been short, and there is certainly much more research and reading round this topic; I would like to take some reflection time to ask for your thoughts of the role of virtual social environments in the lives of children and young people.

It is certainly natural to not fear and the potential hazards that can be damaging; however is their room for positive learning and development to take place?

Further Reading, including research above.

Angela Barnes And Christine Laird – The Effects of Social Media on Children

The London School of Economics and Political Science – Risks of Safety on the internet

Young Children Consuming More Digital Media.

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

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

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

1. Be a Scammer

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

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

 Password scams

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

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

Premium items, membership or free stuff scams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on how to Avoid Scams

2. Be a Phisher

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

Fake websites

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

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

Emails

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

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

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

Threatening in-game behaviour

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

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

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

3. Be an Internet Troller

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

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

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

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

Case studies

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

Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 -2003

Amanda Michelle Todd 1996-2012

Megan Taylor Meier 1992-2006

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

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

4. Be a Gold Farmer

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

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

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

Cases of interest

Zynga Inc. v. Playerauctions.com

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

Bot busting

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

Blizzard Entertainment v. Peons4Hire

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

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

5. Be a Botter

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

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

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

Macro program risks

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

 What are keyloggers?

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

Final reflections

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

Further reading

Little book of scams

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

Trolls just want to have fun

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

Computer malicious software – Further reading

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

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.

The ABLE Act Explained: Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE)

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was signed into law by the President on December 19, 2014. Tax-free savings accounts can now be built for a population that has historically been forced to live in poverty. Up until now, in order to be eligible for SSI and Medicaid, a person could not have more than $2,000 in cash and property ($3,000 for couples) or make more than $700 monthly (!) in order to be eligible for Medicaid or SSI.

This means they can’t save money for things that Medicaid and SSI don’t cover like education, housing, a job BLOG_12232014coach or transportation. While the rest of society is encouraged to save for emergencies, unforeseen expenses and rainy days, people with disabilities – who have naturally higher expenses and higher medical needs – were forced to scrape pennies and do without due to archaic laws and discriminatory notions held by society in general.

What is the ABLE Act?

This bi-partisan piece of legislation will give people with disabilities and their families freedoms and security never before experienced. It amends the IRS code of 1986 to allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996.

The Treasury Department is currently writing all of the regulations. There will then be a period of time where public comments on the proposed rules will be allowed. Before the end of 2015, every State will be responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program.

How does it work?

In a nutshell, an ABLE savings account can be opened up by an individual with a disability or by someone else on their behalf. Up to $14,000 may be deposited yearly untaxed, with that amount to be increased as inflation rises. If an account surpasses $100,000, the owner of the account will no longer be eligible for SSI but would not be in danger of losing Medicaid. When a person dies, Medicaid will be reimbursed first from the account before it is dispersed to the person’s estate.

What can the funds be used for?

Any disability-related expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology and personal support services
  • Health, prevention and wellness
  • Financial management and administrative services
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

This is a great step forward in the right direction for this community. Let’s hope the regulations are completed sooner rather than later so that individuals and families can begin saving for a better life!

The Business of Social Work Practice

Over the last decade, certainly in Australia, funding for human services organisations has undergone significant change.  The days of filling out an annual evaluation report and expecting to be automatically re-funded are gone. Simply ensuring you meet the objectives of last year’s funding is not enough. A competitive tendering process is now a harsh reality in the realm of community services. What implications does this have for social work practice?

CompetitionFirst of all, we need to get comfortable with the notion of “competition”. It’s a word that doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with most social workers.  And yet, in the tender process, that is exactly what we face.  May the “best” organisation win. No matter what your values and passions may be as a social worker, no matter how much you abhor the thought of competing with another well-meaning, non-profit agency, no matter how much you talk about collaboration and partnerships, the bottom line is that you have to provide evidence that your organisation deserves a portion of limited funding more than another.

Secondly, we need to become acquainted with the word “business”. Traditionally, funding in community organisations is prioritized to the grass-roots workers – those who deliver service to the client group. The rest of the “business” is expected to be run by volunteers. Or the coordinator of the service works double the paid hours to ensure everything is running smoothly at a business level. At times a small portion of funding is reluctantly allocated to a bookkeeper or administrative assistant or allocated to the social workers who are already overloaded meeting client needs. Besides being an unrealistic addition to workload, most social workers do not have an effective skills set in business practice.

This reluctance to allocate funds to the business side of the organisation exists because traditionally, community organisations are “supposed to” spend allocated money on client service delivery. This has been perceived to mean “direct service”.  But tell this story to any small business, or a corporate organisation and they’ll ask “how does your organisation (business) run effectively and professionally without business and marketing expertise? “ Every business knows, to compete effectively in the market place, you need people with both business and marketing skills. Private businesses are born in a tough, competitive market place so this notion is simply accepted as part of business life. Community services however, were born in a “charitable, gentle, cooperative” market place.

Time to wake up – things have changed. As many of the larger community organisations have proven, allocating funds to the “business” side of an organisation enables growth. These large community organisations have whole departments allocated to “operations”, “marketing and communications” and “fundraising”. Those employed to deliver client service are able to focus on just that – their clients. The business side of the organisation is fine-tuned by those with specific skills in those areas. The ultimate result for those organisations is that they’re highly competitive in the tender process. And the more tenders they win – the more their client needs are met.

So how would a small community organisation start the process of being competitive in a business sense when funding is so limited? First of all do what you’ve been taught to do as social workers: look at the big picture.  Empowering your clients is not just about casework and running groups. The stronger your organisation is, the more chance you have of gaining the funds you need to initiate or expand service provision. Then question the status quo. Just because it’s always been done this way, doesn’t mean that’s what works best.

Perhaps the well-meaning volunteer, or the overworked caseworker are not the best people to be focussing on business operations or communications strategies. Where there really is no funding to employ more people, start placing some priority on business practice. Think of ways existing staff and volunteers can be up-skilled so that they understand and possibly assist in strategic planning, fundraising, marketing and business operations. Talk to some of the larger organisations and ask them how they raised the funds to break away from the traditional charitable approach to a solid business approach. They also started out small.

Then ask yourself these questions: How many social workers know how to write up a business plan? Or understand that a marketing plan is an integral part of a business plan? How many social workers understand that innovation and creative thinking are essential elements of any successful and sustainable business?  Or at a smaller level, how many social workers understand how to promote their services to their client base?

Social workers traditionally are not business oriented. Social workers want to see all human services as affordable. But in a world where values change, where government priorities become unpredictable and outcomes are consistently measured according to standards set by external assessors, isn’t it time social workers took on some business sense?  We’re not the traditional “do-gooders” anymore. We’re agents of change. It’s time to look inward at our profession and take some responsibility for the lack of funding to critical operations funding in our organisations.

After all, we continue to accept and work under the premise that our organisations should only allocate funding to direct service, not to administration. Ironically we do this because we’re used to another kind of tender – being gentle.  Ultimately, this quiet acceptance significantly reduces the chances of community organisations gaining momentum and successfully competing for effective client services.  Which tender are you aiming for in your social work practice?

Connecticut Raises Minimum Wage and Provokes Conversations on Homelessness and Affordable Housing

This week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a law that will bring about the highest minimum wage of any U.S. state, and the bill raises the state’s minimum hourly rate to $10.10 per hour. Earlier this year, President Obama raised the federal minimum wage for all federal employees and contractors by executive order, and he is asking Congress to act by raising the minimum wage on for all hourly workers across the nation. However, until Congress is willing to raise the minimum wage, President Obama has called on individual states to act independently and not wait for Congress. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State was one of the first governors to respond by cutting a deal to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

  • ctmirrorAs of March 24, 38 states considered minimum wage bills during the 2014 session; 34 states are considering increases to the state minimum wage.
  • Connecticut, Delaware and D.C. have enacted increases so far in 2014.
  • As of Jan. 1, 2014, 21 states and D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage.
  • 19 states, GU, PR and VI have minimum wages the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
  • 4 states and AS have minimum wages below the federal minimum wage (the federal minimum thus applies).
  • 1 state, New Hampshire, repealed their state minimum wage in 2011, but left the reference to the federal minimum wage.
  • 5 states have not established a state minimum wage.

Lets take a look at The Cost of Living in America. The North Carolina Justice Center conducted a study on this issue back in 2010. The Living Income Standard finds that the North Carolina family of two adults and two children must earn $48,814 annually to afford the actual costs of seven essential expenses: housing, food, childcare, health care, transportation, taxes and other necessities to include clothing, personal care items, household supplies, school supplies and local telephone service. To meet the level, adults in the average four-person family would need to earn a combined $23.47 per hour and work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

These rates are for NC and not some of the other states with higher cost of living rates such as New York or California. Imagine if this was a family was a single parent household (one parent, one child), the living income standard is estimated to be $11.73 per hour 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

Due to the federal minimum wage being $7.25 per hours, many families fall below the living wage standard, and affordable housing has become another huge issue in today’s society.  While interning at The Carying Place, a transitional housing non-profit organization for homeless families, I encounter families struggling to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis. These people are working full time jobs making $7-$9 dollars an hour because their income is so low, they cannot afford housing let alone, food, clothing, daycare/school expenses for their children and other basic necessities.

Families are being forced to choose between paying a bill or providing a meal for themselves and their children to keep from starving. These are the harsh realities people are dealing with daily. Until some type of change is made, whether it be the raising of minimum wage or the establishment of more Affordable Housing, the struggle will continue.

Careers in the Various Types of Human Service Organizations

The human services field is a broad one, and it encompasses various organizations that meet the needs of individuals and families in our society using an interdisciplinary knowledge base. Human service organizations focus on both prevention and remediation of problems, and they advocate for policy changes that benefit at-risk groups in our communities. There are many different types of human services organizations, and each specializes in working with a different group of individuals.

Organizations for children

Social Worker with ChildHuman service organizations for children work with the youngest members of society to prevent abuse and neglect, advocate for policy change, work with families to build upon strengths and resolve weaknesses, and assist disadvantaged children in reuniting with their biological families or finding new home situations when appropriate.

Examples of human service careers working with children include:

  • Children’s protective service workers
  • Community social workers
  • School psychologists
  • Children’s mental health specialists
  • Child abuse workers
  • Probation officers and
  • Juvenile court liaisons

Professionals working in human service organizations for children often focus on building relationships with the families they serve, encouraging independent thinking and recognizing both strengths and weaknesses in the children and the family unit. These professionals are familiar with a wide range of community resources that assist children and families, and they make referrals to outside agencies as necessary.

Organizations for the elderly

At the other end of the spectrum are human service organizations that serve the geriatric population. According to aarp.org, approximately 90-percent of seniors have a stated desire to age in place. In order to do so safely, in home services are sometimes needed as the result of deteriorating physical or cognitive health and related safety concerns. Adult social service professionals often step in to assist with recognizing whether or not aging in place is a realistic goal, coordinating services and investigating protective service claims. When aging in place is no longer believed to be appropriate, many seniors enter assisted living facilities or nursing homes. In these facilities, professionals including licensed clinical social workers, nurse case managers, activities coordinators, social service assistants and mental health counselors provide assistance with the sometimes difficult transition from home to facility life and the day to day needs of the senior.

 Organization for disadvantaged populations 

Some human service professionals assist the most disadvantaged members of society rather than focusing on a particular age group. Substance abuse counselors, probation officers, halfway house counselors, public safety and disaster workers, migrant and immigrant case managers and mental health workers are but a few of the professionals who fall into this category of human service workers. These professionals use many of the same skill sets that other human service professionals use, but their focus is often on stabilizing individuals or safely and productively reintegrating them into society. Crisis management is a necessary skill for these professionals and many use it on a daily basis. Their focus is also on empowering clients, offering support and utilizing effective strategies to modify or reverse troublesome behaviors.

Organizations focused on advocacy

Finally, there are human service professionals who focus on advocacy, education or governing policies. While these individuals work less directly with individuals in our communities, their contributions to society as a whole should not be discounted. Human service careers focusing on policy and education include becoming a college level educator, working in the office of a local, state or federal politician, taking a leadership role in a non-profit organization, pursuing a career as a grant writer or advising schools, nursing homes, hospitals or other human service organizations. These positions are often more administrative, and they are well suited for the individual who enjoys public speaking, grant writing, research, creating policies and taking on a leadership position offering oversight to others within a human services organization. Many of these positions require advanced degrees.

The human service field offers vast career opportunities serving various at-need individuals in society. All of these opportunities have one thing in common, the need for trained, skilled human service professionals continues to grow, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a continued rise in employment opportunities within this field of up to 31-percent through 2022. With so many opportunities and the continued potential for future growth, there are many great reasons to consider a career in a human services organization.

Communities Build Tiny Homes for the Homeless

pods

In the city of Austin Texas, a group of people have come together and begun to build small mini pod homes for homelessness individuals in the city which has been deemed the Tiny House Movement. There are also homes that have even been called “Dignity Roller Pods” that were built by Gary Pickering, a man who was once homeless himself.

Around the world, there have been other cities that have taken homelessness into their own hands by creating these mini homes. Some of those places include Florida and Utah. These homes, which require volunteer effort, community support, and donations are being coined as the cheapest and fastest way to temporarily end homelessness.

According to The National Coalition for The Homeless 

  • The number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade.  Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In its 2007 survey of 23 American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population
  • On an average night in the 23 cities surveyed, 94 percent of people living on the streets were single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors.
  • Seventy percent of those in emergency shelters were single adults, 29 percent were part of families and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors.  Of those in transitional housing, 43 percent were single adults, 56 percent were part of families, and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors.

I applaud this movement and the efforts put forth by this group of people. I love this idea and it’s extremely creative. However, I am also saddened. Is this the best America can do collectively to help provide shelter to the millions of homeless citizens within our borders? There are numerous services the homeless can benefit from, but due to the abundance of people who are in need, communities are having to take matters into their own hands to see a real change.

These small pods may help some homeless individuals, but what about food, clothing, warmth, being able to take care of their hygiene, or being able to cook healthy meals? What about the homeless families in need that may have more than just one person who yearns for shelter? They may have young babies or newborns that cannot fit in a small pod altogether. It takes more than just a temporary fix, and more Affordable Housing and Transitional Housing Programs are needed.

Big Cities Need Social Workers

New York City-NY
New York City-NY

According to researchers working on the American Cities Project, a study sponsored by the PEW Charitable Trust, many cities across the United States are experiencing significant population growth. This population boom is a contributing factor in increasing the availability of social services and the need for social workers within these cities.

Urban populations often face poverty, unemployment, and job insecurity; and an increasing number of people have been affected by a lack of adequate or affordable housing, limited access to quality health care, and poorly performing education systems. The combination of these problems and an expanding population may indicate the need to increase the number of social work professionals working with populations in larger cities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social work profession is expected to grow by 25% by 2020, and new social work education programs are popping up all over the country to try to keep up with the demand. Helping those in need within the urban population requires social work professionals who are able to work with diverse populations. In many cases, it is expected that social workers working in cities acquire special skills such as second language in order to be culturally close to the populations they must serve.

In many cities, gaining access to needed social services requires individuals to navigate complex bureaucratic systems. Social workers who are able to utilize their advanced problem solving and advocacy skills are key factors to successfully connecting at risk members of the population to the resources they need to survive. Combating bureaucracy has become almost common place when working to ensure that people with little or no resources have access to assistance.

A common benefit of working in metropolitan areas is that larger cities often support a greater number of social service agencies and providers. Social workers in bigger cities are fortunate to have many resources at their disposal and frequently have access to specialized services, which may not necessarily be available in smaller locations and settings. More importantly, clients have access to a broader range of services and support.

Social workers may rely on many of these resources to provide direct care to clients in need, but can also work to collaborate between agencies to ensure a more comprehensive and holistic plan of care. Advocacy and utilization of existing networks may be beneficial when seeking resources to help with individual and family needs.

Further, it is essential for social workers to keep up to date and have knowledge of community resources such as non- profits organizations, secular services, and faith based programs and their ability to address the crucial needs of those seeking help.

Social workers in large cities face many unique challenges, but they also have access to unique resources. As large cities become increasingly populated with individuals in need of a diverse array of assistance, social workers may become in greater demand in these areas.

These professionals will need to know how to take advantage of the social services available within large urban areas, understand how to work with diverse populations, and find creative ways to ensure the large numbers of clients they work with are able to get the help that they need.

Tramadol Addiction: What It Is And How To Overcome It

pyramid-of-pills
Therapies for Tramadol

Addiction can be both a physical and mental illness that can destroy lives and common type of drugs that people are becoming addicted to is painkillers. There are many different painkillers out there, but I wanted to talk about one in particular and the different methods and therapies used for overcoming tramadol addiction. Tramadol is a common type of pain killer that is widely used because of the low risk level of addiction. However, addiction is still possible and happens to about 10% of those who take it.

Here are some steps you can take to help yourself or a loved one dealing with a Tramadol addiction.

Therapies For Addiction

Therapy is the most important step for long-term recovery. In therapy, destructive habits and negative addiction patterns can be addressed and dealt with. People who struggle with addiction typically deal with past or present trauma and use some sort of drug as a coping device, whether it be tramadol, shopping, smoking or drinking.

Here are a few types of therapeutic techniques that are commonly used for people who find themselves addicted to tramadol.

  • Clinical – The clinical therapy approach targets the mental health condition of the patient who is struggling with addiction. Often times addiction can be a result of a mental health disorder and if the mental health condition isn’t properly diagnosed then you could find yourself hitting a brick wall when it comes to addiction breakthrough.
  • Social– The social therapy approach incorporates support groups, accountability partners and other forms of community to act as a tool for recovery. A lot of addicts enjoy this type of therapy simply for the fact that they can connect with others who are going through the same hardship and they can do this in a safe setting.
  • Bio-Social– The bio-social approach targets the individual’s response to the drug, mental health and the nature of the individual’s addiction. It aims to dissect the nature of addiction.

Before therapy can take place, it is imperative that detox of tramadol takes happens. Detox should happen in a hospital or rehabilitation center. The patient will need round the clock medical care and attention for the withdrawal that will take place. The definition of Detox can be found on this Wikipedia Page.

Once detox has successfully taken place, it’s important to realize that there can still be some long-term effects, such as depression, mood swings and trouble sleeping. Because of the long-term effects this addiction can bring it is important to seek ongoing therapy.

If you or a loved one suffers from tramadol addiction then seeking help is the first step towards recovery. If you believe that a friend or family member has an addiction then it is important to set up an intervention with friends and family to let them know that they are cared about. Also, let them know that you are willing to help them on their recovery journey.

Always remember you can’t and should never try to solve an addiction on your own. Seek out friends, family or medical professionals to help guide you.

Photo Credit: Image by Smart Photo Stock

Welfare: The Business of Misfortune

Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare
Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare

I’ve dreamed of one day moving home again to have my future children surrounded by their family, but I also fear living with those who constantly reject my deepest held values with the continued disinterest in my chosen career as a social worker.

The fact that many people receiving public assistance work harder in a day to keep their families safe than some work in a lifetime has been turned into a misleading truth equating most welfare recipients to lazy blacks or people who don’t pay into the system.

It’s not the abandonment of the sense of patriotism and responsibility towards our fellow Americans that has me up at night writing about these concerns. However, it might be the fact that most of our tax monies don’t even go toward welfare programs, yet this tends to be the only focus from conservative leaders to control federal spending.

“The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a “lazy welfare recipient” named Rhonda. Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.

White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White. This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well-entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White. The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stampsmakes no sense.” Read More

When I see anti-welfare and anti-government memes being shared by my loved ones, I wonder do they know what I do for a living and what I’ve committed my life to? Do they understand how I’ve sacrificed, at times, my own financial and mental well-being to be a social worker?

Social workers are consistently ranked among the lowest paid and most depressed professionals in our community. Do they care? Posted and re-posted on Facebook by my parents and others who love me, I think how disconnected it is from my reality.

When I was in school pursuing my MSW, it was made possible by welfare and a Stafford Loan which helped me obtain my bachelors degree. I often had professors who talked about working ourselves out of a job, and the idea that our goal as social workers is to cure the ails of society. No children abused, no family hungry, no woman raped, only then would our profession no longer be needed.

Until that time comes, there will be a collection of inspired hearts whose basic promise is to fight to the end for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. I guess you could say we’re in the business of misfortune. Sounds like a dirty job, but it’s not. I have no shame in saying that I make a career out of working for the lesser blessed.

As far as my family, I’d be honored if they tried to figure out why welfare jokes don’t make me laugh. Although I may not explain what I do at family dinners, my work as a social worker matters especially to the people you’d least expect walking into that clinic, hospital, advocacy agency, or human services office. We’re all grateful public services are there when it’s our time to ask for help. Anyone drawn any unemployment lately?

Until I come to terms with my family’s values, I live away with a supportive partner, sisters who try to understand, and supportive friends. Most importantly, I respect the communities that need our help whose needs give me purpose, whose resilience inspires me, and whose empowerment pays my salary.

Language Matters: Reforming Policy in Durham

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”~ Mahatma Gandhi

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but we don’t like being called names either. Who does, and what does it say about the name-callers? As the year winds down, we look back at the work of the FADE Coalition. What we see is an ugly unfortunate and perhaps a predictable pattern of name calling by city officials to discredit our work.

It started with Durham Police Chief Lopez referring to FADE Coalition members as “detractors” at the second Human Relations Committee hearing (HRC) in October. Now, it continues with the announcement of an upcoming community forum for the Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB). Speaking to Jim Wise of the Durham News, Review Board member Cynthia Walls said “I have no problem with a public input session, but it’s important to make it clear we don’t want the same complaints the Human Relations Commission is hearing.” Board Member David Harris piled on, saying of the upcoming forum, “This is not a gripe session.”

The “complaints” and “gripes” they refer to involve data provided by the Durham NAACP revealing that between 2004-2009, 75% of civilian complaints filed with the Durham Police Department were dismissed by the Internal Affairs/Professional Standards Division. During that same period, the CPRB received only five appeals and held no hearings at all. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2012, DPD received nearly two hundred citizen complaints, though only 20% of these complaints were sustained. While a number of individuals filed timely appeals of their dismissals, the Board granted only one request for a formal appeal hearing during this period.

More generally, we weren’t aware that providing empirical data and personal narratives of racial profiling and police misconduct constituted “gripes.” Nor were we aware that the mothers, lawyers, researchers, organizers, pastors and community members of the FADE coalition could be reduced to the term “detractor”. Chief Lopez, in remarks made about FADE in the Police Department’s December report to HRC, questioned the legitimacy of the coalition as a voice of the community, attempting to minimize our status as long-time Durham residents and engaged community members. The report further states, “we submit…that any alleged broad community concern is being manufactured rather than growing.” More name-calling and just outright dismissal of our long-standing efforts in order to distract from the heart of the matter.

But in the spirit of Gandhi, we accept the name-calling with pride, with a sense that we are making an impact and with the confidence that we will prevail no matter what they call us.

We encourage you to review the document FADE Coalition Policy Recommendationsto the Durham Human Relations Commission.  It reflects an enormous amount of careful research, input, collaboration and thought. And we promise that you will find no gripes, complaints or detractions in it.

When Processes Become Part of Outcomes: Collaboration, Creativity, Community

As social workers involved in community development, we all know and understand that funding bodies, sponsors and management committees wish to see “objectives and outcomes”, but how much valuable information gets lost when these are the only areas of focus for reporting? And how much do we restrict ourselves when planning programs purely based on stated initial objectives and outcomes?

A recent experience highlights the need to be flexible in the planning and implementation of projects as well as in the final evaluation phase. Had the focus for this particular project remained inflexibly on the initial “objectives and planned outcomes”, we may well have missed valuable opportunities and failed to report valid information in the outcomes section of any final evaluation.

The key is to spend a little bit of time thinking about the impact of “processes”. You may be pleasantly surprised that processes can actually add to the outcomes.

The Canopy Family Community Exhibition

The Canopy at Cameron Park Community Centre is a community organisation (in NSW Australia) that provides services to families, children and communities.  To celebrate 25 years of supporting families it was decided to hold an event that involved other organisations who provide family services.

The objectives of the Canopy Family Community Exhibition were to:

  • Give local groups and/or agencies the opportunity to promote what they are doing in the community to support families
  • Spread awareness of services to the local community
  • Provide an opportunity for networking
  • Provide a forum to positively model relationships and family

With objectives such as this, it would be all too easy to simply send out an invitation to participate, and wait for the bookings to roll in. The end result would be similar to a kind of “expo” where organisations have a stall with various pamphlets and information.

The trouble with that concept is that it’s been done before. Not too much thought or preparation needs to go into the event. In other words, the process for staff and/or volunteers from each agency would simply be to nominate one person to gather promotional items from the agency’s cupboards and set up a standard table of information.

How do we expand on this concept?

  • What processes could we set in motion to encourage communication around the meaning of “family”?
  • How could we engage clients of some of these services into a process that ultimately portrays and promotes the function of the service?
  • How can we take some of the projected outcomes beyond just the planned “one day” of exhibits?
  • How do we foster collaborative efforts?
  • How do we encourage agencies to do something innovative so that others are inspired by their presentations? (yes this means encouraging people to move out of their comfort zone)

What we came up with was to ask agencies to submit a creative representation of “family” as it related to their group. Creative representations allow participation from all ages, backgrounds and skills levels.  Each agency was asked to enter a collaborative effort involving staff, volunteers and if possible, clients of the service. They were asked to explain their “creation” and also provide information about their service. For those who felt stuck for ideas and/or time, we offered consultation and assistance with brainstorming and/or assistance with the creation.

The results were 17 entries, all depicting “family” from their agency/group perspective, with an explanation of the services that their agency provides to the community. The making of each entry had become a “mini” project with outcomes of its own. Subsequent conversations between agencies revolved around the process of making their creation. Who took part, how they made decisions, sharing stories about what “family” meant to them, which contributions were made by staff, volunteers and clients of the service, and the feeling of teamwork the process inspired.

The following statements from agencies involved explain this:

Our communities are from various cultural backgrounds coming together to develop new relationships that redefine family in Australia, after their loss through migration of close loved ones. This project has been very important as a way for  parents, children, siblings and community coming together as family. We have had over 20 participants inclusive of children involved + 5 staff and 4  volunteers.  ~Northern Settlement Services

We started out with the idea of having a hat stand…to represent where the family members ‘hang their hat’….So…one of the ladies from the craft group who meet here on Tuesdays said she had an old plant hanger which may suffice as a hat stand. When I picked it up and brought it into my office the staff, volunteers and visitors all started contributing ideas and somehow it turned into a family tree instead of a hat stand. It ‘grew’ from there…at one stage it was going to have photos of our various ‘family members’ hanging from it but then the leaves seemed to work better.  ~ Woodrising Neighbourhood Rising

A lot of our tiles came from donations of staff and families old tiles which also added a special element of family and  togetherness. Many wonderful conversations and reminiscing came with our “labour of love”, family and friends and times gone by. ~Domain Macquarie Place

Would these results have eventuated if we only implement a cookie cutter approach? Next time, you’re involved in planning a community project, don’t lock in the goals. Don’t restrict yourself to preconceived outcomes. Remain flexible, get out of your comfort zone, and try a little innovation! Check out some of the photos on https://www.facebook.com/cameronparkcommunitycentre

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