96 Percent of Social Workers Want Mobile Technology

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

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

   

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

1. Time Spent on Paperwork

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

2. Accessing Information in the Field

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

3. Limited Time with Families and Children

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

4. Burnout

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

5. Data Collection and Quality

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

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

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

Is Saying Victim Failed to Protect Children Another Form of Victim Blaming

A mother finds herself in a domestically violent relationship and she has children. Child Protective Services (CPS) becomes involved and discover that the children are either being abused directly or are witnessing the abuse. CPS turns to the mother and tells her that she has a responsibility to protect the children from the abuse despite being a victim feeling powerless to help herself. This is a challenging place for a woman to find herself.

Consider what her options may look like. She can leave the abuser which might immediately place her in search of a place to live with children. Emergency shelters are often full. Friends or family may be available but a feature of abusive relationships is that the woman is cut off from those support systems. Thus, where is she to go?

domestic-violence_man-behind_voices-for-dignityWhat about money? Many women in these situations have become financially dependent upon their abusers. Bank accounts are not under their control and, if they do work out of the home, their pay has been deposited in ways that the abuser can manage – assuming there is any money left over in between paychecks.

What about risk? The research tells us that the risks for women and their children go up when she tries to leave an abusive relationship. Abusers become angry and seek revenge. They may stalk and hunt out the woman increasing the violence rather than reducing it. The risks to the children go up in such a circumstance. However, if she stays because she is dependent and /or has nowhere to go, then she risks losing her children. It’s a form of double jeopardy.

What this raises is the need for child protection and the agencies that support CPS really understand domestic violence. They really need to get how much there is a need for safety planning that includes housing, finances, privacy, shifts in schools, day cares – even family doctors. The changes are complicated and require planning. It just doesn’t work to arrive and tell a mother that she either protects her children or lose her children.

As many who have done child protection work can speak about the mere arrival of child protection in the family increases risks for children and the mother. Abusive partners are highly suspicious of the presence of authority figures. It can get even more complicated if police have also attended.

Except in cases of extreme violence and imminent danger, it may be possible to move with intention – creating a time line and a carefully developed plan. This might include the creation of safe places or events that allow the mother to begin creating connections that are away from the violence. Even doing this is risky if the abuser finds out but such approaches give the mother time to reflect and to build confidence in what she might be able to do.

There will also be cases where it is possible to engage the abuser but it requires good knowledge of the risks that the abuser presents. Mothers want their children to be safe, but in cases like these they can be caught in a web they don’t know how to get out of. Telling them that they are failing to protect their children is an unlikely pathway out.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of gbtimes

Is Your Candle Burning from Both Ends: Examining Burnout and Self-Care

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“You can’t help others until you first help yourself”. “Don’t burn your candle from both ends”.

I used to hate those cliches, but when it comes to therapist wellness, it’s true.

My first experience with burnout happened just 3 short months after graduating with my Master’s degree. I move across the country, and I dived head-first into the real-world of therapy. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of disillusionment that I could never have been prepared for.

I experienced an episode of burnout, and I know it won’t be my last.  Along the road to getting my licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I encountered things that would make even the most resilient people burn out, if not get a little crispy around the edges.

  • I saw ethics violations and fraud that hurt clients and the entire mental health system is full of corruption.  I reported a provider to a licensing board, lost my job and relocated.
  • I’ve had 5 jobs in just over 2 years. I worked overtime at roughly $15 an hour with student loan debt weighing heavily in the back of my mind. One agency I worked for, closed suddenly overnight after a few weeks of my pay checks bouncing. I also had to pay for weekly supervision in order to keep my associate license.
  • I worked in homes with roaches, smells and sights that seemed to be right out of horror movies. I saw the effects of child abuse and sat back and felt hopeless when CPS couldn’t help. Poverty, inequality and suffering were in my face every day.
  • I got physically and verbally attacked by clients. I was providing services in rural areas where guns were prevalent and cell-phone service was not.
  • I frequently felt undermined by administrators. I was told that the letters after my name didn’t matter, even though I had worked so hard for them. I was told I needed to “earn my stripes” even though I had education, experience, and a license.
  • I was on-call for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I came to associate my ringtone with crisis and would cringe when I heard it.

These things do not make me a martyr. These are the typical experiences of a new therapist.  I share them in the hopes of increasing awareness, decreasing the isolation and shame other therapists feel. I hope to open the door to discussions about how we can make systematic changes to make things better.

Improving the workplace for counselors, and in turn, improving services for clients with mental health needs will be a forever on-going process. This topic could easily be it’s own post, book, or series of books.

In the mean time, how will you stay healthy, engaged, and able to serve your clients?  Here is what has helped me along the way:

  • Embracing the inevitable and learning to recognize the signs of burnout. Burnout will happen. Be ready and keep a look-out.  It can mean feeling exhausted, numb, hopeless, helpless or depressed.  It could mean feeling anxious, panicked and unable to sleep.  Other signs include relief when clients cancel sessions, dreading going to work in the morning, client-blaming, or being sarcastic, cynical and resentful.
  • Receiving lots of supervision from other therapists.  One-on-one direction from therapists with more experience than me was priceless.  Group supervision also helped decrease my sense of isolation and boosted my confidence.
  • Becoming a regular therapy client. I believe therapy is effective for helping people cope with a stressful life.  That is why I’m a counselor, and it is also why I am not afraid to seek counseling for myself.
  • Taking steps toward basic self-care. Keep eating, exercising and sleeping habits healthy. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Maintaining relationships with family and friends. Build your social support network. Stay connected to your community.
  • Taking time off. Get out of town or turning off the phone. It’s ok to un-plug and relax, even if it is just for a few minutes.
  • Seeing the big picture.  Every therapist has a vision and a reason they entered this field.  Remind yourself of it.

Interview with Kristin Johnson: Author of “Unprotected” Free Download Limited Time Only

Social Worker and Author of “Unprotected the Novel”, Kristin Johnson is offering a free download of her book starting today on December 26, 2012 to December 30, 2012. I had the opportunity to interview Kristin about the book, and here is our Q & A interview:

Q1. Describe a bit about your background, entry into social work, and your work with CPS.

I have been a child protection social worker for the past 18 years I spent my first five years as an investigator, and now I am a case manager for ongoing Child Protection cases. I work with families when the investigator has determined there is a need for services to prevent future maltreatment. About half of the kids on my caseload are in placement, and a small percentage of my cases end up in adoption.

author photoQ2. How long did it take you to write Unprotected, and what motivated you to write the book?

I started writing in 1999 after I had been doing my job for about 6 years, and I was getting burned out. I wanted to vent, and when I’m writing the story I can give it whatever ending I want. I also wanted to give people an idea of what we do. There are so many stereotypes and misunderstandings out there about how child protection works. If we are portrayed in the media, child protection workers are usually dragging children kicking and screaming away from their parents. I wanted to tell our side of the story.

Q3. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment, how has this process challenged you to move outside of your comfort zone and embrace new challenges?

I am waaaaay out of my comfort zone in many ways! A big part of publishing is promotion, so I have had several book signings where I have to stand at a table at a book store and encourage people to by my book. In child protection, the clients come to us–usually involuntarily. I am not used to soliciting clients. I’m also not very comfortable being in the spotlight. I had a book launch party with 60 friends and family members, all thrilled for me and excited to read the book. It was so touching and humbling, and incredibly overwhelming to be the center of attention. The entire experience has been amazing.

Q4. Who is the main character of the book, and what characteristic do you admire and most dislike about the central character?

The main character is Amanda, a 23 year old social worker in a small Minnesota child protection agency. Amanda grew up in poverty with a self centered mom who exposed Amanda to the types of situations that many of Amanda’s clients have faced. Amanda hides her upbringing because she is afraid that she will be judged by her coworkers, but she can’t help but relate to many of her clients’ struggles. Early in “unprotected” Amanda’s mom dies, leaving her without any family. She is left alone and painfully lonely. I admire Amanda’s resilience, which I have seen in so many of the children that I have worked with. The only quality I don’t like about Amanda is that she doesn’t always believe in herself, and she doesn’t recognize her strength. But Amanda grows as the story progresses, and I enjoy seeing her find faith in herself.

Q6. Quick synopsis of the story line…..What genre does this novel fall in….ie fictional romance, thriller, inspirational?

Paraphrased from the back cover: “unprotected” is the story of Amanda, a young child protection social worker with a past she is trying to forget. She quickly becomes embroiled in a case against a former state champion hockey player who will do anything to buck the system rather than work with it–including whatever it takes to get Amanda out of his way. Luckily, Amanda reconnects with Jacob, a new county attorney…With history and chemistry hovering between them, their job is to make sure the town hero doesn’t get away with abusing his son. As in many child protection cases, however, the presenting problem is just the tip of the iceberg. Set against the always messy world of child protection, “unprotected” is ultimately about family–and a young woman’s discovery that there are all kinds of family and many places that can be called home.

It’s hard to fit “unprotected” into a genre–there is some mystery, both in the child protection cases and in Amanda’s personal life. There is some tension and romance between Amanda and Jacob, and ultimately it’s an uplifting story about redemption.

Q7. “How can readers get a copy of Unprotected the novel”?

“Unprotected” is available on amazon.com in hard copy or on kindle. And there will be a special FREE KINDLE promotion from Dec. 26-30 when readers can download “unprotected” at no cost. Even if readers don’t have a kindle device, kindle is also an app that can be downloaded on computers or smart phones–so just about anyone can take advantage of this free offer. Also, please check out my website www.kristinleejohnson.com for more information about the book and my work. Thank you so much for your support.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union is Lobbying for Social Worker Jobs….Should Social Workers Support the Strike

Join us on Twitter to discuss this topic on September 17th, 2012 at 8PM EST. Also view www.socialworkchats.com for more information on our Twitter Debates.

Press Release by the Chicago Teacher’s Union: CPS Fails To Negotiate Fair Contract To Prevent First Strike In 25 Years
09/09/2012. More than 29,000 teachers and education professionals will not report to work today 9/10.

CHICAGO— After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year.

Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

“Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

“Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits. Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.”

Read More

I look forward to discussing the implications and impact of the teacher’s strike on social workers. The Chicago Teacher’s Union is using the hashtag #CTUStrike.

View the Archive of the Chat Below:

Do Social Workers support or Disagree….and if so, how do we support?

How the Affordable Health Care Act is Saving My Life-Part I

I knew that pursuing this degree would be costly, but what I didn’t know is that it could potential cost me my life. Three years ago, I was accepted to one of the top five Schools of Social Work in the country.

I was already working as a Child Protective Services Investigator when I decided to pursue my MSW, and I thought it would help me to advance in my field. However, as a CPS investigator and a Master level student, I was forced along with others in my cohort to make a decision between finishing school and my job. Both worlds were colliding, and I was caught in the middle.

It’s crazy how a social work student with no work experience can work in Child Welfare to fulfill their 900 hour internship requirement. However, someone already working in Child Welfare doing the same job does not receive credit and is required to do an additional field placement. In what world is this fair!

I was already invested in both time and money to just walk away from school. So, I quit my job working at a Human Service Agency in order to work for free at another Human Service agency in order to fulfill my internship requirements. As a working practitioner, I knew that I could not manage my caseload, class work, and another 16 hour per week internship to be completed in another department. Initially, my agency was going to give me some concessions while in school, but all it takes is for someone to quit or go on FMLA.

Yes, I knew that I had a pre-existing health condition, but I was going to a university with one of the best health care systems in the country. It never occurred to me, not even once, that the program in which I was accepted would not offer me a healthcare plan.

The summer before my last semester, I started getting sick. Everyday, I would park in the deck of the Medical Center to walk to class at the School of Social Work while I was being relegated to free clinics for my health care. The last semester, my school made some changes to the health care plans. I have a healthcare plan…. Now, I can get the care that I desperately need. Right? Wrong!!!

The health insurance provider stated that I needed proof of continuous coverage in order to receive coverage because I had a pre-existing condition. Guess what….I didn’t have proof because I had been uninsured for a year. Ok….I thought. I am an advance standing student….I will be back to work in no time. Everything will be alright. Right? Wrong!!! It would be a year after graduation before I would gain employment and health insurance again.

Two years and one pre-existing condition later, in May 2012, I began getting the tests I needed years ago to determine whether I have cancer or not. Not having health insurance in this country is a death sentence. In the last six months, I know two African-American women who died from complications from preventable issues because they did not have health insurance. Despite my degrees and my accomplishments, I was just another unemployed, black woman with no health insurance, and I was treated as such.

Today, my insurance carrier is covering the majority of cost for my tests and surgery, and I don’t think it would have been possible without the ACA. With health insurance, I have Dr. Randall Scheri the world-renown surgical oncologist at Duke University Cancer Center performing my surgery later this week. The prognosis is good because the cells have not turned cancerous….Thank God!!! They are taking every precaution in case something is found during the surgery. However, I believe everything is fine, and I am planning for a speedy recovery.

President Obama made it possible for those without healthcare to have the ability to get health insurance and be covered. He did it despite the difficulty and the unpopularity of the bill, and I am thankful that he did. Now, my hope is that the Council for Social Work Education will reform their current internship requirements, so it is not oppressive and create further hardships on students who just want to help others. No other profession mandates a 900 hour unpaid internship with no guarantees of health insurance in order to obtain a degree. So why is social work doing it?

It’s been difficult to not be bitter and not to be angry. No one should have to choose between basic human needs in order to pursue higher education for a better life. After my surgery and I am on the road to healing, I plan to advocate on behalf of students who may find themselves in similar situations or for those who may choose not to go back to school for social work because of the barriers. Change is needed.

*Part II soon to come…

Captain’s log stardate 74906.5, June 10th, 2021, Part II was never written. Cancer was found during the surgery, and it has been a long journey to recovery. However, this platform would not have been created without that experience. I use this platform to create awareness and advocacy on a variety of issues, but at its core, our goal is to help register people to vote on the matters important in their lives and their loved ones.  I am a firm believer that pain and suffering breed empathy and compassion. As a result of my pain, it further ignited my desire to help more people navigate their pain as well as support their purpose.

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