Cognitive Dissonance: How We Dismiss the Refugee Crisis

Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.
Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.

Whilst politicians appear concerned about the monetary deficit invoked by refugees, many people are currently concerned with what appears to be a deficit in compassion.

This is particularly with regard to the current humanitarian crisis of refugees, for reasons ranging from their numbers, their religion, and their reasons. What we are seeing is dehumanisation, which arguably has two facets – the first being mechanistic dehumanisation, where we believe others are lacking basic human traits such as warmth, emotionality, and depth. The second form of dehumanisation is animalistic dehumanisation where we see others as lacking human uniqueness – elements such as rationality, maturity and moral sensibility that separate humans from other species.

But, how does this happen? There are many theories about how dehumanisation can occur on both a personal and societal level. Here we are going to consider the theory of cognitive dissonance, alongside ideas about how our social environment can have an impact.

Cognitive dissonance theory stipulates that we feel uncomfortable when we hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. We also experience cognitive dissonance if we act in conflict with a belief or value. For example, my health is important, but I binge on pizza every night.

How much dissonance we experience depends on how important our personal values conflict with our beliefs. If I need to get up early, but I’m staying up late watching a film, I might feel a tad conflicted. However, if I have a very important interview tomorrow, I will feel more conflicted about staying up late. If the interview is for a job I don’t particularly want, suddenly it’s easier to stay up.

The level of dissonance is also affected by how much information we have supporting each belief. Usually it’s harder to hold on to beliefs which have a mountain of evidence against them. However, linked to the above paragraph about values, conflicting evidence is most likely to change beliefs we don’t value very much. If our belief is very dear and important to us, conflicting evidence can actually make us strengthen the belief and hold onto it tighter in order to erase the conflicted/dissonant feeling.

If we are in ‘dissonance’, we somehow need to make these two conflicting beliefs balance out again – essentially so we don’t feel like a hypocrite.

There are several ways we can do this. In the example ‘refugees need our help’ we could:

  • add extra cognitions to justify ourselves (‘help at home first’)
  • ignore conflicting information (e.g. avoiding the news)
  • change the cognition which causes conflict (‘they are not victims, they’re economic migrants not refugees’), and finally…
  • change our behaviour to make it in line with the original belief (i.e. doing something to help).

Another example might be that I believe I’m a ‘good person’, but I do things which do not fit with ‘good person’ labeling. For example, ignoring a petition about a humanitarian crisis. To resolve this conflict, I could choose to act congruently with my values and sign or take alternative action such as making a donation. I could, however, seek out people who support my lack of action, people who think online petitions don’t have any impact, to make myself feel better. I could also seek out information which confirms my altered cognitions consisting of news stories about refugees being terrorists or liars. As another alternative, I could alter my beliefs about what a ‘humanitarian crisis’ is to make it something that is not my problem or not a real humanitarian crisis.

I believe many of these things are happening en-masse at the moment with the current refugee crisis. Here are some of the ways people are resolving cognitive dissonance to make ourselves more comfortable and less compassionate.

Firstly, we can reduce the human element of the crisis. This includes likening refugees to animals or insects, and using anonymous numbers without corresponding personal touches. Refugees have been called a swarm by the UK Prime Minister in addition to other using references  such as cockroaches and towns being ‘swamped’.

Large numbers of refugees without individual cases to humanise them can lead to facelessness and a lack of true understanding or empathy toward their plight. Perhaps that’s why it took a photo of a single child, Alan Kurdi, alongside the numbers, for people to remember these numbers are not abstract. Each refugee represents a life, and nearly half of Syrian refugees are children. On top of this, Britain has only taken in a trainful of Syrian refugees – the apparent swarm is currently missing in action.

We can also create an us-and-them situation.

“The decision to cooperate and expend resources for another’s benefit is a dilemma of trust since the ultimate benefits depend on everyone else’s willingness to do the same”. – M. Brewer (1999)

The dynamics of this are complex and contingent on multiple levels of belief systems and environmental safety. However, lack of trust helps us dehumanise and conflict with ‘outgroups’, alongside feelings of superiority, assuming the moral absoluteness of the ingroup, and feelings of fear/threat over resources.

At the moment, people in Britain are fearful of their job security, worrying about paying rent, food prices are rising, and the media is playing up to stereotypes of people who are trying to swindle the taxpayer in order ‘get something for nothing’. This is in light of a long list of Britain’s elites squandering taxpayer money on moats, chauffeurs, and second houses. It isn’t difficult, therefore, to foster a lack of trust in others to create a threat from the outgroup ‘stealing’ jobs or money, and add extra cognitions which justify lack of action with a sense of “help at home first, what has anyone ever done for me, we don’t have the resources”.

People generally find it hard to dehumanise others without a corresponding dehumanising environment. To start with, we have people feeling under threat as explained above which leads to Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Study documenting ways to foster dehumansing environments. This includes living in an unpredictable environment and the UK arguably had one of its most unpredictable elections ever in 2015.

Beginning with smaller abusive acts such as fake stories about misuse of the Human Rights Act, anti-immigration rhetoric being framed as economically sound in spite of contrary evidence), and minimising individual social responsibility to do anything. This plays with the fact that the British public are disillusioned about politics, and presumably their ability to make any meaningful broad-scale change in light of this.

Additionally, Zimbardo notes the role of providing people with a solid ideology or rhetoric for unpleasant actions. Perfect case examples include, but are not limited to, Donald Trump in America and UKIP in the United Kingdom. In both, it allows them to perform dehumanising acts against certain groups whilst feeling ‘justified’ in doing so. For example, a parent may beat their child ‘for their own good’, or a politician might argue that ‘real’ help does not come from accepting refugees – it is ‘for their own good’ to find a bigger solution that does not involve accepting refugees.

This also involves lack of adequate information about what is happening to refugees – shelters have been torched, refugees have been ‘tattooed’ with permanent-marker numbers in the Czech Republic, refugees including babies and children have been pepper-sprayed by police and by the public. Additionally, there are ongoing deaths in Calais and 2,200 refugees have died at since since July this year. The Still Human Still Here campaign raises awareness of the horrific destitution facing refused asylum seekers in the UK alone. This atrocities are not hidden, and it can be found on any search engine. But why would you seek this information out only to increase your sense of discomfort when it can be avoided?

Again, it goes back to threat – economic migrants want to steal our jobs and money, refugees are economic migrants, therefore refugees are a threat. Therefore, the refugee humanitarian crisis is also linked to misinformation about migrants more generally.

People of the UK overestimate numbers of immigrants nearly doubling the true number, alongside overestimating other social issues such as unemployment and teenage pregnancy.  A University College London study found that immigrants who have arrived in the UK since 2000 have made a net contribution of £25bn and were less likely to receive ‘benefits’, tax credits, or live in social housing.

The NHS owes a huge amount to people who were not born in the UK and tight immigration rules are negatively impacting the NHS due to lack of nurses. One can ignore this information or add cognitions which allow the facts to be dismissed such as assuming the study was mis-conducted or done on incomplete data, suggesting we’d have fewer foreign-born nurses if there was more ‘space’ for people born in Britain, or that we wouldn’t need as many nurses if we had fewer immigrants.

Unfortunately, this ‘economic migrant’ and utterly false ‘welfare benefit’ rhetoric has placed the British public nicely in a position to alter their belief about the intentions of refugees, reducing cognitive dissonance because one can believe that ‘their’ home countries are safe; ‘they’ are here only for ‘our’ money and jobs; ‘they’ have no legitimate reason to be here. If the other’s intentions can be considered illegitimate, manipulative, or meaningfully harmful, it makes it easier to dismiss their beliefs, actions or values.

This dissonance has very real and deadly consequences. 67% of the British public would support sending troops in to France to stop what have been termed ‘immigrants’from entering the country. Refugees are being treated like criminals. Although there are petitions to allow more refugees into the UK, news outlets showing how individual people can contribute, crowdfunders, websites helping people to share a room in their house, viral videos of Germans cheering arriving refugees, and grassroots campaigns. However, there is still a widespread sense that refugees are a horde to be rid of rather than fellow humans to be welcomed with open arms and kept safe.

The discomfort of the humanitarian crisis is apparent for anyone who has had even remote contact with news of the situation. However, the way to resolve this discomfort is not for us to alter and add beliefs until we feel safe in our inaction. It’s someone else’s problem, we need to tackle things in home countries alone, we will ‘open the door’ to anyone if we let in refugees, and that’s bad, we have enough on our plate, there’s no room, im(migrant)refugees take up our resources and they’re only here to steal our jobs but also to not-work and they take all our benefits anyway.

Enough is enough. We have to stop using a lack of compassion to resolve our own discomfort and face up to the hard truth. Otherwise, history will not look kindly upon this period of time.

 

Global Citizen Encourages You to Help Eradicate Extreme Poverty by 2030

gcf_700px_300dpi.jpg__1500x670_q85_crop_subsampling-2

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!

15350794356_c6c284d4d2_z
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.

Europe Can Do More to Protect Refugees

refugees-are-human-beings-oki

For many years European countries have been warned about the inadequacy of their immigration and asylum systems. Now, with increased refugee arrivals and more frequent tragedies, this system is showing all its weaknesses. But refugee arrivals are not the real cause of this collapse. The real reason is political.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a little more than 430,000 asylum applications have been lodged in the European Union member states since January. 40% of them have been received by Germany alone, while Hungary has taken 1 out of 4 of the remaining ones. This means that 26 EU countries are dealing with just over 180,000 asylum applications, an effort which is all but epic.

Even including the almost 300,000 people who arrived in Italy and Greece since January – mostly Syrians who will be granted asylum – we are still far from experiencing the real refugee arrival pressure faced by much less rich and stable countries like Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia, or, without looking too far, Turkey, home to some 2 million Syrian refugees.

Regrettably, more often than not, politicians ignore facts. With the outstanding exception of Germany, in the majority of the EU countries politicians are competing with each other in sending bad signals to the public. France and the United Kingdom – the latter being a country where asylum applications have remained stable over the last few years – could not find a better answer to the needs of some 3,000 migrants in Calais than to send the police and allocate money to reinforce surveillance.

In Denmark – where asylum applications have not increased significantly compared to 2014 – the parliament approved last Wednesday a cut in refugee benefits, with the declared intent to make the country less attractive to refugees. In Poland – where asylum applications in 2014 dropped by 50% compared to 2013 – the country’s president spoke against the possibility of taking more asylum seekers, although the number of asylum applications remained low in the first half of 2015 too.

With a steep increase in asylum applications and little if any help from fellow EU countries, Bulgaria and Hungary have made the bad choice of sealing off their borders. This is certainly not the right answer to those who seek international protection. But the inconvenient political truth is that this comes also as the result of an EU asylum system which penalises countries placed at the border of Europe.

The real problem is not the arrival of refugees, but this desultory, almost hysterical response to it. More than a refugee crisis, this is a political one, where States demand less Europe, when in reality we need more. To save a Europe of solidarity and human rights, we must rethink its approach to migration.

The first thing to do is to fundamentally review the Dublin Regulation, an unfair mechanism which allows the majority of EU member states to allocate responsibility for dealing with asylum-seekers to a few frontline countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta and Spain. The latest blow to this system comes from Germany which suspended a few days ago its application as regards Syrian refugees. This decision should be extended to all categories of asylum seekers and applied by all EU member states.

EU countries and the European Commission should build a system where countries fairly share asylum-seekers based on the principles of solidarity and human rights protection. This would help improve the protection Europe affords to refugees and, at the same time, relieve the pressure on some EU countries.

Such developments should go hand-in-hand with improved co-operation with states in the Western Balkans. So far, the EU has pressured them in various ways to hold off asylum-seekers, a choice that has led some of these countries to adopt a series of unlawful measures like ethnic profiling at border crossings and the confiscation of travel documents. Now, the EU has to help these states develop their asylum systems and their capacities to host refugees in accordance with European standards. This will not only help save lives, but also give effect to the promise to “achieve a greater unity” that all EU and Western Balkans states agreed to when they joined the Council of Europe.

In addition, European states have to provide more legal avenues for refugees to reach the continent, for example by easing humanitarian visas and family reunification rules. This would not only help refugees avoid perilous sea and land routes, but would also weaken the grip of smugglers, who thrive when migration restrictions are harsh.

Protecting refugees is both a moral and a legal obligation. It is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. We must do more to protect those who flee wars and persecution. With political will, Europe can hold true to its values.

Without Papers But Not Without Rights: The Basic Social Rights of Irregular Migrants

Refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais, France © Matt Sprake
Refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais, France © Matt Sprake

Those who think that irregular migrants have no rights because they have no papers are wrong. Everyone is a holder of human rights regardless of their status. It is easy to understand that the prohibition of torture protects all people but we should also be aware of the fact that basic social rights are also universal, because their enjoyment constitutes a prerequisite for human dignity. Therefore, member states of the Council of Europe should stand by their obligations to protect the basic social rights of everyone under their jurisdiction, and this includes irregular migrants.

Migrants can be in an irregular situation because they have entered a country, or stayed in a country, in an unauthorised way. Their situation may become irregular because they overstay an authorised period which can last several years. Due to the very nature of irregular migration, it is difficult to estimate the number of irregular migrants currently living in Europe, though the figure undoubtedly runs into the millions.

Barriers placed by states to the exercise of basic social rights

In my work, I have been confronted with too many situations where the social rights of irregular migrants have been deliberately denied by authorities, in contradiction with international and European law. In other countries where these rights are recognised in national legislation, practical obstacles to their exercise have unfortunately proved to be numerous.

The criminalisation of migration and repressive policies of detention and expulsions of foreigners seriously affect the protection of the basic social rights of irregular migrants, not least because they create a general climate of suspicion and rejection against irregular migrants among those who are supposed to provide social services.

Migrants in an irregular situation are too often seen as cheats, liars, social benefits abusers or persons stealing the jobs of nationals. In such a context, law enforcement officials in charge of countering “illegal immigration” often have difficulties in recognising an irregular migrant as a victim of human rights violations and in need of protection.

In some instances, the police are placed under official pressure to attain quantified targets of “repatriations” – I noted this to be the case until 2012 in France. This policy can be particularly harmful to irregular migrants’ access to social rights, because it forces them to live clandestinely and avoid contact with social assistance providers for fear of being arrested, detained or deported. According to a June 2015 study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the main reason for victims of exploitation not reporting their cases to the police is the fear of having to leave the country.

The criminalisation of migration through establishing an “offence of solidarity” against those who try to assist migrants by providing minimum access to shelter, food and healthcare is another unacceptable measure taken by some states in recent years. To guarantee access to basic social rights for irregular migrants, basic service providers such as medical staff should never be placed under an obligation to report irregular migrants to law enforcement authorities.

Access to basic social rights can also be impeded by protracted situations of legal limbo such as that experienced by rejected asylum seekers who cannot be expelled in Denmark. I consider that in situations where return is impossible or particularly difficult, states should find solutions to authorise the relevant person to stay in the country under conditions which meet their basic social needs and respect their dignity.

As indicated in a recent study on the impact of the crisis on access to fundamental rights in the EU, undocumented migrants are among the groups disproportionately affected by austerity measures imposed in the field of healthcare. In Spain, access to healthcare for irregular migrants in most regions was significantly reduced in 2012, until the government recently decided to restore primary health care access, mainly because of the disastrous impact the restrictions had on the national healthcare system. It remains to be seen if the right to access to healthcare of irregular migrants will also improve in practice.

Right to basic social assistance, shelter and food

In some countries, restrictions on access to social rights rest, more or less explicitly, on immigration policies aimed at sending back irregular migrants, including by forcing them into destitution, in order to deter other would-be migrants from coming. States may be tempted to link access to some basic social rights to the residence status of the migrant. In the Netherlands, while the law grants irregular migrants access to emergency healthcare and education, the government has attempted to deny access to shelter, food and water. As noted in my report on the Netherlands, I could witness some of the difficulties experienced by irregular migrants due to this policy during a visit carried out to a disused church in The Hague in 2014, where some 65 irregular immigrants had taken shelter.

As unrestrictedly recognised in many international legal instruments, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and shelter. Under the European Social Charter, as emphasised by the European Committee of Social Rights, the minimum guarantees for the right to housing and emergency shelter apply to irregular migrants too.

Shelter must be provided even when immigrants have been requested to leave the country and even though they may not require long-term accommodation. The Committee has pointed out that the right to shelter is closely connected to the human dignity of every person, regardless of their residence status. It has also stated that foreign nationals, whether residing lawfully or not in the country, are entitled to urgent medical assistance and such basic social assistance as is necessary to cope with an immediate state of need (accommodation, food, emergency care and clothing).

Protection from exploitation and human trafficking

Everyone, including irregular immigrants, should be protected from labour exploitation and trafficking in human beings in full compliance with Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting slavery, forced labour and by extension human trafficking, and with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

While in many European countries a residence permit can be granted to victims of trafficking or severe forms of exploitative work staying irregularly on the territory, too often, this applies only under the condition of co-operating with the police. In 20 country evaluation reports, the Group of Experts on action against trafficking in human beings (GRETA) has urged the authorities to ensure that in practice access to assistance for victims of trafficking is not made conditional on their co-operation in the investigation and criminal proceedings: Article 14 of the anti-trafficking Convention allows parties to make the issuing of a temporary residence permit conditional on co-operation and it seems that in some cases this blocks unconditional access to assistance for foreign victims.

States have an obligation to sanction employers exploiting the vulnerability of irregular migrants. From a human rights point of view, what matters most is not that a state fights against “illegal work”, but that irregular migrants are protected and compensated for the human rights violations they have suffered as a result of their exploitation. Foreign domestic workers, because of their isolation, are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse.

Right to education of children in an irregular situation

Many international and European human rights standards, including the European Social Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, require that access to education be ensured for children regardless of their immigration status. However, too often, schools or other administrative authorities place barriers to irregular migrant children’s right to education by unlawfully asking for documents such as birth certificates as a condition to enrol the child.

Measures to be taken by states

To create an environment favourable to ensuring irregular migrants’ access to inalienable basic social rights, states should not only refrain from criminalising migration but should go further:

  • Consider policies, including regularisation programmes and increased possibilities for legal channels to immigrate for work, so as to avoid or resolve situations whereby migrants are in, or are at risk of falling into, an irregular situation.
  • Ratify and implement international and European treaties relevant for the protection of the rights of irregular migrants, including the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and the Revised European Social Charter and its collective complaints mechanism.
  • Train police officers, labour and immigration officials and basic service providers on the human rights of irregular migrants and victims of trafficking in human beings and exploitative work.
  • Inform irregular migrants about their rights and ensure full and equal access to justice for irregular migrants who are victims of exploitation and other human rights abuses by encouraging them to report this without resulting in their prosecution or expulsion.
  • Enable NGOs and trade unions to defend the basic social rights of irregular migrants, including before courts with the victims’ consent.
  • Ensure irregular migrants’ equal access to victim support and assistance mechanisms adapted to the needs of each individual and that are confidential and free of charge.
  • Never call migrants in an irregular situation “illegal migrants” as this would be inaccurate and harmful as stressed by the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) in its campaign “Words Matter!”, promoting alternative words to this expression in several European languages.

Background documents

  • European Committee of Social Rights, Collective Complaints Decisions on the merits:
    • Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 90/2013
    • European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 86/2012
    • Defence for Children International (DCI) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 47/2008
    • International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) v. France, Complaint No. 14/2003
  • Press Unit, Registry of the European Court of Human Rights: Factsheet on Trafficking in Human Beings
  • Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Website
  • Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Resolution 1509 (2006) on human rights of irregular migrants, 27 June 2006
  • Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Recommendation 1985 (2011) Undocumented migrant children in an irregular situation: a real cause for concern, 7 October 2011

A Black Hole in European History Prevents Full Understanding of the Present

© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

A couple of days ago, we commemorated the liquidation 71 years ago of the so-called “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On 2 August 1944, 2 897 persons were taken to the gas chambers and exterminated. Only a few months earlier, on 16 May 1944, the detainees of the “Gypsy camp” had refused to obey the orders of the SS soldiers who had come to kill them. Knowledge about both the Roma uprising and the liquidation of the “Gypsy camp” remains limited in European societies today.

A black hole in European history that prevents full understanding of the present

Knowledge of Roma history in Europe is crucial to understanding their current situation. Although many people I have encountered have views about Roma, few know anything about their history.  Most people do not know, for instance, that Roma were banned from the Holy Roman Empire in 1501 and, as of this date, could be caught and killed by any citizen. In France, Louis XIV decreed in 1666 that all Gypsy males should be sent for life to galleys without trial, that women should be sterilised and children put into poorhouses. In Spain, it was decided in 1749 to detain all Roma in an operation known as the “Great Gypsy Round-Up”. In part of what is now Romania (Wallachia and Moldova), Roma were enslaved between the 14th century and 1856. The Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresia imposed a fierce assimilation policy involving the removal of children from the care of their parents.

In more recent times, Roma and Yenish children were forcibly removed from their families in Switzerland, on grounds that their parents would not be able to educate them as good citizens. Similarly, it remains largely unknown in France that Roma who had been detained in camps on French territory during the Second World War were in some cases kept in detention in miserable conditions until the end of 1946, or that Roma survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were left without any support and deprived of nationality long after 1945.

The Roma “Pharrajimos” -the Roma Holocaust- carried out during the Second World War was a culmination of these policies of exclusion, elimination and forced assimilation. About 90% of the Roma population of some countries disappeared as a result of massacres and deportations to concentration camps. However, 70 years after the end of the Second World War, memory work regarding the fate of the Roma is still incomplete. In my report on the Czech Republic (2013) for example, I recalled that a pig farm is still present on the site of the former Lety labour camp, in which Roma were detained during the Second World War and then deported to Auschwitz.

It is also deeply worrying that some mainstream politicians, in a context of growing populism in Europe, have publicly allowed themselves to condone the Roma Holocaust. In addition to trivialising some of the most horrendous human rights violations of the past, such discourse strengthens and legitimises present-day anti-Roma racism.

Keeping in mind this tragic past helps to understand why some Roma may find it difficult to trust majority societies and public institutions today. One cannot disregard the heavy legacy of past practices of forced sterilisation, removal of children and ethnic profiling in current relations between Roma communities and the police or state administrations in general.

Ignorance of the past allows for the perpetuation of human rights violations

The forced sterilisation of Romani women has long been a practice in several countries, with eugenic rhetoric around a supposed “threat of Roma population growth” providing the bedrock for this gross human rights violation. Cases are still sporadically reported in the 21st century. Sweden and Norway have recently established commissions in order to investigate past abuses, including forced sterilisation, and to promote redress and reconciliation. The Czech government presented apologies to forced sterilisation victims in 2009. However, other countries have not yet acknowledged their responsibilities, provided adequate redress to victims or sanctioned those responsible for this human rights violation.

A certain continuity from past to present can also be discerned in relation to the removal of Roma children from their families, a long-standing practice aimed at eradicating Roma culture. While various countries have recognised that this was wrong, the number of Roma children placed in state care remains disproportionately high in many others. During my visits to Romania, Bulgaria and Norway, I found that Roma children often appear to be placed in care on grounds of the socio-economic situation of their family, a practice that is at variance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Moreover, Roma have in many countries been subjected to constant ethnic profiling by the police for alleged purposes of crime prevention, protection of health and safety or migration control. Since the Second World War, the practice of recording Roma in special files has had a particularly negative undertone for the Roma. However, it has often resurfaced. In Italy, for instance, a census of Roma living in camps for so-called “nomads”, which included the taking of fingerprints, was carried out in 2008.  In 2014, the keeping by the police in Southern Sweden of a file with the names of more than 4 000 Roma raised considerable alarm.  Ethnic profiling has also been used to impose undue freedom of movement restrictions on Roma, as highlighted in the Issue Paper I published in 2013 on the right to leave a country.  This document reports exit denials and passport confiscation practices targeting citizens of alleged Roma ethnic origin in some Western Balkan countries in order to prevent them from travelling abroad.

Long-standing practices of police control also have enduring consequences on the legal situation of Roma. During my visit to France, I expressed concerns about the fact that French Travellers were still subjected to exceptional legal arrangements and the obligation to carry an internal travel permit, as a consequence of policies dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. I welcome the ongoing process of legislative reform aimed at eliminating these travel permits and other discriminatory provisions. The persistence in several countries of statelessness among Roma communities also carries disturbing echoes of earlier bans depriving Roma of all rights.

Lastly, it is important to remember that the widespread policies of evictions, expulsions and segregation to which Roma are routinely subjected in many European countries are also a continuation of past policies aimed at getting rid of them or at keeping them under tight control. I raised these major human rights concerns in the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

The way forward

This history of exclusion and persecution of the Roma in Europe, but also their contribution to European history and culture, must be brought to light so as to replace age-old myths and deeply-rooted prejudices with a narrative grounded on sound knowledge and understanding of the past. It is not only a matter of respect and justice, but also an essential tool to combat growing anti-Gypsyism.

Important moves have been made by policy-makers in several member states: in 2015 the Norwegian Prime Minister offered an apology to the Oslo Roma for Second World War policies; and in May 2015, the French President honoured the memory of the Roma detainees of the Struthof concentration camp situated near Strasbourg. Memorials for Roma victims of the Second World War have been erected in various places.  Several German Länder have signed cooperation agreements with the Sinti and Roma community in which the Roma Holocaust is specifically mentioned. The Swiss Government offered apologies to victims who were forcibly placed as children and has recently expressed its readiness to provide them with reparation. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in April 2015 acknowledging “the historical fact of the genocide of Roma that took place during World War II” and proposed to recognise the 2nd of August as the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, a step already taken by some member states.

The truth and reconciliation commissions recently established in Sweden and Norway could show other countries the way forward for the recognition of historical crimes and help promote reconciliation between communities. The views of the Roma communities themselves on their own history should at long last be heard.

The Council of Europe has elaborated Factsheets on Roma history aimed at improving reflection of Roma history into the wider teaching of European history. They should be used more widely in the educational systems of member states.

The proposed establishment of a European Roma Institute could also contribute to making sure the past is not forgotten and increasing knowledge about history and culture.

As highlighted by Vaclav Havel, the late Czech President, in his 1995 speech at the ceremony of unveiling of a memorial to the Roma victims of the Lety camp, “this is not about a separate history of the Roma. This is the history of all the occupants of this territory, our shared history. It must be identified, understood, and then never forgotten.”

Useful links:

OSCE – Council of Europe website on teaching of the Roma and Sinti Holocaust

Factsheets on Roma history

Council of Europe’s Recommendation on “history teaching in twenty-first century Europe”

ECRI General Policy Recommendations No. 3: Combating racism and intolerance against Roma/Gypsies and No. 13: Combating anti-Gypsyism and racism against Roma.

Right to remember: CoE Handbook for education with young people of the Roma Genocide

LGBTI Children Have the Right to Safety and Equality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children are often victims of bullying and violence in schools, at home and via social media. This has a serious effect on their well-being and prevents openness about their personal identity. Like all children, LGBTI [i] children are entitled to enjoy human rights and require a safe environment in order to participate fully in society.

Responses to bullying

According to a survey carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), at least 60%  of LGBT respondents had personally experienced negative comments or conduct at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 80% had witnessed negative comments or conduct as a result of a schoolmate being perceived as LGBT. Given the frequency of negative behaviour directed at LGBT students, it is not surprising that the survey also found that two out of three LGBT children hid their LGBT identity while at school.

gay_childThis situation is unacceptable. It puts a heavy burden on LGBTI children, many of whom are at high risk of suicidal behaviour. According to an Irish study, over half of LGBT respondents aged 25 or younger had given serious consideration to ending their lives.

It is clear that bullying affects LGBTI children’s educational achievement and impedes their right to education without discrimination, in addition to their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

School should be a safe environment for all students. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that homophobic speech in educational settings is not protected by the European Convention’s guarantees of free expression. Confronting homophobic and transphobic intimidation requires continuous and focused attention from schools and educational authorities. UNESCO and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) have provided detailed guidance on effective responses. Ireland has introduced legal requirements and a mandatory policy for addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, along with a concrete action plan.

Right to information

Children have the right to receive factual information about sexuality and gender diversity. Anti-bullying efforts should be supported by education on equality, gender and sexuality. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education has highlighted children’s right to comprehensive sexual education without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is necessary to question stereotypes about gender and sexuality in schools. The European Committee of Social Rights has found a violation of the European Social Charter with reference to teaching materials which were “manifestly biased, discriminatory and demeaning, notably in how persons of non-heterosexual orientation are described and depicted”.

The protection of children is sometimes evoked as an argument to block the availability of information about LGBTI people to children. The Venice Commission has stressed that such arguments fail to pass the essential necessity and proportionality tests required by the European Court. There is no evidence that dissemination of information advocating a positive attitude towards LGBTI people would adversely affect children. Rather, it is in the best interests of children to be informed about sexuality and gender diversity.

Family and homelessness

Many LGBTI children experience prejudice and violence within their own families. The acceptance of LGBTI children is still difficult for many parents and other family members. The FRA survey found out that 35 per cent of young adults were not open about being LGBT within their family.  In Montenegro, I visited a shelter and a social centre for LGBTI persons where I met young people who had been rejected by their families and forced to leave their homes. The NGO running the facility was engaged in mediating between the families and LGBTI persons, and had achieved family reconciliation in some cases.

When they are forced to leave their families, young LGBTI people are at high risk of becoming homeless. Research from the UK suggests that up to 25% of homeless youth are LGBT. The current economic crisis makes it even harder for homeless young people to find a job and shelter. When LGBTI youth cannot rely on the support of their families, the result can be long-term marginalisation with a high cost to individual health and well-being. The Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK runs both temporary shelters and more permanent accommodation options for young LGBTI persons along with social and vocational support. Municipal and state-funded services for homeless people should also strive to welcome homeless LGBTI youth.

Right to self-determination

Trans and intersex children encounter specific obstacles when exercising their right to self-determination. As minors, trans adolescents can find it difficult to access trans-specific health and support services while intersex children are often subjected to irreversible “normalising” treatments soon after birth without their consent. The legal recognition of trans and intersex children’s sex or gender remains a huge hurdle in most countries. Children are rights-holders and they must be listened to in decision-making that concerns them. Sex or gender assigning treatment should be based on fully informed consent.

LGBTI children share many common problems. In their “Vision for 2020, trans and intersex youth in Finland gave high priority to the right to grow up in a safe environment, as well as the right to information. They also stressed “the right to a legally secured life as an equal member of society” and called for inclusive equal treatment legislation.

Empowerment and protection

This vision for the future should be today’s reality. Governments already have a duty to empower and protect LGBTI children. Respect for children’s views and the protection of the best interests of the child are clearly laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human rights apply equally to LGBTI children without discrimination.

LGBTI children should be able to exercise their participatory rights in all areas of life. Access to information is a basic condition enabling participation and decision-making. At the same time, LGBTI children must be protected from violence and bullying at home, in schools, on the internet, in sports and in public spaces. Child protection services, children’s ombudspersons and the police should make particular efforts to include LGBTI children in their outreach. Governments need to take systematic action to improve the safety and equality of LGBTI children.


[i] This Human Rights Comment is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children under 18 years of age. The acronym “LGBT” is used when reference is made to research which does not explicitly include intersex people.

America Sent the First Man to the Moon, but Can’t Track Police Killings

Protest_against_police_brutality

I started writing this article at a time when hundreds of people were taking to the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray. Of course, if I had written this article a few weeks before, I would have been writing at the time of the death of Walter Scott; two months previously, I would have been writing at the time of the shooting of the homeless man known as Africa or three months before that, the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice. I could go on.

In the United States, black men, women, boys, and girls are dying at the hands of the police every week. Let us not underestimate what is happening here; this is, as Dr. Randy Short described it, ‘incremental genocide.’This month, Chicago has become the first U.S. city to have to pay reparations to over 110 mostly African American men, who were tortured into confessions, between 1972 and 1991, by Jon Burge, a police lieutenant, and his subordinates.

We can call these tortures and these deaths whatever we want but what we cannot disagree on is that they are unjust, disproportionately affect a certain race and are predominantly ignored. Despite this blatant oppression and systematic abuse of people’s Human Rights, there are those who are still determined to deflect attention from it or justify it.

They are the people who shout louder about the rioting in Baltimore than they do about the decades of high-level homelessness and unemployment. They are the people who look for any trace of a criminal record on Mike Brown, as if somehow, an unrelated conviction justifies a heavy-handed death sentence. For some it is cognitive dissonance; for others it’s ignorance. Whatever the reason, the outcome is further oppression.

I have been writing for Social Work Helper for over a year now and greatly admire the hard work of the Founder and Editor Deona Hooper in highlighting the rampant racism that still exists in America. It has come to my attention, however, that many of the articles she posts on this topic receive a lot of negative attention from Social Workers who argue that advocating on this issue is not relevant to Social Work.

So what is the role of Social Workers in preventing these deaths and the racism that underpins them?

We know firsthand that the rioting in Baltimore and in Ferguson, and in London after the shooting of Mark Duggan, was a result, not only of poor police-community relations, but of huge societal inequalities. American and British Social Workers know that we live in two of the most unequal nations in the world, not because we read research articles that prove this, it’s because we live and breathe it with our Service Users every day. We sit with the homeless outside the multi-million dollar business head office; we take the young Mother shopping to show her how to make her $30 a week feed her whole family, whilst our politicians spend thousands of dollars on one meal.

As Social Workers, we see what poverty does. We see the corrosive, ubiquitous impact it has on society. Poverty is like a poison that seeps in to every aspect of a person’s life. It leads to the deterioration of physical health, mental health, our environments and our resilience. It leads to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Yet, two of the richest nations in the world allow a huge proportion of their population to live in poverty. As Nelson Mandela said “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice.” Children’s Social Workers, Mental Health Social Workers and Criminal Justice Social Workers, would have a much reduced strain on their resources if the underlying issue of poverty was addressed. Therefore, we must keep giving a voice to those living in poverty until the current structures are changed and equality is achieved.

We know that poverty is a man-made injustice in the USA and Britain. So, what does it say when statistics show that you are less likely to live in poverty if you were born with white skin? There is a complex, yet undeniable role that racism plays in poverty demographics.  In Britain, people from a Black or Minority Ethnic group are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be paid below the living wage and more likely to be discriminated against at work.

This is only the very tip of the iceberg of a plethora of unequal treatment that runs through healthcare, mental healthcare, legal aid and education. Sometimes the inequality and discrimination is obvious, sometimes it is not; but the inequality is everywhere. Put simply, we cannot address poverty without acknowledging racism and we cannot call ourselves affective Social Workers without tackling poverty.

Being an effective Social Worker isn’t about filling in your paperwork better or faster than everybody else, it is about identifying the areas in which the people you work with are discriminated against, disadvantaged and oppressed while fighting to remove those obstacles.

Deona does not profit or get paid from this magazine, yet she continues to run an online international magazine which has over 80,000 followers on Facebook alone. When I asked her what motivates her to advocate nationally on issues of racism, she said: “I do it because I care… I feel that if I don’t stand on this issue important to my community in the Social Work world none of the other Social Work platforms located in the U.S. will.”

As a perfect example of the innate racism I have just described, Deona receives an enormous backlash for her selfless and important work. The Social Work Helper Facebook page was purposefully trolled by conservative Social Workers who all gave it one star ratings in an effort to drive the ratings down for the page. Eventually, Deona removed the Facebook ratings feature to prevent this type of nuisance. This is an effective tactic for companies and product pages to motivate change. However, Deona explained that Social Work Helper is free information and resources that people can choose to use or not use.

Apart from the actions of the conservative Social Workers being petty and hateful on a personal level, they are in fact part of the wider problem. If you silence oppression, you yourself are an oppressor. As a woman, I know what it is to have an invisible war waged against you. When people laugh at the fact your colleague makes sexist jokes at your expense, you’re told to take it as a joke; be quiet; stop complaining. As a result, those who did not even tell the joke – or pull the trigger on the innocent black man – provide the perfect environment for the oppression to continue unchallenged.

This is not an issue of black people versus white people. It’s an issue of those who recognize that racism affects us all versus those who don’t. Racism means we don’t get the best Teachers or Scientists because they were locked out of education from an early age due to their race. It means more crime and social problems for everyone. When I talk about race, as a white woman, it’s often deemed irrelevant. What does she know, she’s white? My family and loved ones are black. Racism affects me too.

What if the best Doctor in the world, who could save my Mum from a life-threatening illness, was shot dead at 15 by a Police Officer because he was black? Regardless of that person’s potential, treating another human being differently because of the way they were born is very simply wrong. Racism makes the world a poorer place, and we all feel that.

We all have to take responsibility for racism. The onus to solve this enormous problem cannot be on those who are victims of racism, much in the same way that we wouldn’t expect the victims of Domestic Violence to solve the issue of Domestic Violence. Dialogue is better than monologue and articles, such as the ones posted on Social Work Helper, are an ideal platform to start that dialogue.

If you are reading this, as one of the Social Workers who has stated that racism is not the cause to the rioting in Baltimore, or Ferguson, then you are, either through choice or ignorance, ignoring the facts. If you truly believe racism doesn’t exist, the very most that means, is that you haven’t opened your eyes to it. You are the reporters who insisted that the nooses hanging from the tree at Jena High School, after six young black boys sat under it, were a rodeo joke and nothing to do with the legacy of lynchings.

You may not want to talk about racism, but when you don’t, the result is the rioting we are seeing in Baltimore today. It is the rioting we saw in London in 2011 and it is the rioting we will see again next month.

The Ferguson police force were proved, beyond reasonable doubt, to have racist views. When a white man with racist views, kills an innocent black man through fears of the black stereotype, that is a racist killing. The rule appears to be, that if you are in Police uniform when you kill someone, it is not only justifiable to wrongfully kill someone, but to some degree, it was the victim’s fault and the black community’s fault.

I have three nephews, aged ten and below, who are of African descent. By Police standards, they would be considered to be black. I am thankful everyday that they are being raised in England and not the U.S.A. And whilst England too is plagued by racism throughout the criminal justice system, I can rest easy knowing that summary executions of young black men by the Police are the exception here, rather than the rule. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish parents of black children feel every day across the U.S.A. knowing that regardless of that fact their son has never committed a crime, he one day may not come home because he refused to stop for a police officer.

Aside from the economic racism, there is a potent institutional racism within our Police forces that I have written about countless times before. In England, Sir David McNee, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, defending the actions of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), said to a black journalist “I understand the concern of your people. But if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourselves you won’t have the SPG to worry about.”

In 2003, Las Vegas Police Officer Brian Hartman shot and killed unarmed Orlando Barlow in the back, as he was on his knees and attempting to surrender. Hartman and the other officers in his unit celebrated the shooting by printing up t-shirts depicting Hartman’s rifle and the initials B.D.R.T. (Baby Daddy Removal Team), a racially charged term and reference to Barlow. The country that sent a man to the moon, decades ago, has admitted that it can’t keep track of the number of people killed by police officers. In a country such as America, this should be a very simple statistic to acquire.

You stay quiet about all this if you really want, but don’t call yourself a Social Worker. Don’t ever silence others who are courageous enough and determined enough to say what needs to be screamed from the top of all of our lungs.

When it comes to racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression, you can continue to tell us to sit down and shut up, if you really want, but we won’t ever be quiet. I can guarantee that it is you that will be on the wrong side of history.

Congresswoman Lee Leads Effort Urging President Obama to Ban the Box

maddox-with-sign28229

Washington, D.C.- More than 70 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, sent a letter to President Obama to adopt a federal fair chance hiring policy. This effort was co-led by Congressman Conyers, Congressman Scott, Congressman Davis, and Congresswoman Jackson Lee.

The federal government should not be in the business of erecting barriers between those who have made a mistake and are looking a job, said Congresswoman Lee. By enacting these basic fair chance hiring reforms, the federal government will continue to lead as a model employer while working to end the cycle of mass incarceration, unemployment and recidivism.

The effort was supported by various groups including Policy Link, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Employment Law Project (NELP), PICO Networks LIVE FREE Campaign, and All Of Us Or None, a national organizing initiative founded by formerly-incarcerated individuals to fight against discrimination and for the human rights of prisoners.

It’s rewarding to witness the work started in our backyard reach national levels, and continue to dismantle the barriers facing formerly incarcerated communities, said co-founding member, Dorsey Nunn, of All Of Us Or None. This effort could not have come at a better time to reflect that all Black Lives Matter, including the lives of people with arrest and conviction histories.

The letter calls on President Obama to take executive action requiring that federal contractors and agencies refrain from inquiring about an applicants criminal record in the initial stage of hiring. Employers would be able to inquire about convictions and conduct background checks before making an employment decision.

The letter reads: We urge you to build on your administration’s commitment to adopting fair change hiring reforms by committing the federal government to do its part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

Specifically, the letter notes that seventeen states, the District of Columbia and more than 100 cities and counties have already adopted fair chance hiring reforms.  In six states, the policy also expands to the private sector. Several private sector firms have also independently adopted fair chance hiring policies including: Walmart, Koch Industries, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

There are more than 70 million Americans with criminal records and communities of color are disproportionately affected. One in three African-American men will be arrested during their lifetime.

4x6-type-13d-front-2

Banning the box in federal hiring would help those who are fighting for a fair opportunity to show their qualifications for employment.  This is the right thing to do for individuals seeking to provide for themselves and their families, and it is the smart thing to do for our national economy which sorely needs the talents and contributions of all of our citizens, said Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The EEOC has ruled that discrimination based on prior convictions without an individualized assessment of the relevance to job performance constitutes illegal employment discrimination, said Rep. Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Fair Chance practices, also known as ban the box, are consistent with that EEOC guidance.  Studies have consistently shown  that properly tailoring employment restrictions will help to increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and save money.

The cruel, relentless logic of mass incarceration has now become apparent to all.  One in four Americans has a conviction history which often excludes them from the workforce and from housing creating new layers of crisis for our communities, said Congressman Danny Davis (IL-07). Ban the box is a critical step for formerly incarcerated individuals to a dignified, productive civilian life and helping families and communities become self-sustaining once again.

Almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check. This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization, said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).

Nationwide, 100 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as ban the box so that employers consider a job candidates qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring. Fair chance policies benefit everyone because they are good for families and the local community.

The letter can be found here.

Police Abuse: A Serious Threat to the Rule of Law

Far too often, police officers in many European countries resort to excessive use of force against protesters, mistreat persons in detention, target minorities and otherwise engage in misconduct. This undermines public trust in the state, social cohesion, and effective law enforcement, which rests on cooperation between police and local communities.

It is difficult to ascertain whether police misconduct has become more common in some countries or whether the problem has become more visible and recognised. Clearly, demonstrations have become more commonplace in Europe, generating new challenges for law enforcement. Moreover, European societies have become more diverse and police forces have sometimes been slow to adapt. In other cases, political elites share much of the blame, as they have given the green light for bad policing through direct orders or rhetoric stigmatising certain groups.

A multifaceted phenomenon

In recent months, Europe has witnessed several glaring instances in which policing of demonstrations has gone beyond what is legally and ethically acceptable. In Ukraine, excessive use of force by police against peaceful demonstrators in late November 2013 fueled a massive growth in protests, which have since resulted in a growing number of deaths among both protestors and police.

After interviewing numerous victims and examining many medical records, I detected a clear pattern of targeting the head and face, which is completely unnecessary and disproportionate. In the context of the 2013 Gezi events in Turkey, I received numerous and particularly serious allegations of excessive use of force by the police, including excessive and improper use of tear gas and the use of gas canisters as projectiles. In both Ukraine and Turkey, police repeatedly targeted both journalists and medical personnel, who could be clearly identified by their clothing.

The excessive use of force during demonstrations and/or apprehensions is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Other forms of police misconduct occur out of the sight of the general public.

The treatment of persons while in police detention is a case in point. Ill-treatment, sometimes lethal, occurs in several European states, as documented by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). This treatment mostly takes the form of slaps, punches and kicks as well as blows with hard objects (such as baseball bats) to various parts of the body. The CPT has noted that the allegations concerning police violence tends to relate mostly to ill-treatment inflicted at the time of questioning with a view to obtaining a confession or extracting information.

I have been particularly concerned by the practice of police custody in Spain, where the incommunicado detention by the Guardia Civil (the national police) is a long-standing problematic practice, as noted in my 2013 report on Spain, which has led to serious human rights violations found by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Committee against Torture.

Another serious form of police misconduct is violence targeting minorities, in particular Roma, and migrants. In Greece, for instance, regular threats and racially motivated ill-treatment of migrants and Roma by members of the police and coast guard have been reported. Institutionalised racism also plays a major role in ethnic profiling resulting in abusive stops and searches targeting minorities and migrants. In a recent report on France, the Open Society Justice Initiative highlighted the very negative impact of this practice on “entire sectors of the population [who] are left feeling that no matter what they do, they will always be second-class citizens”.

There is a need to eradicate impunity

It is a fundamental duty of European states to combat impunity for human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials so that victims receive justice, future misconduct by law enforcement officials is deterred and public trust in and co-operation with law enforcement can be strengthened.

It is of utmost importance that all allegations of police misconduct are effectively investigated so as to lead to the identification and punishment of those responsible, as required by the well-established case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, there is a need to impose dissuasive penalties on offenders involved in serious human rights violations, in line with the Committee of Ministers’ Guidelines on eradicating impunity for serious human rights violations.

Regrettably, many investigations of human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials are ineffective, as it is often members of the same force who are investigating into actions of their colleagues and there is sometimes a “code of silence” about protecting one’s own. The creation of independent police complaints mechanisms, which exist in United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, could be one of the solutions to this problem. Other options include empowering national ombudsmen to investigate complaints about law enforcement forces.

Political leaders also bear an important part of responsibility. As the organisation of law enforcement is hierarchical, the discourse and attitudes of politicians, particularly ministers of interior, are rarely ignored by rank-and-file officials. It is extremely damaging to public trust in state institutions when law enforcement officials convicted of misconduct involving ill-treatment are pardoned or receive inadequate sanctions. Political leaders should instil the clear message that responsibility for ill-treatment extends beyond the actual perpetrators to anyone who knows, or should know, that ill-treatment is occurring and fails to prevent or report it.

Strengthening safeguards and restoring trust

States should develop clear guidelines concerning the proportionate use of force by police, including the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and firearms in the context of demonstrations, in line with international standards.

In addition, practical and easily adoptable measures should be taken, such as the obligation for riot police officers to display identification numbers in a way which makes them visible from a distance and are brief enough that people can memorise and use them to report abuses.

Furthermore, in the selection, recruitment and promotion of police, special attention should be paid to reports of past misconduct, racist attitudes, and the ability of individuals to withstand stressful situations. The recruitment of officers among minority groups would also help reduce the risk of racially motivated violence and contribute to make the police more representative of society’s diversity. In this context, continuous, systematic human rights training as well as the adoption and implementation of the 2001 European Code of Police Ethics, are essential.

Police misconduct is a long-standing matter of concern, but is not inevitable. Effective means to combat this phenomenon exist and must be used by states. This is an essential requirement for restoring the public’s trust in state authority and safeguarding human rights and the rule of law.

A Boy or A Girl or A Person: the Lack of Recognition for Intersex People

intersex

Not surprisingly, Fox News presenter Clayton Morris had to apologise for his ‘ignorant and stupid’ comments mocking the new gender options for Facebook profiles which allow users to register as intersex. The TV presenter ridiculed the move of the social media company referring to intersex by saying “whatever that is”. This case illustrates the prejudice and ignorance surrounding the reality of individuals who cannot be clearly classified as male or female at birth. Most countries worldwide still neglect this human rights problem and intersex people remain invisible to the majority.

The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia of 17 May also aims to highlight the struggle against the discrimination and prejudice suffered by intersex people. The word “intersex” has replaced “hermaphrodite”, which was widely used by medical practitioners during the 18th and 19th centuries. The social expectations for either a girl or a boy at birth, or a woman or a man in society, are the source of the problems intersex people face. Society does not usually recognise a person without reference to their sex. Yet intersex individuals’ chromosomal, anatomical or gonadal characteristics do not belong exclusively to either sex. This is why intersex persons encounter huge barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights.

Surgeries without consent

The situation of intersex persons is not well known. Recent research has demonstrated that the parents of intersex babies are often ill-informed and baffled. Medical professionals may be quick to propose “corrective” surgeries and treatments aiming to “normalise” the sex of the child. Such surgeries, which are cosmetic rather than medically necessary, are often performed on intersex babies and toddlers. This can result in irreversible sex assignment and sterilisation performed without the fully informed consent of the parents and, even more importantly, without the consent of intersex persons themselves.

“Corrective” operations and treatment are usually traumatising and humiliating. They can take a long time and post-operative complications are common. There are long-term effects on intersex individuals’ mental health and well-being. The sex assigned to children at an early age may not correspond with their identity and feelings later on.

In addition, medical services are rarely transparent about the statistics of operations performed on intersex individuals and even the people treated experience difficulties in accessing their own medical records, as pointed out in a study published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation last year.

Rights to self-determination and physical integrity

The early “normalising” treatments do not respect intersex persons’ rights to self-determination and physical integrity. Intersex babies and younger children are not in a position to give their consent. The proxy consent given by parents may not be free and fully informed and can hardly take into account the best interests of the child in the long-run.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, has called on all states to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalising surgery, when carried out without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. Intersex individuals’ choice not to undergo sex assignment treatment must be respected.

When operations are not necessary on medical grounds, they should only take place at an age when intersex persons can give their consent and participate actively in decisions about treatment and sex assignment. This position has been advocated by the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics which acknowledged the past suffering of intersex persons in November 2012 and called for an end to surgery for sociocultural reasons.

Information and support

Intersex children, their parents and families need adequate counselling and support, as highlighted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. Civil society advocates of intersex people should be able to participate in the provision of information and services to intersex families in addition to medical and social professionals. There is also a need to improve training about intersex issues and their human rights implications among health and social services.

Legal recognition

Birth certificates and many other official documents almost always require the identification of the sex of the individual concerned. It is usually impossible to differentiate the official recognition of the person from the definition of that individual’s sex. Therefore a person without a clearly identifiable sex can easily fall into a limbo of unrecognised personal status without official documentation.

Since November 2013 in Germany, it has been possible to choose “blank” in addition to “female” and “male” on birth certificates. Therefore it is no longer necessary to identify the sex of children at birth. The practical consequences of this legal change remain to be seen and it is not yet possible to exercise similar choices when issuing identity cards and passports.

Raise awareness and review legislation

There is a need to raise awareness of and collect more data on the situation of intersex persons in society and the discrimination and prejudice they encounter in daily life also as adults. The reform of the Sex Discrimination Act in Australia last year introduced the ground of “intersex status” among other prohibited grounds of discrimination. This is a powerful tool to foster the equality of intersex people.

I urge governments in Europe to review their current legislation and medical practices to identify gaps in the protection of intersex people and take measures to address the problems. Policy makers should involve civil society advocates of intersex persons such as the OII Europe and ILGA-Europe in these efforts. The enjoyment of human rights is universal and it cannot depend on the sex of the person. Intersex individuals must be granted full legal recognition from birth and amendments to their sex or gender classification should be facilitated to reflect their individual choices.

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armenian-Turkish Reconnections and Human Rights

Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument in Yerevan
Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument in Yerevan

History continues to divide Armenian and Turkish officialdom, but there are many civil society, cultural and academic initiatives aiming to reconnect the two societies. April 24 marks the centennial of the beginning of the mass killings, deportations and dispossession of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, which resulted in the near-total elimination of Armenians from Anatolia. These massive human rights violations and their painful legacy left a major rift between two societies, which has crystallised around the issue of their political and legal designation as genocide. However, it is heartening to see that today many people are seeking to overcome this difficult legacy and to promote mutual understanding, reconciliation and the reconstruction of a shared history, demonstrating a true human rights ethos.

The Emergence of a Thaw

Discussion in Turkey of what was sometimes euphemistically called the “1915 Events” was long taboo or even subject to criminal prosecution under the offense of “insulting Turkishness”. In recent years, prosecutions under this article have become more infrequent and a space for discussion has emerged. This space has been created by a number of concurrent developments, particularly increased contacts between Turks and Armenians and domestic Turkish political and cultural evolution.

Though the land border remains closed, nationals of both countries have enjoyed relatively free travel to the neighbouring country.  As a result, the number of Armenian nationals entering Turkey increased from less than 5,500 in 2000 to more than 73,000 in 2013. In 2011 the Turkish authorities even granted special permission for migrant children of Armenian nationality to attend the schools of the Turkish Armenian minority. While many Armenians seek informal work in the Turkish economy, others (from both Armenia and the diaspora) have increasingly travelled to Turkey to reconnect with their roots by visiting their ancestors’ places of origin and the descendants of family members who stayed during and after World War I.

At the same time, the debate within Turkey about the past has evolved considerably. While an academic conference in Istanbul was a watershed in 2005, since then, a plethora of scholarly work about the Armenian legacy in Turkey has been published. A turning point in the Turkish debate appeared to come with the tragic assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, which led to further calls for a reassessment of the past, more open public discussion and a more compassionate tone of discourse. In a sign of this new tone, intellectuals in Turkey organised a petition campaign in 2008, in which thousands signed an apology to Armenians for the “Great Catastrophe”.

Recent Civil Society Initiatives

In recent years, a host of civil society initiatives have been implemented, suggesting that people-to-people diplomacy has far outstripped official relations, which remain deadlocked. Starting in 2009, the Hrant Dink Foundation in Turkey began to organise journalistic exchanges to foster better coverage of issues affecting the neighbouring country. On the Armenian side, early initiatives sought to document, acknowledge and publicise the role of “righteous Turks” who saved the lives of Armenians.

In early 2014 a consortium of 8 NGOs from Turkey and Armenia launched a programme entitled “Support to the Armenia-Turkey normalisation process” with support from the European Union. The programme includes exchanges and study visits of journalists, artists and environmental activists, summer schools for teachers, oral history projects, exhibitions, support for a joint Turkish-Armenian youth orchestra, and academic talks. The private sector is also seeking to foster business ties, which now take place primarily in a circuitous manner via Georgia or Iran, and to promote bilateral economic partnerships.

These are encouraging steps which, if continued, could form the basis for effectively dealing with a painful past and addressing the legacy of 1915. They have already contributed to an evolution within Turkish society, from opposing the suffering of the ancestors of the majority population during the fall of the Ottoman Empire against that of the Armenians, towards an acknowledgement of the suffering of the other side and its integration into the collective consciousness. Dealing with the past requires empathy and mutual understanding, and these initiatives are precisely furthering that aim.  This could then in turn serve as a basis for an evolution of the position of the national authorities.  The latter should refrain from impeding or seeking to gain political advantage from such initiatives and seek to support those actors aiming at seeking the truth and fostering contacts and understanding.

A Human Rights Framework?

The deportation and massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman authorities was a massive violation of human rights. The first rule of international human rights might be summarised as “no impunity for perpetrators.” However, since the tragedy took place 100 years ago, the perpetrators are no longer among the living and cannot be held to account. One indicator of progress in dealing with the past in Turkey will be the evolution of the official stance towards these past human rights violations. By official stance, I mean not only political statements by Turkey’s leaders, but also the institutional stance as reflected notably in officially approved school history textbooks, state-funded museum exhibitions and other cultural output. Are perpetrators condemned and crimes acknowledged? Or are they ignored, downplayed, justified, or even glorified?

A second element of a human rights approach might be summarised as “address the needs of victims and their families.”  While few survivors are still with us after 100 years, many of their descendants also suffered from what happened. A human rights approach foresees various ways to provide redress and reparation to victims of human rights violations.  One of these ways is the recognition of the tragedy through commemorative dates, rituals and monuments.  There have been instances where property was returned to Armenians in Turkey and some parts of the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey have been rehabilitated, such as the Surp Giragos church in Diyarbakir and the Surp Khach church on Akdamar Island. The significance of these initiatives, including for Turkish society, should not be underestimated. Recently, the Van municipal council also restored Armenian (and Kurdish) toponyms. However, much more could be done in this area.

Commemorations and Solidarity

In Armenia, the centennial will be marked on April 24 with solemn ceremonies and a major international conference on genocide. Twice during recent visits I paid homage to the victims at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument in Yerevan. As the centennial approaches, my thoughts and solidarity are again with the victims and their descendants, but also with the civil society activists, scholars, journalists and artists from both Armenia and Turkey who are seeking to promote mutual understanding and foster an honest reckoning with a heavy historical legacy.

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

edinburgh1-1200x458-1200x458

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFSW

U.S. Will Soon Stand Alone in Failing to Ratify Rights for Children with the United Nations

In recent news, Somalia became the 195th country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights document in history and was officially adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1989.

l-61-Hands-with-unicef-logoThis landmark treaty includes the promises of civil, political, social, economic, cultural rights and freedoms, including the right to health and healthcare, education, leisure and cultural activities, and numerous special protection measures for children.

When a country ratifies a UN convention like the CRC, it can be held accountable by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to its terms.  Countries then use the treaty as a measure to assess and also improve its policies and programs to better support children and their families.

To date, there are just two UN member nations who have not yet ratified the CRC – South Sudan and the United States of America.  It should be noted, however, that South Sudan only became an independent country and joined the UN less than five years ago and it has since passed a bill to move toward ratification.

While the United States was one of the primary contributors toward drafting this document, it has never made efforts toward ratifying it.  Soon, the United States will be the only UN member country who has not ratified this child and family focused human rights treaty.  The only one! Years ago while campaigning, President Obama said this was embarrassing and that he would review this, but there’s been no momentum toward doing so.

Why should we care?

The U.S. is a world leader and what we do affects other countries.  Ratifying the CRC would send a strong message across the globe that children’s rights should be primary.  Also, how can we promote children’s rights in other countries when we have not yet made this commitment?

This documents clearly enumerates the many human rights specifically relevant and meaningful to children.  At a national level, ratification of the CRC can be used to help strengthen families’ and children’s human rights within our own country.

Using just one example from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24 of the treaty recognizes:

“the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” “to diminish infant and child mortality; to combat disease and malnutrition,” through the provision of adequate nutritious foods,” “taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;” “to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;” “to have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, to develop preventative health care…”

This article refers to a basic foundation required for children to be raised in an environment that protects their dignity and supports their physical, mental and emotional growth and potential.  Yet, from birth, the United States violates children’s human rights and fails its children and their families.

Research shows that infant mortality rate (IMR) is valid indicator of the overall health of a nation.  According to a CDC report, the United States ranked behind 25 other countries in IMR; this, despite the fact that we spend more money per person than any other country on healthcare costs.

Sadly, we do lead the world in many things that violate the human rights of our children, such as:

  • Production of GMO crops and relatedly,
  • Exposure to Glyphosate (the world’s #1 pesticide/herbicide)
  • Global Warming Contributions
  • Youth Offenders Servings Life Sentences Without the Possibility of Parole
  • Relative Child Poverty Rates Among Economically Advanced Countries

It’s time for us to rethink the United States’ record on human rights, especially when it comes to children and families.  Establishing a commitment to the ratification of the CRC would be a step toward doing so.  We must remember that the articles within the CRC layout “human rights,” not needs or wants or ideals.  Using a rights-based perspective is a more powerful way to engage individuals, groups, communities, and even governments to increase accountability and force change.  A human-rights approach empowers children, parents, families, and communities to better understand, advocate, and demand their rights be realized.

You can join the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC and the sign its petition asking President Obama to send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

NASW is Failing LGBT Americans

121019024740-lgbt-survey-story-top

The year 2014 was filled with significant momentum towards a more equal nation for individuals identifying as LGBT. After dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, marriage equality became the law in 19 additional states. In a matter of months, more states ushered in marriage equality than in the entire history of the nation. By the end of 2014, a total of 35 states and the District of Columbia were all allowing same-sex individuals to marry the partner they love.

The momentum for change was welcomed by President Obama and the Administration, who changed policies and enacted protections to ensure that married same-sex couples could file taxes jointly, receive Social Security and Veteran’s Administration benefits from their spouse, and take advantage of the nearly 1,200 federal protections and benefits of marriage. The President also issued an Executive Order protecting all 14 million federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With this new law, the President advanced the most significant protections for LGBT individuals in the history of our nation. To help craft these protections, the President worked hand-in-hand with major civil rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others. Groups advocating on behalf of LGBT Americans were offered an unprecedented seat at the table, helping to shape significant civil rights protections for millions of Americans. Noticeably absent from these efforts was the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The NASW is the national organization that represents the profession of social work, a profession founded on the core mission of advancing social justice and ending discrimination. Embedded throughout the NASW’s Code of Ethics is a clearly outlined ethical responsibility for all social workers to actively engage in social change efforts. In fact, the first two guiding ethical principles of the profession are to “help people in need and to address social problems” and to “challenge social injustice.” But is the NASW practicing what they preach? Have they been on the forefront by fighting for rights of LGBT individuals? Have they led the public discourse on the matter? Have they rallied social workers together to fight for advancement of LGBT rights?

Not in the least. In my opinion, they’ve done something much worse: they’ve remained silent. With all of the advancements in the rights of LGBT individuals last year, there were no statements released by NASW commending any of them. I combed every Facebook post made by NASW in 2014, not a single one of them pertained to LGBT Americans. When I asked the Florida chapter to release a statement on the state becoming the latest to allow same-sex marriages, I was directed to this statement by NASW released 11 years ago. An 11 year old statement is what we call advocacy? Is this how our profession fights for the rights of all people? While the President was passing the first and only anti-discrimination law in our nation’s history, the NASW called out of work. While countless federal courts struck down discriminatory bans on gay rights, NASW was taking a vacation. When asked to release a statement, NASW was on lunch break.

My point in writing this article is simple: it’s time for NASW to get back to work. Social injustices continue to be common place for individuals identifying as LGBT. Opponents continue to fight for laws aimed at disenfranchising and discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The rights of individuals and the advancement of our society depend on the hard work and relentless voices of strong advocates. There is no reason NASW couldn’t be the strongest social advocacy organization in the nation, if it so chose.

Equal rights for LGBT Americans can and will be achieved in my lifetime. As a social worker, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all individuals as part of my core commitment to the profession. The question is: will NASW be joining me?

NASW Florida released the following statement on Facebook: “NASW-FL congratulates the couples getting married today as we celebrate Florida becoming the 36th state to achieve marriage equality!”

*Update:

Valarie Arendt, member of NASW-NC, posted a response on Facebook stating,

This is 100% not true. NASW has published 9 articles in 2014 alone on LGBTQ issues and the importance of social work support for this community. Just because NASW didn’t use Facebook to communicate their efforts doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The author of this article should have done his research before making such claims.

Valerie, thank you for your comment. I did review the website that you linked to in your comment prior to writing the article. The website lists 2 resources for the year 2014 (“Paying an Unfair Price ” and “A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming”). The first article was “sponsored by NASW” and the later is a document from SAMHSA that was “endorsed by NASW”. If you can send me a link with the 9 articles released in 2014 I will review them and edit my article if needed. I spent quite a bit of time on NASW’s website researching this issue.

The main take-away from my article is not that NASW has never broached LGBT issues, it’s their deafening silence and failure to rally social workers into action when the issue reached a critical turning point over the last year. That’s why I combed their Facebook posts and press releases for the last year. I was looking for statements of support for LGBT advancements, statements condoning discriminatory policies, or calls to action for the social work community. None of which happened.

Endorsing articles is great, but my article is saying that they aren’t doing enough to advocate and promote social change for the LGBT population. In contrast, the APA was constantly engaging their professional community and actively seeking opportunities to advance social justice for the LGBT population. They also don’t hide their many resources on an obscure part of their website. They embrace the work they’re doing with the LGBT populations. Social workers are agents of change.

Editor’s note: The National Association of Social Workers has a national office with chapters in each state as well as US Territories. There have been several amicus briefs (friend of the court filings) on behalf of same sex individuals in various states.

Peace And Love Movement Brings Awareness to Foster Care Normalcy Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Social Justice Challenges to Teachers

As the new school year is underway, I just wanted to take a moment to urge teachers to think about how social justice issues impact their classrooms. I’ve listed 5 social justice challenges to teachers below to encourage us to think about how we interact, teach and organize our classrooms to promote equity and justice.

sjToo often, and especially at the beginning of a school year, I see teachers becoming concerned about having the “right” posters on the wall or trying to become an expert at the latest “technological innovation” in teaching. As great as technology can be in a classroom, teaching and learning is about human interaction. At the heart of that interaction can be a shared commitment to learning through a social justice framework.

Here are my five social justice challenges to teachers:

  1. Create a safe and equitable classroom for LGBTQ students. If we want to create an inclusive classroom where students care for each other, we must instill a culture that embraces all students in the classroom. Here is a resource to help  http://glsen.org/educate/resources/back-school-guide-educators
  2. Learn about how colonialism impacts teaching and education. If you’re a teacher in Canada then you must be aware that colonialism is not just a thing of the past, but a process that continues to this day. Many of us teachers are settlers on Indigenous lands and must understand that we have a role to play in the decolonization process. Check this out-http://blogs.ubc.ca/edst591/files/2012/03/Decolonizing_Pedagogies_Booklet.pdf

  3. Do not be afraid to talk about race with your students. Despite what many mainstream commentators are saying, we do not live in a “post-racial society”. Canada is not immune to racial inequality. I urge you to learn about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as how the issues in Ferguson, Missouri highlight racial inequality.

  4. Understand how poverty can impact your students lives. Often times, we blame individual students for their behaviours without looking at the context of the environments that they live in. Poverty has a an immense impact on a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom. As teachers, we see this first hand. When we signed up to become teachers, we also signed up to advocate for our students. Get involved in your community and ask how you can be a part of the solution to create the social change to eliminate poverty.

  5. Don’t hesitate to take on controversial issues in the classroom. A great example is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Students must use their classroom experiences to make sense of the world they live in. If we do not prepare them to engage in the task of understanding the world, then we do them a great disservice. Below is a short and good video to help kick off a discussion about Israel and Palestine.

I could add many more challenges to this list, but I think these are 5 good places to start. Obviously, you can tailor these challenges to the appropriate grade level and learning needs of your students. If you approach these challenges with authenticity and a willingness to learn, then you just may find that you’ve opened a door to new possibilities about the purpose of your role as a teacher. It definitely did for me, I hope it does for you.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y58njT2oXfE[/youtube]

After #Ferguson: Taking a Stand in Governance

olderwomanwrappedinflag2

In the wake of #Ferguson, we can all agree that something needs to be done. I think we can all agree that we need to stand in a way we haven’t for many years. We need to take responsibility for what is going on in our communities. We need to do better and there are ideas as to how to do this.

According to a recent article in The Root, it argues that “Black America Needs Its Own President”, and I wholeheartedly disagree. For years, we had something akin to this in the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but then we are still having the same conversations. We are still reactive and not largely proactive. We are still asking for the same things and making the same demands.

We don’t need our own president what we need is to take responsibilities for ourselves and form a coalition to directly address behaviour, policies and practices that are detrimental to the way we are viewed globally and treated locally. They need to be able to directly and assertively lobby for changes that obliterate racial disparities.

We need to develop a caucus that goes into our communities where there are issues and organize strategic action that doesn’t include violence or destroying our own communities. We are a people of immense and immeasureable talent and potential. We need representative voices that are not only saying something new but are about real action – strategic and targeted that would uplift and empower our communities.

Having one person we look to when things go wrong isn’t the answer. We are a diverse people living in diverse communities all over the country. If we had a caucus where individual leaders from Black communities could come together we can start having the conversations that lead to action plans. We need to address our economic needs and start to build community wealth so we are in a position to help each other instead of relying on others.

There is no reason our community shouldn’t be as prosperous as others. It isn’t about amassing wealth as much as it about being able to help our own through crisis. So many have been doing it for so long, meanwhile we are still waiting for our 40 acres. I can’t stand people who continue to perpetuate a myth. We are the only people who rely on our oppressors for progress. Are we serious? This is why we have made progress but have not become leaders and drivers of changes in our communities.

I agree that there needs to be a Black presence to represent our interests but it does not need to come in the form of one person who is on the media stage. It would be more empowering to go into communities and help develop local leaders who can then come to the table to represent their communities.

The problems individual communities face are problems our community faces on the whole. There are those who still see our problems as the problem of “Black Americans”, having amassed their own wealth through hard work and dedication and I believe this is what is needed. But we also need to realise that the resources to achieve this are not readily available to everyone and there are communities that are systematically disenfranchised and would benefit from assistance and motivation from their peers in order to see and experience success. We need to help each other out of the trenches and onto the the path of prosperity.

There is no reason for us to rely on others to take us out of the shadows; we have everything we need within. It is about having the conversations (new one because quite frankly, there have been apologies for slavery, we need to stop expecting our oppressors to help us progress – i.e. move away from the fairy tale of our 40 acres and a mule, and we need to wholly understand the impact of racism ourselves) that will lead to strategic plans to impact the world around us so it will change in favor of us.

A coalition of communities leaders could do this. Yes they will come with their own agendas and understandably, so they come from varied communities. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there are some issues that are pervasive and need to be addressed. We can balance the two, addressing issues of the Black community as a whole while helping individual communities develop.

To be more specific I think the remit of a caucus or a coalition could be:

  • making “community call outs” on any prominent figures – local, nationally, or internationally – who are doing or saying things that are counterproductive to change, prosperity and progression.
  • manage image of the Black community in the media
  • manage community issues before they become national statistics and fodder for stereotyping
  • sending consultants to communities to help in times of crisis (public relations, organizing, creating strategic actions plans for change led by local leaders)
  • sending consultants to communities where leaders appeal to the caucus for assistance
  • training of local community on change management, building community resources, and training local “champions” to manage local political processes
  • aiding in ensuring there is equal political representation and policing in communities where Black people dominate the population (to start)
  • re establishing town hall meetings as a means of addressing local issues and manage them independently
  • building of funds to fund community interventions
  • financial drives: possibly local drives to address their own issues
  • national drives: appeals to organizations and representation for national crisis fund

We have all the talent and ability to unite and do better. Having a national voice is part of it but listening to local voices is the bulk of it. Let’s build on what we have to increase what we have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Milwaukee Community Journal

Letter to the Editor: A Social Worker’s Thoughts on the Killing of Michael Brown

This is a Letter to the Editor that I received from a member of the social work community. Although I disagree with the opinion and facts of this reader, I believe this Letter to the Editor provides a perfect example of how conservatives and non-minorities conduct their analysis of the events in #Ferguson. I will be writing a response in order to open a dialogue on the competing viewpoints. You may also want to view “Social Work Appears Absent from Ferguson Global Conversation”~Deona Hooper, MSW

Here is the Letter to the Editor in full:

Hi I’m a licensed clinical social worker who has been working in the field since 2000. I read your latest article “Social workers Appears absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation”. I appreciate your opinion on Michael Brown’s shooting & I know there is a tremendous amount of pain in the communities of color because of years of experiencing prejudice & discrimination. At the same time, different opinions need to be discussed openly for the conversation on race relations & police brutality to progress.

I consider myself a very socially liberal person, but I strongly feel most of the media, far left wing activists, & some prominent members of the black community were quick to label the PO a murderer without hearing all the crucial evidence from both sides.

surveillance_mike_brown_1I know Brown’s friend (Dorian Johnson) was a key eye witness from the beginning, but since the shooting, it has become clear he has a history of lying to the police. For example, Johnson told the police & the media after the shooting that Brown & himself were not doinganything wrong when they were confronted by the PO.

The video from just minutes earlier proves that Johnson was with Brown while Brown was committing the robbery & nearly assaulting the shop keeper. From my understanding, if Brown was still alive, he might be charged with a felony. We also now know Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of the confrontation which might help us understand his mindset at the time.

It’s also really difficult to take Johnson’s testimony of the shooting seriously. It was widely reported that in the past, he was accused of stealing a backpack & I believe lying to the police regarding the incident.  The PO also experienced a swollen face with a possible broken eye socket from his confrontation with Brown.  This information flies in the face of Brown being called a gentle giant.

Of course, Brown did not deserve to be killed at only at eighteen years old & I feel very sorry for him & his grieving & traumatized family. At the same time, there is a strong possibility that the PO would most likely not get charged with homicide because of some of the contradictory evidence I described.

I think one of the most important things to remember right now is for people to continue protesting for justice in the case, but at the same time not be so quick to jump to conclusions about the PO being a murderer & a racist. I’m aware there are still very racist cops throughout the country, but it does not mean the PO was not within the law to protect himself if Brown used physical force against him.

No matter if the PO is found guilty or not, we must allow our criminal justice system to examine all the evidence & make a final verdict. I just wanted to express my opinion to you & I hope I was respectful because I did not mean to be insensitive to anyone. I’ve never written an email to a social work site, but I’ve been following the Brown killing very closely.

Giovanni Forcina, LCSW

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

gaza

As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Exit mobile version