White Mass Shooters Receive Sympathetic Media Treatment

White mass shooters receive much more sympathetic treatment in the media than black shooters, according to a new study that analyzed coverage of 219 attacks.

Findings showed that white shooters were 95 percent more likely to be described as “mentally ill” than black shooters.

Even when black shooters were described as mentally ill, the coverage was not as forgiving as it was for whites responsible for similar kinds of attacks, said Scott Duxbury, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University.

“There’s a big difference in how black and white mass shooters are covered in the media,” Duxbury said.

“Much of the media coverage of white shooters framed them as sympathetic characters who were suffering from extreme life circumstances. But black shooters were usually made to seem dangerous and a menace to society.”

For example, when shooters were framed in the media as mentally ill, 78 percent of white attackers were described as being victims of society – as being under a lot of stress, for example – versus only 17 percent of black shooters.

Duxbury conducted the research with Laura Frizzell and Sadé Lindsay, also sociology doctoral students at Ohio State. Their study appears online in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

The researchers defined mass shootings as those in which four or more victims were shot in a single event, not including the perpetrator.

They used two news data sources to collect 433 media articles or transcripts about 219 randomly selected mass shootings in the United States from 2013 through 2015.

The researchers controlled for a variety of factors that could influence coverage, including the number of victims; whether any victims were women, children, family or romantic partners; whether the perpetrator committed suicide; whether the shooting took place in public; and whether the shooting was framed as gang violence.

After taking these factors into account, findings showed that whites were 95 percent more likely than blacks to be described in coverage as mentally ill. Latinos were 92 percent more likely than blacks to be described as mentally ill in media reports.

Shootings that were murder-suicides had significantly higher odds of being attributed to mental illness, as did those that occurred in public places.

But the number of victims, or whether the victims were women or children, were not related to whether the shooter was labeled as mentally ill.

The researchers identified several themes in articles that framed mass shooters as mentally ill. The most common theme – found in about 46 percent of the articles – was that the shooter was a “victim of society.” This included articles that said the shooter was “going through a lot,” was “stressed out” or “suffered abuse as a child.”

About 28 percent of articles that framed shooters as mentally ill offered testimony to the attacker’s good character, while another 21 percent said the shooting was unexpected or out of character. Another 14 percent said the shooter came from a good environment.

But these descriptions were almost always about white shooters, Duxbury said.

“Black shooters who were described as mentally ill never receive testament to their good character and the media never describe the shootings as out of character,” he said.

“And only white shooters were ever talked about as coming from a good environment.”

The researchers contrasted the coverage of two mass shooters – Josh Boren, a white man, and David Ray Conley, a black man.

“The comparison between Conley and Boren is striking. Both shooters were adult men who murdered their families. Both had a history of domestic violence and drug abuse and both had received treatment for mental illness. However, whereas the media described Josh Boren as a quiet, gentle man – a teddy bear – coverage of Conley described him as perpetually violent, controlling and dangerous,” the researchers said.

The researchers also analyzed shootings that were described as gang affiliated, because these attacks almost always involved minority shooters. Here the most consistent themes in coverage involved the criminal history of the perpetrators, their status as a public menace and the problems of the community.

These results provide a marked contrast with coverage of other mass shootings, Duxbury said.

“When the media frame a mass shooting as stemming from gang violence, they talk about the perpetrators as being perpetually violent and a menace to society,” he said.

“But when a shooting is attributed to mental illness, the media treat it as an isolated incident, or the result of the pressures on the perpetrator.”

To Stop Fake News, Social Media Firms Need Our Help

Misinformation is as old as communication itself. In television’s glory days, self-styled psychic Uri Geller fooled viewers for years before being outed as a fraud. Centuries earlier, in the adolescence of print media, British con artist William Chaloner circulated pamphlets attacking the national mint.

But never has misinformation spread so widely, readily, and willfully as it has in the age of social media. And never have so many different actors been culpable in creating that reality.

Take the dreadful Parkland, Florida, school shooting earlier this year. While Twitter and Facebook afforded students and their families access to potentially life-saving information sooner than other media, their algorithms also amplified right-wing conspiracy theories claiming student survivors were “crisis actors.” Although multiple print and digital media outlets quickly debunked the theory, the damage had already been done.

Often unwittingly, everyday Americans are caught in the crossfire of politically charged misinformation. Understandably, they’ve come to rely on social media to stay in touch. How else could a 50-something dad circle back with an elementary school friend who moved away decades prior? But they’ve also been shepherded into echo chambers by algorithms that prioritize clicks over truth — echo chambers that the majority of Americans, according to Pew Research, expect to get worse over the coming decade.

Certainly, it would be easy to point the finger at social media companies alone. But these platforms are neither the first nor the only perpetrators. Tribalism, a vacuum of government policy, and, yes, the very business model of social media firms have all played a part in this problem.

Inside the Social Media Machine

Compared to its media ancestors, social media is the perfect vector for spreading misinformation. The first of its three problematic attributes is its decentralized architecture, punctuated by highly influential nodes. Each nodular individual or company attracts like-minded media consumers, magnifying its influence on a given topic, regardless of the node’s expertise or truthfulness.

Although decentralization delivers media that’s maximally applicable to the user and prevents a single authority from controlling the narrative, it’s also dangerous. Misinformation spreads like wildfire in such a forum, where competence and truth matter less than the emotional payload of what’s being discussed.

Furthermore, social media makes it easy to link or break ties with connections, enabling users to self-select informational inputs. Over time, users can and do shut out information they dislike or don’t believe, distorting their own reality according to what’s “true” within their information bubbles. Because they’ve insulated themselves from uncomfortable ideas, the shock value of those ideas increases and drives users to respond with vitriol rather than reason.

The final systemic flaw of social media? Just follow the money — and, more specifically, the clicks. Clicks are literal currency for social media companies. Information that provides immediate gratification is good for business, and outrage-triggering content offers it like nothing else. Until that incentive structure shifts, social media’s echo chambers are likely here to stay.

Does that mean society is doomed to a truthless future? Not necessarily. But to rectify the situation, social media users, government entities, and social media platforms themselves must all be willing to alter their behaviors.

A 3-Pronged Defense Against Misinformation

For better or worse, social media users must be the first line of defense against the spread of half-truths and outright falsehoods. In short, they must be responsible informational bartenders. If a bartender serves an intoxicated person who later kills someone with her car on the way home, the bartender is at least morally culpable for fueling the tragedy.

Each time a social media user takes an action, such as retweeting a 280-character rant, he serves that information up to someone else. If he doesn’t critically consider content before sharing it, he’s putting someone else at risk — this time, with added social proof behind it, a cue to trust the information.

Fortunately, critical consumption of media is something everyone is capable of. Reading content entirely before sharing it, asking whether the content is coming from a reputable source, and searching for corroborating evidence from another source are easy and powerful guardrails against misinformation.

Couldn’t government entities also act as guardrails, playing the referee of truth? They certainly could try, but appointing a singular authority to separate fact from fiction invites an opportunity to propagandize. Facts are rarely black-and-white, and government officials are often all too happy to dole out “alternative facts” that advance their own narratives.

Instead, the role of governments (if any) must be to set policies that encourage all media companies, traditional and social, to build models that encourage deliberative engagement over clicks. About six in 10 American media consumers scan only the headline of news content before moving on. Something as simple as having share buttons placed in or at the bottom of content rather than directly on social platforms would at least force readers to open the source content before sharing it with others.

And what would social media companies think of such a policy? Obviously, they’re beholden to shareholders and market realities, just like other companies. Under their present model, they’re going to fight tooth and nail against any regulation that could cut into clicks and shares.

But there are certainly other business models that they could adopt. For example, switching to a subscription-based forum would weed out bots and give users more ownership over the media community they’re paying to be a part of. Such a system would also provide a revenue buffer to experiment with less emotionally charged, higher-quality content.

Incentivizing longer engagement with media through gamification, such as a system of points or social rewards, could be an effective compromise. Medium is exploring this path with a reader-assessed content quality metric called “claps.” Whether Medium’s approach becomes a viable long-term revenue model or not remains to be seen, however.

In today’s hyperpoliticized media environment, it can be difficult to remember social media’s original purpose: to inform and bring people together. Although social media has connected friends and families in some contexts, it’s driven wedges between others, sometimes to the point of job termination, social isolation, and even suicide.

If social media is ever to achieve its stated goal, we must start by fighting misinformation. And winning the war on misinformation will require all of us — people, companies, and governments and liberals, conservatives, and independents — to choose truth over comfort both on social media and off.

How Social Media Can Impact Your Self Esteem

Mood emojis

Since social media began with the launch of MySpace (and even the blogosphere and forums before it), people’s real world minds and moods have been affected by what they see online. We now have a constant flow of information and opportunities for attention from others, and the need is often dominant in our thoughts, preventing us from fully paying attention to either the situation or ourselves.

Have you felt a meta-commentary running through your mind of “how will people perceive this on Facebook?” or “How can I make an amazing photo about this?” Does viewing other people’s profiles make you feel a sense of pride in those around you or envy about a series of selected accomplishments? Perhaps the simplest question is, does looking at social media make you feel better or worse about yourself?

Let’s take a brief look at some of the ways social media might be affecting your self-esteem.

You Are Being Impacted Through Social Comparison

Social comparison existed before social media, but it was only limited to the people you met in person and your neighbors, and you could make a much more detailed judgment about these individuals.  One could see or hear flaws and struggles, as well as triumphs, making social comparison a more acceptable (albeit still unhealthy) practice.

Think about the pictures you see and your thoughts surrounding them. Everyone else seems to be doing something interesting, and most people don’t realize that for every person they see posting vacation photos, there are a hundred people who aren’t. This leads to unsafe comparisons.

Image Crafting Is an Unseen Art

When you look at a news feed or a social media page, people don’t realize they’re not seeing everything. Even the more negative matters are portrayed through a lens of sarcasm and usually fall into the category of life’s daily problems. Yet things such as self-doubt, emotional issues, and traumatic experiences are usually not talked about at anything more than a surface level. People will talk more extensively about a new relationship or an amazing vacation as opposed to a break-up or a period of personal uncertainty.

People, in their efforts to garner attention and a positive representation, will put their best online foot forward. They want to look impressive. They will spend time (or waste time, depending on how one looks at it) to receive a boost to their self-esteem. Much like how photos of models are airbrushed, profiles are similarly sculpted.

Constant Tracking Can Have Adverse Effects

Some of us might feel like we are never separated from our technology or our need to update others of our lives. Our actions are constantly being watched and tracked by our devices and friends, and that can impose an otherwise unwanted burden on us, making our failures all the more difficult and raising suspicions in others. Corporations might also use social media to market to us, trying to take advantage of weaknesses we might see in ourselves.

While you can prevent some of the more technical aspects of tracking your location by using a VPN or a proxy, you will also want to be careful about what you share online. People can’t judge you (nor should they) about what you do or don’t put up, and it’s your right to share as much or as little of your life as you wish.

Cyberbullying and Negative Commentary

While it often happens in younger circles and on some platforms more than others, the effects of cyberbullying are well-known and can have long-term, adverse effects on an individual’s self-esteem. The constant negative commentary that occurs on these sites can also affect one’s mind, even when the commentary isn’t directed at the reader. Given the current setup on the internet, most cyberbullying happens on social media platforms, and people need to be prepared for this.

If you know you are being cyberbullied or have someone under your care is, take immediate action to block them, and, if the severity of the situation calls for it, contact the authorities. People’s self-esteem is not worth second chances in these cases; the situation can be avoided.

An Emphasis on Connection Can Be Helpful

One of the things that can help our sense of self-esteem is the feeling we have a legitimate and emotional connection to the people in our lives that we care about. Social media, and the internet in general, has allowed us to maintain these connections more easily. While cyberbullying and a constant stream of abusive messages create problems, being able to contact a support network and understand that there are people to confide in is likely to be helpful. Exposure to empathetic individuals and other people who are otherwise hard to reach will also be useful.

It would be best if instead of focus on comparing yourself to people you barely know to try and make these more “real” connections even stronger. You can control who you follow on social media. While you shouldn’t place yourself in a bubble, you don’t need to consistently subject yourself to material that makes you feel poorly about yourself.

How do you use social media? Do you think there is a solid middle ground that lets people utilize social media without adverse effects? Do you see other people changing based on other people’s actions on social media? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.

Comics Change the World – The History of Activism in Comics

Alex Cox – Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Recently at WonderCon 2017, Alex Cox, Deputy Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), led a revealing panel on the history of comics and their impact in changing the world. He gave an image-filled walk through more than a century of comic book content that fueled calls to action and activism in the real world. In his discussion, he clearly demonstrated how comics have indeed changed the world both as a force of good and as a force of evil.

Throughout the history of activism, various forms of media have been used to push specific narratives. For over the past 100 years, comic books have been effectively used to highlight, showcase, endorse, and even crucify social objectives. In fact, comic books and strips have long been recognized as a powerful means to not only send a message to the masses, but it can also be used to sway the masses into thinking one way or another.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, for example, comic strips detailed the working person’s struggle and how large corporations kept the masses from understanding the benefits of frugality, savings, and the avoidance of impulse spending. As Alex Cox pointed out at his panel discussion at WonderCon, the narrative may not always be glamorous but the message itself can still be important.

Cox continued his presentation by showcasing how, in the 1940s, comics helped unite America against the Nazis, convince our citizens to contribute to the war effort, and motivate our troops to win the war. He also pointed out that those same comics also fed into the underlying racism of America by dehumanizing people who were Japanese. Just as Captain America was punching out Hitler on the cover of one issue he was also attacking a demonized version of Japanese soldiers on another.

Cox continued the discussion by pointing out how negative stereotypes were fed to the masses as evidenced by anti-Semitic comic strips in the 1950s. In the 1960s, however, the narrative for comics as a whole changed. It was during this time that the underground movement of comics began, as evidenced by the character of Lenny of Laredo. Joel Beck created the character as a child named Lenny, who achieves fame and fortune by uttering “obscenities” such as “pee-pee thing,” only to find his career in the dumps when the public became satiated with his naughtiness.

The 1970s brought the comic book to the arena of social awareness. Comics such as Abortion Eve and Slow Death – a comic book discussing the environment were launched to stir the masses into considering new societal norms as well as to take up the fight in the environmental protection arena. The 1970s also saw the rise of heroes such as Luke Cage and John Stewart as Green Lantern, the latter being DC comics first African America super hero.

Cox then maneuvered the discussion to the 1980s, where iconic comics such as the Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns served as a mirror to America’s current political climate. The Boondocks, which ran in syndication from 1996 to 2006 as a comic strip satirizing African American culture and American politics as seen through the eyes of a young, black radical character named Huey Freeman. Cox mentioned how this strip enabled all of its readers to see politics from a distinct perspective.

Get Your War On was briefly discussed by Cox, who described it as a satirical comic strip about political topics in the 2000s. The comic initially focused on the effects of the September 11 attacks on New York City, but switched its focus to other topics, such as the War on Terror. Cox also brought to light the fact that Get Your War On ended its run on January 20th, 2009, right around the time Bush Jr. ended his second term as president.

In the end, Cox detailed how comic books will only inevitably become a stronger medium for activism in its various forms. Topics such as social Justice, terrorism, and the rise of technology will surely populate the pages of our favorite comics.

The question remains, however, will the comic book medium be used to inspire activism responsibly or will it be used to force a shadowy agenda? What will our current era bring?

In Defense of Justin Bieber and Other Child Celebrities

I was pretty unimpressed with the rather ugly responses to Justin Bieber’s misdemeanours back in January. Sure, some of the reactions were comical, like this YouTube video, and RuPaul’s tweet of his rather beautifully made-up mugshot in which I was told it’s transphobic appearance was no offense intended.

Justin Bieber mugshot profileHowever, an online White House petition was created to have him deported from the US, for doing something that a good many if not most teenage boys do, seems pretty mean-spirited and exaggerated to me. Particularly as Americans have, until now, been happy to claim him as their own, and I didn’t even know he was Canadian until this hit the news. According to the Daily Mail,

The petition created by a Detroit resident asking to eject 19-year-old pop star from the U.S. and have his green card revoked has drawn nearly 261,000 signatures as of Friday morning, becoming the second most popular cause in the three-year history of the White House site. At 204,500 signatures, a petition to declare the extremist Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is a distant second, followed by a plea to pardon CIA leaker Edward Snowden in third with 153,000 signatures. Read More

If it were within my influence, I’d lobby for it to be illegal for kids under 18 to be signed by record labels and Hollywood studios. Perhaps that’s an over-reaction in the other direction, but it seems that there are plenty opportunities on social media for kids to self-promote from their bedrooms, rather than being shoved in the public eye by money-making media moguls.

The blatant exploitation of child celebrities by the music, film and television industry has never sat well with me. Michael Jackson is a classic example of what happens when children are exposed to the crazy hype of modern entertainment from too early an age.

Even in NZ, the media seemed to be getting back at Lorde, for her tweets about their behaviour on her post-Grammy arrival into the country, by broadcasting explicit details of her sickness that made her 20 minutes late for her concert the same evening.

Let’s have a bit of compassion and generosity with these kids. No other 19-year-old boy would be deported for speeding on drugs and alcohol at 4am. I’m not condoning Justin’s behaviour and I know he’s considered a role model for kids. But he didn’t set out to be the model teenager — that’s a by-product of his fame, which was engineered by adults.

So, as adults we need to take responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences if we’re going to profit from putting kids prematurely in the limelight. We need to protect them, mentor them, and above all forgive them.

5 Free Ways to Analyze Your Media Impact

It’s not enough to use social media sites as bulletin boards for your agency’s news and events. Engaging with your consumers and supporters means taking their interests and passions and meeting those needs with your content.

They might not want a daily update on the consumers you served, or even a weekly update. Maybe a once a month summary works best. Not every call to action is going to have a buy-in for them, but how do you know what is important to those who follow if you do not analyze your data?

Learning how to target your supporters with messages that are specific to the issues they care about, and are accessible in ways that they are comfortable engaging in is the best way to maximize their buy-in. That means more people showing up to volunteer, more people calling their local government, and more people donating to your holiday appeal. Be intentional in who you target and you will see success.

But, how do you know what content your supporters want to see? How can you learn that information on a shoe-string budget? Easy. The internet is a wealth of resource that many nonprofits fail to tap into. Here are a few options to get you started.

MailChimp

MailChimp is incredibly easy to set up and start using immediately. Most importantly, if you have fewer than 2,000 names on your list of supporters it’s free! If you have a larger number of individuals you want to connect with, the fees are minimal. You can send an unlimited number of emails to 10,000 people for $75 a month.

MailChimp lets you create emails that are fun. No one wants to open an email that has a giant wall of text with a few bolded headings. No one reads those. No one wants to download your newsletter as an attachment. Attachments are generally not mobile-friendly. MailChimp will let you customize an email that contains links to whatever you want. They look really good (as long as you are intentional about your color palette) and come with all sorts of analysis tools for free. You can see who opened your emails, when they opened them, and what they clicked on. Use this information to make your email campaigns better.

Mention

Mention lets you monitor keywords. You can track who/when/where your word or phrase of choice is used, then use this information to respond. Your organization’s name or issues of choice are great places to start. A great way to put this to use would be to take a news report on a local, relevant event and create a YouTube video to share in response. It’s a great way to track what’s happening around you.

Mention is free for fewer than 250 alerts. The ideal package is $20 a month. The pro package includes some great statistical information including referral sources and browsers.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is free. To set it up, you create a Google Account and generate a bit of code to paste into your website, MailChimp account, blog, etc. If you don’t know how to do that: A) Learn how; take control of your own media. Or B) Have whoever you’re paying to manage your social media presence do it.

Google Analytics tells you who is viewing your content and how they are seeing it. It lets you know the platforms people are using to view your page (mobile, browsers, etc) and their demographics. It also lets you know how they found you and which pages they view, and for how long they looked at your pages. Using this information will let you know if your content is accessible to the public, utilized by speakers of a different language, and viewed on a variety of devices. You can also connect events or press releases to higher page views and conversions.

Google also has a great package of free web apps for Nonprofits. I encourage you to look into them.

Facebook Insights

It is not enough to get people to ‘Like’ your pictures or status updates. A ‘Like’ signifies passive engagement that requires no thought or buy-in. Facebook Insights are something that many people look at, but rarely use. It’s great to see how many people visited your page and that your picture today is doing better than some of the others recently. Putting that information to use requires answering some questions:  Why is that post performing better? What is different about it? Did you post it at a different time of day? Did it include a call to action? Did people comment on or share it? Why?

You will find success when you take ownership of tracking the trends that Facebook Insights provide you with. Passive marketing is bad marketing.

SurveyMonkey

I include SurveyMonkey because a good survey can tell you a lot of information. It’s a bit old fashioned to go out and actually ask people what they think, but the responses are very straightforward. There are drawbacks, of course, that mostly involve accessibility to the internet and the English language, but online surveys can be very useful.

Define exactly what it is that you want to measure and be sure that your questions will help you get those measurements. Have some community partners test out the survey to ensure that the responses are what you’re looking for. Use Excel, SPSS, or some other analysis tool to find trends. Then, put those trends into action.  It’s great to know what people think- but why does that matter to you and what are you going to do about it?

There are many more opportunities to gather and analyze your impact on the social media world. This list is just a place to get started. Being passive in your information gathering and usage will limit your organizations effect on your supporters and community. Take control of your content, make it work for you, and watch the results roll-in.

“Fat Letters” How Insensitive Can You Be

In recent news reports, there have been many parents outraged about notes sent home to them explaining that their child is considered to be obese. “Fat letters” are what the children have deemed the notifications, and they are being sent out in children’s weekly folders in certain schools. There are currently 19 states sending these letters home, three of which include Florida, California and Massachusetts. In the letters are different methods that parents can use to help lower their child’s weight such as exercise, preparing healthier meals etc. When Lilly Grasso recently brought home a letter from her Naples, Florida middle school, her mother, Kristen Grasso, became angry. The letter claimed that Lilly’s body mass index or BMI was 22, and it indicated that she was at risk for being overweight. The 11-year-old star volleyball player carries 124 pounds on an athletic 5-foot-3 frame and eats healthy foods.

How irresponsible and  insensitive is it to send these letters out in a child’s personal folder? For one, imagine how these children must feel being considered “fat.” It is obvious that these letters are viewed by these kids prior to being sent home because they are put inside the children’s folders. Could reading these letters further damage a child’s self-esteem while dealing with puberty and other issues that may arise during the adolescence stage? Is it possible for a child who reads their “fat letter”  to make the more susceptible to bullying from other children by lowering their self-esteem even more?

According to the Center of Disease and Health Control,

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period
  • In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors

The facts on obesity are undisputed, but this is an issue that a child should have to read about in their personal folders. I believe this is something that teachers should be addressing with the parent on a one-on-one basis. Additionally, telling a parent they should cook more “healthy meals,”  can be taken as a little judgmental. What if a parent is receiving food stamps or other governmental assistance, it can be extremely hard to buy or afford healthy foods. Consider the parent living in a low-income neighborhood where they do not have access to Whole Foods Markets and have to choose between a costly pack of salad or a lesser expensive pack of meat.

California happens to be one of 19 states that require schools to screen for obesity, and they do so using the body mass index test (BMI), and a height-to-weight ratio measurement that is used by doctors to designate if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Ironically, schools that have adopted this practice of sending these notifications have not managed to change any of their lunch menus while still serving fried corn dogs, pizza, fried chicken, and other unhealthy foods.

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Technologies That Can Help Special Needs Children

You love your children, and want to see them grow and learn. However, when your child has special needs or learning disabilities, it can seem like a constant struggle against the very forces of nature. School programs have made great strides in the last few years towards creating an educational program designed to benefit special needs children, but there is still a long way to go. Thankfully, where other programs or efforts may have failed, technology has succeeded. By using the almost limitless power of modern innovation, you can help your special little person develop independence and reach his or her goals. Here are five technologies that can help special needs children advance.

1. Special keyboards

Sometimes the only thing standing between confusion and understanding is a specially designed keyboard. Computer keyboards and programs designed to help children with physical disabilities, as well as visual and learning disabilities, can improve a child’s ability to communicate, as well as help improve spelling and reading skills. The Teacher’s Institute for Special Education offers specially designed keyboards for a variety of abilities and even takes custom orders.

2. Apps and software

Special applications and school software that makes learning more interesting and accessible are available for all school subjects. Reading, spelling, math, problem solving, and other important skills can be taught using special programs tailored to the specific needs of your child. Video programs that improve attention spans are also available.

ipad3. Mobile smart devices

There’s something about iPads and smartphones that can really capture a child’s attention. In addition to providing access to any number of special apps and programs, smart devices seem perfectly designed for use by special needs children. Those who have difficulty holding books and turning pages can easily swipe a finger across the screen. Best of all, the technology’s capabilities, and the available programs for use with it, are growing every day.

4. Speaking devices

For many special needs children, communication is a big issue. Some children struggle with the confidence to speak out loud, while others want to communicate but are unable to form the right words or sounds. Still others have visual or learning disabilities that prevent them from reading words on a page. Recent advances in speech technology have made it possible for these children to improve their abilities. Those with speech impediments can listen to properly spoken words and better learn to imitate the sounds. Those who have trouble reading can hear the words on the page and make important connections between text and sound.

5. Social media

When it comes to the social aspect of school, many special needs children feel completely left out. This can break your heart as a parent when you see your son or daughter become sad because they can’t enjoy the same relationships as other children. One way to use technology to help make things better is through social media. By connecting with parents of other special needs children, you can set up playdates and plan fun activities for everyone involved. One mom used Facebook to find a prom date for her autistic daughter. Social media can be used in other ways as well, by providing your child with a circle of friends from around the world. It can even help improve language, writing, and other communication skills.

Raising a special needs child can be difficult, but when you see the look of pride light up your child’s face as he or she grasps a new concept for the first time or completes a puzzle that had been difficult, you’ll know that it’s worth it. With technology, you can help your child become something more than they are.

Photo Credit: Steven Moshuris, an autistic student at Belle View Elementary, uses an… (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

Cricket and Mary J. Blige Support Breast Cancer Awareness

maryjTo help educate women in need, as well as provide funds for breast cancer screening and research, Cricket Wireless joins Mary J. Blige in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Cricket and Mary J. Blige (through Verve Records) will donate $10,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego County, and Cricket will feature Mary J. Blige on its Muve Music service, calling on fans to download her music as part of a special music and social media campaign beginning today through November 3.

All women should educate themselves about preventative measures they can take to avoid breast cancer. Research shows that African-American women and Latinas are less likely to learn about these important preventative measures through traditional news and information channels. To reach this vital audience, Cricket and Blige will invite followers over the next three weeks to join the breast cancer awareness and prevention conversation by offering informative links and breast cancer education trivia on Facebook and Twitter using hashtag #Muve4theCure.

“Music is powerful and healing in so many ways, and having the right information at the right time is also important. Across the country, African-American and Hispanic women are not getting the care and treatment they need often because they are uninformed,” said Mary J. Blige. “An alarming number of these women are dying, and we can help to improve their chances of survival. I am working with Susan G. Komen and Cricket during October to help inform women about powerful early detection measures, such as getting a mammogram. Please join me in supporting this worthy cause, and let’s find a cure.”

“Cricket and Muve Music are proud to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” said Randy Newman, pacific regional general manager for Cricket. “We’re excited to help raise awareness, along with Mary J. Blige, about understanding and mitigating the risks of breast cancer.”

“This partnership is happening because both our organizations believe in the power of music to make a difference in the lives of the women listening,” said Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego County. “The funds raised through this promotion will save lives and support us in helping uninsured women in our county get access to free treatments and services.”

Follow Mary J. Blige, Susan G. Komen and Cricket, and their efforts to raise breast cancer awareness online, through a series of social media messages at https://twitter.com/maryjbligehttps://twitter.com/komensandiego or https://twitter.com/cricketnation.

Source: PR Newswire

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

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

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

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

Former Foster Kids Protest RI Funding Cuts

Cases Highlight What Many Consider a Broken Child Welfare System

Arizona CPS’ struggles mount as abuse, neglect reports rise

Minnesota’s child-protection system is inconsistent and underfunded

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

Now, Russians protest against Norway’s child services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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