Non-traditional Students Require Non-traditional Policies for Field Placements

I am only six weeks away from completing my BSW degree; a degree that has taken nearly twenty years to complete.  As I am nearing the end of my current educational journey and in the final hours of my field placement, I have found myself becoming quite reflective about my educational experience.

Now, I am not your traditional BSW student, and as such, my experience is dramatically different from many individuals who enter a BSW straight out of high school.  I have never sat in a physical class or classroom; I have never met any of my classmates and my professors or instructors face-to-face.  I am thirty-six years old with two children, and I work full-time in a field where I have spent the last sixteen years in.  No, I am not your traditional BSW student; I am a new breed of student, an older nontraditional online student.

Advances in technology have flung wide the doors of innovation in higher education. Online programs, developed in the last ten years and refined in the last five, have drastically changed the face of higher education for non-traditional students like me, who would have had no other opportunity to complete a degree.

Due to their ability to offer flexibility to students, online programs have become a permeant feature on the higher education landscape, and their popularity and student population are growing at an exponential rate. The academic training of future social workers has not been exempted from the advancements in technology and education. My soon-to-be alma mater and one of the leading online social work programs in the nation have reported a 34% increase in the number of students enrolled in the online BSW program this year alone.

While there have been major leaps forward in distance learning and online education, there has been little to no innovation regarding CSWE accreditation policies concerning this new breed of students, especially as it pertains to their field placement.

As it stands, all CSWE accredited schools, including non-traditional online programs function under the same blanket policy regarding field placement. Students enrolled in BSW programs are required to perform a minimum of four hundred unpaid hours of field placement at a social service agency. The policy also requires that field placement hours be served in conjunction with educational direction.

The CSWE considers field placement the “signature pedagogy” of social work education as it offers future practitioners the opportunity to apply theories learned in the classroom by exposing them to all sorts of problems and situations.  There is no debate concerning the importance of the field placement experience.  Incongruence occurs, however, due to a lack of nuance in policy when it comes to the unique needs and strengths of non-traditional learners.

Many non-traditional students, like me, who find an educational home in online BSW programs, are typically older adults either seeking to complete a bachelors degree they forsook earlier in life, seeking to further their current career, or shift their career entirely into a new filed.  While the reasons non-traditional students have for returning to school through an online program vary, one thing is common for us all.  Each student brings many years of life experience and employment history to the program.

Personally, when I started my online BSW program, I had over sixteen years of social services experience; working for years in a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers on the verge of incarceration, pastoral ministry, and serving as the Executive Director of a large non-profit social services organization.  I am not alone in bringing this level of experience in my current distance learning program.

In an informal survey conducted by current and former students of my school’s online BSW program, sixty percent of students reported that their resumes reflect positions comparable to that of social workers with fifty percent of responders stating they were employed by a social services agency while also performing their field placements. Students reported they have or are serving in capacities such as SUD Therapist, Program Coordinator, Outreach Specialist, Case Manager, Addiction Recovery Specialist, Youth Career Specialist, and Parent Mentor.

It is safe to assume that students from other online programs would report the same data. As such, it is important for the current CSWE and school policies concerning field placement for online programs be reviewed and discussed to create the most effective learning environment for these unique students. If the current policies are followed, older non-traditional students will not have the desired experience as CSWE and accredited schools for BSW students.

If there is no change in how these students are viewed and the policies surrounding their placement, the CSWE and institutions of higher learning run the risk of non-traditional students viewing their service hours as a mere assignment that must be completed to graduate.

To be honest, this has been my thinking on more than one occasion during my field placement. While I have learned a substantial amount about the agency I have worked in and it has been truly informative, I have also found myself questioning whether this experience was truly fulfilling the mission and vision the CSWE and my school had in mind when policy was crafted concerning BSW field placement making it the signature pedagogy.

Often times in my placement, I found that due to my life and employment experience, I was more qualified to perform the duties and tasks than those I was shadowing and being supervised by. I do not relay this out of a sense of arrogance, but sheer professional experience.

Due to the nature and requirements of my field placement setting, I have spent a majority of my time shadowing new social workers or others who do not have a BSW at all. There is much to be gleaned by working with these individuals in an agency setting and hearing about their roles and responsibilities.

There is also great value in navigating through interpersonal issues that arise in a field placement setting. This aspect of placement has been invaluable to me.  What has become cumbersome, however, is trying to relate to my agency, my placement, and my future practice of social work as if my life experience and employment history were non-existent and as if the position I may potentially secure after placement will be my first professional job.

The current framework concerning BSW field placement is to provide students with experience in generalist practice with the hope that after field placement and graduation, students will secure jobs in social services agencies as entry-level generalist social work practitioners. This is a fine and noble objective to have, but the reality is a majority of older non-traditional students will not seek entry-level positions.

As their resumes reflect extensive knowledge and experience, the addition of a BSW degree will only elevate them to higher levels of employment.  To use a professional metaphor, these older non-traditional students will most likely not be starting at the “bottom of the ladder.” With that being the case, it would be prudent and wise for these students to be placed in advanced practice settings with more intensive supervision, settings that will mirror the level they will be entering the profession of social work in.

While this may not be true for everyone enrolled in online programs, it is true for many; and those individuals deserve to have a field placement setting and experience that will rightly prepare them for the work they have before them in the professional field.

I am by no means suggesting for a cessation of field placement for older non-traditional students. Field placement is imperative and a means by which students safely test theories and gain invaluable experience.  I desire to open a dialogue concerning the needs and strengths of the non-traditional students and how to best serve them during this crucial time of learning.

However, a new examination of the CSWE requirements, policies, and procedures of institutions of higher education with a manner of nuance should be given to this growing student population. It will ensure these older non-traditional students who are finishing their degree and entering the practice of social work receive a placement that meets their educational and professional needs rather than being an exercise in futility to complete a requirement.

Passion Through Lived Experience: Krystal’s Journey to Her MSW

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Krystal Reddick who is a blogger, a social work student, and overall someone with so much passion and drive. At the age of 23, Krystal was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder during her Master’s in Education grad program.

Ten years later, through her own self-discovery and recovery towards mental wellness, Krystal has decided to pursue a career in social work. Having lived experience and the professional background gives her a unique outlook on the field, and she plans on continuing to share her story in order to help others along the way.

Prevailing research states 1 in every 4 individuals suffer from a mental illness which equates to approximately 61.5 million people in the United States. Also, current research tells us that 50 percent of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent of all chronic mental illness will manifest by age 24. – Social Work Helper

In the spirit of sharing her experiences, you can view our conversation below:

SWH: Being someone with lived experience and a working professional, what perspective do you bring to the field that differs from your peers who do not have lived experience with a mental illness?

Krystal:As someone with lived experience and an aspiring mental health professional, my perspective feels like a combination of an insider and an outsider. As an insider, I know what my personal experiences have been with my bipolar disorder; I’ve been manic, depressed, and stable. At the same time, once I finish graduate school and become a social worker, I’ll have to have a certain amount of distance and firm boundaries. I hope to be a social worker that can draw on my lived experience; I hope it makes me more understanding and compassionate and patient.

SWH: You stated that you sought out help at your school but it wasn’t helpful. How was that process for you? Did you feel comfortable asking for help? What about it didn’t make it helpful?

Krystal: While I was depressed in graduate school it took me weeks to get up the coverage to seek help from a college therapist. My energy levels were low, and I had practically no follow through. But I eventually made an appointment with a therapist on campus. The process wasn’t that helpful. And I understand why now, a few years removed from the experience.

The therapist recommended I seek outside care through my mother’s health insurance as the grad school’s system was swamped with students. At the time I thought he did not take me or my depression seriously. But I understand now that it was a resource issue. However, his response wasn’t helpful at the time and I never sought help again. It took all I had to come and see him. The only reason I got help was because a subsequent manic episode ended the depression, and I landed in the hospital.

At the time, I thought he did not take me or my depression seriously. But I understand now that it was a resource issue. However, his response wasn’t helpful at the time and I never sought help again. It took all I had to come and see him. The only reason I got help was because a subsequent manic episode ended the depression, and I landed in the hospital.

SWH: What made you have a career change from education to social work?

Krystal: I have been in the education field for 9 years. My own lived experience along with the experiences of a few of my family members coupled with my time as a high school English teacher, have all prompted me to switch careers from education to social work. As a teacher, I felt constrained in my attempts to work with the students. As a teacher, I had to focus on the academic side of things. But I found myself also concerned about my students as people, concerned about their social-emotional development and their development as human beings.

SWH: Can you tell us about the process you took when you had to take a leave from school? What was that like for you?

I experienced my first bout of depression while in my last year of graduate school for education. It was debilitating. I lost about 15 pounds. I didn’t sleep or eat or bathe. I barely left the house. And I avoided family and friends. However, a few months later I became manic. The mania was disruptive in ways that the depression was not. And resulted in a 3-week hospitalization during the spring semester of graduate school.

There was no way I was going to graduate on time, so I withdrew from school to focus on my health and recovery. I felt like a failure for having to “drop out.” All of my college friends were either still in law school or medical school, or were already in the workforce making good money. I felt like a bum in comparison. However, I’ve since learned that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I try not to compare myself or my journey to others. Life is a lot less stressful that way.

SWH: What would you say has been the most helpful in your recovery?

Krystal: I can’t pinpoint just one factor that has been helpful for my recovery. In fact, it has been a combination of medicine, therapy, my support system, and a solid sleep schedule that have helped me most. The medicine, if I take it regularly, keeps me stable and even-keeled. Therapy has been great because my therapist keeps me accountable to myself and the goals I’ve set for my life. Goals that have nothing to do with being diagnosed. He has tried hard to get me to live as normally as possible and not to be debilitated by a mental health label. Next, is my support system: my fiance, my family, and my friends. They all let me know if they see signs that an episode might be looming. They visit me in the hospital, they pray for me, and they love me

Next, is my support system: my fiance, my family, and my friends. They all let me know if they see signs that an episode might be looming. They visit me in the hospital, they pray for me, and they love me despite things I’ve done while manic that are not too nice. And lastly, a regular sleep schedule and good sleep hygiene are important to keep episodes at bay. I don’t sleep much during manic and depressive episodes. So trying to get as much sleep as possible, allows my brain to stay calm.

SWH: What advice would you give to other college students who find themselves struggling with their mental health?

Krystal: For other college students struggling with their mental health while in school, I’d encourage them to seek help. They do not have to go through this alone. I actually wrote an article for The Mighty about navigating mental health concerns while in college or grad school.

Check it out here: https://themighty.com/2016/08/how-to-navigate-college-or-grad-school-and-mental-illness/

National Association of Social Workers Offering Third Virtual Career Fair

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WASHINGTON — The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is hosting a 2017 Virtual Career Fair on February 9 from noon to 4 p.m. (ET) that will give employers access to a pool of talented social work professionals around the nation who are ready to take positions in health care, mental health care, the military, schools and other sectors.

This will be the third time NASW has hosted a Virtual Career Fair. Demand for the event from both employers and potential employees has been high.

“Social work is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States and the need for social workers is acute in some areas,” said NASW Director of Professional and Workforce Development Raffaele Vittelli. “This year’s Virtual Career Fair offers the use of technology to provide employers more ease and flexibility in connecting to the top talent within NASW and the social work profession.”

As an attendee, you have the ability to explore employer information and opportunities. Choose which employers you want to network and interview with and then engage in one-on-one text-based conversations or Skype video chats directly with a recruiter at those organizations. You can share your background, experience, resume and ask questions. Maximize your time in the event by getting in line to chat with representatives from more than one company at a time. Click Here for an Instructional PDF on how to use the Skype Integration with the Virtual Career Fair platform.

“Employers can use the Virtual Career Fair to discuss career growth at their organizations, quickly fill open positions, or enhance their brand by giving candidates access to their company,” Vittelli said.

Depending upon the booth level, employers can receive up to five recruiter positions. Recruiters can connect directly to job seekers through one-on-one instant messaging and video chats that employers can use to discuss career opportunities, determine if the candidate is a good match for the positions, and accept applications from job seekers.

Employers who register to take part in the Virtual Career Fair will receive a fully customized employer booth complete with their logo, images, open positions, videos and other information as well as job postings packages and discounts in the NASW JobLink. Job seekers can register for free and to have access to employers across the nation.

Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

The Future of Social Work

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On this World Social Work Day, it is pertinent for Social Workers to reflect and weigh in on the future of the profession.

Based on past experience – a 20 year and counting career in Social Work (SW), I believe that the profession is faced with many challenges that will create many positive changes. We need to remember our crisis theory training – with every crisis comes opportunity!

Breaking Down Barriers: Exclusiveness vs Inclusiveness

The regulation of social work creates barriers, silos, isolation, and a monopoly. True SWs understand that the profession is creating false and perhaps even delusional boundaries around what constitutes a professional social worker. The truth is that SWs are helping professionals as are psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, and the like. A licence (U.S.) or registration (Canada) does not make a social worker.

Clearly a licence is a worthy accomplishment, but it does not make a better social work. The reality is that licences and other forms of regulation create monopolies. Monopoly is a contradiction to social work and is incongruent with social work principles. I for one am under no illusion that because I have an Master degree in Social Work that I am any better or more qualified than someone with a Child Youth Worker diploma who has been practicing as a helping professional for the same amount of time. How do we find ways to turn their work experience, in-service training and continuing education into an accelerated social work degree?

As a helping profession, we social workers should be focused on inclusiveness and welcoming those who are practicing social work but may not be social work educated in a formal sense. The truth about social work is that it is an eclectic profession borrowing from economics, political science, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, a long history of charity work, and community and political organization. We need to be proud of our roots and start to grow the rest of our tree out of inclusiveness. Exclusivity has the potential to corrupt because it is based on power and control dynamics.

Global Communication, Solutions, and Change

Perhaps the greatest change and challenge to social work is the global communication market. If and when silos exist, they are false and a function of one’s unwillingness and lack of acceptance toward the global information market. The web has changed us and while this poses obvious challenges and has, on the one hand, made it easier for mans’ inhumanity toward man, on the other hand, it has created a world where we no longer exist alone and in isolation. Isolation, as we know is unhealthy and allows dysfunction and pathology to manifest and grow.

The internet age allows us to practice micro, mezzo, and macro SW on a global level and on a more even playing field. What happens in one corner of the world now impacts the entire world and while this has created things like global anxiety and global trauma (c) it has also created abilities and benefits which far outweigh the negative.

Since coming to Social Work Helper, I am amazed at how there are so many obvious solutions to macro level problems. For example, the crises in Child Welfare are occurring all over the world and pilot solutions are being had all over the world too! Imagine what would happen if we could get Child Welfare Organizations truly sharing information and solutions?

This would solve so many issues, the greatest perhaps being “poor pay” and “low recognition” for our skill sets. In the current climate of austerity, why do we need to fund solutions for risk assessments and the like all over again repeatedly? The answer of course is we don’t – we simply need to talk and share with one another which we as individual social workers seem to do much better than our organizations do.

ONE Union for all

It is now the time to rise and accept the challenges we face as a society and to organize in a way that can effectively challenge the status quo of our world and which allows us to create sustainable change. Sustainable solutions to world poverty and world peace are now available to us and we need to organize in a manner that gives us the credibility we deserve as a global professional group. This, my friends, is the frontier of social work in the 21st century and Social Work Helper is well positioned to make this happen. We need to unite, not divide!

At the risk of being grandiose, Plato envisioned a world which was governed by philosophers who he termed Guardians. Plato believed that philosophical reasoning was the key to a just society and one whereby people were not taken advantage of. Is social work the new philosophy?

Independence Day: An Ongoing Fight for Freedom

Independence Day is a day we celebrate being free from tyranny, oppression, and persecution. It’s a day we celebrate a democratic society with the rights to freedom of speech, religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am especially thankful to the men and women serving in our military who have made many sacrifices to protect the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

However, when power shifts from one entity to another, its we the people who must demand our rights and freedoms be endowed to us. As I reflect on the current state of our society, Independence is an ongoing fight to be free. Around the world and the United States, civil disobedience is being seen in historic fashion from the streets of Cairo to the state houses of Texas and North Carolina.

Pockets of small wealthy groups seek to rule this planet through war, famine, poverty, and oppression. They seek to pit oppressed groups against each other in their efforts to attain more wealth and retain more power.

independence-day-movieOn this Independence Day, I am reminded of a speech and a call to action by one of our finest movie Presidents ever who said it best:

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We’re going to live on!
We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day! – President Thomas Whitmore (Played by Bill Pullman) ~Independance Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYKvUN3qb4

What Social Workers Can Learn From Mahatma Gandhi

Social workers can learn from Mahatma Gandhi on how to step into the light. How to raise your voice and still be modest and a servant to humanity. This is what all social workers want. Right?

Although Mahatma Gandhi was very modest man and a great leader, he was also someone who wanted to be seen and heard. His mission for peace empowered get over his fears, stand up, and step into the light in order to deliver his message of service to the people.

social workersThe fact that social workers know their place in the shadow of their clients comes from a good and serving heart. I understand that because I have been there too, but how would it be if we stand with our clients and share the light?

When I was walking with my puppy Sas the other day, I was surprised by a blackbird singing his best song ever. I looked around to see him and there he was at the top of the roof of the highest building. To be visible and heard, the blackbird found himself a beautiful spot to sing his lovely song. The blackbird was on a mission is not modest at all!

A friend of mine named Charlotte told me how she once spoke to the local council: “we, social workers, stand in the shadow of our clients”. I reacted with a quip and said, “It can be cold and dark in the shadow. Standing together with your client in the light seems more attractive.”.

However, Charlotte was very serious. She explained: “Social Workers don’t position themselves in the spotlights. We are here to help others to solve their problems. Being in the shadow, we are not always visible but at least we know our place and many can learn from that. If it is cold in the shadow, just put on a warm coat. As long as we keep telling others why we stand there!”

Now, I don’t agree with Charlotte. If your voice is coming out of the shadow and no one sees you, will you be heard? I don’t think so. In my opinion, this is exactly the reason why the modesty of social workers can be fatal.

When you are in the shadow no one will hear you, so step into your light. You don’t have to search like the blackbird for a spot on the highest roof! Just do it in your own modest way. Let your mission guide you, and if you need help, just let me know!

Twitter Chat Tackles Questions about Social Work and Politics

How actively involved should social workers be in the political arena? This was one of the themes that set the agenda for Thursday night’s Twitter chat hosted by the Network for Social Work Management using the hashtag #MacroSW. The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy was asked to take the lead in this latest chat and we focused on our work on the Hill with the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

The other key question during the Twitter chat is the focus of a media campaign around Social Work on the Hill Day featuring the hashtag #YSocialWork. What motivates young people to pursue careers in social work? Social work jobs are often labor intensive and emotionally stressful. Our work is often undervalued—both in compensation and in public opinion.

Before we delve into the details about the Twitter activity, I want to clear the air about this being a macro social work event. While there has always been tension in social work about the amount of emphasis given to direct services and macro social work practice, there has never been an argument about whether one area of practice is more important than the other.

Those of us who would like to see an expanded emphasis on macro social work practice do not want it to occur at the expense of direct service practice. In fact, we acknowledge the need for more direct services social workers in the coming decades. Yet, at the same time, we recognize the need for more social workers as administrators, community organizers and participating at various levels of policy.

There is a need to expand the number of social workers in the United States. However that expansion should include social workers seeking careers in politics and policy as well as traditional roles managing human services organizations. After decades of the ascendency of conservative ideology that has focused on individual achievement, laissez-faire economics, and the destruction of socialism, social workers have become the guardians of the American Dream as an ideal that should be available for all Americans regardless of ethnicity, class or gender. That means being actively involved in the political systems that generate the policies, laws, and regulations that determine access to opportunity and achievement.

Having said that, Thursday’s Twitter was fascinating as social workers of all ages, from every corner of the country—micro and macro—participated in a stimulating exchange about our personal experiences with social work and shared ideas about where the profession needs to go in the future. Many had not heard about the Congressional Social Work Caucus founded by Congressman Edolphus Towns in 2010.

Having been made aware that such a caucus exists, the next question was: so what? How does the profession and social workers benefit by having a Social Work Caucus? Hopefully, these questions may stimulate ideas that will influence what the Social Work Caucus does in the coming years. Few were familiar with the Social Work Reinvestment Act, so making them aware was worth doing the chat.

The #YSocialWork campaign is the brainchild of MSW student Shauntia White at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the National Catholic University of America. Social media maven Deona Hooper, founder and editor-in-chief of Social Work Helper, is leading the effort to launch a campaign leading up to Social Work Day on the Hill. The beauty of this collaboration is Ms. White, who is studying to become a clinical social worker, has organized what many would label a “macro” event—a forum on the Social Work Reinvestment Act—that is being sponsored largely by the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work.

One comment made during the Twitter chat credited the virtual event with turning the mindset of “I’m just a lone social worker,” into one of “I’m a powerful social change agent.” Although we were connecting in a virtual space many participants remarked about the energy and enthusiasm they were sensing from the Twitter comments. I will end with a comment by blogger Sean Erreger who wondered what it would be like if the Twitter chat participants were all in the same room. Ending with: “Powerful stuff happening here.”

[mratajczak/macrosw-twitter-chat-how-social-workers-can-engag” target=”_blank”>View the story “#MacroSW Twitter Chat: How Social Workers Can Engage Congress ” on Storify]

Tips for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

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Grandparents raising grandchildren is an age-old practice and continues to be common in today’s society. This article offers helpful advice to these grandparents as they parent their grandchildren in the 21st century to avoid barriers to success for both the grandchild and grandparent within these families.

Grandparent-led households develop for many reasons. Although commendable, the positive and negative factors associated with this arrangement, including the grandparents’ physical and mental health as well as their commitment and loyalty to their families, should be considered.

I interviewed 12 African American grandmothers raising their grandchildren as parents regarding their perceptions of school-based assistance available to support them in meeting the educational needs of their grandchildren.  Of the six themes and two subthemes that emerged, barriers to services that were repeatedly mentioned included lack of adequate finances, access to care, transportation, lack of available resources, limited grandparent educational attainment, and technological advances.

As a result of the study’s findings, I have compiled a list of general grandparent caregiver tips which may be useful as they raise their grandchildren. The practice of grandparents raising grandchildren has existed throughout the history of the United States. However, this phenomenon has gained increasing amounts of attention as the number of children raised in these households continues to rise.

Although the tips offered are generic in nature and may be used by any grandparent raising grandchildren, they are based upon information collected as a result of a research study conducted with African American grandmother caregivers within a rural county in North Carolina.

  • Be proactive.  Meet with agencies and school officials to prepare for the arrival of your grandchildren into your home. Complete as much paperwork as possible to ensure their arrival and new routine occur as seamlessly as possible.
  • Network with other grandparents raising their grandchildren. Regular conversations with other grandparents who are also raising their grandchildren can provide a great support as you are able to encourage and give confidence to each other.
  • Research. Become familiar with resources in your area. If none are available to meet your family’s needs, advocate for change.
  • Form relationships with your grandchildren’s schools. Be an active presence in the schools, volunteering and making sure to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school-based activities whenever possible.
  • Regularly attend doctor’s appointments. Make time to ensure your physical and emotional needs are met. Be in touch with your health and feelings. Take time to get adequate amounts of healthy food, rest, and exercise.
  • Take a time out.  It is normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious at times. Arrange for respite care services from friends, neighbors, or agencies before they are needed.  That way, the resources will be available when contacted in the moment.
  • Take time for yourself. Frequently indulge in activities that you enjoy. Make time to relax, and participate in fun things that make you smile and bring you happiness.
  • Have a sense of humor. Parenting does not come with a handbook, and grandparenting is no different. Laugh often.
  • Apply for financial assistance if available. Meet with the local social services agencies and others to apply for financial assistance to help defray childrearing costs.
  • Listen to your grandchildren. The adjustments may have been difficult for you, and even more so for your grandchildren.  Allow them time and space to talk to you about how they are feeling. Seek help if needed, for your grandchildren and yourself, to cope with these feelings. 
  • Enjoy the journey. You are to be commended for raising your grandchildren, regardless of the situation. Enjoy small victories and celebrate your and their accomplishments along the way.

Grandparents assume these responsibilities due to varied reasons, including parental incarceration, death, substance abuse, unemployment, parental abandonment, neglect, and HIV/AIDS-related complications. Regardless of how or why grandparents began assuming the caregiver role for their grandchildren, they are in need of specialized resources and assistance.

Although grandparents are commended for taking on this responsibility, their self-care should also be emphasized.  Normal chronological development, lack of resources, and being at greater risk of disease are factors which should be considered within this population.  Their experiences, passion, and willingness to guide another generation should be utilized and not overlooked.

Capacity Building for Communities of Color: The Paradigm Shift and Why I Left My Job

When I first got out of grad school with my Master in Social Work, I was a bright-eyed kid full of hopes and dreams of doing my part to make the world better. Completely broke and desperate to find work before the student loans people released their hounds, I applied to countless jobs and found that no one would hire me because I had no experience, a vicious “Experience Paradox” that many young grads go through each year.

Frustrated and dejected, I secluded myself in my room (in my parents’ house), sending out my resume all day, coming out at night to raise my clenched fist to the dark skies and screaming “I may be inexperienced, but I am still a human being! A human being!!!” Then I would eat some ramen and watch Spanish soap operas on Univision.

building-capacityWhat is the point of that story? The point is that communities of color, and the organizations led by these communities, often feel like these recent grads. We are stuck in this debilitating and demoralizing “Capacity Paradox” where funders do not invest sufficient funds in our organizations to build capacity because we don’t have enough capacity. Yet, we are constantly asked to do stuff, to sit at various tables, to help with outreach, to rally our community members to attend various summits and support various policies.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that major efforts to effect systemic change are missing the voices of communities of color and would benefit from having those voices. Everyone also seems to be in agreement that communities of color that have strong organizations behind them are much more involved and effective at all levels of service and policies. Building the capacity of these organizations, then, is critical to all systems-change efforts: Housing, homelessness, climate change, education, neighborhood safety, etc.

What many of us fail to recognize is that the current efforts to increase the capacity of nonprofits led by immigrant, refugee, or other communities of color, which I call “nonprofits of color,” are not sufficient. Funders who provide significant, multi-year, general operating funds—the holy grail of funding and the thing that will help any organization develop its capacity the fastest—operate under systems that leave most nonprofits of color behind. These significant capacity building grants are almost impossible for nonprofits of color to attain. We usually don’t have the same relationships. Or grantwriting skills. Or board members who can strongly articulate the vision. Because we don’t have capacity, we can’t get support to develop capacity.

With significant, catalytic funding out of the question, funders provide small grants to nonprofits of color so they can do things like hire a consultant to facilitate a strategic planning retreat, or to send them to workshops on board development, fundraising, personnel policies, or myriad other capacity building topics. These grants can be very helpful to keep an organization going. But in the long run it doesn’t work because there is a critical missing element. Staffing.

You can send an organization to a thousand workshops and do a thousand strategic planning processes, but if they do not have staff to implement their learnings, they are not going to build significant capacity. We have many, many nonprofits that are doing good and much-needed work, that are constantly asked to do more work for free, without receiving any of the trust and support to hire qualified staff to sustain and grow their operations.

The paradigm has to shift. I don’t say this lightly, because there are few things I hate more than jargons like “shifting the paradigm.” But the reality is that what we are doing is not working, and we have to change our mindset completely and do things differently. If we value the voice of our diverse communities, we must build the capacity of organizations led by those communities. But we must do it differently than how we’ve been doing it. We must invest strategically and sufficiently. We must take some risks. It to society’s benefit to help these nonprofits break out of the Capacity Paradox.

For the past couple of years I have been working with a group of brilliant and passionate people on a project called the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), a model designed to increase the capacity of immigrant/refugee-led nonprofits by providing this critical missing element of staffing. The project recruits emerging leaders of color from within immigrant/refugee communities, trains them in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management, and sends them to work full-time at nonprofits of color to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness.

Now, we can send these nonprofits to workshops and do strategic plans, because now there is staffing to implement stuff. These emerging leaders get a stipend, healthcare, and a bonus to support paying back student loans or furthering their education. They will get mentorship and support and encouragement to stay in the nonprofit field and rise up to become leaders within their communities.

RVC addresses several needs, among them the vital staffing that is required for capacity building to be successful. But it also addresses a scary challenge that many of us are not even talking about: The gap in leadership among the immigrant/refugee communities will widen further because kids are not entering the nonprofit field. Most immigrant/refugee kids are pressured by their families to go into jobs with higher pay and prestige.

Many nonprofits of color are currently led by elders, who will in 10 or 15 years retire, and if we don’t start to develop the pipeline for new generations of leaders of color soon, we may not have many in the future. This will jeopardize all sorts of systemic-change efforts.

So, Rainier Valley Corps will increase capacity of nonprofits of color, improve services to immigrant/refugee communities, build up new generations of leaders of color in the nonprofit field, and foster collaboration between diverse ethnic groups to address inequities. If we do a good job, lessons can be learned that can be applied to diverse communities all over the US.

The project itself is ambitious with nearly $700,000 per year for seven years to support cohorts of 10 to 18 emerging leaders/organizations each year, but if we genuinely want to build the capacity of nonprofits of color, then we must be willing to invest sufficient funds to make it work.

This year, RVC received some start-up funding, enough to hire a full-time Project Director who will focus on raising the $700K/year, develop the infrastructure and curriculum, and strengthen relationships among the various nonprofits, funders, and capacity-building organizations. I firmly believe this model holds promise to greatly increase our immigrant/refugee communities’ effectiveness and voice which is why I left my job as executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) to become RVC’s project director.

It was bittersweet leaving an organization that I love and one that has given me so much in terms of skills and connections as well as relieved some existential angst about the meaning of life. But, VFA is doing great, with an incredible board, amazing staff, and dedicated supporters. I have nothing but gratitude and pride for VFA and all we achieved over the last nine years. I still remember when we had an operating budget less than $20,000, no staff, and one program. I remember staying at the office until midnight to get work done, and then come to my car to find it had been broken into. VFA have grown a lot. We strengthened our capacity. We now have several staff, many great programs serving thousands each year, and we’re being more and more involved in cool stuff like working with other ethnic groups to push for education equity.

VFA is why I so strongly believe that Rainier Valley Corps holds the key to capacity building for immigrant/refugee communities. Ten years ago, when I could not find a job because I had all this passion and no experience, I was accepted into a unique program. It recruited us emerging leaders, trained us in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management.

Then, it sent us to work full-time in small Vietnamese-led nonprofits across the US to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness, and I was sent to VFA. I know this RVC model and how effective it can be because I personally went through it and have seen the results. The program drew us inexperienced-but-passionate grads into the field, and many of us stayed and continue to contribute. Several of us became leaders of our organizations and within our communities, which is great.

Without this program that kept me in the nonprofit field and inspired Rainier Valley Corps, I probably would have ended up on another career path: Writing for Spanish soap operas.

School of Social Welfare Striving to Maintain Oppression

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UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare Teach-In

Berkeley, CA – A contingent of 60 graduate students led a teach-in and mediation at UC Berkeley’s School of Welfare today in response to racist comments made by a tenured Professor Steven Segal who was present along with Dean Jeffery Edleson. The action was organized in support of 25 graduate students enrolled in Segal’s Mental Health Policy course, which must be completed this semester by all students in the Community Mental Health concentration.

On Feb. 10, 2015, students advocated to end class early due to offensive and racist comments made by the professor regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. The day prior, Segal had been invited by students to participate in a school-wide conversation meant to create a safe space for students to share ideas for how the social work profession could be accountable to the movement.

Teach-In 01During class on Feb. 10, Segal, a tenured white professor, began by sharing statistics citing Black on Black crime as the real cause of harm to the Black community. He then encouraged the class to join him in a rap that he wrote the night before, claiming that he had been inspired after attending the Black Lives Matter event the prior evening.

The rap he shared in class caused great offense to students, with lyrics that stated the movement, “needed to stop scapegoating the cops.” The professor also silenced students who questioned and pushed back on his reasoning.

Later that day, Dean Edleson e-mailed a school-wide announcement addressing the incident and discussed the event with the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination who filed a complaint.

On Feb. 12, Professor Segal issued an apology to the class if he had caused any offense by his comments and that this was not his intent. After the incident, students quickly organized to generate a list of demands, including mediation. After several letters and meetings requesting such, mediation was not offered by School of Social Welfare administration.

Students were afforded two options: to attend an alternate class with a new professor on a different day, or to continue in Segal’s class as usual. Students who were unable to attend the alternate class due to scheduling conflicts remained without a solution. In addition, a healing circle was scheduled the week following the incident for students in the class to process together.

After receiving this news, students requested a mediator to be offered from the University’s Ombudsman’s office. The request was again denied. Students then began to strategize alternate actions to make the classroom safe in order to return. A group of Social Welfare students, who were not in the class, organically came together to support Community Mental Health students who had been at a loss for ways to move forward.

Students in Segal’s class met with Dean Edleson on Feb. 23 to discuss their continued concerns preceding their expected return to either class option that week. The following day, Segal reportedly planned to listen to students’ concerns on their first day back in class since the incident. Dean Edleson was present to observe. Student organizers met on steps of Haviland Hall where they hung a banner that read, “School of Social Welfare: Striving to Maintain Oppression Since 1944.”

At the start of the class, students marched into the building singing “Requiem for Mike Brown” inspired by October’s protests at Saint Louis Symphony. Students Karen Navarro, Vanessa Coe and Erika O’Bannon facilitated the discussion, which focused on identifying problems and envisioning solutions.

Students are seeking individual accountability for Segal regarding his actions, which includes attending an anti-racism training and issuing a public apology acknowledging the harm caused by his actions. Students also called for school-wide policy changes, namely developing a strategic plan that addresses faculty incompetence in facilitating discussions about power, privilege and oppression in their classrooms and academedia, limited course content on progressive social change, abysmal efforts to diversify the student body, and an institutional disconnect with local communities.

Dean Edleson agreed to co-develop the strategy with student organizers, who asked for him to initiate action.

These actions are linked to ongoing student organizing within the School of Social Welfare around Black Lives Matter that began in late November.

List of Asks:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHCtpqmTBk0[/youtube]

Media Contacts:

Erika O’Bannon, MSW Student, eobannon@berkeley.edu, (925) 819-0802
Ariana Allensworth, MSW Student, ariana.allensworth@berkeley.edu, (415) 596-1627
Amina Mohabbat, MSW Student enrolled in Segal’s course, amina.m@berkeley.edu

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

The Radical Age Movement Comes Out

New York-The Radical Age Movement held its first public event last evening at the New York Ethical Culture Society.  One hundred people came out in the freezing cold to hear about what it takes to “leverage the power of age”.

The evening began with a welcome from Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, Chairperson of the Social Service Board of the New York Ethical Culture Society.

Alice Fisher, founder of The Radical Age Movement, then talked about the need for people who don’t like the way that old people are portrayed and regarded in what she described as the “youth oriented culture of the United States” need to speak up.  Alice told of her deep interest in longevity and its multiple effects on society and how this led her to the founding of The Radical Age Movement.

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Founder Alice Fisher, MSW

“I came to the realization that the extra years many of us will be living are not tacked on to the end of our lives.  Rather, a whole new stage of life has opened up along the life span, and those are people between approximately 60 and 80 years of age who are still a vital and relevant part of our society.”  “We”, said Fisher who is 69 years old, “are not ready to throw in the towel.”  After being asked, “how do you change an entire culture”, her response was “with a movement.  It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.”  Right then and there the seed for The Radical Age Movement was planted.

After working for over a year with a small 10 person steering committee and launching a website a few months ago, The Radical Age Movement was ready to come out.  “When people leave their career positions, whether by choice or not by choice, they walk into a void”, she said.  “There is no role for us in society, unless we want to accept the description of old just because we are collecting social security.”  People of this age, although older, are not ready to be consigned to the rocking chair. “Nobody even knows what to call us.  Sometimes we’re the old boomers or the young seniors.  We don’t even know what to call ourselves”, said Fisher.

The original agenda for last evening’s event included a participatory demo of what it is like to be part of an age-oriented consciousness raising group.  Not expecting such a large turnout and without enough facilitators to guide the number of groups that would be necessary to run this part of the program as planned, Radical Age decided to let the program run with interactive discussion.  After a presentation about ageism by Joanna Leefer, 65, a care-giving consultant, three people gave personal testimony about their own confrontation with ageism, while two others testified to the effect that participating in consciousness raising around the topic of age has had on the way they are experiencing ageing.

Corinne Kirchner, 79, who is a sociology professor at Columbia University and  who experienced two strokes in her 70’s, talked about the way that people constantly try to give her too much help.  She described Thanksgiving dinner where a nurse who was a guest at the dinner followed her around, prepared to catch Corinne should she fall. Understanding that the nurse was trying to be kind, Corinne was very polite but “inside I was so angry that this person was treating me like a child learning to walk.”10911401_414546068714498_9154173076394596286_o

Hope Reiner, 70, the founder of “Hope Cares”, a companion service that provides one-on-one stimulation, socialization and engagement to older adults, talked about her abrupt dismissal from the consumer magazine publishing world where she worked for over 33 years. “Despite the magazines’ high ratings and high revenue and my standing as the #1 salesperson for much of that time”, she told the audience, “my career ended. I can only assume my dismissal was based on my age.”

Next it was Rodger Parsons’ turn to talk about his personal experience with ageism.  Roger, 68 years old, does voiceovers for Radio, TV, Cable commercials as well as author voiceovers for other venues. He spoke about how ageism is especially relevant in the Voice Over world and ways of dealing with it. “It is especially important to confront situations as directly as possible to get outcomes that make it clear that access to work should be based on the talent of the performer not the performer’s age.”

After each of these testimonies, lively discussions from the audience ensued. People shared their own experiences or commented on the testimony they had just heard.

Alice then took the podium and gave a brief description of the consciousness raising process that The Radical Age steering committee has been using. “The one advantage to participating in this process”, she said, is providing participants the space and time to examine our own ageist tendencies”.  “After all”, said Fisher, “we did grow up in this youth oriented society.”  The Radical Age Movement is developing a guide for people who want to start their own consciousness raising group around the topic of age.  This guide will be posted to The Radical Age Movement’s website, www.theradicalagemovment.com, in the coming weeks and be distributed at their next event on February 21st.

Barbara Harmon, 72, a speech language pathologist, and Jon Fisher, 70, artist and real estate broker, then testified to the changes that participating in the consciousness raising process has made for each of them.

Barbara spoke of how she came to accept the graciousness of those who offer her seats on crowded subways after coming to the realization that her own ageist attitude was getting in the way of her being able to accept aid when offered.  “Accepting a seat acknowledges the fact that my age is recognized; but because of the discussion and support of my peers, I now feel comfortable with the recognition”.

Jon talked about his career in the ad business where everything had to be new and fresh, including the people.  “I had the mindset that I had to look, act, and feel young; and I carried that with me into my personal life.  When I was invited to join the consciousness raising group, I really didn’t think that my ideas about ageing would ever change.  Now, I also feel more comfortable in my age.  The consciousness raising process has made a major imprint on who I am and who I am becoming”.

Remarks and conversation continued until it was time to leave.  Alice asked everyone to take a save-the-date for The Radical Age Movements next event on February 21st.  This will be a 4 hour workshop entitled “The Age Café.”  Through this process, those who attend will have the opportunity to help plan Radical Age’s agenda going forward.

Reacting to Alice’s expression of disappointment at not being able to proceed as planned, one attendee said that  the evening was one huge gestalt consciousness raising session.  Another comment by a member of the steering committee was, “I think we have the start of a real movement here.”  That expression was echoed by many who attended the event.

The Westminster Child Abuse Inquiry: Blood on Their Hands

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Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Geoffrey Dickens campaigned to uncover a pedophile ring at the heart of Westminster. In 1984, Dickens presented a 40-page dossier of evidence to Margaret Thatcher’s then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, implicating numerous prominent figures “in positions of power, influence and responsibility”, including the name of the late MP Cyril Smith. On receiving the dossier, Leon Brittan sent a letter to Dickens, informing him that his file would be given to police and passed on to the Home Office for investigation.

After the Jimmy Savile scandal broke in Britain in 2011, Peter McKelvie, a former Child Protection manager, contacted Labour MP Tom Watson with claims that at least 20 prominent figures, including former MPs and government ministers, had abused children for “decades”. McKelvie had discovered links between paedophiles and the government while assisting police in investigating convicted paedophile Peter Righton who had made his career as a child protection expert. Amongst evidence seized from Righton’s home in 1992 were a vast number of documents that pointed to a “very well organized pedophile network.”

As more information emerged, different investigations were launched by the police, under Operation Fairbank, including inquiries into activities of child abuse at Elm Guest House in London and Operation Midland, which is specifically looking at information about three possible murders linked to child abuse.

HORRIFIC ABUSE

The allegations that are surfacing from victims of the pedophile ring, push the boundaries of human depravity.  Amongst the allegations, is the claim that Liberal MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, abused boys at Knowl View residential school in Rochdale and at Elm Guest House, in Barnes in south west London, during the 1970s and 1980s. In one incident, Smith is accused of molesting an 11 year old boy at the National Liberal Club in London in 1978, insisting that the boy remove his underpants before attempting to fondle him.

At least three other MPs are reported to have been questioned in 1982 after a police raid on Elm Guest House. It was reported at the time that it was being used as a brothel where children as young as 10 were being abused. Whips, chains and ropes were discovered at the Guest House by police officers.

A particularly chilling statement was given by an alleged victim, known as ‘Nick’, who stated that, as a child, he and other boys, aged between 10 and 14 were repeatedly raped by government ministers. He recalled that chauffeur-driven cars were sent to pick up young boys and drive them to locations where they were to be abused. Nick states that he was present in the room when a 12 year old boy was raped and strangled to death by a Tory MP.

Nick also claims that another 11 year old boy was deliberately hit down and killed by a car in broad daylight on a London street as a warning to other boys not to speak out about their abuse. Worryingly, Home Secretary Theresa May has hinted that this only touches the surface of the horrors committed by the Westminster paedophile ring.

Whilst, it was clear that evidence had been collected at the time of the abuse, what makes this heartbreaking reality more sickening, is that there appears to be a widespread and deep-rooted cover up of what happened.

The details of the 40 page dossier, passed from Dickens to Brittan in 1984, still remain unknown, as the police later stated they had no record of any investigation into the allegations and a Home Office review revealed that the dossier “has since been destroyed or lost.”

On 1 July 2014, Labour MP Simon Danczuk publicly called on Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him when he was Home Secretary in the 1980s. Brittan has always denied any wrong-doing, however his death on the 22nd January 2015 has meant that a full investigation in to his actions can never be undertaken.

MEDIA SILENCING

The scale of the cover up reaches much further than a select group of politicians. Two newspaper executives have stated that when they attempted to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse at Elm Guest House, their publications were issued with D-notices. D-notices (Defence Advisory Notice) are issued by government as warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security.

Don Hale, the former editor of the Bury Messenger between 1980 and 1988, recalls being given a file by MEP Barbara Castle, which contained details of a Home Office investigation into allegations made by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens of the existence of a Westminster pedophile ring. Hale said that he asked the Home Office for guidance on the dossier and the progress of the investigation but was repeatedly stonewalled.

“Then shortly after Cyril Smith bullied his way into my office. I thought he was going to punch me. He was sweating and aggressive and wanted to take the files away, saying it was a load of nonsense and that Barbara Castle just had a bee in her bonnet about homosexuals. I refused to give him the files,” said Hale.

“The very next day two non-uniformed officers, about 15 uniformed officers and another non-uniformed person, who didn’t introduce himself, came to the office waving a D-notice and said that I would be damaging national security if I reported on the file.”

Officials running the D-notice system, which works closely with MI5 and MI6 and the Ministry of Defence, have said that the files which would contain the record of the D-notices have been destroyed.

THREATS AND INTIMIDATION

The threats and intimidation extended to more than just media reporters. On the 29th November 1985, Geoffrey Dickens said in a speech to the House of Commons that “the noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat (Peter Hayman) on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list.”

The same week that Dickens handed the dossier over to Brittan, his flat in London and his constituency home were subsequently broken into and ransacked. Nothing was taken from either premises.

However, the level of intimidation becomes even more disconcerting. Last year, Scotland Yard confirmed that they are looking in to the suspicious murders of two men who were in the process of whistleblowing to reveal the Westminster paedophile ring. In 1993, Lambeth Social Services Manager, Bulic Forsyth told a witness that he suspected children were being assaulted by an organized group at a children’s home said to have been visited by a Labour politician. Days later Forsyth was beaten to death in his flat which was then set on fire. A caretaker who was in the process of giving evidence against the child abuse gang died in similar circumstances. Both cases remain unsolved.

More recently, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who has called for a public inquiry into the child abuse, has alleged that before his appearance at the Home Affairs Select Committee where he was to answer questions on child abuse, he was urged by a Conservative minister not to challenge Leon Brittan over his knowledge of the alleged paedophile ring at Westminster.

Danczuk said of the warning that he’d “never spoken to (the man) before in my life but he blocked my way and ushered me to one side… He warned me to think very carefully about what I was going to say the next day.” The minister said to Danczuk, “I hear you’re about to challenge Lord Brittan about when he knew about child sex abuse…It wouldn’t be a wise move…It was all put to bed a long time ago.” The minister also warned Danczuk that he could be responsible for Brittan’s death.

FAILURES OF THE POLICE AND CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

Scotland Yard has also been implicated in the cover up after retired magistrate, Vishambar Mehrotra, revealed the poor police handling of his son’s abduction in 1981.

Mehrotra’s eight year old son, Vishal, was abducted as he walked home from Putney on 29 July 1981. Months later Mehrota recorded a telephone call from an anonymous male prostitute informing him that his son may have been kidnapped and taken to the Elm Guest House to be abused by “judges and politicians.” The recording was given to the police but they refused to investigate the allegation. “At that time I trusted the police. But when nothing happened I became confused and concerned. Now it is clear to me that there has been a huge cover-up. There is no doubt in my mind,” said Vishal’s Father.

Similarly, in May 1979, the Rochdale Alternative Press magazine alleged that MP Cyril Smith had spanked and sexually abused teenage boys in a hostel he co-founded. The matter was investigated by the police but Smith was not prosecuted. Smith never publicly denied the accusations of abuse, nor did he ever take legal action. The Press Office of the then leader of the Liberal Party, Sir David Steel publicly commented at the time: “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.”

Tony Robinson, a former special branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, said that a dossier of sexual abuse allegations against Smith, which police claimed had been “lost” was actually seized by MI5. Robinson said that he was asked by MI5 to send to London a police dossier that had been kept in a safe in his office which he said was “thick” with allegations from boys claiming they had been abused by Smith. On 27th November 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that Smith should have been charged with crimes of abuse more than 40 years earlier.

In September 2013, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme “The Pedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got Away With It” quoted the Crown Prosecution Service as claiming that they had not prosecuted Smith for crimes of abuse because he had been given an assurance in 1970 that he would not be prosecuted, and that prevented them from subsequently reopening the investigation under the law at the time.

In June 2014, Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson of Greater Manchester Police admitted the force’s previous investigations into Cyril Smith’s abuse of children at Rochdale Knowl View residential school “fell well short” of what would be expected today.  Allegations had been made that a paedophile ring had been operating for decades in the town of Rochdale and that men would travel from all over Yorkshire to Rochdale to have sex with Knowl View boys aged between eight and thirteen years of age. Greater Manchester Police had the names of 14 of the 21 suspects, including Cyril Smith. In July 2014, Rochdale council’s inquiry into child abuse linked to Cyril Smith at Knowl View residential school was halted at the request of police. Greater Manchester Police asked the authority to suspend their inquiry while detectives investigated claims of an institutional cover up.

MISHANDLED INQUIRY

In 2013 the Home Office conducted a review on their handling of the missing dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan and claimed that parts of the dossier described as “credible” and which contained “realistic potential” for further investigation had been passed to prosecutors and the police.

The review, covering the years 1979 to 1999, found 527 potentially relevant files the Home Office had kept. However, a further 114 documents that also concerned child abuse allegations were missing from the Home Office’s records.

The government has declined to publish the 2013 review, with a spokesperson saying that “the executive summary reflects very fully the report…If there are allegations, evidence of wrongdoing that people have they should bring that to the attention of the relevant authorities including the police.”

Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May announced a wider expert-led, independent inquiry into whether public bodies, such as the police, NHS and BBC, have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. Within days, the integrity of the inquiry was called in to question as Baroness Butler-Sloss, the retired high court judge, who was selected to chair the panel leading the inquiry was forced to step down when it was highlighted that her brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general for much of the 1980s and was the government’s senior legal officer at the time the Dickens dossier was considered.

Home Secretary Theresa May then chose corporate lawyer Dame Fiona Woolf as Butler-Sloss’s replacement, but she too was quickly forced to stand down after it was disclosed that she had lived in the same street as Lord Brittan and had dinner with him five times between 2008 and 2012. It was also revealed that the Home Office had helped her re-write a letter detailing her contacts with Lord Brittan seven times in a way that played down their relationship.

In April 2014, following the reports that there had been 144 complaints against Cyril Smith and that attempts to prosecute him had always been blocked, Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats called for an inquiry in to his party to retrieve answers to “serious questions” about who knew that Smith had faced allegations of sexual assault. Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party has refused to allow this inquiry.

In July 2014, Norman Tebbit, who had held a variety of government ministerial posts in the 1980s, when asked if there had been a “big political cover up”, said that “there may well have been”, describing it as “…almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time.” Tebbit also spoke of the political atmosphere of the 1980s, saying that “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it.”

WITHOUT JUSTICE THE ABUSE CONTINUES

As the inquiry in to what happened stumbles along and Theresa May struggles to find a replacement Chair for the investigating panel, we must remember that at the heart of all of this, are many individuals who suffered unimaginable abuse when they were at their most vulnerable.

One victim, now in his 40s, has said that the abusers “controlled my life for… nine years. They created fear that penetrated every part of me. That was part of my life day in and day out. You didn’t question what they wanted; you didn’t hesitate to do what they asked you to do. You did what you were told without question or the punishments were very severe. They had no hesitation in doing what they wanted to do. Some of them were quite open about who they were. They had no fear at all of being caught, it didn’t even cross their mind. They could do anything they wanted without question and we were told that.”

It is clear that those who are part of, or who have links to the establishment, are the people who can be least trusted to secure justice for the victims. This week it was reported that Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has published four of the victim’s names online, leading to the victim’s receiving countless death threats. This demonstrates, yet another unforgivable mistake by those whom we should be able to trust the most. If those with the power to uncover the truth about this injustice choose not to, where do we turn to next?

This is a dark episode in British history and my heart is with all those, both victims and whistleblowers, who have fought hard to bring us back to the light. May we soon get there.

Reflection Papers Actually Serve A Real World Purpose

Think back to when you took your program, and you were asked time and again to write “reflection papers” for your courses. I remember looking around the room and seeing the avalanche of eye rolls work themselves around the room much like “the wave” at a sporting event.

Even though this task required us to reflect upon our roles and how our experiences shape how we view education and learning, there were never many of us who enjoyed this practice. Even though I didn’t always love writing calling-and-vocationthese papers, they were an essential task that forced us to evaluate our practice and behaviour as an educator and learner.

In both my personal and professional life, I have made a point to be constantly reflecting on how my role in society has impacted the way I teach and conduct myself as a person. There is no doubt that my white male privilege has benefited me economically, socially and politically. To get a deeper understanding on this issue I suggest checking out this article on male privilege, and then research how oppression can permeate our society.

Since the majority of the teaching population in Alberta, and to a larger extent Canada, is made up of white middle-class folks, we need to be able to confront how our privilege perpetuates our interactions with students and our pedagogy. This requires us reflecting and confronting issues that could conjure up some uncomfortable feelings, confusion, and and even guilt.

Schools are often places where the dominant ideologies and characteristics of a society are perpetuated, which can leave students who don’t fit into those dominant groups feeling less than or not represented in their educational environments. It is absolutely necessary that teachers not only understand how privilege can benefit them, but also how it can shape their classroom rules and what they deem as “good behaviour” from students.

The development of my consciousness has led me down an incredibly rewarding path. Now don’t get me wrong, coming to terms with my privilege led me through an array of emotions. I often felt that I was living through white privilege and guilt at the same time. However, I quickly learned that as a white male of privilege, I have a responsibility to not only understand how my privilege operates, but to also be a part of the solution in ending a system that perpetuates oppression through race, gender, sexuality, class and many other categories.

The understanding and combating of my privileged world view has not ended. It is a daily routine of reflection and dialogue with others to learn how to support and be in solidarity with folks from more oppressed backgrounds. I have a lot of work to do in order to combat my privilege distorting how I view issues within our world and within my classroom. However, it is a life long task that I think is most important in my development as a teacher and person.

What I’m asking teachers to do is to not just understand your own individual privileges as a teacher and a citizen, but to also work towards systemic changes within society to end privilege for some groups and oppression for others. We have the choice to perpetuate the dominant ideology within our classroom or to engage with students in a dialogue of possibility for what a different world could look like. Students never cease to amaze me when they start to discuss new ways that humans could take care of each other a little bit better.

We not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to model for their students the type of conduct and dialogue that it will take to start having these tough conversations. We need to make sure we create environments that ensure students feel safe and comfortable to have these conversations.

Most importantly, we need to ensure that all students have a voice in the classroom to be able to share their experiences around privilege and oppression. After all, it is our responsibility to provide young people the ability to make the world a better place and not just be passive observers in the society in which they live.

Driver’s License and Vehicle Required for Employment

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It concludes about 80% of the job postings I find require a driver’s licence and vehicle as a condition for employment.

For many people, this is inconsequential, or something that’s a given. When I was sixteen, I stood by as some of my friends excitedly obtained their permit, and only a short while later, their license. By the time I was in college, nearly everyone my age — that I knew — had a car. There were, of course, a few exceptions, but I was not in the majority.

Having a driver’s license is expected. If you don’t have one, you’re viewed as unreliable by some and immature by others. It seems to be a prerequisite for many jobs — even ones that pay minimum-wage or only slightly higher. Despite the cost of maintaining a vehicle, gas, and insurance, it’s generally assumed that one will, eventually, earn their license and purchase a car.

It’s different for someone who has had ten eye surgeries.

I spent much of my early teenage years struggling to balance my glaucoma. I was diagnosed with at age nine, and I struggled with school, extra-curricular activities, and simply growing up trying to find my place in this world. My parents were my biggest supporters. The vision in my left eye deteriorated rapidly. I had surgeries in other states. I missed a lot of classes. When I graduated high school, I breathed a sigh of relief.

For the past few years, I’ve been very lucky. My vision has remained stable. However, I still primarily only use one eye, I experience frequent headaches and blurry vision, and my eyes are very easily irritated. I take several medications to keep my intra-ocular pressures stable.

At age twenty-two, I walked across the stage after hearing my name. I had done it — I had earned my Master’s degree. I was beaming; I was glowing. I was prouder than I have probably ever been. And, you guessed it — I still didn’t have my driver’s license.

As I began the process of looking for and applying to jobs, I noticed that the majority of employers required a car and driver’s license. This makes sense where travel is required between offices, I thought, or if home visits are required. But in some instances, it seemed, well… superfluous. I’ve been utilizing public transportation since I was thirteen years old; it’s neither a burden nor does it prevent me from getting to work and being punctual.

What struck me as especially intriguing was the almost always present: “We do not discriminate on basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability….”

Disability.

I’m not sure if I consider my vision impairment a disability or not (the Americans with Disabilities Act does), but that’s beside the point. It is frustrating, and honestly saddening, to have worked so hard for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, and my Licensure — I’m an LMSW — only to see this in job descriptions time and time again.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, this shouldn’t be happening.

Yet it has, and it continues to happen. Cars are not always reliable. They break down. People will always run late. In the part of the world in which I am located, inclement weather occurs all too frequently during the winter. I am trying to learn to drive, but it’s taking time. I’m not sure if it’s ever something I will be fully comfortable with. My safety and the safety of others must always come first.

More importantly, employers requiring someone to have a driver’s license and vehicle to get to work is ableist. It discounts the work myself and so many others have put in. It is discriminatory, and it needs to stop.

Power, Prejudice, and Paradox

I’ve recently changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I now talk about “my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”

indecision-967718-mEven doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.

Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame” to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid.

There has also been the story of Ijeoma Oluo, a woman of colour, who experienced an instant reduction in racial slurs when she changed her Twitter profile picture to one that made her look caucasian.

These examples seem to me to slightly simplify the understanding of power and privilege — change a word here, look a bit different there. I think there are more complex subtleties at work, like context, subjectivity and objectivity, that paint a broader, more complex picture of power and privilege.

So back to me — let’s deconstruct those labels (or decay them) in terms of power and privilege (I’ll use P&P to save keystrokes).

  • Queer — not heterosexual (but not obviously so) — P&P comparatively low
  • Caucasian — not of colour — P&P unquestionably high
  • Cisgender — not transgender — P&P unquestionably high
  • Man — not woman — P&P unquestionably high
  • Unique function (disabled) — not non-disabled — P&P unquestionably low

So the question becomes, where do I sit in terms of P&P? We could do simple maths: 3 high P&P, only 2 low, ergo I have +1 P&P.

More complex maths — let’s give more points to unquestionably (2) than comparatively (1): -1+2+2+2-2=+3 — so I have +3 P&P? Or do I have +6 P&P as well as -3 P&P?

Of course this is where the paradox and complexity comes in, as well as context, subjectivity and objectivity (and other things I haven’t thought of but probably will do later). Let’s do some more decaying…

Context: As I said at TEDxAuckland, but to reframe it slightly, if I’m in a room of cisgender, caucasian men, they will not see my +6 P&P. They will see and/or sense my -3 P&P, feel awkward, discount me and I will lack P&P.

If, however, I’m in a room of indigenous, transgender and/or queer disabled people, chances are my +6 P&P will become very noticeable and my -3 P&P won’t be enough to save me. There goes my P&P. Again.

Similarly, if I’m in a recognised leadership role or on stage talking about P&P to a TEDx audience, I’ll have more of it than if I’m a stranger in the street.

Subjectivity: This works two ways. 1. The more people know me (i.e. the more subjective their experience of me), the more relative P&P I will have. They’re looking past the labels and seeing me for who I really am. 2. The more P&P I feel I have in different contexts, and the more I am aware of the behaviours and language that are commonly understood in the situation, the less threatening my perceived lack or abundance of P&P is likely to be.

Objectivity: I’ll refer back to Leslie Hawthorne, who recounted a story of an orchestra, which lacked female members. On becoming aware of this, “blind” (I’m not sure if that’s offensive or not to people who can’t see) auditions were held, so that decision-makers couldn’t tell the gender of the auditioning person.

Within a few years, female members had increased several-fold. So, ensuring some objectivity around P&P can decrease its impact.

So, where are we? Well, if you’re anything like me you’re likely in some state of confusion and uncertainty which, I would hazard to say, is a very good state from which to tackle diversity, not to mention leadership, complexity and change. Our human need to be sure and certain and to know the answers are precisely what leads us astray in the world, a world which is nothing like what we would like it to be.

In “A Short History of Stupid” by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Razer observes:

When you elevate lived experience to centrality in your socio- political critique and politics, you delegitimise the contribution to debate from other perspectives; if the traditional logical fallacy is appeal to authority, since the 1990s appeal to experience has come to rival it, creating a hierarchy of analysis with lived experience at the apex of authenticity. Moreover, as the phrase ‘check your privilege’ implies, it is not merely that a non- experience- based contribution to a discussion lacks legitimacy, the possession of other forms of experience creates an illegitimacy that is impossible to overcome: the scoring systems used to allocate ‘privilege points’ can be neatly flipped into a ‘how illegitimate is your opinion’ scale, depending on the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your income and your gender. The result is a further fragmentation of public debate on issues, with fewer voices heard and greater unanimity among those voices given the imposition of dominant narratives even within sub- groups. The result is also a lesser willingness among generalists, and particularly media practitioners, to genuinely engage on policy issues arising from or including identity politics, for fear of being labelled racist/misogynist/homophobic/middle class/transgenderphobic/ableist/fattist/perpetrators of rape culture. They live in fear of fatally missing some critical nuance that would reveal them as inauthentic, or worse.

I agree. I don’t see myself (or anyone else) as absolutely either owning or lacking P&P — I don’t think it’s a useful paradigm. Sometimes we have, it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can influence it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re prepared, sometimes we’re not. Sorry kids, it’s messy out there.

And — hate to say it — it’s getting messier.

Social Work Members of Congress Launch Social Work Day on the Hill

WASHINGTON, DC—Spearheaded by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and joined by former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums and current Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Tuesday March 17, 2015 has been declared Social Work Day on the Hill.  A reception will be held in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. to highlight the day dedicated to celebrating contributions social workers make to Congress and the federal government.  The event’s theme is Engaging Congress in the Pursuit of Social Justice.

More than two dozen social work organizations and schools are collaborating to create the event in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, founded by Mr. Towns in 2010 during the 111th Congress. Congresswoman Lee chairs the Social Work Caucus.  A focal point of the day will be stepping up efforts to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus

“Having a day for social workers on the Hill has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the former lawmaker acknowledged.  “This will be a day held each year when social workers from all walks of life can gather on the Hill to celebrate the many accomplishments we have made in Congress and salute the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people.  March is Social Work Month so this is the perfect time to do this.”

Towns, who served 30 years in the House representing central Brooklyn, NY before retiring in 2013, earned his M.S.W. degree at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work.  He first introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act in 2008 during the 110th Congress and it has been re-introduced in succeeding Congresses, most recently in the 113th Congress by Rep. Lee as H.R. 1466.  A companion bill, S. 997, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.  Both Lee and Mikulski are social workers.  Congresswoman Lee earned her M.S.W. degree at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Work.  Sen. Mikulski is a graduate of University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know first-hand the impact that social workers have on our communities. Professional social workers continue to work on the frontlines, helping individuals overcome adversity, connecting families to critical care services, and making communities thrive,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As the proud Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am looking forward to attending yet another successful social work day on the Hill during Social Work Month in March.”

Former Congressman Ronald Dellums, who served in the House from 1971 to 1988 representing the 9th District in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker for the reception.  He later became mayor of Oakland, CA and is currently the Visiting Fellow at Howard University’s Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center.  He was the first African American to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee.

“I am pleased to help bring social workers to the Hill,” Mr. Dellums said.  “There is a sense of urgency today that did not exist fifty years ago when I first arrived on the Hill.  When Congressman Towns and I first came to Congress it seemed like we had plenty of time to address the challenges we faced.  The world is moving at a faster clip today and too many people are being left behind.  Social work must find the big idea that will define the profession over the next decade which is why it is so important that we all come together.”

There are currently seven professional social workers in Congress—five in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.  In addition to Congresswoman Lee, other social workers in the House are Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA53), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA3).  Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are professional social workers.  Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and founder and co-chair of the Out-of Poverty.  In 2013, she was selected by President Barack Obama as the congressional representative to the United Nations.

For additional information, contact Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr., president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) at celewisjr@gmail.com. CRISP is a 501(c4) nonprofit organization Towns helped to found to complement the work of the Social Work Caucus.

Solidarity for Racial Justice and Non-violence

As a group of students, staff, and faculty at the University of Utah College of Social Work, we join our voices with those of other schools, agencies, and communities against recent acts of racism and violence in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, Saratoga Springs (UT) and elsewhere. We recognize our varying experiences with and participation in systems of power and privilege, oppression and discrimination, which make this conversation complex, risky, and uncertain.

utahswWe recognize that racial biases are often unconscious, and that even well-intentioned individuals may lack awareness of our own biases. Thus, this conversation and related actions are necessary aspects of raising our consciousness with respect to racism, systemic violence, and injustice, and taking steps toward healing in our communities and our nation. We are compelled to speak out for justice by our personal convictions and our professional values and ethics; to remain silent in the face of injustice is a privilege that we reject as collusion.

In 2009, African Americans comprised 13% of the U.S. population but 42% of inmates on death row. These national patterns are often reflected in Utah, as well. In Salt Lake City, the rate of arrest for black residents is more than four times that of non-black residents. Minority youth in Utah are significantly more likely than non-minority youth to have aggravated sanctions and longer sentences, while non-minority youth were more likely to have mitigating sanctions applied to their cases, leading to shorter sentences.

Media portrayal of recent events of racism and violence has contributed to a polarization of this issue in which those standing in solidarity with victims of violence are deemed to be anti-law enforcement. We reject this polarizing view of these events, and openly recognize that we are all socialized and implicated within a larger system of racism in our country. Aspects of structural and institutional racism occur within law enforcement, as well as within other professions and the social, political, and economic institutions in the U.S.

We unite as students, staff, and faculty to stand in solidarity with those already working toward racial justice through continued action to reduce racism and violence. Specifically, we seek to examine and change, where needed, the work that we do in our profession and education. We ask that the College of Social Work discuss and develop the following actions:

• Promote and implement College-wide activities that center social justice and equality in the culture and educational aims of the CSW.

• Develop and support dialogue between law enforcement, the criminal justice system, service providers and communities to help heal the wounds of violence and injustice, and to build bridges among participants.

• Collaborate with campus units, local agencies, colleges, and communities on anti-racism and social justice work.

• Encourage the BSW and MSW Program Advisory Committees to develop action plans to address current pressing social justice issues in classroom discussions in a timely fashion.

• Establish regular professional development for campus and field faculty with regard to implementing critical dialogue about privilege, power, oppression and racism.

• Establish an Anti-Racism Task Force within the College of Social Work.

We have grave concerns about observed and documented patterns of racial violence by law enforcement agents across the U.S., historically and currently. As Rev. Meg Riley has noted, “We are buried up to our necks in a history of violence and brutality against people of color.” We know that communities of color and other minority groups are disproportionately stopped and arrested by law enforcement, and prosecuted and incarcerated by the criminal justice system. Across this country we have witnessed too many incidents in which some law-enforcement agents have harassed, beaten, choked, and/or shot civilians – particularly black men – and it has been done with impunity.

As a school of social work, we are professionally mandated to center social justice and anti-oppressive practice for the improvement of human and social well-being. We join colleagues at Smith College School for Social Work in listening deeply and compassionately to the pain, grief, anger, fear and loss in families and communities struggling with these events. We join Portland State School of Social Work and others in continuing to transform our professional work into efforts that promote socially just, anti-racist services, programs, policies, and change.

Media Contact

Dr. Christina Gringeri | Ph:  801-581-4864 | christina.gringeri@socwk.utah.edu

University of Utah College of Social Work

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

Incorporating Homophobia into the Definition of Elder Abuse

Although many older adults receive necessary support from family, friends, and external agencies, some older adults experience exploitation and abuse. Since there is no universal definition for abuse against older individuals, a broader definition refers to elder abuse and neglect as, “any action or inaction by any person, which causes harm to the older or vulnerable person”.

Abuse of older adults includes physical abuse, psychosocial abuse, financial abuse, neglect (active or passive), institutional abuse and domestic violence. Research indicates that family members instigate much abuse against older individuals. Thus, as a result, many abused older adults suffer in silence, making it extremely challenging to estimate and eliminate abuse cases against older adults.

older lesbian coupleEvery year, approximately 4 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse. Additionally, for every case of elder abuse and neglect reported, researchers estimate that as many as 23 cases are unreported. The quality of life for older adults who experience abuse is significantly altered.

They often experience decreased functional and financial status as well as increased dependency, poor self-rated health, feelings of helplessness and isolation and psychological stress. Older individuals who have been abused also have a lower life expectancy than those who have not been abused even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Shari Brotman, Bill Ryan and Robert Cormier from the McGill School of Social Work wrote an article exploring the experience and realities of gay and lesbian seniors and their families in accessing a broad range of health and social services in the community. It recommends that older lesbian and gay individuals would benefit from homophobia being included in the definition of elder abuse. Also, the article articulates the definition of elder abuse should be expanded to include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation. Individuals often experience intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or shame as a result of identifying as an older lesbian and gay individual, and this discrimination is heightened in elderly individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Lesbian and gay individuals, especially lesbian and gay seniors, have a long history of discrimination and marginalization as a result of identifying as a lesbian or gay individual. Incorporating homophobia into the definition of elder abuse would greatly benefit older adults as it would help them to be further integrated in society instead valued based on their sexual orientation. It would also introduce freedom of harassment and/or reduce injury when sexual orientation is seen as a right.

Although there is a need to include homophobia in the definition of elder abuse, there currently is not a well-developed universal definition of elder abuse. Stigma is embedded within identifying as a lesbian and gay individual but also with being an aging individual.

Therefore, before this policy change can occur, a universal definition of elder abuse should be developed. Policy makers should also consider incorporating ageism as well as oppression against LGBTTQ seniors in the definition of elder abuse as well.

Sharing Your Dreams and Knowing Your Purpose

It makes me so sad when I meet social workers who have lost their dreams, their passion, their why. Just like Evelyn. Evelyn is now unemployed for two years. Her heart wasn’t bouncing anymore, her passion for helping people in need was just a dream of the past.

They say you have to be a little crazy. They say you can’t change this world. They say you have to settle for baby steps in moving towards your career goals. However, you know it doesn’t matter if this is a little crazy because you can change this world, and you are prepared to take huge steps to make it happen. As social worker, you know this dream is needed in order to do the job, be effective, and make a difference.

Entrepreneurship can also help social workers who dare to be a little crazy find other ways to fulfill your purpose. To become a successful social worker entrepreneur, there is one condition: you have to know your dream, your passion, and your purpose. Who will dare to change this world or to take those huge steps towards building your own dream instead of building someone else’s dream?

Here are 5 great tips to discover your dream and feel your passion burning again.

  1. Please share your dream!Remember why you choose to be a social worker. I guess there has been something in your personal life that makes you wanna help other people in need. It might come from a personal pain and a personal need for help. Remember this every time you can.
  2. Heal yourself. If there is still pain in your life that keeps you away from your dreams then you have to heal this pain first. Perhaps you can do this yourself. If not, ask for help.
  3. Stand still. Only if you stand still you can get in touch with your deep desires and feel your passion again. Meditate, go for a walk in the forest. Do everything you can to connect with your dreams.
  4. Stop finding it normal what you are doing! If you think that it is normal what you’re doing you don’t see the value anymore. And believe me, you’re delivering huge, huge value.
  5. Share your dream. By sharing it, it comes more real. You can inspire others with your story but and that is more important, others can ask you about the steps you’ve taken to make this dream come true. Imagine their faces if you tell them about the huge steps you take!

It is my dream to help social workers to become a successful entrepreneur, and this is my way of sharing my dream with you. Now, I would like you to share your dream with us.

Looking forward to your comments!

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