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.

Remembering 911 and Social Workers on the Frontlines of Disaster

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Another year has passed since the two jets crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As a longtime New York City resident, I was devastated by what I saw on television from my Washington, DC apartment. I watched in utter dismay and hopelessness as the buildings burned. I prayed for the people who were inside—that they would somehow find a way out of those buildings.

Many were rescued, but many died. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the single greatest terrorist attack on American soil. There were innumerous acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Thousands of photographs captured police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel sifting through smoldering rubble, carrying people and bodies, comforting the grieving.

There were many social workers on the scene but they were mostly unidentifiable. They wore no badges or uniforms. They went about their grim tasks, virtually unnoticed. They were there doing what they always do during disasters—helping children find parents, helping wives, husbands and loved ones find each other, dealing with the shock, grief and trauma that are the byproducts of catastrophe.

They were rarely, if ever, mentioned in speeches and media accounts of September 11, 2001. Like many social workers who meet the needs of people in distress daily, they went about their work without fanfare—not looking for reward or recognition. They were faceless angels among the hordes of volunteers I watched on my television miles away in Washington, DC.

I had just moved to DC a year before and had not long been in one of the towers visiting my daughter Cyndia who was employed on one of the top floors of the Twin Towers. Riding the elevator on my way to see her, I marveled at the engineering feat that created these two gigantic steel monoliths. Views of New York City from that height are breathtaking. I had no worries then about the Twin Towers. They were built to withstand anything—well, almost anything. They were not able to withstand the shock and heat from the burning fuel that eventually caused them to crumble into a pile of debris of flesh and metal. They were not indestructible after all.

I think back to 1968 or 1969 when as a teenager I worked in the post office in Greenwich Village. One of my coworkers had a buddy guarding the construction site as the towers were nearly being completed. One night, we rode a wooden elevator to the top of one of the buildings that was still under construction. There were no panes in the window frames and there were holes in the floor, so we had to be very careful where we walked. I did not walk far but got to see New York City from the sky that night. It was an amazing feeling of awe and fright and I always felt I had a special relationship with those buildings after that experience.

I remember countless trips from New York City to destination south and back. Whether I was driving or riding the Amtrak, it was always a relief when I first saw those towers—sometimes peeking through the clouds—but always standing tall and magnificent. I knew home was just minutes away when I saw those towers.

If I was driving and fighting fatigue, I would get a second wind because I knew that it not be long before I would be back in the comfort of familiar surroundings and the warmth of my bed. The first trip back to New York City after 9/11 was a shocker when I saw the hole in the skyline. It seemed so bizarre and it saddened me to be reminded of the deaths, pain and suffering caused by the removal of those towers. I had lost my comforting signpost that home was just around the bend.

Today we commemorate another anniversary of that tragic and historical event. Much has transpired since that day—some of which we can be proud, some of which we want to forget. Many of the survivors and first responders on September 11, 2001 had to wait nearly a decade for the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 that provided resources for the ailments they incurred during and in the aftermath of the tragedy.

A bill to extend those benefits waits among the many pieces of legislation needing action by Congress while the House leadership deems debating the defunding of Planned Parenthood to be more urgent. Without the reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, thousands may go without the medical care they need. Let’s not forget, many of them are social workers.

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Social Work Internship Debate

The debate of social work internships is a hot topic right now, and I hear a complaint about field placements come up daily. People have been constantly arguing about what works and what should be implemented. It does not seem like there is a clear consensus on the issue, and who knows if there will ever be one. I thought of sharing my perspective, especially with the Summit on Field Education coming up in October.

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Photo Credit: Beatriz Albuquerque, 2005, Chicago, Work For Free Project. Beatriz Albuquerque www.beatrizalbuquerque.com

Before I begin, I will share some information on my background. I am currently a dual-degree master’s student in social work and public administration, and get the chance to be exposed in two different programs. I have a clear focus of what I want to do, but still open to new opportunities. I am 23 years old and will be beginning my TENTH internship at the end of this month.

Yes, I have completed ten internships ALL in the public sector, and I value each of their experiences. In addition to my internship experiences, I worked at the career center at my undergraduate school for over three years and currently work at the career services office at my current school for almost a year. I would say, that I have had my fair share experiences with internships and have observed and learned what works and what does not. That being said, I want to share my thoughts on this internship debate and offer my thoughts.

First of all, I believe there should be an internship requirement for social work programs. Internships are valuable experiences and complement the information learned in the classroom. The more internships a student completes, the more opportunities they get to develop their career goals as well as expand their network. I completely agree with the required mandate for all concentrations, but I certainly do not agree with mandates that are currently in place and some of the suggestions I have heard.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Strict Requirements do not work and making them stricter will not work make them better: The strict requirements that are currently in place for social work internships are harming the current generation of students. Anyone advocating for even stricter requirements is ignorant of what is like to be a student now. We want options, and we want to individualize. Students entering colleges now have grown up believing we are unique, and we constantly brag about it. We each have our own interests and skills, and we want to find experiences that compliment them. A universal approach does not work for every client, and it certainly does not work for every social work student. Enforcing strict requirements is harming social work programs and ultimately the field.

Internships are for Exploration: As I noted before, internships are a chance for students to explore opportunities in their desired field. Since social work is such a vast field, it is important for students to have the opportunity to explore the many options. Students should be able to explore things they like before they enter into a career. I am not positive, but I certainly believe that many students drop out of social work program, because they are forced to perform work they do not want to do. If students had the option to explore areas of interest to them, then maybe they would value their experience more in the program.

Disciplining Does Not Help: This should be an easy topic to conceptualize, but schools across the country are punishing their students for wanting something different. Students are kicked out of programs for horrible field placements at the fault of the school for placing them there. Students are deemed UNFIT social workers for pointing out flaws at their agencies. The director of field education at my school has told numerous students to DROP OUT of the program simply if they do not like the rules. Isn’t that ridiculous? Since when is punishment the way to address issues in social work? Shouldn’t we supporting students through their beginning stages of being a social worker instead of setting them up for failure?

Mandatory Social Work Credentials for Supervisors Limit Options: I understand the reason for requiring a supervisor to have a social work background, but this limits so many opportunities for social workers to get great experiences. If you think about it, there are social workers that understand the values of social work WITHOUT a social work degree. If someone without a social work degree is doing the exact same work job at a similar agency than someone with a social work degree, why can’t they supervise a social work student? If colleges are in need of more placements for students, this should be a rule that seriously needs to be reconsidered. Having a social work degree, does not qualify you to be the best social work supervisor.

Concurrent Course Requirements: I am not sure if all schools require this, but my school definitely does. They require students to be taking course at the same time as their placement, primarily meaning they can’t complete their internship hours at all over the summer. This rule is ignorant of the needs and schedules of current students. I do believe an internship should begin after the student begins coursework, but this rule just makes things harder for students. Taking a full course load and completing an internship that is most likely unpaid is already a lot, and add on top of that working somewhere to pay the bills. If schools were more flexible with this rule, then maybe students will be able to complete the program with less stress and more enjoyment.

Now that I’ve discussed addressed some of the issues I see. Here are some suggestions I have for improvement:

  • Students should be required to have an internship since social work programs are professional programs, but students should have flexibility and should be individualized to their interests, skills and needs.
  • Students should have option in the internships they obtain and should practice applying and obtaining these internships in preparation for job applying process. Students can obviously receive help and support from the school during this process.
  • Students should not be punished for bad internship experiences. They are learning experiences and should be taken treated as such.
  • Supervisors should be approved by the school, but should not have to have a social work degree. Mental Health counseling, advanced psychology, public administration, public policy, business administration, and other applicable degrees can be effective supervisors and provide the student a great perspective in their internship.
  • Students should be able to be flexible with their internships, as long as they are meeting the requirements.
  • Minimum hours requirements could be implemented to ensure students perform an adequate amount of applicable field experience.
  • Internships must be approved by the field office as applicable placements, and the student and supervisor should set a learning plan to ensure all the social work objectives are met in the internships.
  • Students should not have to be placed in internships outside of their career interests unless they desire.

I hope this article is a start for discussion, not an argument. I do not mean to cause problems or trouble, but merely offer a different perspective that could be helpful in this internship debate. Please share these thoughts, and I’d like to hear other opinions.

Who Is Old?

Edith Connors 77 year old body builder
Edith Connors 77-year-old body builder

Who is old?  What does old mean?  Who decides that you are old?  Who do you identify as old?

Is it age?  Do you automatically become old the day you start collecting your social security? Some people collect at 62, some at 66, and some at 70.  Or, maybe it’s the year you become eligible. Can it be the day you retire from your career job?  Or maybe it’s the day you become a grandparent.

My mother-in-law didn’t become old until she turned 90, while my mother decided she was old at 80. They self-selected when to be old. Meanwhile, my best friend who has a form of rheumatoid arthritis self-identified as old when she was only 55. So, it’s possible that old is when you need assistance with certain activities and realize that you are slowing in your performance. A 72 year old friend mentioned to me, “I can’t believe how much longer it’s taking me to walk to the office each morning. I used to be such a fast walker.“  Is she now old?

I am certain that my grandchildren identify me as old, while my peers tell me how young I look. Maybe that’s the answer. Old, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My husband tells me I look as young as the day we met, which can hardly be true since that was over fifty years ago. Maybe we are old when our hair turns gray. Yet, I have a friend who went prematurely gray in her thirties.

Another answer might be that we are old when we start receiving senior discounts. I do have a senior Metro-Card that entitles me to use New York City’s subways and buses at half price. I have an AARP card, and I now go to movies and visit museums for senior admission rates.

Do all cultures and societies see “old” similarly?  Eastern cultures tend to value age and equate age with wisdom. Unfortunately, Western cultures put a higher value on youth. This causes many of the aging people I know to go to great lengths to appear younger than their actual age. I have an 85 year old constituent who came to see me one day carrying a large umbrella. “Is it raining?” I asked. “Oh, no”, she replied, but I refuse to walk with a cane.”

We, here in the United States and other Western industrialized counties, are experiencing a longevity boom. People here may not be perceived as old until they are in their 70s or maybe even 80s. Yet, in third world countries that are ravaged by war and hunger, people are perceived as old at a much younger age.

So, old may be determined by the place you live or the era in which you were born. My grandmother at 70 was an old woman. I am 68 and would not be described as an “old woman” by most people I know. Old can also be determined by one’s environment or the circumstances under which one lives. Those who live in poverty and those who are marginalized may not have access to good health care or healthy food. People who live in these minority communities are old sooner than those from middle and upper class majority neighborhoods.

So, it seems then that old is a socially constructed category. What old is to me may be different than what old means to you.

There is much truth in the adage, “Once you’ve seen one old person, you’ve seen one old person.” We are aging from the moment we are born; and the more we age,–the more we experience our own individual lives–the more diverse we become. Our individual lived experiences then may be the only key to determining when each of us is old.

Are you old?  If so, when did you become old?  If you are not old, what makes you see someone else as old?  Why do you think a society’s definition of old is important?

Social Movement Behind the Label Queer: Understanding LGBTQ populations

The politics of being queer is a radical social movement that deals with sexual identity and gender performativity. It has become a movement of individuals who feel they do not fall within the ‘normal’ social structure.  Some, who claim the term, would venture to say that the label has become to be understood as promoting non-identity or even an anti-identity .

“In the context of a current queer politics, which celebrates those who play out precisely these roles in the form of butch/femme, transgenderism and sadomasochism as the transgressive vanguard of the revolution”, one cannot fully understand where the movement is headed according to Shelia Jeffreys. Queers seem to claim the notion that being labeled as such makes them a walking statement.  But the politics of being queer is not one that just differ “us from them”, it is also looking for a place to fit within society.  It is a term of assimilation.

queer_700In other words, we could say that groups such as these took, for the most part, what we would now refer to as an assimilation approach to politics and to social change. The aim of assimilationist groups was (and still is) to be accepted into, and to become one with, mainstream culture. Consequently, one of the primary tenets of assimilation discourses and discursive practices is the belief in a common humanity to which both homosexuals and heterosexuals belong.  And this commonality – the fact that we are all human beings despite differences in secondary characteristics such as the gender of our sexual object choices – is the basis, it is claimed, on which we should all be accorded the same (human) rights, and on which we should treat each other with tolerance and respect. ~ Nikki Sullivan

So, the politics is not just one of what separates, it is trying to find exactly where they fit into today’s society.  The social movement is a movement that is searching for tolerance.  It is true that queers see themselves as something different and want to own the identity, but with what makes them different is exactly what makes them want to find a place to be accepted.

Growth of this Identity

The growth of this identity is an everyday action.  A new term or way of identifying oneself changes as fast as someone chooses that there is not a word satisfactory to describe who they feel they are.   Putting meaning to a term that represents a wide spectrum of identities and sexualities is most definitely no easy task.  But with the knowledge that “queer” is a term that takes identity to a level in which it flows as easily as the sexuality in which it encompasses, one can try to understand where this new wave of culture is coming from.  Knowing that a label with such harsh beginnings can be reclaimed and used as a word of empowerment is just the beginning in understanding what queers are really trying to convey with their terminology.  In venturing into who uses the label “queer” we begin to see that this identity is one that many claim as a general term for what separates them from “normal” society.

Umbrella Term

With this notion of what this all-encompassing word brings to the table, it is no wonder that the branch of Queer Theory has sparked the interest of scholars.  Queer Theory in academia has brought more justification to it being allowed into everyday situations.  With the new flow of “queerness” out of text to the tangible it has allowed for the act of being a “queer” as a walking, talking political statement.  With the rolling of identities into this neat little package of a label, it has forced this term to not only be an identifier, but it is also a social movement of individualism, which is also looking to be accepted into today’s society.

More Information:

Jagose, Annamarie.  Queer Theory: An Introduction.  New York:  New York University Press, 1996.

What is Social Inclusion

arms-around-the-world-promoSocial Inclusion has become a bit of a buzz-phrase in society today. “I’m not a racist, but…” has developed into almost a joke for those who cannot accept that everyone operates through prejudices on one level or another.

Yet, it is still a common phrase used to excuse a person’s thoughts on another culture. As a Social Worker, you may have encountered prejudices from your Service Users, and it may even have been directed at you. Racism is still deeply embedded into our society, but your job is in an important position to push for change.

A definition of Social Inclusion

Most agree that social inclusion can be defined as a number of affirmative action’s undertaken in order to reverse the social exclusion of individuals or groups in our society; hence it is important to understand what social exclusion is. In this article we view the impact of the “lack of social inclusion” and its consequences.

The lack of social inclusion or racism could be viewed as being seemingly inherent across the world. Some people desire a homogenous society in which to live. Simply going on holiday to a country where people who look like you are rare can result in stares, questions, photographs and even rejection from a society that simply doesn’t understand you. In the UK, the media plays a big part in our opinions on people who come from elsewhere to live here. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that the UK is crowded, that we simply cannot accept any more people. We are force fed huge exaggerations that anyone who wasn’t born in the UK comes here to steal your healthcare, your benefits and convert everyone to their religions and ways of life. Anyone with the ability to look outside knows that this simply isn’t the case.

Nina Davuluri
Nina Davuluri

One recent and very public example of the lack of social inclusion occurred in America after the winner of the annual Miss America competition was revealed to be a lady of Indian descent from New York. This case highlighted the many uses of social media, and how it can be used to raise awareness as much as it can spread hate.

Many broadcasters focused on the mass of racist, derogatory, and rather ridiculous complaints about the New Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, on Social Media. Some accused her of winning too close to 9/11 and that this opened up wounds for the “real American people”. The winner was born and raised in America with no mention of her religious beliefs, yet because of the colour of her skin and her heritage, she should be implicated in a tragedy. There is a level of ignorance and segregation clearly visible in these times that would otherwise have been kept between the commenter and their closest.

Closer to home, many of us have to suffer the propaganda of the English Defence League, or EDL. Formed in 2009 in Luton, this is a far-right street protest community who oppose Islamism, Sharia Law and extremism. They are against social inclusion. They have been described by many as Islam phobic and often take to the streets inciting violence. They are linked to the BNP and have around 30,000 active members at the moment. They were recently denied the right to stage a protest at Tower Hamlets- a large Muslim community- for fear of more violence. Although everyone has the right to freedom of speech and not everyone is comfortable with the UK becoming a multicultural country, the EDL have gained notoriety and a strong opposition from those trying to promote peaceful integration for everyone.

Of course, the saying goes “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” but this simplistic view has a vast impact on social inclusion. Many people learned about Islam after the USA and UK were under attack from terrorists. First impressions have a tendency to stick and the fear created was unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetimes. When Western Countries were subject to extremists and terrorist acts, we became defensive. Islam was not a well-known subject for many, so the extremists became the faces of Islam, the celebrities of the Muslim community. It took a lot of time before any non-extremists were allowed to come forward to defend the Muslim faith. Slowly, the public is being shown the true version of the faith while starting to trust and respect those who enter into their communities. But, a lot of damage has been done and differences will always cause conflict.

Racism and cultural differences have a long history and are the main reason for fears, conflicts and segregation, resulting in the effects of a negative view of social inclusion. It is easy for us to accept everyone, all over the world, regardless of age, skin colour, religion or culture. But, many people do not. To understand this, you have to analyse and accept the almost anchored forms of racism and persecution that have existed, and been considered normal, throughout the history of the entire world. The first British people who arrived in Japan were killed by Samurai because they did not know to bow to them when they passed in the street and were instantly executed.

So, as a Social Worker, what can you do to challenge and combat these thoughts and feelings, which can have a profound impact on a person’s identity and life? How do you support social inclusion?

Firstly, you are expected to continuously acknowledge, recognise and confront all forms of racism, within all of the institutions related to and relevant to your position. Social Work, alongside all Public services, including the Police, are subject to the Race Relations Act of 2000. Public Authorities must promote equality at all times. During your training, you would have been made aware of this and the Human Rights Act of 1998. Social Inclusion are inherent in these laws.

Institutional or Structural Racism is ultimately your focus which is defined as any social, economic, educational or political policies that discriminate or give preferences to one group or another. In working with multiple agencies, you will have seen the hierarchy of society and its vital to understand that race is not a Biological concept. It is a social construction, and the lack of positive steps towards social inclusion leads to further negative impacts for groups of people.

You may experience racist attitudes or beliefs in the workplace through a Service User or from an agency you are collaborating with. It is necessary to challenge these ideologies- even if they are your own. You may have entered the profession with good intentions, yet have realised you are discriminating against someone or a group of people as a result of differences. This could be as simple as not allowing equal time for discussion during a meeting, not providing the same levels of supervision or support to a colleague, or a Service User. Through your own personal growth and Professional Development, you can challenge your own ideas and those ideas of others when equality is not being promoted.

As a Social Worker, you have the ability to build relationships within communities and within your workplace. You have the power to make a change in society for the better. It is your responsibility to recognise the existence of inequality in your personal life, professional life and on a societal level. You can promote understanding and educate people on the many different cultures that live together and mostly in peace.

Racism is just one form of  the lack of social inclusion. There are many others ways in which individuals and groups are excluded in society, and it is important to focus on a person as a holistic being and to ensure that any assessment and interventions by you as a social worker takes into account all of a person’s needs.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Rose Theatre

Recidivism: Reducing Non-Compliance or Victim Blaming?

Court-mandated outpatient treatment in New York State, known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), is a program designed to compel outpatient treatment and medication for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness who refuse to comply with treatment and become hospitalized or violent as a result.  However, this program fails to acknowledge the impact of mental health treatment shortages.

forcedmentalhealthThis error arises because the AOT program, and others like it around the country, falsely associates repeat hospitalization with treatment non-compliance. In many cases, treatment shortages, particularly housing shortages, are a major source of risk for repeat hospitalization. As such, thousands of individuals who struggle or are unable to secure limited mental health services are mischaracterized as dangerous, stripped of their rights to choose their treatment options, and are forced to submit to a court mandated treatment and medication regiment.

Since the creation of AOT in 1995, nearly 12,000 people in New York State have been subjected to court-mandated outpatient. As of 2012, approximately 3,330 people were currently compelled to the program. There are also major racial and geographic discrepancies in the implementation of the AOT program.

According to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) (2005), African Americans and Latinos are subject to AOTs at five and two and a half times the rate of their Caucasian counterparts, respectively. Furthermore, people living in New York City were four times as likely to receive an AOT compared to those living in the surrounding state (NYLPI, 2005). These disparities indicate a major bias in the implementation of AOTs and suggest that other factors are influencing the application of this severely restrictive program.

Current Policy and Background

Assisted Outpatient Treatment was introduced in New York through the 1999 legislation known as “Kendra’s Law.” This law was named in memory of Kendra Webdale, a 32-year-old journalist who was killed when Andrew Goldstein, a man with a severe and persistent mental illness, pushed her front of a subway (Hartocollis, 2006).

Kendra’s Law provides the AOT mandate for people over the age of 18 suffering from a mental illness who are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision. AOTs can only be authorized by a judge and a hearing must prove either, A) lack of treatment compliance led to hospitalization at least two times in the last three years, or B) lack of treatment compliance led to threats or acts of serious violence to self or others in the last four years. In addition, the court must prove that the person’s mental illness makes them unlikely to participate in community-based treatment and that such treatment would be beneficial to prevent relapse and deterioration. (New York State Office of Mental Health, 2014)

600_subwayOnce approved, AOTs require case management services or an assertive community treatment (ACT) team. The person is required to follow a detailed treatment plan, which typically includes both services and medication.

If a person chooses not to comply with the treatment plan, they will be arrested and locked in a psychiatric hospital for 72-hours. After such time, the standard civil commitment process begins where it is determined whether they should remain hospitalized or be released into the community. (New York State Office of Mental Health, 2014)

Critique of Assisted Outpatient Treatment

Some advocates for the mentally ill consider the AOT program a positive step because it mandates providers to ensure care for the mentally ill and prevents people from falling through the cracks (Van Dorm, 2010). There have also been many documented benefits from the AOT program including a decrease in homeless, hospitalization, incidences of harmful behavior (New York State Office of Mental Health).

While the positive outcomes should not be overlooked, we must ask ourselves, at what cost are we accomplishing such feats? What are the unintended consequences of compulsory treatment and are there hidden victims behind the data?

A major critique of the AOT program is that it is likely applied to a wider rang of individuals than the intended population. Specifically, it is applied to individuals for whom services are scare. Recall that the first requirement for AOT is at least two hospitalizations within the last three years. While courts must prove these hospitalizations were caused by treatment non-compliance, it is often difficult to identify non-compliance when voluntary services are limited or substandard.

In a tragic and ironic example, Andrew Goldstein, Kendra Webdale’s assailant, was determined treatment non-compliant because he was not taking his medication when he pushed Ms. Webdale onto the subway tracks. However, this ruling was made despite the fact that Mr. Goldstein’s family and social worker had been fighting desperately for years to obtain medication assistance and supervised housing for him (Wineripe, 1999). Mr. Goldstein was countlessly denied treatment due to shortages and was on a waiting list for housing at the time of Kendra’s death. Mr. Goldstein had been hospitalized fourteen times in the two years preceding Ms. Webdale’s death and was given no priority access to community-based services upon his release.

The assumption underlying the resulting legislation was that Mr. Goldstein was too ill to comply with treatment and should thus be striped of his rights in order to maintain public safety. This is an unfair and victim-blaming perspective. Mr. Goldstein was failed by the system.  He was denied services and then punished for not accessing them. This is not to say that people with mental illnesses never refuse treatment. Rather, it is to say that inadequate mental health services are a much greater cause of hospital recidivism than treatment refusal. Instead of addressing this problem by improving services, Kendra’s Law and the AOT program has focused on stripping the mentally ill of their rights.

Mr. Goldstein’s experience is not unique, as many mental health services in New York are limited. According to the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI, 2009), New York State is in “Urgent Need” of acute care facilities, mental health housing, and crisis intervention teams. According to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013), only 38.5 percent of individuals with a mental illness in New York receive adequate treatment. The shortage of housing services for people with mental illnesses is particularly significance because, “Without appropriate housing in place, recidivism is especially high within this population” (NAMI, 2013). As of 2013, NAMI estimated that 21,000 additional housing units were required to adequately address the needs of the mentally ill.

Because of service shortages, two major distortions of the AOT program have occurred. First, hospital recidivism, rather than a history of violence, has become the dominant mechanism of AOT authorization. According to a comprehensive evaluation of the program commissioned by the state, 66 percent of all AOT cases were opened at hospital discharge to reduce recidivism (Swartz, et.al. 2009). They also found that the majority of AOTs were obtained before seeking an Enhanced Voluntary Service Agreement (EVS). Furthermore, only 15 percent of AOT participants were found to have any history of violence.

The second distortion of the AOT program due to treatment shortages is that court mandates have become the most reliable avenue for an individual in New York to obtain mental health services.  According to NYLPI (2005), because court mandates provide individuals with a “right to treatment” and priority access, AOTs are sometimes sought simply to get people treatment. This unfortunate and perverse distortion of the AOT program is of grave concern because it required the mentally ill to subject themselves to a subordinate legal status in order to be provided the care they need to live healthy, safe and productive lives.

Policy Recommendations

In order to improve the AOT system and ensure only those who are truly non-compliant are court-mandated treatment the following recommendations are provided. First, treatment shortages must be eliminated. This requires a significant increase in mental health financing and an increase in the number of supportive housing facilities, day program services, medication management, and intensive case management.

Second, individuals with a history of hospitalization should be provided priority access to community based services and a “right to treatment.” This includes creating Enhanced Voluntary Service Agreement (EVS) for all individuals who have been hospitalized at least two times in the last three years, rather an the current requirement that these individuals are prescribed AOTs. Third, AOT authorization for individuals with a history of hospitalization should be amended to include proof that non-compliance occurred in the presence of reasonably accessible services.

With these recommendations, the need for court-mandated outpatient treatment will be significantly diminished.  People with mental illness will have the resources that prevent hospitalization and those in critical conditions will have full-access to the services they need to get better.  Most importantly, mental health consumers will maintain their rights, dignity, and freedom to choose their providers, medications, and service-delivery methods. Treatment shortages should not be tolerated and neither should the further disenfranchisement of the mentally ill.

While there may be limited instances where court mandates are necessary, we should resist these mechanism whenever possible. Court-mandates are an oversimplified solution for a challenging program. Ultimately, the currently AOT system unfairly robs individuals of their liberties, dignity, and falsely blame the mentally ill for treatment shortages when the onus is on society.

References

Hartocollis, A. (October 11, 2006). Nearly 8 Years Later, Guilty Plea in Subway Killing. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

National Association of Mental Health. (2009). Grading the states 2009 report card: New York. Retrieved from:

National Association of Mental Health. (2013). Legislative agenda: the need for safe and affordable housing for people with mental illness. Retrieved from:

New York Lawyers for Public Interest. (2005). Implementation of Kendra’s Law is Severely Biased. Available at

New York State Office of Mental Health (NYOMH1): Summary of Kendra’s Law. Available at:

New York State Office of Mental Health (NYOMH2: Assisted Outpatient Treatment Reports: Outcomes. Available at:

Swartz, M.S., Swanson, J.W., Steadman, H.J., Robbins, P.C. & Monahan J. (2009). New York State assisted outpatient treatment program evaluation. Durham, NC: Duke University School of Medicine (June, 2009). DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.61.10.976

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Barometer: New York, 2013. HHS Publication No. SMA-13-4796NY. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

Van Dorn, R.A., Swanson, J.W., Swartz, M.S., Wilder, C.W., Moser, L.L., Gilbert, A.R., Cislo, A.M., & Robbins, C.P. (2010). Continuing involuntary outpatient treatment: medication and hospitalization outcomes in New York. Psychiatric Services, 61(10) 1-6.

Winerip, M. (Nov 1999). Report faults care of man who pushed women onto tracks. New York Times.

Suicide and Depression: Using a Holistic Approach to Assessing Risk Factors

L'Wren Scott

L’Wren Scott, famous fashion designer and girlfriend of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, was found hanging from a doorknob which is being investigated as an apparent suicide. She was age 49 at the time of her death. New York Daily News reported that Scott was depressed, had financial strain, and was experiencing relationship problems.

What were the warning signs, and would a doctor consider financial strain and relationship problems risk factors for depression and subsequently suicide?  If a someone exhibited these risk factors while under the care of  a health care professional, would these risk factors be identified and addressed as social risk factors for depression?

Major Depressive Disorder is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Every year about 6.7% of adults in the United States experience Major Depressive Disorder. Throughout the lifespan, women are 70 % more likely than men to experience depression.

Common depression screening tools such as the MINI International Neuropsychiatric Interview do not screen for social risk factors of depression such as relationship problems or financial strain, although these are two major risk factors for depression. Rather, depression screening tools use a conventional symptoms-based approach to screening for depression and do not consider the whole person. The symptoms-based approach uses a mathematical formula to establish a depression diagnosis. Common symptoms of depression examined in existing screening tools include:

  • Feeling sad or “empty”
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Feeling very tired
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember details
  • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems.

Diagnosing depression using a symptom-based approach ignores the foundational causes of depression in a person’s development and the risk factors they have been exposed to in their life span. In social work, we use a biopsychosocial perspective where human behavior is the product of interactions between an individual and their environment. Shouldn’t our screening process use this same perspective? Research suggests that social risk factors for depression such as divorce, financial strain, relocation, or death of a loved one are just as serious as biological or psychological risk factors for depression.

Social workers can be key change agents in changing the traditional screening process and engage with patients to begin to understand the whole person. Engaging with patients in a helping relationship can assist the treatment team in working with patients in a more holistic manner where the interactions between the individual and their environment are considered in their treatment plan.

If we move away from the limited, symptoms-based approach to depression and engage with patients to explore social risk factors of depression, can we prevent individuals from committing suicide?

If you like this blog and want more, follow me on Twitter @karenwhiteman

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fox News

Funding Free Tracking Devices for Children with Autism

Mom with Son Wearing Backpack 1Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would promptly make funding available to provide free tracking devices for children with autism.  The devices will be provided to families with children who are at risk or have a history of, wandering and elopement.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department already has the funding needed to make this technology available.  Police departments have been given the green light to apply for funding; departments can use the funding awarded to pay for tracking devices to be allocated to families that want them.  This new plan is modeled after the federal program in place that supplies similar devices to families of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The wandering and elopement of children with autism have gained much attention due to the tragic passing of Avonté Oquendo, a 14 years old teen who went missing in New York in mid-October.  So many across the nation had hoped and prayed for Avonté’s safe return to his family, including yours truly.  Avonté’s story shone a spotlight on the thousands of children with special needs who are reported missing each year in this country.

The numbers regarding those with disabilities who are reported missing are astounding.  In 2012, there were 30,269 individuals with disabilities who were reported missing, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (the FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC).  Of that figure, 3,570 were those under the age of 21, and 26,699 were those age 21 and older.  The number of children missing in 2012 was noticeably less than what was reported in 2011.  In 2011, 6,340 of those reported missing with a disability were under the age of 21.  If we were to combine those figures, almost 10,000 children with disabilities were missing within the past three years.

The focus on those with autism is dire because children with autism spectrum disorders have a higher risk of wandering and eloping than children with other special needs.  It has been noted that about half of children with autism will wander and elope; close to one-third of these children are nonverbal, and are unable to communicate their identities to someone if they are spotted.  Children with autism who wander from safe environments such as their homes or school grounds have a tendency to seek bodies of water or may have interests in active highways, trains, and the like.  Any of these predicaments or fascinations could cause the child to place her or himself in harm’s way while they attempt to “explore” these new surroundings.

The action taken by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Holder is encouraging; the needs of people with disabilities, especially our children, are in the consciousness of those on the federal level.  This new technology has the potential to save the lives of our children, as well as others who may wander from their safe environments.

What are your thoughts about this new initiative?  Is your family one of many in this country who could benefit from using these tracking devices?  If you are currently utilizing a tracking device to keep your loved one(s) safe, what benefits or drawbacks of this technology have you experienced?  Share your thoughts and stories regarding this subject with me.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Digital Trends.)

How Human Trafficking Factors into the Super Bowl

sextraffic

There is a strange and disturbing association between sex and football in our country. Perhaps, it’s because football is an American sport of which we are uniquely proud, but we also must examine whether it provides unique protections to its players. Also happening in a few other industries, rampant cases of sexual assault are often ignored or excused. However, at both the professional and collegiate levels, star athletes often receive a pass despite allegations of perpetrating heinous sexual crimes against women.

In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott put the Superbowl on the map as the largest single prosecuted incident of human trafficking in the US. However, the jury is still out on the accuracy of this statement. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has used the occasion to push for the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which imposes harsher penalties for those found guilty of selling or purchasing humans. New York and New Jersey have taken special precautions to reduce the number of humans trafficked in relation to this weekend’s Superbowl game. Whether or not the incidences of trafficking are higher at the Superbowl, it is important for this issue to receive increased attention.

Recently, former kicker for the University of Michigan, Brendan Gibbons, was expelled, and he was arrested for an alleged assault dating back to 2009. Yet, the University lauded him as a game-changing superstar. Taylor Lewan, one of Michigan’s All-American athletes was alleged to have threatened to rape the victim again if she pressed charges. Gibson was not expelled until 2014, after his eligibility to play football had expired. Read the full story.

Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and two-time Superbowl champion, was accused of multiple sexual assaults in different states by different women at different times. He had to sit on the bench for six games. He is still widely celebrated for his successes on the field.

No matter the sanctions and no matter the accusations, fans and franchises alike defend their players at nauseam claiming there is not enough proof to jeopardize a man’s precious football career. There is no way to know for sure, her word against his. Our general public thinks that 50% of all rape accusations are false. The actual number? Somewhere between two and eight percent. This means that more than 90% of all alleged rapes actually happened and are not desperate attempts at fame or fortune. And with those odds, you don’t need to be good at math to crunch the numbers on Roethlisberger.

These incidents are becoming a frequent occurrence among football players. Michael Crabtree, 49ers wide receiver, was questioned in a sexual assault investigation two weeks ago just as the team’s season ended in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. What does this say about our values as a nation?

Maria Shriver’s latest report on the status of American women features a piece by Sister Joan Chittister who says,

“”In our own country, rapes in the military and rapes on college campuses go unpunished because “boys will be boys,” and winning wars and football games are more important than protecting the integrity of the women who are the victims of rape.” Read full article.

What is this allegiance we pledge to football over the freedoms and safety of American citizens? How can we not only ignore these crimes but celebrate and highly reward those who commit them? And what is that teaching our daughters about their value in our society?

So, this Superbowl Sunday as you watch the game think twice about what’s happening off the field. Enjoy the commercials with a grain of salt remembering the harsh and lasting impact the objectification of those models and actresses have on young boys and girls. When the blimp gives you a bird’s eye view of the stadium, try to spot the women being forced to sell their bodies in the parking lot.

While you watch the Seahawks, think of Jarriel King, a former Seahawk who was dismissed from the team in 2012 after a sexual assault and now plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football league. When you watch the Broncos, think of Perrish Cox, a former Bronco who actually impregnated the woman who accused him of raping her, though he was like so many others, acquitted of the charges.

There’s no way to put ourselves in the skin of someone who has been raped, to walk a mile in their shoes, or to know their pain. But, we could start by taking their word for it and by holding perpetrators accountable regardless of their athleticism. Then, maybe our daughters and future daughters won’t have to know that pain either.

Social Workers Respond to the LA County Social Workers Strike

LA Social Workers Strike
Social Workers Strike in front of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services

For social workers with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Friday marked their second day on the picket line with no progress being reported towards reaching an agreement with the County. Social Workers initiated the strike due to low pay and high caseloads which prevents them from properly investigating reports of abuse, neglect, and dependency as well as providing other emergency services. The strike is being led by Bob Schoonover, president, of the local Services Employees International Union (SEIU) 721 which represents approximately 3,500 social workers.

As a former child welfare investigator, I fully support the efforts of the L.A. social worker’s strike, and I hope it will help elevate the plight of public sector social workers from their current invisible status. As a result of the Great Recession and self-imposed austerity measures from all levels of government, public sector social workers have silently shouldered the burden of responding to the increased need for services despite having resources and manpower levels less than they were before the recession.

Public Sector social workers lack the national lobbying power of teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, and nurses which often leaves us out of any legislation protecting educators and first responders from cuts. Social Services agencies are also not required to maintain any accreditation standards like schools, hospitals, and police departments which means administrators and government officials are unregulated in their policy making. In this case, if the union is unsuccessful in negotiating reduced caseloads for the workers, there is no other body of government to seek redress.

The federal government only monitors outcomes and whether a social worker completes cases within the allotted time frames. It does not take into consideration how many cases the social worker has on his/her caseload. Every day, social workers are forced to maneuver a broken system while trying to restore hope to children and families in need of help, but what happens when the social worker’s hope is gone?

Social workers and other key stakeholders who have taken an interest in the LA social workers strike have been quite vocal in either their support or opposition. According to a post from a social work forum against the strike, Annette Mahoney-Cross an administrator with a New York Child Welfare agency stated,

“So I have to comment on the strike of public child welfare workers in LA. I finally had time to read articles from other media outlets and I cannot support this work action. I am an administrator at one of the largest public child welfare agencies in the country in a suburb of New York City. I am also a union leader who sits on the board of directors of my union.

In NY public employees are prohibited from striking as per the Taylor Law, with good valid reason. There appear to have been other options available to staff and in fact two union delegates stepped down because they felt intimidated by union officials, Yes it is abundantly clear they more staff need to be hired, but why has the union not directed a work action before a full on strike? Workers refuse new cases, get written up and then use the grievance process. Involve the Child Welfare League of America to discuss recommended caseloads? These are only a few options which could have been explored, but SEIU does seem to like to strike first to try to force management’s hand. Sadly the only ones to suffer will be the families.” via Facebook

In my opinion, I believe the above stated view is limited in its thought process while failing to take into consideration the larger picture. In this country, Red states have the highest poverty rates, reliance on social welfare programs, and the poorest outcomes for children living in America, and social workers in these states are barred from unionizing as a result of Right to Work legislation. By continuing with the strike, LA social workers are not only exposing systems failures preventing social workers from providing quality care to children and families, but they have the ability to become the voice for other social workers who have been silenced.

Despite outcries of opposition, support appears to be growing for the social workers’ strike and is evidenced by the comments on the SEIU Local 721 Facebook Fanpage. You can also stay up to date with SEIU 721 on Twitter @seiu721using the hashtag #721strike.


Photo Credit: SEIU 721 Facebook Page

Dementia and Alzheimer’s: The Challenges of a Caregiver

It is 5:23 AM in the morning, this is the third time that I’ve been up with my mom who is increasingly deteriorating from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. “Oh God please God what is happening to me”, my mom says. “Did I do something wrong, am I going crazy? Please God, help me.”

Present day, my mom has to wear adult diapers with both urinary and bowel incontinence.  She is extremely embarrassed by these set of circumstances. She says, “I am an  89 year old woman, I am not a child.”  There are times when I hear my mom wish for her own death rather than continue to deal with the hand that she has been dealt. It is an insidious disease that creates havoc and makes it difficult for both the individual and the caregiver.  If not for a loving husband and sister who pitches in, I think I would have a nervous breakdown.

Carethey Wooten

It is difficult for me to watch, a once a vibrant strong African-American woman who is now confused, scared and extremely fragile. Here is a woman who said to me as a child, “You must always walk with pride and dignity because when you walk down the street you are carrying Negro womanhood with you.” She meant it because she lived it. In 1968 when there was a major teachers strike in New York city, she was one of the many parents who kept the schools open teaching their children. It was a strike that lasted several months not several weeks.

It was a strike that led many parents to fight for parental control in their schools. It led to something called decentralized schools. Almost 40 years later, the mayor of New York City used sensationalized anecdotal information to gain control of the schools once again. My mom spent almost 30 years in the school system as an assistant teacher working with difficult children teaching them to read. Not only did she do this for a living, she would tutor neighborhood children. There are many children that can point to my mother, including my own son, as the one responsible for them enjoying reading today.  Not too long ago, I even met a position on my job who pointed out my mother has keeping him on the straight and now. He said your mom was Mrs. Wooten, Mrs. Wooten, Wow she used to keep me in line and grade school. I was a real menace at that time.

You would think that having worked in behavioral health care for 10 years, I would have the requisite skills to be a caregiver and deal with my situation. However, when working with your own family, it makes it that much more difficult. I am now about to take caregiver training classes on dementia from the agency that provides home attendants for my mom.  It is my hope that this training will further my knowledge of this disease and provide the much-needed coping skills I need as caregiver.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDDSk-L-R90[/youtube]

Hospice and Palliative Care: Where Are We?

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care month and palliative care is still in its infancy. We are still learning and growing, and in many ways, fine tuning who we are and what we do. As social workers and as leaders, we have work to do. It is critical that we continue to hold true to our core values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence, especially as we look at these numbers provided by the Administration on Aging (AoA):

  • PopulationThe older population (65+) numbered 41.4 million in 2011, an increase of 6.3 million or 18% since 2000

  • Older women outnumber older men at 23.4 million older women to 17.9 million older men

  • In 2011, 21.0% of persons 65+ were members of racial or ethnic minority populations

  • About 28% (11.8 million) of non-institutionalized older persons live alone (8.4 million women, 3.5 million men)

  • Almost half of older women (46%) age 75+ live alone

The statistics go on and on and we know that members of our older population will be requiring care of all kinds in ever increasing numbers. Enter…the critical role of the social worker. But, I hate to ask, is the role of the social worker really critical? Let’s take a look: Palliative care is defined in part by the following:

  • Holistic care, utilizing the biopsychosocial/spiritual model

  • Addresses the needs of the patient and her/his family system

  • Assists people to design and achieve their best possible experience

  • Guides, supports and empowers people through the process of understanding what is important to them in their lives

  • Utilizes highly skilled and well-coordinated interdisciplinary teams

  • Assures teams are guided by the patient/family centered plan with the goals they have given to us, and…

  • Aggressively addresses both pain AND suffering

Eric Cassell describes suffering as distress brought about by the actual or perceived impending threat to the integrity or continued existence of the whole person. He states that suffering can include physical pain but is by no means limited to it.¹

But it is not just “pain and suffering” on people’s minds as they live in the light of serious illness. In addition, people struggle with thoughts of letting go of life and as they look for ways to find meaning in their experience. Hospice and palliative care can never have a predominant focus on pain and symptom management with the rest of the team serving in a “by-the-way” capacity. That is not who we are and it is not what we promise. All members of the team are necessary for a person to have a true palliative care experience – and all need to be working in concert around a person-centered plan.

It is now critical for social workers to step up as leaders in palliative care, whether it is raising the bar for more efficient teamwork or at the mezzo level, influencing care nationally and internationally. The goal is to help assure a more consistent approach to care that includes our clinical skill development and best practice approaches.

With this in mind it is exciting to discover that educational opportunities for palliative care and hospice social workers abound. Everything from live intensives to all online programs are available to accommodate diverse learning preferences.  Online programs offer social workers the flexibility to obtain certificates without ever leaving home and completing modules/assignments while working part or full-time.

So here is my challenge for hospice and palliative care social workers this month:

  • Service – work on raising the bar for true inter/transdisciplinary practice

  • Social justice – make a special effort to identify the underserved individuals and populations in your community and reach out

  • Dignity and worth of the person – never forget that “the person” not “the patient” is who we seek to serve

  • Importance of human relationships – “problem focused care plans” are not who we are…nor is our approach “diagnose and treat”. This about assisting people to have THEIR best possible experience which includes “opportunities” they might not have identified on their own

  • Integrity – Our job is to do the best job we can, in every situation, with every person

  • Competence – it is our responsibility to never stop looking for better ways to serve – to never stop seeking ways to improve/complement our skills

In the book “Phantom”, author Ted Bell describes a conversation between a young naval cadet and his boxing instructor. The instructor said:

The ideal fighter has heart, skill, movement, intelligence, but also creativity. You can have everything, but if you can’t make it up while you are in the ring, you can’t be great. A lot of chaps have the mechanics and no heart; lots of guys have heart and no mechanics; the thing that puts it all together, it’s mysterious, it’s like making a work of art, you bring everything to it and you make it up while you are doing it.²

This sounds like social workers. We pack our bags full of skill (mechanics) and life experience (heart) and then…we make it up while we are doing it. During this special month, let’s remember to recognize the importance of all social workers in every area of practice. Stepping up as leaders is truly in our blood and at the heart of who we all are.

For more information on palliative care courses for social workers, visit www.csupalliativecare.org.

References

¹Cassell, Eric J. 2004. The Nature of Suffering, Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y.

²Bell, Ted (2012). Phantom. Harper Collins, New York, N.Y.

Responding to the Bereaved: To Be and To Do When Dealing With Bereavment

When People Talk, Great Things Happen

GriefAmericans seem to prefer “doing” rather than “being.”  When someone dies, we feel that we have to “do” something for the bereaved, not “be” something.  Wait: think.  Just sit and listen.  That’s better.  That’s “being.”  The gift of self is greater than the effort to act, and  action too often minimizes the grief of the bereaved.  It surrenders to an impulse to turn away from death and grief pain.  It tends to deny death.  Doing tends to minimize grief and maximize denial.

That is exactly the opposite of what the bereaved person needs and wants most.  His first and primary response to loss is always a sense of aloneness.  This is a simple law of gravity.  His greatest need is connection with others.  The greatest need is to be with others who will listen and hold a hand and try to understand the pain of loss.  To be heard is to be respected and valued because it affirms life, health and growth.  It is a small candle of light into a future that temporarily appears dim.

For the listener, looking inward is healthier than the impulse to run away.  The easy way is not always the best way.  Following the impulse is the easy way.  Insight is harder to achieve.  “Sometimes we make a difference less by what we do than what we are” (Stacks 2005).   What we do for the bereaved person matters less than who we are.  Sometimes it takes courage to be insightful.  Sometimes it is a struggle because death is frightening for everyone.  Fighting that fear takes willpower.  Insight achieved might be necessary in order to stop “doing” and listen carefully, compassionately, and patiently to the bereaved person.  Listening matters.  Taking time to listen matters.  Time is vitally important.  Take time to talk.  Talking is renewable energy.  Listening and talking make a difference to the bereaved and to the listener as well.

It is clear that active listening will point the way to “doing.”  First, we must know the bereaved person’s special and unique thoughts and needs of the moment.  We must know who he is, right then and there.  Only when we know his place in the grief work can we begin to consider what actions might be most helpful.  Knowing takes listening.  Listening takes time.

Making prior assumptions about “doing” will usually rob the bereaved of his/her sense of uniqueness and being understood, and   exceptions must exist.  For example, grief support groups can be lifesavers.  The rule remains: prior assumptions about “doing” are often misguided and hurtful.  “Doing” is a consequence of “being.”

Our society has it backwards.  Being comes first, and then doing.  However, perhaps the best “doing” is being there, with time to listen and talk.  Listening is also a very special action, one that fully recognizes the mourner’s pain of loss and grief.  The circle is unbroken,  but let’s be sure that we change ourselves first.  Gandhi was wise: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

References

* Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, PhD. To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, New York: Schocken Books, 2005, p. 239

SCOTUS Strikes Down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

by Logan Keziah

supreme courtOn Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down what some consider to be one of the most important parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4, is the part of the Voting Rights Act that was designed to protect minority and vulnerable voting demographics from being targeted in voter suppression efforts. The formula included in this section subjected many states and jurisdictions, primarily in the south, to federal oversight regarding changes in elections laws, and redistricting maps. The overall reasoning behind the court’s decision to strike down the section can be summed up best by Chief Justice Roberts as quoted in NBC News:

Roberts cited census data showing that black voter turnout now exceeds white turnout in five of the six states originally covered by the law.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Read Full Article

The Court’s decision ultimately said congress needs to determine a more updated formula for determining which states would be required to get preclearance as outlined by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. At first glance, the decision doesn’t appears to recognize the progress that has been made in the past 48 years when the bill was first enacted.  Why not reevaluate the way preclearance states are determined. However let’s look deeper at the issue.

The republican controlled house and democratic controlled senate cannot seem to find common ground on anything. The house is busy debating unconstitutional regulations on women’s reproductive health and further voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This current climate prevents them from exerting energy on important and pressing issues that polls have shown are in the forefront of the American people’s minds on issues such as comprehensive background checks, Immigration reform, the student debt crisis, and the country’s unsteady economy. Congress could come together now and decide on a new formula to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country from efforts to suppress their votes. However, this option does not seem remotely possible.

Secondly, should congress actively take up the job of developing a new formula for pre-clearance while many states will be free to move forward with legislation changing voting laws that disproportionately affect minority and vulnerable populations without having them checked by the Department of Justice. Research shows that States with pending voter ID legislation would disproportionately affect minority, senior, and student voters. Proposed legislation seeks to shorten early voting, do away with same day registration, and/or other measures that ultimately restrict voting access. Many of the states can now push forward with their conservative cooked up legislation without barriers.

The full implications of the Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to determine, and ultimately Congress does have the ability to develop a new measure to protect these vulnerable populations from discriminatory voting law changes.  However, it is highly unlikely. As far as the court’s ruling,  Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. supported striking section 4 from the Voting Rights Act, and Justices Ruth Bader, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Systems and the Sociocybernetic Map

Ecological systems theory and practice is part of an ongoing series, and this article will focus on systems and he sociocybernetic map. I will be discussing ecomaps, genograms, and critical events timelines. Bronfenbrenner was not the only person exploring the application of ecological systems theory thinking in 1979. Ann Hartman published a book demonstrating how an ecological approach could be used in family assessment. Her book introduced ecomaps to the assessment lexicon and tool chest.

Ecomap
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Ecomaps are characterized by circles representing individuals and groups and linked in various ways. The linking of the circles provides an indication of the relationships between the systems. A solid line indicates a strong relationship. A dashed line indicates a tenuous or fragile relationship. A jagged line indicates a fractured or stressful relationship. Arrows, plus and minus signs can be used to represent energy flow between the systems.

Ecomaps are a good way to visually represent the client system, the influences on the client, and the energy flow to and from the client system. The worker may use the ecomap to organize the client’s systems to be reviewed in staffing. It may also be used to provide a visual aid when explaining assessment of the problem to the client.

Genogram

SampleGenogramWithoutEmotionalRelationshipsIn 1985, McGoldrick and Gerson introduced a new method for mapping the family system. This new system visualized the client in the context of other relatives including parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, nephews, and nieces.

The genogram is not only concerned with the relationships among the systems, i.e. the lines connecting them representing relationship. It is also concerned with the health and well-being patterns represented in the individual persons included in the diagram. A thorough genogram will also include medical information including diagnoses.

Because of its inclusion of medical and relational data, the genogram can be used in medical health care settings as well as mental health care settings. Patterns of illness, including mental illness, failure to thrive, family complexity, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse, and other trauma may be noted in the genogram. The Wikipedia article on genograms provides a useful visual demonstrating symbol usage as well as how the use of color expands the information potential of the genogram.

Adding the Critical Events Timeline

The concept of creating a timeline of events is not new. Perhaps the best known application within social work is Cournoyer’s (2010) explanation offered in his multi-edition text: Social Work Skills Workbook. The timeline provides a visual list of important events that have shaped the life of the client.

Cournoyer suggests two columns. The first column lists the age of the client when the event occurred. The second column lists the event. The age range typically extends from birth, beginning the chart, to the present age of the client.

The critical events timeline can provide a chronological representation of the events that have impacted the client. Timing is critically important in determining the impact of events on the development of the client. For example, childhood experiences have been shown to impact adult choice behavior (Felitti et al, 1998).

Expanding the Use of Mapping Tools

The tools presented, ecomap, genogram, and critical events timeline provide visual means to examine the influences on the client. Both the ecomap and genogram also provide a context for the client as system and the related systems. Yet, neither explains the context from the perspective of the client. This misses the opportunity to begin to clarify the opportunities, contracts, and negotiations that the client perceives—the basis of choice behavior.

Introducing the Sociocybernetic Map

The solution is to include elements of environmental practice in a mapping of systems, perception, and meaning over time. Imagine a combined ecomap/genogram distinguishing between “high influence” and “low influence” relationships completed multiple times corresponding with the ages on the critical events timeline. The point would be to identify the extent, enduring nature, and choice pressure of relationships based on membership, diffusion, relationship characteristics, and historical factors—the ability confirmed by an understanding of complex systems.

The best example is to consider relationships as chess boards. Each chess board represents the choice behavior matrix of individuals as they attempt to reach goals they have set for themselves. In order to understand the choice of the client, you will need to identify the choice options perceived by the client at a given time. A sociocybernetic map providing insight into the complex systems impacting the choice can provide a model of the chess boards, and possible moves, perceived by the client.

Bibliographic Notes

Cournoyer, B. (2010). Social Work Skills Workbook. Independence: Cengage Learning.

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS.Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1998;14:245–258.

Hartman, A. (1979). Finding families: An ecological approach to family assessment in adoption. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Hartman, A. (1995). Diagrammatic assessment of family relationships. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 1 , 111-122.

McGoldrick, M. and Gerson, R. (1985). Genograms: In Family Assessment. New York: W. W. Norton.

[EST&P stands for Ecological Systems Theory and Practice. ]

Hollywood Celebrity Angelina Jolie Discloses Double Mastectomy

Angelina-Jolie-2013-Angelina-Jolie-HD-Wallpaper
Angelina Jolie

Mega star actress, Angelina Jolie,  sent shock waves through the media when her op-ed disclosing a double mastectomy was published in the New York Times on May 14, 2013. Jolie discusses how her family history and the loss of her mother to cancer played a huge role in her taking preventative measures to increase the odds of longevity for her children.

The opinion pieces also acknowledges how this life extending preventive measure was an option afforded to her only because of her financial means. Angelina’s disclosure brings to light the health care disparities many low income and uninsured women face in obtaining treatment and preventative care.

She also discloses the financial cost of the testing necessary to determine if she was at risk. The test itself was $3,000 which does not include the actual cost for the double mastectomy procedure and the reconstructive surgery. Many advocates for cancer screening and early education feel Angelina Jolie’s opinion piece will help efforts to educate young women on cancer risks and the importance of preventive care.

According to the New York Times, Angelina Jolie stated,

MY MOTHER fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.

We often speak of “Mommy’s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer andovarian cancer.

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex. Read Full Article

For information on treatment and preventative care covered by Medicaid and Medicare, you can visit . The American Cancer Society is also an excellent resource to gain insight and access to information on cancer statistics, treatment, and preventative care. Below, you can view and download the latest cancer statistics.

[gview file=”http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-036845.pdf”]

Autism Awareness: Letter from a Mother and a Teacher

Dear Social Workers,

My name is Niki Schomas, and I am a special education teacher and parent of a child with autism.  I recently released a 27-song social skills album titled “Beautiful You”, and although it is applicable for all children, it is specifically appropriate for children that are affected by autism related disorders.  I worked very closely with different school social workers to identify the needs of the children they served, and created music that could be utilized by children, both during social work sessions, and outside of those sessions to provide them with support when a social worker was unavailable.  I thought that given that April is National Autism Awareness Month, I would share this resource with you, given that, according to the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a recent study shows that children with autism are more than four times as likely to be the victims of bullying.

Autism FacebookTom McIntyre, a former teacher of students with behavior disorders and learning disabilities, currently a Professor of Special Education and Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Behavior Disorders at Hunter College of the City University of New York, recently stated this about the music:  “An absolutely wonderful cornucopia of music (you’ll be able to listen to a great deal of it for FREE) that is not only beautifully composed, arranged, played and sung, but also teaches social skills and cognitive processing of events and feelings to youngsters with autism (and other mental health and behavioral issues).  I was floored when I first listened to this CD.   It is nourishment to the ear, the soul, and the cerebral cortex.

My ultimate goal for the music is to provide children, families, and therapists with an inexpensive therapeutic tool that can be enjoyed and utilized to help teach children necessary social skills to help them succeed in life.  I have piloted this music with my son, special education students, and some general education students as well, and the results are all consistent.  When children learn new coping strategies through music, they are able to recall the strategies they have been taught when their behavior is escalating, and consequently learn how to independently manage their own behavior.  The beauty of the music is that it is fun, and it doesn’t require any “work” on the part of the parents and children.  It requires a cd player and perhaps a car ride of listening to enjoyable, contemporary music.

My website address is nikischomasmusic.com, where you will find free excerpts of the music, and be provided with the ability to download or purchase the music from amazon or cdbaby.com.  My contact information is nikischomasmusic@gmail.com, and I would love your feedback in terms of the music I have written, as well as ideas for future songs that will help all children learn to grow socially and emotionally.

Thank you so much for everything you dedicate your lives to helping children succeed.

Have a blessed day!

Niki

p.s. The sales of the cd will be utilized to help create a private school for kids whose academic and behavioral needs are not being met in public education settings.  The irony of my life is that because there is no appropriate placement for my son with autism, he is being privately homeschooled by a certified teacher, while I continue my career as a special education teacher.  There are too many children like my son, and my goal is to reach out to them and provide a safe, educational environment where they will thrive academically, be celebrated for their individuality, and encouraged to overcome challenges.

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/AutismAwarenessPage

Interview with Matt Braman: Author Behind Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence

Rarely, do I read an opinion piece or article not located on a social work site written from a social work friendly place. When I do, I immediately think this person must be a social worker or affiliated with the profession in some capacity. When I came across the article Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence,  I wanted to know more about the person and inspiration behind the article, so I contacted the Washington Square News, New York University (NYU) Student Newspaper. I had the opportunity to discuss with Matthew his article, and here is some of our conversation:

SWH: Tell me a bit about yourself and your educational background?

Matt Braman NYU Welcome Week Photo
Matt Braman NYU Social Work Student

Matt: Currently, I am an advanced standing Masters of Social Work (MSW) Candidate at New York University Silver School of Social Work. My MSW Field Placement is with Good Shepherd Services (GSS) in the Brooklyn LIFE program. GSS is a leading youth development agency based in New York City and the LIFE program is a juvenile justice initiative based in East New York, Brooklyn.

I am also a contributing opinion columnist for the Washington Square News and a member of the NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week student planning committee. My undergraduate social work degree (BSW) is from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Michigan where I also interned at the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative for the BSW Field Placement.

Following my graduation from EMU, I served one year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) also where I built program capacity, provided direct services to ex-offenders on parole and in seek of employment, and co-facilitated two psychoeducation and support groups which included Job Club and the Men’s Trauma Group for ex-offenders.

SWH: How would you describe the MSW Program at NYU?

Matt: For me, the MSW Program at NYU is quite versatile despite the one year commitment for advanced standing students. Before I decided on NYU, I was contemplating offers from the University of Michigan, Boston University, and University of Southern California. I visited the Washington Square Campus, and I was intrigued by the allure of NYU and the city in addition to reconnecting with friends of mine living in NYC. I researched all of the professors I could select before signing up for classes and selected some of the top social work professionals in the field including Carol Tosone, Gary Holden, Steven Ball, and Jeane W. Anastas (President of NASW).

They each have prominent to the field in international social work, research for practice ), group practice with the LGBT community, social work education, and public policy. Thus far, I have been developed advanced clinical, research, policy, and advocacy skills despite NYU’s reputation for providing solely clinical training. I feel energized and delighted to experience NYU Silver with classmates and professors from across the globe. I feel ready to be in my career, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the NYU and the Silver communities.

SWH: What was the inspiration behind the article you wrote for the Washington Square News (NYU Student Paper), and how did it come about?

Matt: So far, I have written three articles for the Washington Square News which is the NYU Student Paper. The first was a part of an independent study for the course Legislative Social Policy and Social Work Advocacy: Federal Issues in Action with Dr. Anastas at the NYU-Washington, D.C. campus. I was to write and submit a letter to the editor based on my policy analysis of a federal policy, and I chose social security 05/bramen/). I submitted the letter to the NYU student newspaper, and they offered me a regular slot to publish opinion articles. Next, I wrote a position piece on how social workers can end more than just gun violence 14/braman/).

I wrote this piece as a reaction to a public panel discussion hosted by the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge called “Triggering the Debate: Guns, Race, and Mental Illness”. In general, I plan to bring my social work perspective to the national discussion and focus on timely issues that I feel are important to social work practitioners and clients. Also, I published another article which reiterates my opinion that males have a responsibility to end gender-violence, which is timely because of the recent reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women Act, Women’s History Month in March and NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week which occurred April 8-12th.

SWH: Hypothetically, what would need to happen for the vision outlined in your article to become reality?

For the vision of the gun violence article to become a reality there are several things that would be needed. First, social workers should explore the existing knowledge base and become familiar with facts and political rhetoric. When that is accomplished it is important for social workers to create new knowledge based on research. Anytime someone is advocating for a position on a policy issue it is crucial to have evidence that supports their assertions. Otherwise there is a potential that a hostile critic can exploit the weakness of an argument that strongly needs an advocate with a credible social work perspective.

I admit that a weakness exists in this column and I accept it as a learning experience provided by my group of professors. I think that the main goal is to know the rhetoric and change it to align with interests of social justice and human diversity. I learned at NYU-Washington, D.C. that ideas and values affect opinion, and politicians vote on opinion, which thus, makes policy creation personal. Its our responsibility to shape opinions using our social work perspectives, and to do so with evidence as much as possible. Above all, we have to be politically active, and encourage and empower political participation across systems and populations in collaboration and in coalition with relative and interested groups.

SWH: What aspirations do you have for your future, and how will your writing be a factor?

My immediate aspirations are to enjoy the remainder of the semester since it’s the final opportunity for me to maximize my MSW experience in such a rich academic environment. I plan to obtain licensure in New York State as a Licensed Master Social Worker following graduation. I am currently entertaining potential job offers and developing relationships with interdisciplinary professionals in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. I plan to work primarily as a clinician to begin my career.

I am trained in Solution-Based Casework for my field placement, and I am highly interested in Ego Psychology, Existential Psychology, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Family Therapy, Group Psychotherapy, and Interpersonal Neurobiology. I plan to contribute writing to the field in whatever way makes the most sense for me given the period of time when I find any opportunity. If I find an opportunity to create knowledge through research, then I will look forward to publishing it. Meanwhile, I plan to continue writing opinion articles. Eventually, I plan to explore more opportunities to add to my knowledge base and professional portfolio.

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