Veterans: Take This Survey!

Learning about military-to-civilian reintegration requires asking the right questions of the right people. A novel, new study is seeking military veteran respondents to learn more about the way service impacts health, civic engagement, and socio-economic outcomes for military-connected men and women. The data collected through this survey are expected to help us answer questions such as:

• Do veterans feel welcome and interested in institutional service groups like the VA and informal groups like VSOs? Do those organizations serve their needs? How are prospective members welcomed and served?
• How does military service impact community involvement and political engagement?
• How does military service impact experiences on the job market (and is this effect conditioned by demographic factors?
• Does military service break the glass ceiling for service women?

The project was developed by an interdisciplinary research team with experience, training, and connections to the military community. Dr. Kyleanne Hunter is a Marine Corps Cobra pilot and political science researcher. Dr. Rebecca Best is an experienced security studies researcher with a focus on service women. Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a public health researcher and Marine Corps veteran. Each has specific training in community-based, participatory research and is invested in filling current gaps in what we think we know about the transition from service member to civilian.

Access the survey online here: https://udenver.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_572AiK5P3P75KQt

Proposed Trump Cuts Imperil Mental Health, Health Care, Education and More

The budget proposed by President Donald J. Trump threatens critical health, scientific research and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association.

“This budget, if enacted, would jeopardize our nation’s educational, scientific and health enterprises and limit access to critically needed mental and behavioral health services,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “These cuts would disproportionately affect people living in poverty, people with serious mental illness and other disabilities, women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS, older adults, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

“While every administration must make difficult budget decisions, any attempts to balance the federal budget should increase, not decrease, the number of Americans who have access to high-quality education, health care and social support,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “APA calls on Congress to reject this budget proposal and replace it with one that protects and increases access to services and care for all Americans.”

Among the cuts denounced by APA:

•    $7.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health, approximately a 21 percent decrease from the FY 2017 level, which would result in 1,946 fewer grants. The National Science Foundation would receive a cut of approximately $820 million compared to FY 2017, a decrease of 11 percent.

•    More than $600 billion in reductions over the next decade from the Medicaid program, which could eliminate Medicaid benefits for about 7.5 million people. The proposal also includes the option for states to choose between a per capita cap or a block grant beginning in FY 2020. Medicaid is the single largest payer for behavioral health services in the United States, accounting for over 25 percent of behavioral health spending.

•    Elimination of the Graduate Psychology Education Program, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, which together would reduce mental health workforce training by nearly $100 million.

•    Almost $400 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including a roughly 22 percent reduction from the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.

•    14 percent ($9.2 billion) from the U.S. Department of Education, eliminating investments in educational equity and quality, including slashing other key programs that support gifted students, effective teaching and professional development.

•    Elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and programmatic changes that would prolong repayment periods for students with graduate school loans.

•    13.2 percent cut from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

•    $200 million reduction for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

•    Elimination of 75 employees from the Office of Justice Programs, including a cut of over 30 percent, reducing the office’s budget from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion. The agency administers critical juvenile and criminal justice grants and houses the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Justice.

“A strong educational system is the foundation of a globally competitive workforce that fosters innovation, discovery and research,” Puente said. “As other countries continue to invest in education as part of their economic and workforce development strategies, the need for increased federal investment in American education has never been more important to our nation’s economic stability, national security and public health.”

“APA looks forward to working with Congress to ensure a more balanced approach to addressing our nation’s fiscal 2018 budget priorities, including making progress on increasing access to mental health care and addressing the opioid epidemic, investing in the scientific enterprise and expanding access to higher education for all Americans,” Evans added.

How Social Work Can Benefit From Technology

Social Workers Toolkit

The world thrives on technology. We drool over the newest 3D televisions when they are announced, and pray to be the first person in line when that revolutionary new iPhone is released. Despite our desires for technology related to entertainment and fun, we thrive on technology for the conveniences it provides as well. Within the social work field, technology adds benefits to working professionals in numerous ways.

A Platform for Organization and Research
Who doesn’t love the feeling of being truly organized? It’s a breath of fresh air always knowing where you can find that specific contact info, or the prized website you found weeks ago with so many valuable resources. It’s easy to forget or to misplace physical documents, so the advantages of being technologically inclined are as convenient as they are efficient.

Another convenience that modern technology has brought to social workers is the research potential. Google Scholar and similar databases offer relevant information for research purposes, written by credible scholarly authors. The layout for these types of websites is extremely user-friendly. Accessing this information on tablets or even smartphones is simple.

But don’t be weary of new technology, despite your own level of understanding.

How should you feel about integrating these new ideas into your day to day work?

Daniel Ortiz Reti puts it into perspective perfectly in his Social Work Helper article from last year:

“Its time for you to learn! Social Workers should be tech savvy, if not experts. The time and cost it can save means more clients helped with less work for us. We work in a profession that is perpetually underfunded and over worked, and isn’t it time we come up with some solutions?”

In short, yes, it has been time for a tech minded overhaul for a while now. It’s all about utilizing the resources you have and developing a tech savvy mindset. You don’t have to understand complicated computer programs. Simply utilize technology.

The Application of Mobile Advantages
Smartphones have become tremendously popular in the world the last decade. It is estimated that one billion smartphones will be sold next year. The potential for mobile application is something that is always growing. It’s astounding that by 2016, the number of active smartphones is expected to outnumber humans on Earth!

With such a vastly huge number of smartphone users, the logical step for most career fields is to integrate smartphone apps into daily functions. Social workers want mobile technology because it’s useful as a means of always having information at your disposal.

Below are a few very useful smartphone apps that benefit those involved in all walks of social work. Pay special attention to the first example! :)

SocialWorkerApps

(Click to enlarge)

Benefits of Social Media
Social media campaigns help establish a presence for online counseling/social work endeavors. Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter were once completely optional, but are proving to be more and more essential.

Are you fairly new to jumping on board the social network bandwagon? Don’t fret, it’s as easy as modeling your ideas after something successful. Look at the Facebook page for Social Work Helper for example. Almost 90,000 people like the page, and the posts are regular and engaging.

Provide the viewers of your social network campaign with useful and interesting content. Avoid spammy and random posts. Be genuine; that will pave your road to a successful social presence. Technology aids social work in numerous ways. Through research, mobile applications, and social networking, social work efforts can skyrocket. Convenience and practicality will resound you, and you’ll never look back!

Images courtesy of Technology is Revolutionizing The Social Work Field by Case Western University

*Editor’s Note: The Social Work Helper app is currently not available for downloads. However, the app will be upgraded and back in the app markets soon.

What the Wealthy Have to Offer to the Study of Poverty

615 rich poor Gina Sanders shutterstock

I have often expressed my intellectual, personal and ethical discomfort with the extensive ‘subjectification’, more trendily termed “participation’, of poor people in research. Although with the lofty and well-intentioned goal of ‘understanding the poor’ or ‘understanding poverty’ does current research achieve its stated goals in order to elevate the plight of the exploited and excluded? It appeared my thoughts resonated with many people. However, I offered no alternative, so here goes.

Let’s interview the wealthy. Yes, let’s find them in their communities, offer them up something they desire, like to shake the hand of Bill, Hillary or an invite to Davos, if they aren’t already shuttling in on their private jet, and ask them pages of questions about why they do the things they do and ask them how they could do them with less harm to the world.

Poverty is not ‘created’ by the poor. And though the poor shall be with us always as the Bible says somewhere within its covers, the degree to which that poverty is experienced is easily controlled by social policies that have nothing to do with an interview with a divorced single mother of 2. Just like the rich, the poor want good childcare, good schools, a decent primary care health service that is accessible and suits their needs, and good infrastructure like roads and a pipe that brings clean water inside their doors. These are good places to start. Micro-planning at the community level with some really cool ‘innovative’ program that is designed with ‘local participation’ by all ‘stakeholders’ is a nice hippy dippy way to feel good while not really changing the lives of the billions that hover near, and wallow in, destitution.

In full disclosure, I too have created and supported such local, community-based initiatives, Maama Omwaana in Njeru, Uganda, at the invite of a Ugandan community to which my child belongs. I struggled with my role as ‘expert’ that seemed to have been granted as much for my learned ways as for my foreign status. I did not want to practice what Bill Easterly described in the title of his book as ‘The Tyranny of Experts’ and tried hard to make myself increasingly unnecessary until I was. That the local initiative grew to national action, with the support of the White Ribbon Alliance, has provided some salve to my wounded and conflicted professional identity as community organizer and public health professional.

The solutions that brought the US and the EU to ‘manageable’ levels of poverty (and the sarcasm is dripping from this statement as the degree of poverty in the USA and UK is far from acceptable) are a good start: government-funded healthcare, investment in a good education system that starts early and ends with a useful qualification, other necessary infrastructure such as roads, individual and industrial waste management and clean water, and a decent wage. I would argue that the money spent on a dysentery vaccine could go much farther if united with the various initiatives to get people clean water, which would make a dysentery vaccine null and void.

It is a sad, sad story that clean water is widely, readily and profitably provided by Coca Cola, whether in fancy flavors of Fanta, or in containers with the classic red/black product logo known in every cranny of the universe, or the ‘purified’ H2O in their everywhere-present Dasani bottles. Why Coke has a choke hold on clean water is a much better question than asking some poor woman about where she wants her well or giving her some ‘innovative yet simple’ gadget to filter the crap she and her daughter(s) must go miles to fetch. (And of course there is the micro-loan to make it a micro-enterprise for her to sell said gadget to her friends). It is also a sad commentary on our own efforts at managing waste that we dump such waste unto those who can’t afford to say no, whether at home or abroad.

The emphasis on individual or local community based solutions to national and international problems created by the same rich people who want to shine their ugly metal by donating some of the funds they earned through rampant capitalism and tax-dodging (through off-shore shenanigans and eponymous grant-giving enterprises), will always be broadly ineffective.

I am not suggesting that every country can be the idealized model of Sweden and the rest of the fabulous nanny states that are Scandinavia. However, basic needs can be met without serving pre-schoolers breakfast on white tablecloths with proper cutlery. Denmark may be forward-thinking and smartly self-serving in providing not only free tertiary education, but a stipend to make sure one can eat and house themselves without graduating into poverty (more poverty than the guy in the hut because his negative cash flow is likely to be much lower than the newly minted college grad of the UK or USA), but they need not be alone. The price of a college education need not equal the downpayment on, or full price of, a house (depending on whether it’s Birmingham or San Francisco).

There is a widely-translated document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which Eleanor Roosevelt led the charging in writing that was adopted by many countries in Paris in 1948, and many more countries since then. If instead of asking poor people questions about their lives (they’re happy even though they’re poor!), and offering them up all manner of ‘innovative’ ‘solutions;(because I suppose what worked for us wont work for them), we started by providing people with the most basic of rights to which the UDHR said that we all deserve, then the question of poverty would be less pressing. If countries would ‘clawback’ their countries resources which has been ravished from the bowels of Angola, Nigeria, the ‘stans’, the Congo etc ad nauseum and provide these basic rights to decent housing, food, hygiene, education and a living wage, then we could stop poking and prodding poor people as if they are a species newly discovered.

The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 began an approach towards poor people in which places like the United States has not far evolved. That which the Otto von Bismarck initiated in Germany in the late nineteenth century is still not provided in the USA in the early 21st century. It doesn’t take a genius or some Ivy-housed researcher to understand the basic starting point on which all human endeavour should be founded. Neither does it take randomized controlled trials to know that clean water and a way to get rid of human waste would solve a whole lot of global health problems.

The issue is about who do we think have the answers. I propose and would strongly argue that the people who create and maintain systems of inequality, exploitation, discrimination and exclusion are the people who have the answers to the problems created by these conditions. Instead, let’s ask the Forbes 400 how they feel about their wealth or perhaps some of the 1,645 billionaires that Forbes* says controls $6.4 trillion dollars could spend an hour or two on a questionnaire.

Let’s ask them how they feel when they pay wages they know remove the dignity of life from their workers, or how it feels to have pulled the lever of internet IPOs and won the Silicon Valley jackpot. Give them the tools to learn how to share that which they took, by luck or design, and how to learn to take less and give more. Maybe all they need is a drive through neighborhoods they only know from the nightly news or the front page headlines of the New York Times, The Guardian, Times of India etc.

If the people who settle themselves so wonderfully in the money/power fest utilized Davos to truly discuss collaborations to bring pipes to South Asia the way they found a way to get minerals out of the Congo, perhaps all that poking at poor people will abate and we can live in a more just and humane world. Instead we are stuck with their eponymous foundations that live on forever as their glorious legacy while their offspring drown in their wealth for generations.

But, I suppose since that is about as likely to happen as ice in the Caribbean, then we can all fall back on our prestigious documents that prove our intellect as we dither about on planes, trains and fancy automobiles changing the world one village and one family at a time. If we settle for that then we deserve broken backs as we fall.

*Kerry A. Dolan & Luisa Kroll, Forbes, Inside the 2014 Forbes Billionaires List: Facts and Figures. Retrieved on September 18, 2014 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/luisakroll/2014/03/03/inside-the-2014-forbes-billionaires-list-facts-and-figures/

Domestic Violence is Witnessed by Children Far More Than We Know

childanddomestic

Imagine a child watching domestic violence between their parents. It’s not a stretch to think of how scary that must be for her – the people who are supposed to love and protect her are showing just the opposite. One would hope that external forces would come to play that would help change that. But a new piece of research about to be published in the journal Psychology of Violence tells us that the chances of intervention are far less than most of us would hope for.

Researcher Sherry Hamby from The University of the South comes out with some powerful statistics. In more than a third of the cases that her team researched, the physical injury occurred yet only one in four cases resulted in a police report. Children were hurt in about one in 75 cases. As Dr. Hamby notes, there is a link between witnessing domestic violence and childhood mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, becoming a victim in teenage dating, and diminished success at school. There is also a link between domestic violence and bullying.

As I read this material, I was reminded of a 9-1-1 tape that I heard some years ago while undergoing some training. The tape is chilling. You hear a young girl desperately seeking the help of the police while her mother’s partner is assaulting her mother. At one point the child screams out to her mother that the police are coming. Her mother tells her essentially to shut up invalidating the efforts that the child is making to get help. The mother was right at one level as the threat of imminent arrival by the police may have caused the assailant to be even more violent. But the desperation in the child’s voice is one of those moments that stick with you.

In the world of child protection, we must recall that we tend to see only the more significant cases or the ones where the child has either managed the courage to disclose or, more often, does so accidentally. In reality, a disclosure will rarely be evidence that a single event of domestic violence occurred. The child has likely witnessed far more.

Hamby’s research goes further. It tells us that we must let go of the notion that domestic violence is a curse of the lower incomes and rooted in poverty. Her research found that 28% occurred in households with annual incomes under $20,000; 30% in households earning $20,000-50,000; 18% in the $50,000-75,000 bracket and 24% with incomes about $75,000. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity curse it would seem.

In my own work, I have seen frightened children scared to tell what goes on in their households. Worse, however, are the children who feel that there is nothing to report because it is so normal. Either way, when child protection becomes involved, we must remember that involving the criminal justice system is important as a way to hold the assailant accountable. But that does not make the journey better.

The victims – the other caregiver or parent and the children all need to learn how to create a new normal over time that includes health, safety, and respect along with a different set of problem solving skills. Just getting the assailant out of the house does not make it better. Supports are needed long term – remember that most women need between 8-12 times before they will leave a domestically violent relationship for good. Imagine the impact on the children.

The Practitioner’s Lament: I Don’t Have Time for Research

Practising social work teaches good bladder control. Social workers run from one bushfire to another, juggle complex, urgent demands and multitask. Lunch is often a sumptuous feast eaten to the accompaniment of one-hand typing and a receiver lodged between the ear and shoulder. Reading, let alone doing research, is the last thing on the mind of most practitioners.

researchSocial workers agree that practice-based research is important but it is really hard to squeeze research into daily work schedules. I practised social work for three decades and it took two to start doing my own research. I wasted a lot of time. As a practitioner, I saw so many core, taken-for-granted aspects of social work knowledge and skills published as new ideas in the publications of other disciplines. This, of course, isn’t the only reason to do research. At the end of the day, it improves practice, benefits our clients and provides evidence that supports what we do. It is also tremendously satisfying. Social work is important and we do have things to say.

Time isn’t the only barrier. Organisational support, expertise, lack of confidence and mentorship are often problems. Social workers are innovative and imaginative when it comes to finding solutions for clients. There is no reason why we can’t use these same skills to generate research as part of our everyday professional practice. Here are some of my ideas.

  1. Find a mentor. If there are no research mentors in your work place connect with social work schools at universities. Social work academics are very supportive of practitioner research and may work and publish with you.
  2. Think about research grants. There are grants for practitioners that might provide the means to backfill your position giving you time off-line for research.
  3. Start small. Test the waters with a small project that is achievable and will result in a publication.
  4. Pick something that really interests you. Thinking about what eats away at you – that annoying aspect of practice or something you see in your practice that is contrary to what you have read (or not read) – is a good way of developing a research question.
  5. Don’t work alone. Research with your social work colleagues. If you work in a multi-disciplinary setting think multi-disciplinary research.
  6. Develop a research culture. Get together with colleagues and put research on the agenda for team meetings and supervision.
  7. Manage up. Identify key people within the organisation and get them on board. Conducting research of benefit to the organisation helps.
  8. Be imaginative. Be open to possibilities and develop strategies to make time. One example is a buddy system – an agreement between colleagues where you can cover each other’s work for a day to allow time off-line for research.
  9. The harsh reality. The harsh reality is you will more than likely have to sacrifice some of your own time. I can only say – it’s worth it.

I would love to hear what has worked for you.

Cancer Biologists Can’t Solve Cancer by Themselves

The Problem Behind the Problem

CancerBiologyCancer biologists cannot solve the cancer problem by themselves, nor can anyone else for that matter.  I’m a cancer biologist, so what do I mean when I say this?  Allow me to explain.  I’m not talking about understanding the staggering complexity of cancer, which requires many researchers ranging from engineers to physicians.  That’s another topic, for another (many other) article. What I want to talk about here is a higher order complexity at the societal level that prevents people from having access to cancer treatment, or to something as basic as a preventive measure.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how good our cancer treatments or preventive knowledge become, if people don’t have access to them or cannot implement them, then their effectiveness is not applicable.  This is why advocates in the fields of public health and social welfare are so important.  Simply teaching people in third world countries to wash their hands regularly can have a tremendous impact on decreasing mortality.  Washing hands isn’t “rocket science”—it’s “people science”; and, it’s quite effective against the spread of germs. While hand washing doesn’t prevent cancer, it’s a great example of how public health information can go a long way in dealing with healthcare issues.

Case Study: Effective Pesticides, More Crops, More Cancer

The plight of migrant farm workers is a great example of the societal complexity that is beyond the prowess of cancer biology.  Migrant farm workers are exposed to chemical pesticides at doses that cause cancer, among other ailments.  Let’s take a step back and look at the web of problems beyond what can be seen through the lens of a microscope.  In addition to the cancer problem, there is the public health issue of widespread chemical exposure, the lack of legal representation required get compensation and to secure future prevention, and the lack of access to health care, let alone the inability to afford health care. Thus, the problem is actually much bigger than just cancer. Having more effective chemotherapies only addresses one issue in this web.

Seeing the Whole Elephant, Not Just It’s Parts

During graduate school, I attended a commencement ceremony for graduate students from a biology department.  The commencement speaker was a biochemist whose career had spanned many decades, which gave him a front row seat to the intellectual explosion that occurred in the past 60 years of molecular biology.  Speaking to the dozens of graduate students on stage whom were about to be awarded their degrees, he gave them a charge.  He reflected upon the ways in which his generation had solved many societal problems, but acknowledged that in the wake of their success, they created new ones.  “This is why we need you,” he said, “to solve the problems that we have created.”

Indeed, this charge will remain true for any future generation. Science has produced many materials and chemicals for the purposes of human flourishing—with no sign of letting up—but these inventions can negatively impact human health in unintended ways.   As always, disadvantaged populations are the most vulnerable to these negative effects.  As people who are privileged with adequate information, it falls upon us to ensure that others are protected. It’s not just about inventing better treatments, which is part of the answer.  It’s about making sure that people are treated humanely, which can be done regardless of whether or not treatments improve.

Photo Credit: Wisconsin University

Utah Students Learn About Diversity Through Hands On Research

At Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, students in the Social Work department have the opportunity to complete a research project as part of a hybrid research/statistics course.  Each semester, the research project is driven by student interest.  In the Spring of 2012, the research was focused on the diversity of student experiences and openness to diversity.

Weber State University
Weber State University

The research entitled “Wildcat nation:  Open to diversity?” used questions from the College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ) along with demographic questions to analyze a student’s openness to and experience with diversity.  Through the use of social media and email, students were directed to a link to a survey to answer questions about diversity.

A sample of n=286 respondents were included in the research.  The research found that students at WSU were open to diversity and had experience with diverse interactions.   We further compared respondents on the variable of religion and whether the respondent grew up in Utah.  Because the predominant religion in Utah is LDS (Mormon), the student researchers felt this was an important variable to examine.  The variable of religion was collapsed into three categories, LDS, other, and none.  The research showed that the respondents that identified LDS as their primary religion had a lower openness score compared to those with no religion or other religion.

The same results held true for experience with diversity:  those identifying LDS as their religion had less experience with diversity than those with no or other religion.  With regards to growing up in Utah, there was no difference with regards to openness to diversity.  However, there was a statistically significant difference between those growing up in Utah on the experience with diversity scale.  People growing up in Utah were less likely to have experience with diversity than those that did not grow up in Utah.

The research found that students are open to diversity but do not have a great deal of experience with diversity.  There is a need to expand opportunities for diverse interactions on the collegiate level.  Because Utah is a state unique in its religious demographic, students prior coming to college may have more limited experiences, putting the onus of responsibility on the academic environment to expand these experiences especially since students appear to be open to these experiences.

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