Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking In Social Work

Photo: Armand Dijcks via Flickr. Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA
Photo: Armand Dijcks via Flickr. Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA

Normally, I do not get much of a chance to read anything more enlightening apart from social work books or even social work documents. Recently, I have been pushing passed my comfort zone and reading titles that seem to be in keeping with social work and the application of processing and analytical thinking akin to social work. It is important not to be too blinkered.

Many of you may already have read Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, but I had not. After reading his wonderful book “Outliers”, I got hooked on Malcolm Gladwell. His book Blink is a study in intuition and how we make snap decisions.

As a social work manager, this interested me greatly. The book talks about how in the moment of less than a few seconds or even milliseconds, we can come to conclusions that may turn out to be a game winners which can be achieved in many aspects of life. The usefulness for social work is how we use intuitive practice which is seldom discussed in analytical and reflective theory, but most of us know it is sometimes a pivotal part in coming up with judgements and making decisions.

Using the tool of intuition has been something I have been aware of in my social work career; played out by nebulous feelings of something “not being quite right”, the body language being displayed, the reason why I felt I should talk to the neighbours, how the social worker told me about the visit as opposed to what she told me about the visit etc.

Our intuition as social workers is often in the context of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. I mean we have an intuition, we test it in some way, it sits at the back of our head and then another piece of information or act or referral comes about to prove that intuition right. Often that added piece of the jigsaw is what we would call evidence, a disclosure from a child, an actual injury sustained or another incident.

In Blink Malcolm Gladwell gives plenty of carefully researched information about all aspects of this process in all sorts of professions, including Psychology, Tennis, Food tasting, Military and even Speed Dating. His main finding, which I take careful note and reflected strongly on in my own situation, is how it is so easy to accept that these professionals are able through development of their expertise and skill (over 2 decades) to be seen as able to use the power of intuition, acceptable to their peers, the author and society at large.

What I would like to see is social work professionals reflecting on our use of intuition based on years of experience and skills that helps us to make reflective and well balanced decisions. Then intuition could be seen in our profession as in other professions as a valuable evidenced based tool and social work students could be trained to see how this could be used to aid good outcomes for vulnerable people.

Let me know what you think.

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.

Social Work and Technology: Past, Present and Future

Social work has always used tools of the time period to help those in need. We are the helping hand, the caring voice, and the ready help for those in need, but a common misconception is that we cannot tell the difference between a computer chip and potato chip.

Quite the contrary, being soft-hearted does not mean we are also soft headed. Social workers have always embraced technological change through out history.Though the official profession of social work has only existed since the 17th century, people have been using the tools of the time to help those in need. These tools are often technological innovations which have taken many forms over time.

Social Work in the Pastabaman2500 B.C. Ancient Hebrews used mandatory tithes to benefit the poor, it could be said this was the origin of the first social workers who used tithing to minister to the needy. This later evolved into what we now consider charitable contributions to the Church.

500 B.C. The first use of the word philanthropy appears in Prometheus bound; Phil=Love, Anthro= meaning man. Maybe some the first written conceptualization of giving service to those in need, in reference to Prometheus giving man fire and blind hope. (The second being characteristic of social workers)

373 B.C. Ancient India, King Ashok helps create some of the first known official social services, the abacus was used to keep track of donations.

325 A.D. Emperor Constantine the 1st legitimizes the Christian church which then sets up a variety of social services including; elder care, hospitals, orphanages.

1817 A.D. Elizabeth Fry, know as the angel of the prisons attempts to reform the prison system of England. Thanks to her work treatment of prisoners became more humane. 

1884: Arnold Toynbee, one of the first to notice the economic disparity caused by the industrial revolution. His contributions inspired others to developed a map to visualize the data they collected on poverty. A precursor to modern projects like healthy cities which can be used to help improve social services.

 1889: Jane Addams, the settlement houses in the United States. Pioneer in the social work field. Hull House maps and papers they reported on the effects of concentration of different ethnicity and their living conditions, about labor circumstances in the sweatshops, about child labor.

1985: The book, “Computers in human services” comes out and brings to the forefront need for computer use in social services and counseling. Soon after this use of technology exploded, social services starts to integrated technology into practice.

What does this mean for you now?

allthetechCurrently social work as a profession receives a failing grade when it comes to technology literacy; we do not teach it in schools according to a research study by the National Institute of Health in  2011. Without the ability to integrate and use new technology, we will fall behind a profession. We will neither be able to help our clients or ourselves in the modern era.

So now we are in the modern era, there are so many new technologies every day it can be overwhelming. There are 1,157,279 Apps for download on the itunes store, and there are countless pieces of software available. Not to mention the differences between a Mac and PC, Android and Apple, Google chrome, internet explorer, firefox etc. Now if you further want to complicate things, you can inject the famous social work ethics which then restricts you from using certain pieces of software/hardware because of the actions of the company that made it. (See Firefox debacle)

How to move forward?

bmanYou need to learn how  to effectively utilize these technologies for our clients and the organizations we work for. Social work is often seen as a profession of technological Neanderthals. This myth is partially true and comes from the fact that we often work in underfunded organizations. We often end up using technology that is outdated and not completely functional, whereas many times other professions are using the latest and greatest on the market.

It is true that new technology is expensive, if we do not have an understanding of its value it becomes hard to justify this expense to the organizations we work in. Unlike other sectors, we do not have the luxury of adopting the newest technology because it is new. Unless you have a firm understanding of how useful technology can be such as the time and costs it can save, convincing the CFO that you need new laptops maybe a challenge.

So what does that mean for you? 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?

Here is where I come in, I will post/doodle every week about new technologies that can help you. More importantly, I will give you information about how technology can help you everyday and how you can learn to use it to meet your needs. We will also touch on ethical questions that come up with using technology in social work such as the use your clients data and whether technology is a barrier or an aid for your client. What are your thoughts?

Be A Voice for Social Work Education: CSWE 2014 Call for Volunteers

cswenewsNow Open: CSWE 2014 Call for Volunteers

Response Deadline: 11:59 pm on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dear Colleagues, The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) invites you to apply to be considered to serve on one of our 17 distinguished CSWE commissions or councils. Annually CSWE publishes a detailed account of the organization’s work, including the contributions of the commissions and councils, during the previous fiscal year. The latest installment, the 2012–2013 CSWE Annual Report (PDF), is now available on our website.

We hope that looking through the report will give you a deeper appreciation for the contributions member volunteers provide to CSWE operations. Members of CSWE commissions and councils are invaluable to advancing the work of the organization and the work of professional social workers. Each year CSWE seeks to identify new leadership for our commissions and councils, and we hope you will be inspired to join us!

Application Submission Application materials must be submitted using the new online CSWE 2014 Call for Volunteers system. After selecting that link, applicants select the name of the commission or council to which they wish to be appointed, enter their contact information, and upload three required documents.

  1. NEW: CSWE Application for Position on Commission and Council Form
  2. Curriculum vitae
  3. Brief Statement of Interest

The receipt deadline for member volunteer applications is Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Appointments are made by the chair of the CSWE Board of Directors and will be effective July 1, 2014. If you know someone who would contribute to the work of CSWE through a commission or council, please encourage them to apply. Criteria for Applications

  • Applicant must maintain current CSWE individual membership
  • Applicants from underrepresented ethnic and cultural groups are sought to embody the diversity of the social work profession. (See CSWE Affirmative Action Plan (PDF) for additional information.)
  • Include a CV and a brief statement identifying the requested appointment area and describing special areas of expertise and/or interest that will benefit that area.
  • Applicant must be able to attend meetings (in person or via conference call). Commissions meet face-to-face twice a year—once during the Annual Program Meeting (APM) and again during the spring in Alexandria, VA. Councils generally meet face-to-face once a year during the APM. Commissions and councils conduct other business throughout the year via e-mail and conference calls.

Summarized below is information about the six commissions and their corresponding councils that can be used to identify possible volunteer service areas. Please note the numbers of anticipated vacancies for the 2014–2017 appointment cycle when making your decision. CSWE is committed to the promotion and affirmation of diversity in its broadest sense. We encourage the nomination of all candidates regardless of race, gender identity and expression, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and other types of cultural difference.

CSWE Commissions and Their Councils

1.    Commission on Accreditation Potential Vacancies = 4 Skill sets needed: Must have at least 3 years’ experience as a CSWE site visitor; bilingual proficiency (Spanish speaking preferred); experience with online educational programming; and willingness to read documents online and meet deadlines. Especially encouraged to apply are representatives from BSW programs, the West Coast region, and small programs. 2.    Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice Potential Vacancies = 2 Skill sets needed: Knowledge of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity; diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity and expression; women’s issues; disabilities and persons with disabilities; and grant funding. Especially encouraged to apply are CSWE Minority Fellowship Program graduates. Regional representation is sought for this commission.

  • Council on Disabilities and Persons With Disabilities

Potential Vacancies = 6 Skill sets needed: Ability to develop curriculum modules and/or a model for training of direct care support staff. An interest in and willingness to lead a task group of the council is preferred. The council seeks individuals with a deep understanding of the diversity of the community of people with disabilities and its intersectionality with other aspects of diversity; individuals with expertise in psychiatric disabilities are especially encouraged to apply.

  • Council on Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural DiversityPotential Vacancies = 8

The council is seeking members with knowledge and expertise in intersectionality. The council also seeks greater representation of people of American Indian/Alaskan Native and Latino heritage.  Tenured faculty members are preferable.

  • Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education

Potential Vacancies = 11 Members with an interest in the council’s charge are needed

  • to carry major responsibility for the council’s development of curriculum      materials related to women’s issues in social work education;
  • to identify procedures within academe and social work education that impede and  promote full participation of women;
  • to recommend to the Board policy statements, or development or modification of internal policy;
  • to assist in coordinating activities related to women at all levels of social work education; and
  • to stimulate new programs and activities.
  • Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression

Potential Vacancies = 10 Members are needed who have willingness and time to serve on subgroups and contribute to the monthly conference calls. The council seeks members who represent racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ persons with disabilities. 3.    Commission on Educational Policy Potential Vacancies = 5 Especially sought are individuals with administrative experience (deans/directors), Commission on Accreditation experience, site visitor experience, and assessment expertise.

  • Council on Field Education

Potential Vacancies = 7 Skill sets needed: Clear understanding of the field director role and experience with field organizations at the national, state, or regional level or with consortiums. Regional representation is especially sought for this council.

  • Council on Practice Methods and Specializations

Potential Vacancies = 6 Especially encouraged to apply are individuals who can respond to context, particularly those who are engaged with the field community and stakeholders in the practice community to develop a sound social work curriculum. Experience as a CSWE site visitor is needed. 4.    Commission on Global Social Work Education Potential Vacancies = 7 The commission is seeking to increase its diversity and seeks members with experience in the Caribbean and Latin America, western and eastern Europe, and those working with indigenous populations.

  • Council on External Relations

Potential Vacancies = 10 Members with international group experience and who attend international meetings are especially encouraged to apply. The ability to lead work groups is needed. Members affiliated with the United Nations and with international and social development organizations are also encouraged to apply.

  • Council on Global Learning, Research, and Practice

Potential Vacancies = 7 A member from the West or Southwest region of the United States who can provide representation for persons who are natives of Latin America or China is especially needed. 5.    Commission on Membership and Professional Development Potential Vacancies = 4 The commission seeks members with interest/experience with membership recruitment.  The commission is also seeking to diversify its makeup by increasing the number of males, faculty members of color, and representatives from BSW programs.

  • Council on Conferences and Faculty Development

Potential Vacancies = 5 Especially needed are active APM presenters, previous APM track chairs, racial/ethnic/cultural diversity, and regional representation from the Northeast and Midwest.

  • Council on Leadership Development

Potential Vacancies = 4 Participants of Harvard Institutes of Higher Education (HIHE) or the Higher Education Resource Services(HERS) program and experienced field faculty are especially encouraged to apply. Willingness to review faculty merits according to the guidelines set by the council is needed.

  • Council on Publications

Potential Vacancies = 3 Especially needed are scholars with strong publication records and the time available to review and discuss manuscripts submitted for publication by CSWE Press. One new member also will serve on the Journal of Social Work Education Editorial Advisory Board. Members of underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply. 6.    Commission on Research Potential Vacancies = 0 (please apply for future consideration) Especially needed are representatives of BSW, MSW, and PhD programs and evidence-based practice scholars. Members from RO1 and non-RO1 institutions are encouraged to apply. Representatives of diverse groups are encouraged to apply. The CSWE Board of Directors Chair looks forward to receiving your application. Sincerely,                                                                                 Barbara W. Shank CSWE Board of Directors Chair

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

I am Getting My MSW, but I Do Not Want to be a “Social Worker”

As I finish up my first year in graduate school, I am reflecting on the reasons I chose to enroll in a social work program. First, I want to change to world, and I want to help as many people as I can. I  know I cannot change everything, but I can motivate and empower other people to help to make a bigger impact.

My passion for social justice drove me into the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program, and I was ready to set forth and learn how to save the world. Now during my whole time at school, I get ask the same questions over and over again about why I am studying social work and the reasons behind it. Once I tell people I am getting my MSW, they certainly jump to conclusions about my career path.
be-who-you-wanna-be

  • You are not going to make any money.
  • You are going to take kids away from bad parents.
  • Oh! I know a social worker at my school. She’s great!
  • Good for you; that job is so challenging.
  • Why are you learning about fundraising if you are going to be a social worker? They are so different.
  • What population do you want to work with?
  • What therapy method do you prefer?
  • Why do you want to help poor people?
  • You need to get licensed right away.
  • You should memorize the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM)
  • Take a course on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for sure
  • You need to focus and take as many advanced clinical courses as possible.

Sadly, I have heard all of these statements and more related ones too many times. The frustrating part about these comments is not the fact people are trying to help or learn more about my career, but they are judging my career choice before I get a chance to explain my reasoning. The worst part about this is that people who call themselves social workers are the most judgmental. They believe in their definition of social work, and what I want to do is not it.

They in some ways diminish my motivation for social change and push more towards therapy. Even the educational requirements are steering away from social justice initiatives and focusing on therapy. Is that what social work is now? Cheap therapy? If you would like more information on the subject, there is a book called Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work has Abandoned its Mission by Harry Spect and Mark E. Courtney. The book is a great read for any social worker out there trying to evaluate their roles as a social worker in society.

As many of you know, the definition of social work is vast and expanding. You can read about the great things and various aspects of the social work profession/opportunities in other articles on this website. It is not just counseling or adhering to the needs of individuals, but much more.  This can include anything related to helping individuals including but not limited to social policy analysis, program development, community assessment, advocacy, community organizing, development, organizational management, case management, research, social change and more, not just counseling.

With this being said, it is sad that many schools and professionals are telling students every day their focus should be on therapy and clinical intervention. I do not discredit the wonderful work clinical social workers do because it is necessary. I just want the opportunity for my fellow students and I to mold our own definitions of social work based on our personal and communal factors. We should focus our education, internships, jobs based on what we like to do and what we feel is necessary. We certainly would not tell clients what to do based on our own perceived conceptions of their identity, then we should not do it for social work students.

For clarification, I do plan on being a social worker, but I am going to be MY definition of a social worker. I plan to be a nonprofit executive leading human service agencies. I am getting my MSW to understand the perspective of oppressed individuals, and how my good friend says it, put the human back in human services.

If a label is part of my identity, I will dictate what I believe the label means. In order for you to know, you need to ask me instead of judging based on your preconceived notions. Rather than tell me what to do, maybe you could offer your advice or assistance if I ask for it.  Our future is determined by our decisions, and we students need to learn that for ourselves. Honestly, you’d be surprised how much we know already, and you could learn more about us if you do not jump to conclusions. 

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.

Interested in Medical Social Work: Interview with Sally Dagerhardt

Are you curious about what medical social workers do? Read this interview with Sally Howell Dagerhardt, MSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker for a primary care setting. She has worked for the past six years in various departments and capacities of medical social work, including Geriatrics, Gero-Psychiatric Nursing Home Unit, and Primary Care. Prior to her medical social work positions, she was a working in residential and community mental health.

How did you decide to go into medical social work?

Medical-social-workI was drawn to social work by the diversity of opportunities. After two years of being in rural mental health, I was feeling a bit burned out and I began to apply for opportunities within the medical field for a change of scenery. It would be dishonest to say that the pay increase wasn’t a big motivator as well. I firmly believe in the “clinical” (aka therapeutic) aspect of my social work practice as a medical social worker. I provide intervention during times of stress and crisis, and I assist patients in making changes to maintain their wellness. I also provide a more holistic, social work perspective to my medically trained co-workers – doctors, nurses, etc.

In your opinion, what are the best aspects of your job?

While there are problems and pitfalls with every employer, I try to actively focus on the best aspects of my job, and honestly, there are a number of them. First and foremost, I get to work directly with people and provide them with needed assistance. My employer values my position, as do my co-workers. I perform a variety of social work interventions throughout the day, and I enjoy the fact that each of my days is different. I think being a part of a medical team also helps with self-care, as I do not feel solely responsible for my patients’ care. I can take leave and know that my patients will be cared for, and we can collaborate as a team to ensure good care on a daily basis. I cannot leave out that another great aspect of my job is the pay and benefits, which also enable me to be more focused on my job, and are often unavailable in other social work positions.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Two challenging aspects immediately come to mind. In each of my social work positions, including this one, navigating inadequate systems is always a challenge. Whether it’s your employer or an entity in the larger community upon whom you rely for assistance, there’s nothing more challenging or frustrating for me than inadequate resources or institutional barriers to care for someone who is working hard to make change. My second biggest challenge as a social worker will always be self-care and avoiding burnout, cynicism, etc.

What would you change about your job, if you could?

While I feel that my employer does an amazing job at valuing social work and the importance of what I can bring to the table, I still think that there are ways that my clinical skills could be better utilized. As a medical social worker in an outpatient primary care clinic, my job tasks are diverse, but at times I still feel compartmentalized. I think that this is a result of the way my employer is organized: primary care, mental health, specialty care, etc. and at times, it limits my ability to assist the “whole person” by directing me to refer patients to other services lines or departments for assistance, when my social work license would theoretically allow me to assist.

How long do you see yourself in this field?

Working for a large medical institution offers me a diversity of positions and moves that I can make within this organization. As a result, I plan to stay within the medical social work field indefinitely, secondary to the ability to work within different departments, thus avoiding burnout, and have an adequate retirement.

What advice would you give to someone considering medical social work as a career?

I think that there are a number of great opportunities within the medical field for social workers. I think as social workers we need to consider the diversity of our skills and the myriad of settings to which they can be applied. So many of us graduate from social work school with limited ideas as to the kind of work we would like to do. Opening your mind to the range of opportunities that exist for a licensed clinical social worker may improve your job satisfaction. There are so many environments where people in need can benefit from great social work intervention. It’s possible that you will improve your own job satisfaction and day to day life in the process.

Happy World Social Work Day 2014: A Profession To Be Proud Of

Celebrating Social Work may seem like a pointless exercise, or even more cynically, a desperate attempt to save Social Work’s failing reputation. However, what celebrations like this provide is a real opportunity to improve what is already a genuinely important profession. Today, social media is flooded with discussions about Social Work and talks are being held internationally about what we do and why we do it.

globeIt is important to remember, however, that Social Work is not about the Social Worker; it is about those we serve. Whilst Social Workers may currently be receiving a very negative press in Britain due to a number of high profile child deaths, we must not lose hope that we can make the necessary changes to create a Social Work that our Service Users and the public are proud of.

We must also remember that Social Work is so much more than Child Protection. Social Workers practise in schools, elderly homes, prisons, mental health settings and in charities, to name but a few places. Wherever there are people in need, there will most likely be a Social Worker trying to reach them.

We need to use social media and news platforms, like today, as a means of highlighting how our Service Users need Social Work as a profession to change and improve. We need to ascertain the wishes and feelings of those we help and support and encourage them to join in the discussion. Only through honest and open dialogue can we develop into a truly effective profession and one that is powerful in creating social change.

Social media is a fantastic arena in terms of gathering anybody and everybody’s opinions on a matter. It is not enough, to simply retweet or favourite only the positive remarks about our profession. We must acknowledge criticism where it is constructive and not become defensive when another’s experience of Social Work does not match our own.

Social Work is not perfect and all Social Workers know this. However, when we put those who we seek to help at the centre of what we do, we are on the right track to making world-wide positive change. After all, it is the people we work with who make what we do worthwhile.

Dan is a young man I have worked with since he was fourteen and I was nineteen. He’s now coming up to twenty and as I have watched him develop into an adult, he too has watched me develop from student Social Worker to qualified professional. We have both watched each other grow up and consequently have a great professional relationship with frequent honest talks about his offending behaviour.

The last time I saw him, we were sitting in a Court prison cell together, as he awaited trial for a potential fourth custodial sentence. Dan had been so insistent that he would not find himself in this position again and I had been clear that the thought of seeing him sent to prison for a fourth time was getting too much for me to deal with. The last time I watched the Judge sentence him to ten months, I burst into tears in the Court.

Dan, did not think I would turn up to the Court cell that day. He thought like everyone else, his parents, his siblings, his friends and his girlfriend, he would have upset and disappointed me too much to come. No one else attended that day. I will always remember walking into the cell and seeing Dan look up at me. “I don’t get why you do this job,” he said” “You could do  anything else. Something that doesn’t upset you”. I responded, “but then I wouldn’t be here sitting with you now, would I Dan?” We sat there for a few moments in silence. Dan eventually replied, “no, I guess not… Thanks for that. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Photo Credit: ifsw.org

Everything I Know About Vicarious Trauma in Five Minutes

WayneScott

I was the poster child for Vicarious Trauma at least that’s what I liked to tell myself. In the great oppression Olympics that belongs to folks who have done human services over long careers, sometimes too long, it’s a coveted moniker. Why did I think I got this title?

Several years ago, when I was at the peak of my clinical practice, I ran six group therapy sessions a week for men referred for sexual offenses, many of whom I also saw in individual and family counseling. It was all sex offenders, all the time.  Impressively–again, this is what I liked to tell myself–I could hold it together for a 50-hour work week. I  had mastered the “pose of equanimity,” as they euphemistically called it in graduate school.

But a more savvy observer might have said my “pose of equanimity”  looked more like a frozen, coma-like state of emotional numbing. When I went home, I’d fall apart: a mess of eating and sleep problems, disengagement from family and spouse, flashbacks, startles responses, and nasty dreams. My gastrointestinal tract was a roller derby rink.

Of course, this notion of an oppression Olympics where I get the gold medal is foolish.  Even though I know this to be true in my heart, nevertheless, as I go about, years later, as a consultant facilitating dialogues about vicarious trauma at human services agencies, I notice that other folks in my field jockey for the same distinction.  I’m not the only social worker vying for this same validation. Among ourselves, we social workers love to tell war stories.

Generally, when social workers launch into tales of the “worst of the worst” stories of what they’ve seen with disadvantaged and troubled clients, I recognize a very human tendency:  that longing for validation of one’s suffering and appreciation for one’s personal sacrifices within beleaguered, feedback-starved environments. There’s something about thinking that my professional travails are the worst that is validating, even sustaining, bordering as it does on the heroic.

Now that I’ve affirmed my recognition that I think the oppression Olympics is a fallacy, I do want to note the two times I trained at agencies when I actually thought for a moment they really should get the prize. One was at a local program that works with a high volume of undocumented, impoverished immigrant families. I had never seen social workers embedded in such intensity of critical, unmet needs. The system was so closed and the resources were so paltry.

The other experience was at the drunk tank in my town, where inebriated folks are kept on 48-hour holds to get them off the street. The Emergency Medical Technicians had cleaned out one of the dingy, concrete-walled tanks for me to set up my laptop and infocus machine. While I clicked through my slides, I could hear the fury of involuntarily confined drunk people in the adjoining locked cells, screaming “FUCK YOU! LET ME OUT OF THIS HELL HOLE!” at the top of their lungs. My training group of twenty participants didn’t even flinch.

When I heard about the Portland Ignite event, it seemed like an opportunity to connect the common experience of vicarious trauma, which is epidemic in our field, with another event World Social Work Day on March 18th. Of course, I had known about World Social Work Day for years in the same way that I knew about National Doughnut Day (First Friday in June), Pi Day (March 14th), and National Tattoo Day (June 5th). Why did World Social Work Day exist, I used to wonder, if no one, at least in my experience, really did anything about it? Having another bogus, fluffy holiday seemed to trivialize the hard work we do.

I always tell my social work colleagues that the antidote for vicarious trauma consists of three strategies: authentic connection with fellow travelers, exceptional self-care, and validation by our organizations of the work we do. I decided to get up at Portland ignite because I wanted to send a 5-minute message of deep gratitude to all social workers as well as appreciate all the folks who do social work without the benefit of a formal social work degree.

So here it is “Strong @ the Broken Places.”  Everything I know about vicarious trauma in five crisp minutes (20 slides, 15 seconds each, no stopping, no second chances). Happy World Social Work Day everyone!

CSWE: 2015 EPAS Now Available for Public Comment and Feedback

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Draft 2: 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS)
Opens on March 14, 2014 
Feedback Closes on May 16, 2014

On behalf of CSWE’s Commission on Educational Policy (COEP) and Commission on Accreditation (COA), the second draft of the 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) is now available for public review, comment, and feedback. We would like to thank the programs, individuals and organizations that provided feedback on the first draft. For Draft 1, we received 24 surveys on the CSWE feedback website and letters/emails from 12 programs and 4 organizations. Three feedback sessions were conducted at the October 2013 APM with approximately 350 participants in attendance. Feedback on Draft 1 closed on December 31, 2013. The COA and COEP worked in January and February 2014 to review the feedback and make changes for Draft 2 of the 2015 EPAS.

The revision of educational policy and accreditation standards is set-up to be a thoughtful, lengthy, 2 year inclusive and collaborative process leading to a vote on the educational policy by the CSWE Board of Directors in October 2014 and a vote on the accreditation standards by the Commission on Accreditation in June 2015. The full timeline is available on the EPAS Revision page. Feedback on Draft 2 is very important as this will be the last public comment period for the educational policy before it is approved in October 2014. Additional comment periods on the accreditation standards will continue in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015.

The intent of both commissions is to solicit feedback from as many constituents as possible in as many ways as possible. CSWE invites and encourages all individual and program members and interested organizations to provide feedback on the second draft of the 2015 EPAS. Feedback can be submitted as a group or individually in one or more of the following ways:

1.    Submit feedback online as an individual and/or program member of CSWE at:  http://research.zarca.com/survey.aspx?k=SsTXWXsSXSsPsPsP&lang=0&data=

2.    Submit feedback online representing an interested organization at: http://research.zarca.com/survey.aspx?k=SsTXWXsSXSsPsPsP&lang=0&data=

3.    Submit a feedback letter directly to CSWE at Office of Social Work Accreditation, 1701 Duke Street, Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314 or by e-mail at EPASrevision@cswe.org.

4.    Attend 2015 EPAS information and feedback sessions at the 2014 BPD and NADD conferences and share feedback in person.

The 2014 BPD information and feedback session is scheduled for:

  • Saturday, March 22, 2014 from 9:30 am–10:45 am in Kentucky E

The 2014 NADD feedback session is scheduled for:

  • Friday, April 11, 2014 from 8:30 am–10:00am in Grand Ballroom C, Vanderbilt Wing, 8th Floor

CSWE suggests reading two documents in their entirety prior to beginning any feedback. The first document is a Summary of Feedback on Draft 1 and Proposed Changes for Draft 2 which offers an overview of the feedback and proposed changes for Draft 2 of the 2015 EPAS. The second document is a copy of Draft 2 of the 2015 EPAS.

CSWE through the COEP and COA is committed to a comprehensive and thorough review process that develops a 2015 EPAS that reflect the excellence of social work education programs. Updates on the process will be shared in CSWE’s Full Circle and on the CSWE website.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding Draft 2 of the 2015 EPAS. Please note that the second feedback period will close May 16, 2014. CSWE’s COEP and COA welcome collegial feedback and expertise as well as help in disseminating this information widely among all interested parties. If you have any questions about the feedback process or experience any technical problems with the online feedback system, please contact the CSWE Office of Social Work Accreditation at EPASrevision@cswe.org.

Jo Ann R. Regan, PhD, MSW
Director, Office of Social Work Accreditation

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

Things I Wish I Was told in Graduate School

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I wish I was told in Graduate school and even in undergrad to some extent the real meaning of getting a college degree. I was told it meant opportunity, a big salary, not working in food service and autonomy. While much of that is true to some extent, I have learned there is larger picture as well. I am just speaking from my experience, and I hope this falls in line with the general consensus.

Obtaining a Graduate Degree in Social Work or in Counseling is NOT for… the money, fame or status. People who get into the career are in it as a way to help others, not to become the next Dr. Phil or therapist to the stars. With that being said, a person can do those things, but this is generally not the goal for most therapy minded or macro system minded individuals. My reasons for getting a Masters of Social Work was around the concept of social justice and being in the community.  As was the case with many in my graduating class, I did not expect to make very much money.

I wish I was told that money is the way companies start defining your worth. Are you a clinician who is worth $40,000 or do these companies value you above or below that industry standard? What are you willing to accept and what is the cost/benefit analysis of this process? The workplace has more to offer than just the sticker price and the same goes for college.

While in Graduate school I was able to explore, and talk to others and bounce ideas off of really fantastic community members, professors, mentors, and supervisors. Graduate school was about making contacts, building a network, and starting from zero to work my way up.

I wish I was reminded that the people in the room with me will be my co-workers, bosses, and referral sources for the future. 10 years in the future the people you graduate with will be the movers and shakers of your area.

Internships and practicum taught me how to advocate and market clients’ skills. I was taught to look deep into the experiences of others to build them up, inspire hope and promote long standing change.

I wish I was Informed that those advocacy skills are universal- I have the ability to use them to uplift and inspire myself as well as the ability and right to make people listen.

Working in mental health for the past 3 years and being close friends with the NASW Code of Ethics have put me face to face with the Client’s Bill of Rights. The Right to dignity and respect as a person, the right to be involved in their treatment, the right to privacy, and the right to change providers to name a few.  Knowing and advocating for these rights have made me a better and more trustworthy clinician. 

I wish someone would have pointed out that these rights are rights all people have.  If a person in one’s personal life or in one’s work life do not respect the rights you have as a person, you have the right to change the provider of that friendship/job/ ect.

Being a therapist, friend, a daughter, a sister, and a person in their twenties is exhausting. A person’s twenties are all about transitions and discovering your path and most importantly creating a community of people who love and support you. The hardest part is redefining yourself after graduation. Some people may have been like me and had the definitions of student/ social worker for the past few years, realizing that there is little time for friendships and socializing while entrenched in the college system.

Balance is something new clinicians need to find. Balance is one of the hardest things particularly with the system we are a part of.  Are you a social worker/person or a person/Social worker? Which cap do you put on first or are you still trying to find the social worker within or have you found that person, meaning are you still able to be a part of a two-way conversation and a two-way relationship rather than the person who solves everyone else’s problems?

Graduate school and post-grad life is difficult and challenging, but so is life in general. The final thing I wish I was told in grad school is that patience is a virtue.  However, patiently waiting for something to change and for the system to improve for your job to get better robs you of the power you have as a person, but it robs you as an educated person with networks and support.

Dig deep and learn who the person and the social worker inside you are, and define yourself. Define your career and do not let another person, company, or corporation steal that from you. Vision your future, and the ideal career path and realize that it will not happen tomorrow, or even 10 months from now, but slowly start chipping away at what you want and erode the barriers in your path.

Find Your State’s Licensing Laws with Social Work License Map

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Are you unsure about your State’s licensing laws or possibly considering a move to another state? Finding this information out on your own can be a frustrating process, and you may not know where to begin your search process. Well, Social Work License Map has created an interactive website to help kick-start your licensing journey for your State or a state you are maybe contemplating a move to.

Recently, Social Work Helper was listed on the Inspired Advocates list of top advocacy blogs, and I decided to reach out to Inspired Advocates which is a project of Social Work License Map to find out more about their efforts in providing up to date information relevant to the social work community.  I had the opportunity to interview  Brian Childs who is a content developer for Social Work License Map, and here is our interview.

SWH: Tell us about Inspired Advocates, and what led to the creation of Social Work License Map?

Brian Childs
Brian Childs

I studied History and Spanish at the University of Georgia and went on to earn a Masters in Journalism from NYU. Currently, I oversee content and technology projects for SocialWorkLicenseMap.com and Inspired Advocates is one of those projects.

Inspired Advocates is a dynamic ranking of websites in the social justice blogosphere designed to raise awareness, build community and educate bloggers on how to promote their sites using search engine optimization, social media and outreach. Any site with a blog that is relevant to the social work space can submit themselves to Inspired Advocates. Once approved, they are ranked by our algorithm which looks at domain authority, frequency of posting, user interactions and the quality of the content.

Social Work License Map was created to be a free resource aspiring and current social workers to help guide them through the licensure process while also providing practical information such as salary, scholarships and career tracks.

SWH: How is the site useful to students, aspiring social workers, and practitioners?

For students considering a career in social work, or any career really, it can be difficult to assess the pros and cons and the best path to move forward. What are the opportunities available in the field? What level of education to do you need to pursue your goals? How will you pay for that education? When you graduate, are there going to be jobs available?

While we can’t advice individual students on their specific circumstances, we have tried to create a helpful resource for the aspiring social worker by researching  information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, state social work licensing boards, and scholarships for social workers and placing them in one convenient location. Social Work License Map is meant to be an overview of the available information, with links pointing back to more in-depth sources.

For current social workers, we have provided guides to help with questions relating to resumes, interviews, cover letters and conferences. Our newest project, Inspired Advocates, is intended to raise awareness of online projects by social workers or online social advocacy efforts that overlap with the social work field. After our campaign to raise awareness of this new tool, we will be publishing a series of guides to social media, search engine optimization and creating content for the web to help educate advocates on how to increase their online presence.

SWH: How did you collect and verify data to ensure the accuracy of licensure laws in all 50 states, and how often is it updated?

We collected the data from the relevant state social work licensing board then contacted those licensing boards to make sure we had represented the process accurately. This research and fact checking process was last completed approximately 18 months ago and will be updated again after we’ve completed our outreach and awareness campaign for our new Inspired Advocates tool.

SWH: Does your site also provide information about becoming a social worker and social worker salaries, and how reliable is the information?

The information on becoming a social worker largely comes from sources such as the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers and the Association of Social Work Boards as well as a variety of schools of social work. The information on social work salaries comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Throughout our research we attempted to use the most reliable sources for this information.

The Importance of Social Work and Politics: A Social Worker’s Call to Arms

A protester holds a sign at San Francisco International Airport during a demonstration to denounce President Donald Trump’s executive order that bars citizens of seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in San Francisco.

The social work profession is a diverse and vast profession whose mission is to improve outcomes and the quality of life for vulnerable populations. To put it another way, social workers are trying to help America find its dream again, and this dream crosses party lines. However, we are having difficulty seeing our common goal because we are so focused on the differences between us. What happened to “The American Dream” and how can it be part of our future again?

We have forgotten somehow the importance of social work in the political arena. Some may ask, “How can the social work profession help our society and improve the lives of  citizens?” The social work profession is the foundation that must be restored to help empower society to find its dream again and make it a reality.

Age 0-6 is the most important and formative years in a child life, and social work is the profession that creates programs to help aid families and protect children from scars that may affect them for the rest of their life. If a child is denied needed resources such as food, shelter, developmental education, and ability to live free from abuse, this child’s chances of benefiting from the best public or private education is diminished. ~ Deona Hooper, MSW

As social workers, we can be a great force for this kind of growth in our society, but we must be the Superpac for the poor and vulnerable populations. Too many social workers are “fighting the good fight” alone in their agencies and private practice. Although we work on the individual level, we must also” be a united front” as a profession politically and in our community.

We cannot be this force if we do not become more united and take a leadership role in society. Too many social workers have forgotten their social justice roots and are too caught up in their private practice or agency to reach out. As a result, social work as a profession has become almost invisible. We are not taken seriously by other professions and not really recognized politically either.

The voice and face of social work needs to be heard and seen by our government, by our society and by ourselves. Many times, there is a disconnect between social work values, legislation and the agencies we work in. We must unite as a profession and advocate for better work conditions, more efficient systems for client care, and be the voice for the populations we serve.

We are not represented properly in our society because we have remained silent, and being active in our profession and community can change this. We are the face, we are the voice, and we are the fire of our profession.

I call to you …don’t let your fire burn out. We cannot restore hope in society if we cannot restore it in ourselves.

Hope and Change: Interview with the New NASW CEO Dr. Angelo McClain

Over the course of my career, I have experienced at least 15 leadership changes, and the atmosphere before the new leader arrives is always the same. Each time, employees or members are hoping for a leader that will take their concerns seriously, improve conditions, and overall make the organization function better. However, the one consistency from one leader to another is change. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. McClain, and he succeeds Elizabeth Clark who held the position from 2001 until May 2013.

As a macro social work practitioner, I have always expressed concerns regarding clinical social work and licensure laws eliminating traditional social work roles and its focus on social justice. In the interview, I ask Dr. McClain some tough questions regarding his thoughts and assessment on the current state of the profession.

membershipMapAccording to the NASW’s website:

Dr. McClain joins NASW after serving six years as Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, a position appointed by Governor Deval Patrick. While there, he oversaw a budget of $850 million and a workforce of 3,500 employees to address reports of abuse and neglect for the state’s most vulnerable children, partnering with families to help them better nurture and protect their children.

Prior to that position, Dr. McClain was Vice President and Executive Director of Value Options New Jersey where he built and oversaw administrative, clinical and quality management program infrastructures that increased access to behavioral health services for children and youth, including those in the juvenile justice system. via NASW

I must admit that he is off to an excellent start just by making himself reachable. Since being in his new role, the NASW’s website has been updated with email addresses to executive leadership, and he agreed to answer questions for Social Work Helper about his vision for leading the organization into the future. NASW has seen declining memberships in recent years for various reasons. Will he be able to convince current members to stay with the NASW, and will he be able to re-engage members who have left as well other social workers? Here is what Dr. McClain had to say:

SWH: Can you tell us about your background, and what led you to choose social work as a profession?

CEO: When I was a child, my mother said that I ought to pick a job where I could help people.  Throughout my youth, I benefited greatly from the kind,  caring interventions from a number of professionals, which caused me to want to “give back” to others in similar need.  When I was being recruited to play college football, one of the recruiters asked me what I would want to major in if I went to college.  I told him that I wanted to help people, and he said that I could major in social work.

So began what has become a three-degree, thirty-year journey of helping people and helping social workers help people.  Throughout my career I’ve worked with, and learned from, some very talented professionals; I say to them, “Thank you, very much!”  My social work career journey has allowed me the pleasure of working in almost every field and method of social work practice, I bring all of those lessons and experiences to my CEO role here at NASW.

SWH: What will be some of your top priorities moving forward, and how do you plan to collaborate with other organizations in order to achieve your objectives and goals?

CEO: Our profession, and our society, is at a unique juncture. The world has changed a great deal and there are many opportunities and challenges facing NASW, and all professional associations. Thus, these times call for an ambitious grand vision.  Our grand vision revolves around strengthening America’s social safety net, by ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to improve their human well-being and are able to live free from social injustice.

We will do this by supporting social workers, advocating for the profession, and ultimately serving the millions of clients helped by social workers each day.  NASW is strong—and when we speak, over 600,000 social workers have a voice for achieving our collective human well-being and social justice goals. Most importantly, we can use our influence to make sure that the vital social services and resources that millions of Americans depend on continue to be valued and funded appropriately.

Collaboration with all of our stakeholders and allies is critically important to our grand vision. I firmly believe that in order for us to provide the best services, products, and advocacy for our members, and social workers throughout the country, we must partner and collaborate whenever possible. There are over 40 sister social work organizations and each one fills an important role.

I look forward to continuing to work with, and learn from, them so that we can collectively represent the breadth of the profession as well as cater to the professional needs of each and every social worker. This includes working effectively with our sister social work organizations, allied professionals and groups, and the people, families, groups, and communities served by social workers.

I’ve spent my first three months at NASW meeting with numerous organizations, including the Council on Social Work Education, the Association of Social Work Boards, the  North American Association of Christians in Social Work, the Association of Oncology Social Work, the Clinical Association of Social Work, Child Welfare League of America, National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and many others to determine how we can build on our collective strengths and work together in positive and meaningful ways.

I created the NASW CEO inbox (naswceo@naswdc.org) to hear from members, social workers, and other stakeholders regarding the issues that concern them the most. This has been important because in order for me to effectively provide the necessary leadership, I need to understand the professional landscape and the day-to-day challenges and opportunities facing our colleagues practicing within all the fields and methodologies of social work.

SWH: NASW membership is comprised mostly of clinical social workers, academics, and administrators. What is your vision for continued growth and expansion?

CEO: NASW is the practice association that welcomes all social workers. We will continue to facilitate a “big tent” approach, and welcome all of our colleagues, understanding that the social work profession is much stronger when we stand together. That being said, one of our main goals is to serve a dual purpose of being a large, influential national professional association, as well as providing exactly what our members need in terms of professional resources to practice at the highest levels, to advance their careers, and to maintain a sense of professional fulfillment and well-being.

We want to have conversations with our colleagues, provide materials and resources that are relevant to their experience and expertise, and make their membership experience unique and beneficial to their specific field and method of practice.  Our goal is to delight our members, help them advance their social work practice with enhanced skills and knowledge, and ultimately to provide the best social work practice possible to the people, families, groups and communities they serve.

SWH: Many believe that social work has moved away from its social justice roots to only focusing on the clinical perspective as it relates to the individual and family. Do you agree with this assessment, and how do you plan to either expand it or create balance?

CEO: The strength of the social work profession is its breadth and depth; the profession has always, and still does today, focused on advancing human well-being and promoting social justice.  When one looks closely at the work of social workers in every field and method of social work practice, there’s ample evidence that our grand vision of improving human well-being and promoting social justice is very much alive; however, much more needs to be done before we can fully realize our grandest vision.  I see opportunities for enormous synergy when we approach our social justice and clinical practice goals with harmony and coordinated ethical responsibility.

The resulting synergy will help us achieve even better outcomes across these two perspectives—ultimately, we would do a disservice to the people, families, groups and communities we serve by artificially choosing between social justice and any particular field or method of social work practice.  Social workers not only can live in harmony with one another, but have an ethical responsibility to do so—NASW is excited about the possibilities it has to help lead social work towards its grandest goals.

Clinical and direct practice social workers cannot do their jobs without the efforts of advocates, organizers, researchers, academics, policy practitioners, and administrators.  Obviously, regardless of our field or method of social work practice; we are all in this together; each providing a valuable service to individuals, families, and communities in need and advancing the profession.

The NASW Code of Ethics outlines our primary mission as working to enhance human well-being and helping to meet the basic human needs of all people. We cannot realize that mission without an “all-hands-on-deck” approach of working together. The challenges facing our society are incredibly complex; thank goodness for the power of social work to define, address, and overcome societal injustices and strengthen the fabric of our great nation.

Photo Courtesy of www.fnsc.org

10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs

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With the continued growth of the social work field comes increased opportunities for social workers and human service professionals to improve the lives of challenged individuals. Before entering the field of social work, it is important to consider the core skills that are essential for successful career as a social worker.

1. Assessment Skills

According to the National Association of Social Workers, a significant number of social workers spend half of their time in case management. In order to be successful in case management, it is important to complete quality assessments. The assessment process reveals which clients need assistance obtaining resources, and it also allows a social worker to re-evaluate clients periodically in order to ascertain whether or not services remain effective and necessary.

2. Communication Skills

Communication in social work involves written and verbal correspondence with clients and other professionals. As an example, social workers considering grant writing careers must effectively communicate with elected officials to advocate for their causes and obtain necessary funding for programs. In any social work capacity, effectively communicating helps a professional advocate appropriately, remain clear and concise, appear professional and avoid or overcome crisis situations.

3. Advocacy and Leadership

Social workers frequently advocate for their clients. Well-developed advocacy skills allow social workers to properly represent their clients and obtain the services communities need. Excellent advocacy skills lead to positive change, and this helps clients to live empowered lives. These skills are used on the local, state and federal level to fight for existing programs, create new programs and remove or revise outdated policies.

4. Problem Solving Skills

One goal of social workers is to empower individuals. In order to empower someone, professionals must help that person work through challenges. Excellent problem solving skills are crucial in finding solutions for individuals and communities. In addition, social workers often work with limited resources and tight budgets. Problem solving skills are essential if one hopes to overcome budgetary obstacles and fiscal constraints.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

Applying social work theories and making informed decisions helps professionals to best serve client needs. In addition, professionals must act in an ethical and educated manner in order to best serve their organizations. This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking involves searching for answers with an open mind and using information to best serve the present situation. When used correctly, these skills empower an individual during crisis situations and assist a social worker in best utilizing available resources.

6. Respect for Diversity

Social workers serve a diverse array of clients in many different sectors of society. Diversity offers many challenges, but it also offers strengths that can be utilized to overcome obstacles. A social worker who understands this can effectively serve clients, and this increases opportunities to improve communities.

7. Intervention Skills

Social workers regularly intervene in emergency situations to benefit the lives of their clients. Interventions are best offered in a way that empowers clients and draws on their available strengths. This allows clients to develop their own strengths and utilize them when future problems arise, so they can independently manage their lives.

8. Documentation Skills

All areas of social work require that professionals document findings about clients. As an example, many sources give a probation officer job description that includes the following: the ability to compile, analyze, evaluate and report to the court information obtained during an investigation. Without well-developed documentation skills, completing such tasks would be impossible. Social workers document assessment information, crisis interventions and any correspondence with their clients or other professionals. Documentation must be thorough, accurate and timely in order to benefit both the client and the organization offering services.

9. Organizational Skills

Social workers must keep resources organized, remain diligent in maintaining thorough and accurate records and utilize effective time management skills too. Excelling in organization requires learning how to simplify a work environment, prioritize tasks, use good decision making practices and keep a calendar of important events or projects.

10. Understanding of Human Relationships

Finally, social workers must understand that this field is about human relationships. Couples, families, friends and communities are all part of the support system an individual turns to in time of crises. If a social worker does not embrace relationship based practice, resources will be missed and problems often become impossible to resolve. Understanding this is key to becoming a competent social work professional.

Mastering important skills enhances a social worker’s abilities in this challenging field. Education, practice and personal discovery all assist an individual in excelling in these areas.

Ethical Concerns When Using Social Media


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In the latest Iron Man, Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr., always has the best and newest technology gadgets out there. Even though Iron Man is a fictional movie, the use of technology and social media is revolutionizing how we communicate, process information, and problem solve local and global problems. However, many helping professions struggle to use the basic technology which require minimal skills in order to enhance our communications with each other. Until we master the basics, we will have difficulty intertwining advanced technologies into practice.

With the uber-trendy social networking sites’ (SNS) captivation of Internet users around the world, those in the helping profession are having a hard time keeping up with the latest and greatest in this season’s social media tools before they become outdated.

While many are quick to claim that this lag is due to an “old-school” mentality of avoiding 21st century technology, there are several factors that social workers, non-profits, and government agencies have to take into consideration before they can pick up the new toy on the playground. Private entities that are not working with vulnerable or at-risk populations have the perceived luxury of being more “lax” in their social media policies – forgoing concerns of confidentiality, cultural competency, or liability.

Public organizations are often times held to different legal and ethical policies that require much more detail and time spent towards considering where social media can help service provision and clinical work.

Social networking sites are intended to provide quick access and instant information dissemination to a specific group of people. So how do organizations working with vulnerable populations balance justified ethical concerns with the incredible potential of social media? While I may not have the magic answer, a well-developed social media policy is a good place to start.

To help anticipate all possible outcomes of social media use – both good and bad – social workers need to make sure that if they are planning (and able) to use these tools in their practice, they have a strong, carefully thought out social media policy to guide them. Especially considering that there are resources and examples out there of how caseworkers and clinicians can correctly use social media in their work, an effective social media policy can develop a “treatment plan” for using these tools while also developing a “safety plan” for when issues arise.

Whether you are in a government agency, a nonprofit, or a private practice, a social media strategy that outlines your specific goals of using the tool, your disclosure and participation policies, and how the tools will be used will help address ethical and legal considerations while also creating a foundation for keeping pace with evolving social media trends.

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Social Work and Mahatma Gandhi: Part III of IV

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Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change.

As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I suggested to them that my work of social reform was in no way less than or subordinate to political work.

The fact is, that when I saw that to a certain extent my social work would be impossible without the help of political work, I took to the latter and only to the extent that it helped the former. I must therefore confess that work of social reform or self-purification of this nature is a hundred times dearer to me than what is called purely political work.”11

Gandhi-on-PeaceMahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Whilst I criticize this part of missionary work, I willingly admit that missions have done indirect good to India. There is no doubt about this. But for my having come under Christian influence, some of my social work would not have been done. My fierce hatred of child marriage I gladly say is due to Christian influence.

I have come into contact with many splendid specimens of Christian missionaries. In spite of differences I could not possibly help being affected by their merit. And so you will find growing up in my Ashram unmarried girls, though they are free to marry if they wish. I am speaking not of university women but of girls who belong to the uneducated class.”12

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “The women certainly do social work, but as individuals. I should like them to assume responsibility as a body, for some social service. This will create in them capacity for organization. When such capacity has been created, individuals may come and go but the organization will remain.

God has given such capacity only to human beings. In our country, women have not cultivated it so far. The blame for this lies with the men. But that is a question with which we need not concern ourselves just now. If we believe that women must acquire this capacity for organization, we should try to cultivate it in them. It does not matter if we commence only with my writing a letter to their Association and their replying to me. Slowly (no matter, if very slowly) we may take up other activities. If you have fully understood what I have suggested and if the suggestion has appealed to you, if the other women also approve of it and if they are ready to take interest in carrying it out, you may take up this work. If, however, you see difficulties in carrying it out or see no meaning in it, you may drop the idea.”13

Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action.

In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the professions national and international codes of ethics. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I wonder if you were able to pass on my letter about the opening ceremony to Vinayakrao. He has certainly done very good social work in Ratnagiri, and it must have been a very serious disappointment to him, as also to Sjt. Kir that you were disabled from performing the opening ceremony.”14

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I hope to be able shortly to issue a statement1 about the Village Industries Association. I might have issued it earlier, but, in spite of my getting up at half past two in the morning, I have not yet overtaken the arrears. But I shall presently put on speed. Of course, I shall want your assistance and that of all solid workers who would come forward. The resolution aims at moral uplift. Therefore, it includes social work so far as it can be advanced through village industries. If Jagannath offers his services and if he is allowed to do so, he will have to be a whole-timer.”15

Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors.

The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyses complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I have now heard from Dr. Jayaram. He has come to the conclusion that Bhole never had any tuberculosis but whether he had any or not he is certainly now entirely free and that he should now leave the Sanatorium and take to some social work or continue his studies so as to take his mind off himself.”16

References:

  • 11-VOL. 53 : 2 JULY, 1931 – 12 OCTOBER, 1931, Page- 168
  • 12-VOL. 53 : 2 JULY, 1931 – 12 OCTOBER, 1931, Page-  469
  • 13-LETTER TO PREMABEHN KANTAK; April 8, 1932
  • 14-LETTER TO M. R. JAYAKAR; February 25, 1933
  • 15-LETTER TO DR. GOPICHAND BHARGAVA; November 6, 1934
  • 16-LETTER TO RAMACHANDRAN; March 10, 1935

Top 5 Social Work Resources You Should Know About

If you like to stay in the know about all things social work, I have the several resources that will help keep you in the know. These five websites will serve as portals into a wealth of  global social work knowledge.  Most importantly, you don’t have to find all this information for yourself because they do it for you. Whether you need information on current events, practice or policy, you definitely need to maintain these sites in your bookmarks.

Here are the Top 5 social work resources that I recommend:

  1. Social Work.Career– This website is maintained by Blogger Dorlee Michaeli who is an MBA and MSW Clinical Social Worker. Dorlee’s motto is “I’m watching twitter, google+ and the web so you don’t have to…” , and she really does. Each week, there is a “Best in Mental Health Series” where she gathers blog post from various social work blogs on the net and compiles them for you. Dorleem Blog covers an array of topics including technology, career development, social work education and more.

  2. Social Work Blogs– Looking for a Social Work Blog or want to list your social work blog, then look no further. Social Work Blogs is your primary directory for social work blogs on the net. Don’t have time to read every social work blog, they give weekly recommendations on some good reads.

  3. Social Work News-Do you want to know about social work news around the globe or in your country? If so, Social Work News needs to be on your desktop. It keeps me informed daily about issues all over of the world. Without Social Work news, you would have to  search for social work specific news yourself.

  4. Community Care UK-Community Care UK is very informative especially if you are interested in learning more about practices in the United Kingdom to compare and contrast policy, practice, research, and initiatives by the British government.

  5. Trabajo Social- Trabajo Social is a blog out of Spain which provides a portal to other social work resources. They also have a library of podcasts in which I can’t use because it’s in Spanish. However, there is a list of blogs which are very informative with Google Translate.

If Social Workers are Intrinsic to Humanity, Why Should We Strive to Make the Profession Redundant?

As social workers, your use of ‘self’ is the most fundamental tool in your kit bag. This is why particularly when our profession faces huge challenges, we must be reflexive.  Globally, we are living through unprecedented times. A failure of the capitalist framework which scaffolds our lives has reduced the resources that we and our service users rely on. Our first instinct is to demand more from the hierarchical structures which govern us, voice our concerns and hope to be heard. We do this because that is the system that we are conditioned to, and it’s the way society works.

We question the system and critique it for being out of touch. Why do the powers that be choose what aspects of our concerns to highlight and minimise what we consider to be core issues? How can a system intended to empower people and improve lives, leave people feeling decimated?

These questions can be applied to our personal selves, our profession and on behalf of the individuals and families we support. But to answer them requires time to think about whether the individual answers for our personal self, our profession, and our service users harmonise or create conflict. There are no easy answers. In some cases as an individual and a social worker you may consider that both you and your service users will benefit from you having a reduced caseload to enable you to dedicate more time.

This is an important issue and the answer is one where you might consider the result is increased harmony which is deserving of more funding. But do all areas of public service require greater provision, more doctors, nurses, teachers, soldiers and police? Hey, she forgot to mention social workers! Sadly this omission was deliberate to make the point that an increase in the number of social workers is rarely voiced as a national issue.

Despite a lack of national prevalence, social workers are crucial to our country’s success.  This is because social workers stand committed to wanting to make a positive difference, to support and empower our service users to live safe and fulfilling lives. However, although social workers can be the human face of a bureaucratic policy, on occasions we also represent an impersonal faceless system.

Listen or read any criticism of the social work profession by service users and it is underpinned by a sense of dehumanisation. Somehow amidst carefully designed systems and well intentioned policies the interventions of social workers leave some people feeling despair, fear and hatred. This was never the intended outcome of the social work profession, whose ultimate goal is one of redundancy, of not being required by a well functioning society.

You may think this utopia is unrealistic and will never be achieved. I fully understand that position. It is natural to feel overwhelmed simply trying to survive the daily challenges that our personal and professional lives bring. We are only human, how can we meet the needs of humanity? When in truth the question should be: We are human, how can we not meet the needs of humanity?

This may feel like a heavy burden for social workers to carry, but I believe it is part of our DNA, an aspect of our self. Our personal lives led us to this profession and professional training supports our knowledge base and skills. We are taught to analyse and reflect on the needs of service users and our decision making processes as individual social workers.  We need to extend that reflexivity to our profession to be honest enough to own our mistakes and apply ourselves to fundamental change. We can only change ourselves not others, so let’s agree what we can do and not focus upon what others prevent us from doing.  We owe it to ourselves and humankind.

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