A Boy or A Girl or A Person: the Lack of Recognition for Intersex People


Not surprisingly, Fox News presenter Clayton Morris had to apologise for his ‘ignorant and stupid’ comments mocking the new gender options for Facebook profiles which allow users to register as intersex. The TV presenter ridiculed the move of the social media company referring to intersex by saying “whatever that is”. This case illustrates the prejudice and ignorance surrounding the reality of individuals who cannot be clearly classified as male or female at birth. Most countries worldwide still neglect this human rights problem and intersex people remain invisible to the majority.

The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia of 17 May also aims to highlight the struggle against the discrimination and prejudice suffered by intersex people. The word “intersex” has replaced “hermaphrodite”, which was widely used by medical practitioners during the 18th and 19th centuries. The social expectations for either a girl or a boy at birth, or a woman or a man in society, are the source of the problems intersex people face. Society does not usually recognise a person without reference to their sex. Yet intersex individuals’ chromosomal, anatomical or gonadal characteristics do not belong exclusively to either sex. This is why intersex persons encounter huge barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights.

Surgeries without consent

The situation of intersex persons is not well known. Recent research has demonstrated that the parents of intersex babies are often ill-informed and baffled. Medical professionals may be quick to propose “corrective” surgeries and treatments aiming to “normalise” the sex of the child. Such surgeries, which are cosmetic rather than medically necessary, are often performed on intersex babies and toddlers. This can result in irreversible sex assignment and sterilisation performed without the fully informed consent of the parents and, even more importantly, without the consent of intersex persons themselves.

“Corrective” operations and treatment are usually traumatising and humiliating. They can take a long time and post-operative complications are common. There are long-term effects on intersex individuals’ mental health and well-being. The sex assigned to children at an early age may not correspond with their identity and feelings later on.

In addition, medical services are rarely transparent about the statistics of operations performed on intersex individuals and even the people treated experience difficulties in accessing their own medical records, as pointed out in a study published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation last year.

Rights to self-determination and physical integrity

The early “normalising” treatments do not respect intersex persons’ rights to self-determination and physical integrity. Intersex babies and younger children are not in a position to give their consent. The proxy consent given by parents may not be free and fully informed and can hardly take into account the best interests of the child in the long-run.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, has called on all states to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalising surgery, when carried out without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. Intersex individuals’ choice not to undergo sex assignment treatment must be respected.

When operations are not necessary on medical grounds, they should only take place at an age when intersex persons can give their consent and participate actively in decisions about treatment and sex assignment. This position has been advocated by the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics which acknowledged the past suffering of intersex persons in November 2012 and called for an end to surgery for sociocultural reasons.

Information and support

Intersex children, their parents and families need adequate counselling and support, as highlighted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. Civil society advocates of intersex people should be able to participate in the provision of information and services to intersex families in addition to medical and social professionals. There is also a need to improve training about intersex issues and their human rights implications among health and social services.

Legal recognition

Birth certificates and many other official documents almost always require the identification of the sex of the individual concerned. It is usually impossible to differentiate the official recognition of the person from the definition of that individual’s sex. Therefore a person without a clearly identifiable sex can easily fall into a limbo of unrecognised personal status without official documentation.

Since November 2013 in Germany, it has been possible to choose “blank” in addition to “female” and “male” on birth certificates. Therefore it is no longer necessary to identify the sex of children at birth. The practical consequences of this legal change remain to be seen and it is not yet possible to exercise similar choices when issuing identity cards and passports.

Raise awareness and review legislation

There is a need to raise awareness of and collect more data on the situation of intersex persons in society and the discrimination and prejudice they encounter in daily life also as adults. The reform of the Sex Discrimination Act in Australia last year introduced the ground of “intersex status” among other prohibited grounds of discrimination. This is a powerful tool to foster the equality of intersex people.

I urge governments in Europe to review their current legislation and medical practices to identify gaps in the protection of intersex people and take measures to address the problems. Policy makers should involve civil society advocates of intersex persons such as the OII Europe and ILGA-Europe in these efforts. The enjoyment of human rights is universal and it cannot depend on the sex of the person. Intersex individuals must be granted full legal recognition from birth and amendments to their sex or gender classification should be facilitated to reflect their individual choices.

Not an Average Day in the Office: Social Workers from the US to Madrid Come to UK Workplaces for a Day of Unique Learning


Social workers from across the world will be turning up at workplaces in the UK for a series of seminars on the final day of the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) European Conference and Social Services Expo in September.

The event hosted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) aims to give practitioners a chance to learn about an area of practice in a real-life setting while also building links with colleagues in other countries to further their learning and development.

Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, said: “There will be presentations, workshops, meeting people who use services and colleagues from across the globe. These will look at new ways of working but also establish ongoing networks which will be supported by BASW and IFSW for future exchange and mutual learning.

“We do not want just a one-off talking shop. We are investing in new ways to stimulate the thinking that will be needed in the years to come of how we can co-construct with the people we work with to find better ways of achieving the outcomes that enable people to lead better lives.”

The seminars will include work with Roma families. A number of local authorities and NGOs recognise that with the discrimination experienced by families in parts of Europe, many have been moving north to escape.

“Listening to families tell of their experiences of housing, health and school systems that discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, and bullying and intimidation from those in authority, speak to the feelings of exclusion that many of us joined social work to combat,” said Ms Stark.

“But in reality, how do we work with people who have been displaced from their homeland and find themselves in countries where they can live together inclusively?”

There are also new issues of language, culture and religion for generations that are subsequently born in a new country. Different generations have different languages that could cause tension among families. How are social workers equipped to deal with it?

Ms Stark added, “Sharing knowledge not only within our own teams but from across Europe and beyond will enable us to understand these cross-border issues more intelligently and therefore improve the quality of our work.”

The seminars will include how social workers in France or Sweden work with mental health issues – what laws cover deprivation of liberty and how social workers are involved in protecting human rights. And do the people who use the services experience the same frustrations as those in the UK?

In the Nordic countries, the criminal justice systems are held up as more progressive than those in the UK, but there are still horrific crimes of violence. A joint presentation from Scotland and Sweden will show how partnership working can help boost knowledge in key areas and how reduction of violence programmes in many countries are learning from each other.

In child protection, the seminars will cover how countries in the post-soviet era are developing models of intervention. Are they evolving new methods that would help in this complex area of work? Some countries treat child abuse investigation as solely the remit of law enforcement agencies like the police, while in the UK it is a joint responsibility between police and social work.

Other subject areas include children in public care – how are countries across the world responding to growing calls from victims of institutional abuse for social justice? Some have given compensation and some have held public inquiries but none have really tackled the behaviour of those with power and control who commit offences against children.

Good practice in public care will be the focus of a seminar organised by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration. This will take in the principles of the Kilbrandon Report – needs not deeds – which underpin the children’s hearings system that has been operating in Scotland since 1970.

A seminar in Renfrewshire will focus on some of the work in the Netherlands and Denmark to create dementia-friendly living environments, enabling people to have a more “normalised” life in their later years. This could revolutionise how joint health and social care budgets are used more effectively.

South Lanarkshire will host a seminar on social work education. The authority has a renowned reputation for the quality of its student social workers – some winning Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) awards – and is keen to share its knowledge of good quality training. Its particular problem is a large geographical area where it has to “grow its own” – a challenge faced by many parts of Europe from Finland and Sweden to Spain, Greece and Portugal.

Ruth Stark said, “These seminars will lead to international networks that will continue to support social workers’ learning and development. There is much to learn from our European colleagues – come and join us!”


Foster Care Youth Trapped in the School to Prison Pipeline

Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors.

foster careEducation reform is one of the foremost civil rights issue of our day, and at the heart of the dilemma is a set of very simple questions. Why do we not utilize evidence base practices that will have far-reaching benefits in establishing a foundation for better life outcomes? Why do we not create solutions that create benefit the poor?  The answers to these questions are chilling, downright cowardly, and unpatriotic. The American society is afraid of change.

A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder. – Stir Journal

For moral, social and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that an array of  supports be put in place to help support foster alumni develop a strong family structure which is paramount to sustaining future successful outcomes. A primary marker for the healthy development of  young families is a solid home life which can anchor children right from the start while benefiting society overall. A basic premise of sociology is the interconnectedness of  society to the community and community to  family. Healthy families mean strong communities, and strong communities increase the functioning of society as a whole.

Education is more than a pedagogic issue, it is a basic human right as well as society’s collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education. Currently, the issues  related to education and its impact on the most vulnerable are a matter of national security. As evidence, the United States prison system is a direct reflection of the failures of our education system. The future of our society lies within the margins of the discarded, the poor, and the orphaned in this country.

There is no greater work more urgent, more exhausting, and more spiritually rewarding than helping to create opportunities to engage, inspire and ignite foster care alumni. Many of whom have had a lifetime legacy of being impoverished, ignored, as well as unwanted. Together, the economically fragile and advocates, can create a new reality of hope and global opportunities of economic and social mobility.

While our nation, and specifically Massachusetts, has made considerable progress in child welfare, social service delivery systems, and  education, we  must not  lose sight of the challenges ahead.  We must be purposeful in ensuring foster care alumni receive needed supports while in  placement as well as opportunities for advancement post placement in order to elevate their social  mobility and educational opportunities.

Tips for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elder Abuse: Don’t Let It Be Your Grandma!

By Denise Bartley, Andre Juste, Rachel Meadows, and Guiseline Momplaisir


According to a study by the National Center on elder abuse, 63.7% of the reported abuse cases were elderly women? Statistics suggest that the majority of elderly Americans, our grandmothers and grandfathers, are being abused and neglected. For those of you who don’t know, elderly abuse refers to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.

The problem is that we fail to recognize just how vulnerable the elderly are. The elderly are often seen as a wise and loving population who aim to educated and guide the young. But the sad truth is that elderly people are very likely to suffer from various illnesses and disabilities such as dementia. 14 million adults over 65 year in the U.S have some form of disability. Approximately 5.1 million adults over 65 in the U.S have some form of dementia and almost half of the adults over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease—or a disease closely related to.

Now, when you throw in the fact that the elderly are highly reluctant to report abuse because they fear worsening their situation it is clear that they are indeed vulnerable. They shouldn’t have to deal with abuse or neglect, and it is time for a change. Even though this population is reluctant to report their abuse, Adult Protective Services (APS) have shown that there is an increasing trend in the reporting of elderly abuse.

Research estimates that only 1 in 14 elderly abuse cases are actually being reported.  According to the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, it estimated for every 1 case of elderly abuse reported 24 cases go unreported. A sample study of adult women with disabilities showed that 67% experienced physical abuse and 53% experienced sexual abuse. In another study 55% of adult men experienced physical abuse after becoming disabled, 12% of which said it was from a personal assistance service provider. It is estimated that roughly 90% of the abusers in elderly cases were family members, the remainder of which being mostly service providers.  These statistics are a disgusting truth and can no longer go unheard.

For those of you, who may not empathize with the elderly after reading this, imagine if it was you. The U.S Census recorded the highest ever recorded population of individuals over the age of 65 in 2010 which is 13% of the U.S population or 40.3 million people. The currently fastest growing portion of the U.S population is the 85 and up elderly. By 2050, there will be an estimated 19 million people 85 years or older in the U.S making up 20% of the population.  If the national elderly abuse crisis is not rectified soon then based on the preceding statistics, it likely will be you.

There are various resources for the elderly across the country. Eldercare Locator is provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and helps connect older adults and their families with local service providers for the elderly. Eldercare Locator can be contacted at 1-800-667-1116 (Monday- Friday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern Time) or at eldercare.gov (24/7). Because the majority of elderly abuse cases go unreported, ending abuse must start with reporting the abuse. If there is an immediate danger or threat of danger to your health, safety, or well-being call 911! Also, you can contact your local social services agency with their Adult Protective Services division to report suspected elder abuse in homes and care facilities.

In addition, we can stop the abuse by being there for our aging population. If they say someone is abusing them— listen and do something about it! Take action! We are all in the same boat, we are all aging, and we all know someone who is aging. By taking action we are not only protecting our grandparents, and we are not only protecting our future selves, we are protecting everyone!

We are students passionate about empowering people, and we’ve started this campaign to give a voice to those who don’t have one #‎outofyourshadow.

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Five African American Pioneers in Social Service

Dorothy Height with President Obama
Dorothy Height with President Obama

With Black History Month coming to a close, it is important to recognize the contributions of those who strove for societal progress in social services before us. As an MSW program dedicated to celebrating social justice and cultural diversity, SocialWork@Simmons is proud to honor five major pioneers in social work history.

These extremely prolific civil rights advocates shattered barriers and established themselves as true leaders within major US government social service institutions. Their contributions helped establish the necessary momentum for societal progress and have positively affected the lives of millions of people around the globe.

Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954)

Mary Church Terrell is a true pioneer for African American women. As the daughter of former slaves-turned-small-business-owners, she was one of the first Black women to earn a bachelor’s degree, the first black woman appointed to a school board, and the first African American admitted to the Washington DC Branch of the American Association of University Women.

She later went on to become a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and co-founded the National Association of Colored Women.

George Edmund Haynes (1880–1960)

George Edmond Haynes was a lifelong civil rights advocate and had a diverse educational background in social work. In fact, Haynes was the first African American to graduate from the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia University School of Social Work).

Haynes went on to become co-founder and first executive director of the National Urban League. He went on to work as a special assistant to the secretary of labor (under the title of director of Negro economics), making him one of the two highest-ranking Black federal employees.

Thyra J. Edwards (1897–1953)

Thyra J. Edwards was a lifelong social worker with a multinational impact. Her career began as a social worker in Chicago and she went onto diversify her skills as a lecturer, women’s rights advocate, labor organizer, and journalist. After WWII, she became the executive director of the Congress of American Women. One of the major contributions of this organization was the establishment of the first childcare program in Rome to assist Jewish Holocaust survivors.

She advocated for people of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities, and worked internationally until her death in 1953.

Lester Blackwell Granger (1896–1976)

Lester Blackwell Granger launched his career as a high school teacher and a social worker. In 1952, he became the first Black man to serve as president of the National Conference of Social Work.

Lester Blackwell Granger spent most of his time as acting NCSW president advocating for civil rights measures. After WWII, he served as a special consultant to the Navy in support of efforts to desegregate the military, which earned him the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award and the Presidential Medal for Merit.

In 1958, he was one of four civil rights activist leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to meet with President Eisenhower to discuss civil rights reform. Like George Edmund Haynes, Granger served as president of the National Urban League for a large part of his career.

Dorothy Height (1912–2010)

Dorothy Height was a women’s rights and civil rights advocate and is often referred to as “The godmother of the civil rights movement.” Height began her lifetime of advocacy by campaigning against lynching and as a social worker.

She went on to establish the YWCA’s Center for Racial Justice, founding the National Women’s Political Caucus, leading the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and co-organizing the famous 1963 March on Washington. Throughout her life, she campaigned internationally for women’s rights, traveling to Mexico, India, and many countries in Africa.

Height is the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, among many other awards and honorary degrees.

Source: Biography.org

These are just some of the many influential African-American social workers who spent their lives advocating for social justice and civil rights. Ultimately, many of their initiatives succeeded, but there is still much to improve upon, and social workers are capable of making the changes our society needs. In honor of Black History Month, reach out to let us know what influential social workers or Black leaders have had an impact on your vocation to be a social worker.

How Will Paul Ryan’s Anti-Poverty Plan Affect Social Welfare and Social Services Programs

Paul Ryan pretending to wash pans.
Paul Ryan pretending to wash pans.

Recently, Paul Ryan released a new anti-poverty plan which he claims will empower poor Americans and create life opportunities. His plan calls for providing individual case managers to help develop goals and target money where it is specifically needed. Under the Ryan plan, Congress would “reward” social agencies after they can prove that clients’ benchmarks have been achieved. The plan for re-distribution of anti-poverty program funding in the form of block grants would have strings attached to positive outcomes.

How outcomes will be measured and determined to be successes or failures are vague. This is concerning in light of the fact Ryan did not address the proposed reduction in funds to evaluate outcomes.

According to the Daily Kos,

“TANF Research Funds are used by the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate the effectiveness of different state TANF programs and to develop new approaches for improving employment outcomes among TANF recipients. These funds date back to the inception of the TANF program in 1996 and have been included in each extension of TANF since. If this cut is enacted, studies currently being conducted on vocational training, job search services, and other initiatives would be severely disrupted.”

After listening to Paul Ryan’s concerns about the shrinking middle class and long term unemployment at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), my ultimate conclusion is that his potential plan is a bunch of double talks. John Boehner, the House GOP leader, during the same AEI conference, perpetuated the myth that unemployed Americans are just lazy and enabled by government programs. The leader has defended the position by stating that EUC prevents people from looking for work.

Having case managers customize plans on a 1:1 basis for millions of social services clients sounds great, but it is unworkable. It will create higher demand and an increased burden on an already overworked system. Referrals to separate agencies for services would still be necessary. Where are the cost savings or reductions in bureaucracy?

But the evidence doesn’t support that argument. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether. Of the roughly 1.3 million Americans whose benefits disappeared with the end of the program, only about a quarter had found jobs as of March, about the same success rate as when the program was still in effect; roughly another quarter had given up searching.  ~FiveThirtyEight

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of unemployed workers losing benefits is growing steadily by 72,000 each week. If Congressional leaders want a proven anti-poverty program it behooves them to renew Emergency Unemployment Insurance. The failure to support an extension will cost  240,000 jobs by the end of the year. If unemployed workers lose their car, or cannot afford gas, or their phone bills, the chances of them finding a job and getting back to work decline significantly.

As a recent Bachelor of Social Work graduate, I went back to school in order to upgrade my skills. When I began my unpaid field work internship last winter, my benefits lapsed, I was unable to meet my basic needs or have gas to drive to my internship. Fortunately for me, new state funds became available, and I was able to complete my degree. However, this is not the case for many long-term unemployed Americans. How does having to drop of out school and training programs that will upgrade your skills align with Ryan’s plan for opportunity?

House GOP leaders’ refusal to bring the bipartisan Senate Emergency Unemployment Extension bill for a vote to the floor has had dire consequences on the lives of the long-term unemployed. Testimonies during Witness Wednesdays on Capitol Hill illustrate how the House GOP leaders have contributed to the increase in poverty instead of creating jobs. Americans have lost their homes, life savings, credit, and the resources to find work. Currently, there are over 280, 000 unemployed veterans that have also lost their unemployment insurance lifeline. Of the 3.5 million unemployed Americans who have been looking for work for longer than 27 weeks, one in ten are veterans.

This is Serious Business: Is There No Fun Allowed in Social Work?

There seems to be an unspoken rule in social work that no fun is allowed. Aside from play therapy for children, everything else is serious business. In some ways I get it. We deal with a lot of serious issues. It isn’t exactly appropriate to crack a joke every time a single parent is about to lose his/her home and children or a young adult is seeking treatment for child sexual abuse. Still, overall, people seek social services/therapy because they want increased happiness, joy, fun.

No FunNo one walks in saying, “Please help me feel worse or make my situation even more difficult. I’d like to cry a little more.” Utilizing play, humor, and fun can be extremely useful to ease tension and stress during challenging times.

This can also lead to new and creative insights and solutions that we don’t see when we’re stuck in a rut. Helping a chronically unemployed client find a job might be more effective if it’s turned into an enjoyable and exciting process. We all know that when we enter into something with positive, creative energy, the results are more favorable.

Now I’m not advocating we ignore, minimize, or make light of the serious issues that clients bring in. It’s necessary to acknowledge, process, understand, and accept the past and present but too much focus on problems and the accompanying negative feelings can be detrimental to forward progress.

I’ve worked with numerous adult clients who have had years of social services and therapy beginning in childhood, and are stuck in a cycle of blame and excuses because the primary focus has been on everything terrible that has ever happened and is still happening to them. There was little focus on the future, their desires, and how can they build the motivation to reach those desires.

Yet, if you look at children who have not been scarred by the purported seriousness of life (aka adults) they have nothing stopping them because they are focused only on possibilities. They world is their oyster and their lobster and if they don’t like seafood, their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They laugh, they play, they joke, and they create wonderful masterpieces. They can be and do anything in their minds, and if a motivated mindset stays intact throughout childhood and into adulthood they become successful, happy, fulfilled adults.

However, many get stuck somewhere, often for quite a few valid reasons. It’s easy to understand why an adult who was seriously abused as a child or shuffled through foster care or juvenile justice system has a hard time laughing, dreaming, and seeing the possibilities anymore. Even so, I truly believe that if social services brought a little more joy to the table they would remember their natural childhood state and eventually embrace its benefits.

The problem is most of us aren’t trained to use humor, play, and fun in a therapeutic sense, especially with adults. I have previous experience with the field of therapeutic recreation so when I officially entered into the field of social work, I was excited to blend the two. Then I encountered a very serious graduate program that was primarily focused on all of the atrocities in our world with little room for discussion of creative solutions.

I also had a quite stoic internship supervisor tell me never to use humor in my therapy sessions. The fun and joy that I began with was slowly squeezed out of me. I figured these highly educated, licensed, and experienced professors and professionals must know better than me what they’re talking about. So I got super serious, but that wasn’t me. Since I’m the only tool I have in working with my clients, it wasn’t helpful to them.

I realized later my supervisor likely meant I shouldn’t use humor unless it was useful to the client in which I fully agree with. However, neither she nor anyone else in my program provided any guidance in that direction. Luckily, I had other role models who used humor and play effortlessly and I rediscovered similar skills I had learned previously or used naturally.

Through some trial and error, I found that many of my clients responded positively to humor and a little playfulness. They more easily let go of some of their life’s negative accumulation and replaced that with life’s possibilities and motivation to move toward their desires. They smiled, they laughed, they were happy to take responsibility for their lives.

Utilizing humor and play can also be beneficial for social service providers, who often suffer from burnout and secondary trauma when dealing with such serious issues on a regular basis. Used carefully and thoughtfully, fun is an important aspect of the therapeutic process for everyone involved and should be implemented more often in social service provision.

Top Social Photo Sharing Services You Should Try

As the days go by, social photo sharing services continue to grow in popularity due to the large number of users who want to take their photos to the next level by sharing it with people in their network. These days, people find it attractive to share photos of themselves, other people, places, events, and virtually anything visible to the naked eye for the sole purpose of posterity.

Instagram, a mobile photo sharing app now owned by Facebook, was greatly responsible for this upsurge. However, there are emerging services recently introduced to online society that do attempt to rival the popular service (and probably even overthrow it in the long run). Take a look at some of them:


SpeakingPhoto: A kinder, gentler real-time social photo sharing app

If you’re aware of the popularity and eventual downfall of Vine, the six-second video sharing service that recently made some noise due to its porn problem, here’s an alternative service that will perhaps turn heads. SpeakingPhoto, a new social photography app that lets you connect with people using photos and recorded audio , challenges Vine and its contemporaries by focusing on keywords such as “memories” and “special moments” to appeal to users. Instead of video, SpeakingPhoto allows recording of voice and ambient audio and the capability to pair the recording with a photo. You can attach up to five photos throughout the recording that you can share with friends and loved ones. (via Cult of Mac)

Chute: The seven-million dollar baby

Y Combinator-backed photo collection startup Chute recently raised $7 million in a funding round led by Foundry Group, Freestyle Capital, and US Venture Partners. The said platform for media-rich applications and sites says it will help users of the service build scalable and rich media experiences using various platforms like tablets, mobile phones, laptops, and more. The most enticing however, is the service’s capability to aggregate photos in real world locations. For example, if you’re staging a business conference, you can set up displays all over the venue and encourage people to post photos from the event on Instagram or Twitter with a related hashtag. Chute can then pull in the photos and project them on massive screens and then you’ll start seeing photos of people in VoIP service (read more) booths and attendees participating in hackathons or forums. (via All Things D)

Oggl: Hipstamatic’s Instagram challenger

Hipstamatic recently unveiled its standalone social networking app, Oggl, to get ahead in the game against rival service Instagram. Through Oggl, Hipstamatic looks forward to engage its four million users instead of adding more filters (a feature that made the app maker-slash-design agency popular) with its offshoot app. Its two key features ( capture and curation) will allow users to “make photos look good in certain lighting and situations” and to share photos with the people in the company’s network based on popularity or geolocation, respectively. Oggl will start out as an invite-only service initially. (via The Next Web)

Interview with Professor Crystal Hayes on Shaniya Davis: We Deserve to Be Safe

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Social Work Professor Crystal Hayes about her disclosure of being sexual abused as a child in an op-ed she wrote in response to the rape and murder of five year old Shaniya Davis. In 2009, Shaniya Davis went missing and was later found dead in a ditch alongside an isolated country road outside of Sanford, North Carolina. The death of Shaniya Davis would later expose a variety of system failures that were suppose to help keep her safe.

On May 29, 2013, a Cumberland County jury in North Carolina sentenced Shaniya’s killer, Mario Andrette McNeil, to death on the grounds of first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, sexual offense of a child, indecent liberties with a child, and human trafficking and sexual servitude which led to her death. Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, is currently being held for selling her child to pay off a drug debt, and her trial is scheduled for later this year.

Shaniya DavisAccording to local ABC news affiliate and statements made by District Attorney Ed Grannis, Cumberland County Department of Social Services destroyed emails on their involvement with Shaynia Davis prior to her death.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Grannis said problems started the day Davis was reported missing when DSS left detectives waiting hours for assistance.

“It was critically important that DSS cooperate in every way to save the life of this child, it does not appear that occurred,” said Grannis.

Eventually, he said it took two court orders to force DSS to handover missing documents that were not included in an initial report to the DA’s office.

Grannis also expressed his disappointment with the State Bureau of Investigation who he said referred to DSS’s lack of cooperation as a misunderstanding – even after interviews with DSS staffers revealed high ranking supervisors told agents on the case to print emails and then delete them to prevent the media from accessing details in their investigation of the Davis Family.

“DSS staff was told to delete emails pertaining to this case, and to not email anymore information,” said Grannis.  Read Full Article

What happened to Shaniya Davis impacted Professor Hayes to the point where she felt compelled to disclose a secret she had been carrying around for over 30 years. Removing those barriers of silence has further empowered her to be a better advocate, teacher, and fighter for social justice. Professor Hayes goes more in detail about her decision to disclose her sexual abuse in the article she wrote for the Durham News which can be viewed here. Also, Professor Hayes penned an emotional letter to Shaniya Davis that she would like to share with Social Work Helper readers.  I hope you find this letter as compelling as I do which reads as follows:

Dear Beloved Shaniya:

We deserve to be safe. I am beyond grief stricken by your death and its loss to the world. The man accused of taking your very young precious life has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, but not the crime of sexual assault. It’s not the justice I wanted for you. I thought any justice would bring relief or closure, but nothing will remove the grief I feel about what happened to you. I grieve for you a lot. I grieve that this world will never know the amazing things your life had to offer. I grieve that you will never get to play or dance again and just be five.  I grieve that you will never get to enjoy another fun day in the park with family and friends. I grieve that you won’t grow up to fuss with your family about curfews or the other things important teens. There are moments when your face appears on my television screen with that beautiful smile and pretty white dress and I lose my breath as I listened to the latest news about your case. Each time, I am reminded that we’ve lost forever an amazing spirit. The man who stole you from us stole an entire future and legacy, but he’s not the only reason you’re gone. We all failed you. The world failed to keep you and women and girls safe. We deserve to be safe.

As a mother of a daughter and a survivor of sexual assault as a child, I am often overwhelmed and tortured by what you must have gone through. What happened to you is absolutely incomprehensible to me even though I know you’re far from alone. I am full of rage that we live in a world that can’t keep children safe and even if this never happened, you were born into a world not safe for girls and women. One in five American women will be the victims of some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.   The United Nations Gender Equity Initiative reminds us that up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.  In 2002 alone, roughly 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence.  Here, at home, in North Carolina our state is ranked top 8th for human trafficking in the United States according to the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  I worried everyday of my life for the past 21 years for the safety of my daughter. I continue to fear for her in a world where women between the ages of 12 and 34 are the most at risk for sexual assault in our culture. The Center for Disease Control has declared sexual violence a very serious public health crisis.  Beloved Shaniya, we have failed you and girls everywhere in the most basic ways possible and I am deeply sorry. We owe you so much more and all survivors of sexual violence.

As I write this letter to you, I am also reminded that this work isn’t easy. Everyday I fight for the integrity of my soul so that I do not become the very thing I oppose the most: inhumane. It’s difficult to remain human in the face of so much evil, but I know I must do it if I truly want to honor you, the little girl in me who was victimized, and all women and children who feel unsafe everyday. I can promise you that I will spend my life and career committed to justice for you and other victims. I am so sorry that it’s too late for you, but I am not going to give up the struggle to end violence against women and children. I promise to continue to interrupt rape culture wherever I find it no matter how uncomfortable. I will work to build strong allies with men all around the world. I will make sure that our media is held accountable for perpetuating rape culture whenever they sympathize with perpetrators. Most importantly, I will never again remain silent. Audre Lorde has taught me that, “silence will not protect us.” There’s power in telling our stories. It took me nearly 30 years to share with someone what happened to me as a child. I promise you, my own daughter, and women and girls everywhere that I will use my voice in whatever way that I can because we deserve to be safe.

In love and rage,


Join us for a live twitter chat on June 19th at 6:00PM EST using the hashtag #SWUnited to discuss violence against girls and women with Professor Crystal Hayes @MotherJustice and her social justice class #SW505. I will be moderating and giving a guest lecture with her class using my twitter handle @swhelpercom. Please, tweet any questions in advance or during the chat to the hashtag #swunited. Also include @swhelpercom if you would like your question to possible be featured during the live chat.

****Update View Archived Chat****

View the transcript of my guest lecture on sexabuse and sexual assault using the archived live twitter chat on storify: http://storify.com/SWUnited/survivor-of-sex-abuse-and-sexual-assault

Aunt Bertha: The Google of Social Services

If doing endless google searches or going through out-dated excel spreadsheets of local agencies who can provide services to your clients are apart of your job duties, then Aunt Bertha is something you want to add to your bookmarks.

Aunt Bertha has been featured several times on Mashable.com for its innovation in using technical solutions for social good. Their latest article was entitled, “How One Website Connects Those in Need of Governmental Assistance”.

I had the opportunity to interview Erine Gray, creator and Founder, of Aunt Bertha which is a search engine for social welfare programs designed to help those in need find governmental or charitable programs.

Could you describe your background/short bio? 

eringrayI grew up in a small town in Western New York, and went to college at Indiana University where I studied Economics (and took several computer science classes). I became interested in public policy shortly after I became my disabled mother’s guardian in 2002. When that happened, I quit my job as a programmer and went back to grad school to get my Master’s in Public Affairs from the University of Texas. I spent the next six years helping governments better deliver on public services.

What is Aunt Bertha about and why did you think it was important to create?

Aunt Bertha picks up where Uncle Sam leaves off by making it easy for people to find and apply for government and charitable programs. In just a few seconds you can type in your zip code, and Aunt Bertha will tell you about government and charitable programs you qualify for.

What is your hopes for Aunt Bertha, and what do you need to improve it?

We’d like Aunt Bertha to be the google of social services so people in need and the people who help them can have a reliable way of finding and applying for services. To make this vision a reality, we need people to tell us about the programs they like and interact with the most. We’ll take care of the rest. Anybody can enter a program, it just takes a couple of seconds by filling out this form.

How did you come up with the name?

Aunt Bertha picks up where Uncle Sam leaves off. Everybody has someone in their family that they can go to that is a bit quirky, but has their best interests in mind. We wanted the experience to be fun, so we modeled it after someone we can all relate to. Aunt Bertha is someone you can go to when you’re in trouble, and she’ll always point you in the right direction.

What inspired “Here’s to Social Workers”?

We work with social workers every day. We realized how lucky we are to spend time with some of the most generous, caring people on earth. Social workers don’t get enough recognition, and we thought it’d be a good idea, in our little way, to help change that.

Aunt Bertha now has a mobile site that can be used on all smartphones with a browser. Just type http://www.auntbertha.com in your browser. We’re also looking to chat with folks that would like to bring Aunt Bertha to their town (it’s something we do for free). Reach out to me anytime (egray@auntbertha.com).

Marijuana Policy Today: NYC Forum Sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger

In the recent 2012 elections, voters in Washington State and Colorado legalized marijuana at the ballot box. However, state law does not supercede federal law, and these states are currently seeking guidance from the federal government on how to implement the new laws. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the production, sale, and usage of marijuana is still illegal, and the Justice Department has taken the stance of no comment until the new laws undergo review.

Mother and ChildAs a Child Protective Services Investigator, it was a common experience to witness marijuana laws being  used disproportionately against minority and low-income families. Women who give birth with Medicaid as their health insurance are often given medically unnecessary drug test on the mother, child, and meconium testing especially when there is no evidence of a drug induce medical issue.

Positive drug test trigger a mandatory child protective services report despite the absence of any medical concern for the baby and lack of any knowledge of neglect/abuse. Often times, children are held in the hospital until a full safety assessment of the home, interview of all household members, and all children of both parents which could live in different households are completed.

This is an area Medicaid should be looking at to reduce unnecessary costs by providers. A PPO or HMO are not going to pay for medically unnecessary drug testing, sending of the meconium for additional testing, and this extra time while Social Services conducts a safety assessment. I digressed, and  I will save this for another time when I am on my soapbox about healthcare and Medicaid.

Social Services Agencies are not accredited like hospitals, schools, and law enforcement agency despite having statutory authority to change a child’s life for the rest of their life. Every Agency is entrusted to administer policies in the way the director sees fit. I have worked at one county agency were its policy, on positive tox marijuana babies, was to require the mother to find someone who could agree to 24 hour supervision of the mother and child for 30 to 45 day assessment period or until a case decision is made.

If the mother could not or did not have the support system to meet the demands of the safety plan, it was grounds to bring the child into custody. At another agency, their policy was to put in a safety plan were the parent agrees to have another adult supervise the baby if they plan to continue with their marijuana usage. This should not be a policy that is made from county to county or state to state. At least with law enforcement, citizens know what the rules are because they are written down somewhere. With Social Services Agencies, parents may not be aware or understand the agency’s policy on marijuana usage until their child is being removed.

I’ve had so many positive tox marijuana cases on my caseload that I could look at the mother’s medical records and determine whether their doctor instructed her to use marijuana which is often reported by the mother. Especially in cases with detached placenta, doctors often urge mothers to use marijuana because it helps to alleviate weight loss and nausea, and it is safer than the prescription drugs they could prescribe.

Whether you agree or disagree with marijuana, the decision to legalize  needs to be explored using a holistic approach that includes professionals at all levels who deal with the populations that are overwhelmingly being affected by these policies. Clinical Social Workers provide 60 percent of the mental health services provided in the US. It is my hope that thought and policy leaders will begin including social workers in these important discussions.

Join Senator Liz Krueger and the panel she has convened to discuss this important issue in a community forum:

Marijuana Policy Today: Where Do We Go From Here?
Guest Panelists:
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance NY
Julie Holland, M.D., Psychiatrist and Editor of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis
Joanne Naughton, Retired Police Lieutenant, NYC, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
with Personal Testimony by
Alfred Carrasquillo, Community Organizer, VOCAL NY

Wednesday, May 15th
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Baruch Performing Arts Center
The Engelman Recital Hall
55 Lexington Avenue, NYC
(enter on East 25th Street between 3rd & Lex)


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Poverty Simulation: Making Cents of Being Poor, Part 2

Recently, I posted about The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Poverty Simulation that was held on March 27th as part of their social justice week, a celebration for social work month.  The simulation was to provide students and other members of the community a glimpse of what the poverty experience might be like for them.  This simulation  is an interactive experiential guided exercise that walks participants into an alternate universe of second class living in which some people have never experienced.

The day began at 9am on a chilly March day. Students first met in the gym for their training of the simulation which lasted until about 11am. The simulation ran from 12PM until 4PM, and it closed with participants and volunteers processing their reactions to the simulation and sharing what they have learned.

The events consisted of participants playing roles of families, single people , some jobless, homeless, sick all trying to get their needs met. Below are some of the highlights of the day.

The “police” taking a “homeless” person to jail for loitering


Photo of Jack Register UNCG professor and Luke McCollum

Students learn the experience of long lines at the Department of Social Services


Mental health professional” telling “prospective clients” that they must have insurance to receive assistance.


UNCG professor Jason Yates and social work students

Another homeless person whom after he could not find any place to stay  is arrested for sleeping in the streets.


Social work student Daniel de la Cruz

The Housing Authority checking for proper documentation before providing services.


Lydia Long and two other participants.

PROTEST! Social work students organizing a protest to advocate for health care being cut.


DSS social worker assisting clients on receiving services.


Social Work alumni Calvetta Watlington (DSS worker)  and social work senior Electre


Students experience frustration and laughter as they navigate through the simulation.


Social work students taking part in the simulation.

The simulation is held annually during social work month at UNCG. It was a rewarding experience, and I encourage any locals to participate in the upcoming year. This experience is one that will undoubtedly impact your perspective of your community and society.

Photos by Mike Long Photography

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