Social Worker Mental Health: An Ethical Dilemma?

Social work can be an incredibly personal profession- exposing social workers not only to others’ traumas but often forcing them to face triggering experiences from their own pasts while on the job. The personal experience that a social worker brings to the table can often be one of their greatest strengths. It can increase their capacity to connect with clients and to express empathy. Yet, from an ethical perspective, at what point do a social workers’ personal history or struggle negatively impact their client? What should they do if they ever find themselves in this situation?

The Dilemma

These are the exact questions that this MSW student finds himself or herself asking on Reddit. Working with parents at a community clinic in the final year of their internship, this student has quickly realized that their own childhood was riddled with significantly more trauma than they had originally thought. Still in the process of coming to terms with a childhood of neglect and emotional abuse, they are exposed to constant reminders of these experiences on the job and it is greatly affecting their mental health. Though currently in therapy to help address this trauma, this student’s situation still brings to light ethical dilemmas surrounding their ability to cope within this profession, properly distance themselves from clients and ethically serve in the social work profession.  

When examining any ethical dilemma within the social work field, it is important to use the NASW Code of Ethics as a guideline to protect both one’s professional career and clients. In this Reddit user’s case, it is important to consult the Impairment standard under Standard 4, which covers “Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities as Professionals.” According to the this standard, “Social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties to interfere with their professional judgment and performance or to jeopardize the best interests of the people for whom they have a professional responsibility.” This ethical standard does not imply that it is unethical for social workers to experience these difficulties, as they are bound to happen simply by nature of being human, but rather stresses the importance that these problems do not effect the social worker’s decisions or professional capability.

Deeper Issues

When examining Impairment in this case, there are a few elements of possible concern. For example, this student explains that when observing clients they make “comparisons between what they are going through and what (they) went through” and even find themselves jealous of the families that were not abusive. These feelings raise concerns about whether or not the student is able to exert enough distance to provide unbiased and informed client care. This student also experiences physical symptoms that could be indicative of a further mental health issue such as feeling drained, sad and in a bad mood upon returning home. While these symptoms or a mental health issue alone do not indicate one’s job performance, it is important to examine whether these symptoms themselves could impair decision-making capacity or the ability to consistently show up for clients. 

It is the responsibility of this social worker to look critically at whether or not these personal or mental health components allow them to ethically practice their internship. They should do this by reviewing their supervisors’ feedback, consulting with their therapist and using a significant amount of introspection. If they feel comfortable approaching their supervisor to review these concerns, they should do so, however approaching their supervisor does pose risk for potential unintended career consequences. An academic or field placement advisor could also serve as a good resource to review ethical concerns and explore solutions. If these steps do indicate an unethical situation which is not able to be controlled by the resources at hand, this student must adhere to the social work standard of impairment by “seeking professional help, making adjustments in the workload, terminating practice or taking other necessary steps to protect clients and others.” 

Widespread Problem

Unfortunately, this student is not alone, mental health struggles in the social work field pose a widespread issue both for practitioners and clients that needs to be addressed. According to a UK Community Care survey, “96% of social workers feel either moderately stressed or very stressed,” which has resulted in 76% of social work professionals considering leaving their job within the past year. These mental health difficulties are not unique to social workers in the field full time, but also apply to social work students. The University School of Social Work found that “34% of the students indicated high levels of depressive symptoms and were at high risk of clinical depression, while 6% met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Thus, further preventions must be put in place within the profession as a whole.

Solutions

When looking at possible preventions from a student perspective, it is important that mental health care is regularly discussed in a transparent manner and that high quality mental health resources are available. According to a study published in The Journal of Social Work Education, 23% of social work students had fear or distrust of mental health and 22% were concerned to seek services due to the quality available. Overcoming these mental health barriers are critical in creating a safe an ethical student population. Some programs might even consider the idea of mandating a certain number of therapy hours for students, so that they may explore triggering topics before they come up in field, as well as give students greater appreciation for their clients. 

Increasing internship autonomy for students could also be beneficial in allowing students to avoid triggering populations. At Boston University School of Social Work, students are able to list populations that they would be interested in working with, as well as populations that they do not feel as comfortable working with. While it is important to expose students to many different populations throughout their internship experience, allowing social work students to avoid select populations could minimize triggering social work experiences and help to prevent social work burnout. In the full time professional world, social workers are often able to choose to work with populations that do not trigger them, and students should be allowed this same opportunity. 

If you are a student in the social work field that struggles with mental health during your internship, you can use your voice to advocate for some of these changes to be enacted by getting faculty and student organizations involved. Until these preventative measures are in place, it is important that you maintain strong mental health care practices, seek support and use the NASW Code of Ethics to guide your social work practice. 

To Support Others, Social Workers Must Advocate for Themselves Amidst Covid-19 Outbreak

As a profession, social workers are advocates. We’re led by values of social justice, the advancement of the vulnerable, and promotion of dignity and basic rights for all. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is an immediate risk to social workers’ lives, and we must also focus on advocating for ourselves.

It seems no small coincidence that in the United States, a profession of human dignity and equal rights is held in the lowest esteem of professionals across measures which also includes pay scale and representation in management, leadership, and politics. This is an important time to declare our commitment to defending the most vulnerable and establish our expertise as the profession of social justice.

As the pandemic begins to take effect in the United States, the inequities woven into the structure of our society are increasingly laid bare. As states are mandated to shelter in place, who among us are excluded from shelter at its most basic? As we adhere to mandates to maintain social distance and self isolation in the interest of public health, which communities are more likely than others to be targeted and harmed?

Social workers sit adjacent to and alongside societally marginalized groups through our daily work, personal histories, and professional passions. We demand a voice at the table as decisions are made that will impact the fabric of our society for generations to come. Indeed, by virtue of our profession’s holistic lens, social workers have a critical perspective on the current crisis facing our country and our world. We have long been unsung heroes of multidisciplinary solutions to large-scale problems, and are advocating now for an amplified role in formulating the response to COVID-19.

Social workers have been organizing in protest of the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, largely due to our employers’ negligence in acknowledging the full scope of the problem and accommodating the unique needs that have arisen in light of the pandemic. In Maryland, the government has closed schools, restaurants and non-essential businesses. Even with these precautions our hospitals may become overwhelmed by acute need and do not have the personal protective equipment or plans in place to support the health and safety of social worker staff. While social workers have been deemed essential by the state, we are underutilized by our organizations. We have not been asked how our key clinical and critical thinking skill sets can best be applied in healthcare settings, to the detriment of ourselves and our patient populations.

The primary conflict facing our profession now is that the cacophony of social work voices, often overlooked frontline responders, are somehow still not valued highly enough to warrant support and advancement from the very organizations that are meant to be championing our cause and working alongside us to inform change. As social workers we know we are only as strong a voice for our client and patient populations as we can be for ourselves. Our profession of advocacy and organizing is only as good as what we advocate and organize for. If our boards and associations will not stand up for us and our communities then we will find other ways to make our voices heard. This is the story of a rallying cry. Social workers are fed up.

We require elevation as a profession, acknowledgment of our function reflected through representation in leadership and pay scale, and the respect that we have earned as essential staff at the frontlines of this crisis. It is only when social workers and our representative bodies advocate successfully for ourselves that we can effectively advocate for the communities our profession has committed to serve.

In such times of uncertainty, we are first demanding that social workers be protected appropriately in order to be both physically and emotionally prepared for the tasks at hand and ahead. We believe this advocacy will impact other communities as well, at macro levels of society. The recommendations for immediate action below are meant to guide organizations employing social workers as well as policy makers and political leaders at the local, state, and national levels:

  1. Provide protective equipment to all client-facing social workers, regardless of the limited nature of in-person services.
  2. Allow pregnant, elder, and otherwise immunosuppressed staff to stay home or work from home with pay and health benefits.
  3. Encourage social work services to occur remotely as possible. Indeed, non-medical personnel should be able to work from home if they so desire, and the social work role in “essential” settings such as healthcare should be carefully examined for opportunities to rotate remote and in-person services to limit exposure for the individual and community. A lack of teletherapeutic infrastructure is not an appropriate reason to require in-person client contact (see public school systems for example).
  4. Make clear organizational policies emphasizing that clients stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible. Trust social workers to utilize their clinical skill set to appropriately assess for their clients’ safety and needs.
  5. Hold all organizational meetings online and prohibit in-person meetings.
  6. For Healthcare organizations, encourage coordinated care in service of clients and families having preemptive discussions regarding treatment, including the designation of healthcare decision-makers and completion of advance directives.

All social inequalities are magnified in this crisis. We urge elected officials and health care organizational leaders to respond to this pandemic on a scale comparable to the threat, and make sure that we are protecting working people, low-income people, and poor and societally marginalized people, many of whom may be social workers.

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6 Recommendations for Social Workers During COVID-19

Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC) seeks to abolish the use of solitary confinement and supports social workers in its fight against this social injustice.

This Educator|Resource offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social service providers who work in criminal justice facilities, and humane alternatives. A resource database provides an extensive set of more than 300 teaching resources that can be used in a range of social work courses. This includes courses in criminal justice and practice courses in mental health, policy, community organizing and advocacy, and social justice and human rights.

We thank the Council on Social Work Education for acknowledging the contributions of SWASC and to Yolanda Padilla for their help and support in launching this project.

How Social Workers Play A Role In Disaster Relief

Federally declared disasters have increased by 40% over the last 15 years, according to the Clinical Social Work Journal, and internationally, those numbers are higher. Over just the last two decades, natural disasters have doubled.

In the past, the term “disaster” was poorly defined, leading to emergency response plans that were a one-size-fits-all solution to multifaceted problems. This approach left survivors with fewer options for critical care, especially in the area of mental health.

The National Center for PTSD recently redefined disaster as “a sudden event that has the potential to terrify, horrify, or engender substantial losses for many people simultaneously.” It went on to further define disasters based on type, differentiating between natural and man-made disasters. If more widely accepted, this definition opens the door to opportunities for mental health care in these urgent situations, giving social workers a vital role in relief, recovery, and community resiliency.

Responses in Disaster Relief Social Work

Social workers can offer a variety of mental health services in the immediate aftermath of disasters. Traditional psychotherapy performed by therapists is known for its long-term approach involving session work and trust building, allowing patients to share their trauma narratives. However, when social workers are called up for active disaster relief, their critical and immediate intervention skills are far more necessary for psychological triage. Among them are:

  • Psychological first aid (PFA): PFA assists those in crisis in the aftermath of disaster. It relieves initial distress in an effort to promote short- and long-term coping. This sometimes includes crisis intervention and counseling.
  • Family care: Family social workers help families during crisis. They aid survivors in locating the services they need to overcome post-disaster challenges and repair their lives.
  • Mental health media communications: This field provides voices and vital points of view for under-represented or disadvantaged populations.
  • Resilient community capacity building: This includes creating response plans for various groups.

Above all, the pledge to “do no harm” is the first aspect of every skill.

Assistance During Disaster

Disaster relief programs typically consider the short-term needs of survivors in order to identify the best allocation of resources and promote beneficial coping in the aftermath of tragedy. Social workers assist in these programs in a number of ways, including:

  • Case management: Social workers locate appropriate resources for clients, making sure they receive the services they most require.
  • Case finding: Case finding involves providing survivors with information about the programs available to them. Many are unaware that such services are available or fear stigmatization for participating in them.
  • Outreach: Social workers performing outreach increase program locations in order to allow services to be more accessible.
  • Advocacy: Using connections within various relief organizations, social workers advocate on behalf of clients to qualify them for additional services.
  • Brokering: When acting as a broker, social workers link client systems to the resources they need, fulfilling client needs throughout a multiplicity of programs.

Ultimately, all these methods allow social workers to disseminate information, refer clients to services, and assist them in qualifying for resources in disasters.

Disaster Relief Social Work in Practice

In the U.S., the American Red Cross and the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program have provided almost half of all social workers participating in disaster relief programs. Depending on the type, duration, and severity of disaster, the challenges and requirements of social work change. When preparing ahead of an impending calamity, social workers may be identifying and organizing supplies, assisting with area and hospital evacuations, or even determining which patients can or should be moved.

During an actual emergency, the needs of the afflicted tend to take precedence over one’s own needs. Moment-to-moment changes in operational requirements contribute to the notion that social workers must remain flexible. They must be able to go where they are needed when they are needed there. The following are some real-world examples of social workers in the midst of disaster.

HURRICANE HARVEY

The residents of Beaumont, Texas, were witness to devastation on a massive scale. In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Harvey descended on Texas and Louisiana, and with it came ruined homes and wrecked lives.

In the end, the storm caused over $125 billion in damage and took 107 lives. The end of the storm was nowhere near the end of the damage. Long-term psychological trauma is a reality for many survivors, especially children. According to a recent survey in the aftermath of a hurricane, nearly 3.4% of respondents were found to have suicidal thoughts. The assessment, response, and counseling of suicidal behaviors were critical concerns that social workers on the ground were able to address.

HURRICANE MARIA

In September 2017, the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, was deployed to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The crew included social workers and mental health providers for inpatient and outpatient mental health services. These providers developed protocols to educate the ship’s staff in treating psychiatric patients in addition to treating patients on board.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

The Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative was established in Sonoma County after the devastating Tubbs fire to offer survivors tools for dealing with trauma. In the wake of the fires, The Guardian reported that many social workers were funded by grants from FEMA, which allowed them to connect with nearly 70,000 people in Sonoma County alone. These social workers were able to identify and refer thousands to much-needed mental health services.

Research Applications

Further study of the impact of disasters on the mental health of survivors is critical to the practice of disaster relief social work. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has emphasized that children are especially vulnerable in disaster conditions, as they take their emotional and behavioral cues from adults.

Anxiety and startle responses, typical symptoms in children that have survived hurricanes, require therapeutic activities to help them cope in healthy ways. According to NASP, other disasters can prompt separate trauma responses. Tornadoes can cause survivor’s guilt due to their suddenness, whereas wildfires, given their advance warning, can cause anxiety. Negative effects stem from displacement, property destruction, and the concerns associated with biological threats to one’s health.

NASW Iowa Chapter Releases New Assessment of Iowa Labor Force

The NASW Iowa Chapter (NASW-IA) worked with the NASW Foundation and the University of Iowa School of Social Work, in 2018-2019, to assess the Iowa social work labor force. The initiative was funded by a generous $50,000 grant from the Telligen Community Initiative.

“We wanted to gather information in a concise and organized way that would allow us to make the case that we need more professional social workers in the state of Iowa and how professional social workers can improve the lives of Iowans,” according to Denise Rathman, NASW-IA Executive Director.

Two key outcomes of the initiative, she said, are that NASW-IA now has “an excellent action plan that will serve as a roadmap as we work to collect the data we need to do our advocacy work for the profession.  We have a better understanding of why some organizations don’t always look to hire social workers.”

Additionally, Denise said, “We needed hard data to confirm our suspicions that we need additional culturally and linguistically diverse professional social workers to serve the diverse populations of Iowa, more professional social workers to serve older Iowans, and additional professional social workers in our more rural counties.”

To read the full report and an executive summary, please follow the links below.

The project was funded by the Telligen Community Initiative to initiate and support, through research and programs, innovative and farsighted health-related projects aimed at improving the health, social well being and educational attainment of society, where such needs are expressed.

Please visit the NASW Iowa Chapter website for more information about social policy, professional issues, continuing education, and other priorities.  The NASW Foundation is running a special feature about NASW Iowa Chapter, Denise Rathman, in the “Spotlight On Chapters” section.

The Difference Between Micro, Macro and Mezzo Social Work

Sponsored by Aurora University

The social work profession is multifaceted, and the good news is these skilled practitioners are in high demand across all areas of practice. For instance, medical social workers have a projected growth rate of 20 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is about three times the average rate of all occupations and the highest for any social work specialty.

Another way to look at the profession is to consider it from the three divisions or types of social work: micro, macro, and mezzo social work. These terms help categorize virtually any type of social work that these human services workers perform.

Types of Social Work

The following sections explore micro, macro, and mezzo social work. Information on the work these types of social work cover and what education is needed to enter these areas is considered.

Micro Social Work

Micro social work is one-on-one counseling with clients. These social workers help individuals with social, emotional, or health-related struggles. This work could include helping a person who is homeless find a place to live or helping a veteran transition to civilian life.

Jobs that are considered micro social work include:

  • City social services caseworker
  • Crime victim advocate
  • Family therapist
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor

Most jobs that involve micro social work require education at the master’s level because those jobs are considered clinical work.

Macro Social Work

Macro social work involves working with whole communities. These communities can be defined by geopolitical boundaries, but often, they are not. They can be neighborhoods, religious communities, or political- or cause-driven groups. The macro social worker may make or shape policy, lobby for social change, or train others to do so.

Jobs that are considered macro social work include:

  • Community organizer
  • Lobbyist
  • Professor of social policy
  • Program developer
  • Researcher

There are jobs in macro social work that can be acquired with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but others, like a professor or most lobbyist positions, require education beyond the bachelor’s level.

Mezzo Social Work

Mezzo social work involves working with a group of people. Sometimes this group is as small and intimate as employees who need conflict resolution and mediation services. Sometimes it is a group of strangers in a support group who share a life experience, like a recent death, problem, or addiction.

Jobs that are considered mezzo social work include:

  • Business social worker
  • Community service manager
  • Group therapist
  • Parenthood educator
  • Support group counselor

As with macro social work, whether you can obtain a job with a BSW depends on the employer and the population with which you work. Some therapist positions, for example, are clinical positions and require a license, which necessitates a master’s degree and experience in the field. Other positions, such as a community service manager, typically require a BSW.

Interconnectedness in the Types of Social Work

It’s important to understand how social workers can provide assistance across all three types of social work. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate this idea.

A medical social worker who works specifically with babies receiving neonatal care begins meeting with a new mother. After her baby experiences some complications, the mother is stressed and begins receiving therapeutic sessions with the social worker. Because this takes place in a one-on-one environment, that type of assistance would refer to micro social work. The social worker is providing individualized help, as well as therapy.

The scope of practice would extend to mezzo social work if the professional begins assisting the family. For instance, perhaps the father could be struggling with parenthood and supporting his wife. Another scenario may be that another child in the family is having difficulties adjusting to a lot of time in the hospital. In either of these cases, the social worker may meet with the entire family and provide help, such as short therapy sessions or information on services that will help the family adjust. The family is often the smallest unit for mezzo social work.

Although it may not be as common in a situation like this, macro social work could be relevant. An example would be if the social worker helps advocate in the community or the state in some way. Perhaps the baby’s medical issues are quite rare, and support is lacking for families. Or, perhaps the family is struggling to help the other child at school, and the social worker can work with the district on supporting children in these types of situations. There are several ways in which the social worker may reach out to the community or beyond for helping clients. If change needs to happen on a greater scale, then the professional will engage in macro social work.

The example shows the interconnectedness of the different forms of social work. In this process, the medical social worker performs micro (the mother), mezzo (the family), and macro (the community/state) social work.

The Future of the Social Work Profession

There is an expected job growth of 16 percent by 2026 for the social work field, according to the BLS. An aging U.S. population and the booming health care industry are two of the factors that are likely to contribute to the growth. Like most job fields, this percentage varies by specialty. Employment of child, family, and school social workers, for example, is projected to increase 14 percent by 2026, and employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent. Both are growing faster than the average for all occupations, which is only 7 percent.

People with a BSW are especially qualified for positions in mezzo or macro social work. With courses like Social Work with Groups and Social Work with Communities and Organizations, the online BSW program from Aurora University Online can provide you with concrete skills that will help you support the community with which you want to work. Graduates with a BSW degree are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license.

Clinical social workers must have an MSW and two years of post-master’s experience in the field. AU Online offers Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online MSW graduate program, which includes four optional specializations: Faith-Based Social Work, Forensics, Health Care, and Leadership Administration. You may also pursue the dual MSW/MBA or MSW/MPA degree program.

A Holistic View of Social Work Using Systems Theory

Sponsored Article by Campbellsville University

Social workers help struggling individuals receive the care and resources they need to live healthy, comfortable lives. Through aiding vulnerable children at schools, assisting terminal patients with changes to their daily routines and counseling struggling families, social workers serve society in many ways. While unique tactics are required to help people with diverse medical and emotional needs, all social workers can benefit from taking a holistic approach to each case.

Examining Behavior Through a Holistic Lens

A holistic approach to social work involves examining all social factors of a person’s life, rather than focusing on one issue. Social workers who practice this approach may examine their client’s behavior by considering the following factors:

Living environment

Where someone lives and with whom can have a variety of impacts on person’s well-being. Climate conditions can contribute to medical problems. Neighborhoods can be neglected or underfunded, which could lead to medical and psychological issues. Emotional issues can arise due to the people in a living environment. In addition, the cleanliness and organization of someone’s home may reflect specific behavior patterns.

Family

Regardless if a social worker is counseling an entire family or an individual, understanding the family dynamic is a key to understanding how one communicates and behaves. Familial relationships may provoke a person’s behavior, especially when a family has a history of physical or emotional abuse.

Culture

Cultural background can often shed light on how individuals were raised, their religious beliefs and their personal priorities. Culture may also define familial structure and dictate how family members communicate with one another and with those outside of the home.

Community

Many people can be easily influenced by those they work and socialize with. Attitudes and ideas expressed throughout a workplace or inner circle of friends may cause people to question their beliefs and opinions, leading to significant changes in behavior.

With a holistic approach, social workers can view all major facets of a client’s life to better determine underlying issues that may cause medical problems, emotional distress or negative changes in behavior. With a strong understanding of why a person behaves a certain way, social workers can formulate an effective plan to help their client overcome challenges.

When it comes to analyzing an individual holistically, there are a variety of methods to choose from. Still, many social workers subscribe to either the ecological perspective theory or person-in-environment (PIE) theory. Each theory utilizes different methods of sociological framework, and both have proven successful in solving behavior problems through social work.

Ecological Perspective Theory

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies defines ecology as “the scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.” As applied to social work, the ecological perspective theory approaches behavior by examining the environmental and societal processes influencing a person; their reactions to changes in their surroundings; and the transformation of their overall health, behavior and attitude.  

Ideal for individuals of all ages, the ecological perspective theory considers specific social factors of a person’s life to determine the reasoning behind their behavior. When choosing this theory, social workers examine their clients’ interactions with family members and friends, along with their willingness to adapt their identity to fit policies and changes within their environment. By gaining an understanding of these factors, social workers can pinpoint the cause of behavioral changes and determine what kind of care and resources are needed for improvement.

In “The Ecology of Human Development,” Urie Bronfenbrenner discussed four systems to consider when using the ecological perspective theory for social work. Each system describes how humans are influenced by their surroundings.

  • Microsystem: A person’s immediate surroundings, such as the location of their home and their communication with the family members they live with.
  • Mesosystem: A person is influenced by the behavior and beliefs of others, often within the family and inner circle of friends.
  • Exosystem: How the decisions and behavior of others can indirectly change the behavior of someone else, especially for children. For example, changes in a parent’s work schedule may lead to communication disruptions within the family, which can cause behavior changes for children.
  • Macrosystem: How a person reacts and adapts to changes taking place outside of their family, community and inner circle of friends. Political and economic changes are categorized in this system.

When referring to the ecological perspective theory, social workers must keep in mind the idea that behavior is ever-changing, and people are constantly reacting and adapting to their surroundings. According to Michael Unger’s article A Deeper, More Social Ecological Social Work Practice, “the social work discipline has expanded this perspective to explain that an individual is ‘constantly creating, restructuring and adapting to the environment as the environment is affecting them.”

Person-in-Environment (PIE) Theory

Developed in the early 20th century by one of the founding leaders of the social work industry, Mary Ellen Richmond, the PIE theory strives to explain an adult’s behavior based on their current and past environments. Combining all of the systems considered through the ecological perspective theory, the PIE theory views each as a component of one main system.

In her research, Richmond found that an adult’s behavior and actions often reflect the social environment of their childhood and current living situation. To determine the source of negative behavior, along with the appropriate solution for each individual and family, Richmond’s theory explores certain factors of a person’s life, including:

  • Family dynamic as a child and an adult: Many adults choose to either mirror or oppose the beliefs and practices of their parents based on their own childhood experiences.
  • Education: Advanced education leads to more career opportunities and higher income, which may lead to a more comfortable adult life. Those with less education may struggle financially and have a lower quality of life.
  • Career: A person’s career may dictate their daily routine, income, and location of residence, all of which are social factors to consider when analyzing behavior and attitude.
  • Health: Physical health can often play a role in a person’s mental health.
  • Changing political and economic policies: Disagreeing with newly elected politicians and laws may cause a person to act out and display behavior that is typically out of character.

The PIE theory combines these factors to help social workers understand the roots of an individual’s behavior through an illustration of their childhood and adaptation into adulthood. By providing a large-scale view of an individual’s life experiences and social status, the PIE theory offers social workers the vital insight necessary to determine the best plan of action to make positive changes in the lives of their clients.

Use a Holistic Approach to Social Work in Your Career

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted the field of social work will expand 16 percent by 2026, making this industry one of the fastest growing in the country. The Bureau also lists Kentucky as one of the most popular nonmetropolitan areas for social work professionals, and the industry expansion will lead to thousands of new careers in the state.

Campbellsville University serves aspiring social workers in Kentucky and all over the world with its online Bachelor of Social Work and online Master of Social Work degrees. Available fully online through an interactive learning platform, both degrees deliver evidence-based instruction, the expertise you need to succeed as a social worker, and the flexible course options your busy schedule demands.

Building Families: Social Workers in Foster Care

Sponsored by Campbellsville University

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there were approximately 443,000 children in foster care in 2017 with more than one-quarter of those children waiting to be adopted.

Unfortunately, the foster care system needs help, according to Anne Adcock, program director and assistant professor of social work at Campbellsville University. Some people get into fostering for the wrong reasons, thinking that they’ll be able to live off the money they receive.

Fortunately, social workers in foster care can help. According to the National Association of Social Work (NASW), social workers play a critical role in child welfare systems, and studies point to social workers’ education linking to better outcomes for children and families. “The foster care system is not perfect, but social workers are there to make it as good as it can be,” Adcock said. How does that happen in roles like the foster care social worker? In an interview, Adcock shared details on job responsibilities and the impact that social workers in foster care have.

How Foster Care Social Workers Help Children and Families

Social workers in foster care are often employed by private agencies that have contracts with the state, Adcock explained. The agencies have a number of foster care families who are considered when it’s time to place children into homes.

Foster care agencies employ social workers who work as therapists for children and those who work as case managers. Case managers, who are also known as foster care social workers, take care of responsibilities like assessing families for suitability, placing children and monitoring children. Regular contact is often made with the family about two to four times a month.

There are two crucial tasks that encompass how foster care social workers help children and families. “Mainly, the social worker’s role in the foster care system is to make the connections between the family and the kids,” Adcock said. “And then to monitor those relationships to make sure the child is getting what they need and the foster parents are managing that situation well.”

Making Connections

Building connections with foster care children and potential families is vital for creating a successful placement. Social workers in foster care must take care in choosing the right home for kids in foster care.

Once children are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, according to Adcock, they receive a social worker either through the state or the state will contract out with an agency to provide a social worker. The social worker will begin the process of finding a more permanent foster home.

In some cases, children have greater needs, such as those with disabilities or behavior problems. In that case, foster care social workers will start searching for what’s known as therapeutic foster homes. Those homes and parents can accept children who need special attention. If that scenario unfolds, social workers will need to work on connecting children with the right therapeutic home. There’s a lot of linking required to find the right environment for those children.

Monitoring Relationships

Once a placement is made, foster care social workers will monitor the relationship. Regular contact is kept with at least two visits a month must be in person, at the home, and the remaining visits can be by phone.

If help is needed, social workers can step in and respond accordingly. “As a crisis comes up on the part of either the parent or the child, they go and take care of those things,” Adcock said. From crisis prevention and response to providing other types of support, there are a number of ways foster care social workers monitor cases.

  • Emotional Support: Foster care children need emotional and behavioral support. “Most of the time these kids also have a therapist,” Adcock said. “The case manager and the therapist kind of work as a team. So, if there are things that the case manager sees that need to be discussed in therapy, they can communicate that to the therapist.” The foster care social worker can also talk with children in general about their concerns and fears, or anything else on their mind. Another way social workers in foster care provide emotional support is by accompanying children at family court. That enables children to receive some help navigating the court system.
  • Financial Support: If children have extra needs that go beyond the monthly stipend parents receive for food, clothing and basic necessities, social workers will ensure they receive what they need.
  • Mediation and Crisis Intervention: Some situations can be difficult to deal with. “A lot of these kids have trauma in their past,” Adcock said. “They have abuse in their past. It’s not uncommon for a foster child to have significant behavior problems . . . Sometimes they will run away from the foster care home. I know I had a former student that was in a foster care agency, and the kid just took off.” The social worker in that case was out with the police helping look for the child. In other instances, such as when foster parents have proven to be inadequate, the social worker may need to correct the situation or remove the child from the foster home.
  • Respite Care: Parents can request respite care for circumstances when they cannot care for foster children. For example, if a parent has surgery or an out-of-town family reunion, there are respite homes social workers can locate to take children for a few days.

The Rewarding Nature of Working in Foster Care

There are some tough times for social workers in foster care, but that’s not always the case. “Overall, it’s rewarding, because they get connected to the kids and the kids rely on them,” Adcock said. “Sometimes they’re the only one that the kid trusts, and that’s a good thing.”

There are times that demonstrate why foster care social workers dedicate their lives to helping children and families. “If everything goes well, they’re (reunited) with their original family,” Adcock said. “The best times, I think, for a lot of my former students . . .  is when an adoption goes through. When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”

Optional pull quote: “When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”

Another great part of social work is that there’s always room to move up. Foster care social workers, or case managers, can earn their master’s degree and become a therapist. That enables them to have some variety while staying in the foster care specialty.

Career Information for Foster Care Social Workers

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earn a median annual wage of $47,980 per year. Starting salaries will be less when starting out, according to Adcock, but there is plenty of growth in this area. “Especially if someone with their BSW moves forward and gets their MSW,” she added. “That’s where the most significant growth in earnings would come. Typically, there’s a $10,000 to $15,000 salary difference right off the bat, depending on where you are.”

Employment for all social workers is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026, according to the BLS. That figure is more than double the average percentage increase for all occupations, which is 7 percent. According to Adcock, there is a special need for social workers in foster care. Private foster care agencies are always hiring, given the demand that has resulted from states contracting their work to those agencies. “And then a lot of foster care agencies are expanding their services and starting to provide alcohol and drug addiction treatment services for juveniles,” Adcock said.

Educational Requirements

The BLS noted that social workers need a bachelor’s degree. Providing counseling services as a clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work.

An online bachelor’s degree in social work can allow you to become a foster care social worker. You’ll develop an understanding of the basics of social work while gaining, hands-on, practical experience in the field. There’s also a course, “Foster Care & Adoption,” that covers the foster care specialty.

Campbellsville University’s program lets you study in a convenient, flexible environment. Gain the skills and knowledge needed to become a social worker at an institution that was ranked the 4th most affordable among Christian colleges in the United States. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Social Workers Call on White House, Congress to Fully Reopen Federal Government

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) calls on Congress and the White House to act to fully reopen the federal government immediately. Allowing the shutdown to continue is unconscionable.

We are currently at the 33-day mark for the partial shutdown of the federal government. This is the longest such shutdown in our nation’s history and it is exacting a heavy toll on many NASW members and the often financially fragile clients they serve.

Nearly 800,000 federal employees, including social workers and allied professionals, are negatively affected by the shutdown. Almost half of these federal employees have been furloughed without pay.

Many of our nation’s most vulnerable, including children and older adults, could lose essential safety net services if the government is not restored to full operations. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rental Assistance program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), among others, are unable to fulfill their missions.

SNAP participants have received their benefits even during the shutdown, but these are in jeopardy in future months.

Contracts for HUD’s programs for the lowest-income seniors, people living with disabilities, and families with children have not been renewed. This places nearly 70,000 program participants at risk of major rent hikes and possible evictions. Low-income Rural Housing Assistance participants were informed on January 11 that due to the federal shutdown they would have to pay the full (not discounted) rent by January 20 or face eviction. Normally, their rent is limited to 30 percent of their income.

TANF authorization expired in December. The federal government could not distribute $4.2 billion to states for the period January to March due to the shutdown. States are permitted to cover TANF expenses, but it is unclear how many will do so and for how long.

For more information about the impacts of the shutdown on the most vulnerable, please visit the following websites: Coalition on Human Needs, Food Research and Action Center, and National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as “The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Within the context of schools, SEL can be easily understood as the study of soft skills. SEL is where students learn how to treat others and how to treat themselves in a responsible, caring, and compassionate way.

Why do Social Workers Work as SEL Coordinators?

Oftentimes, schools rely heavily on teachers to provide SEL instruction and planning. While many teachers deeply value SEL learning, sometimes the pressure for students to perform well academically leads teachers to prioritize content lessons over life skills. When schools hire a specific person to coordinate and teach SEL, it sets aside time specifically for SEL and creates accountability for SEL practices within the school. Social workers are the right person for this job for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, social workers are highly qualified to teach the content. The core values of social work align perfectly with the learning goals of SEL. The social work profession is grounded in the values of social justice, the importance of human relationships, competence, integrity, service, and the dignity and worth of the person.

These values are aligned with the five competencies of social and emotional learning: self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and self-management. For instance, social workers value relationships and learn explicitly in school how to develop authentic relationships with clients. Therefore, social workers are equipped to break down and model what it looks like to have relationship skills. Further, CASEL teaches that effective SEL programming is SAFE: sequenced, active, focused, and explicit.

Social workers have training in explicitly teaching social skills through explicit and focused role-plays. This skill can be easily modified and applied to the whole-class setting, seamlessly integrating social work therapeutic techniques with direct instruction. Additionally, social workers know how to respond in the moment. Due to the reflective and process-oriented nature of SEL lessons, students may sometimes disclose personal information, such as experiencing abuse, death in the family, thoughts of suicide, bullying, and more.

Not only do school social workers know the correct protocols for handling high-risk situations, such as suicide ideation or abuse, but social workers can provide therapeutic services in the school or refer students to effective mental health providers in the community. Social workers have training in both responding in the moment with empathy and also caring for themselves as practitioners later through explicit self-care to prevent burn-out. Teachers may not always feel comfortable and prepared to respond to difficult disclosures such as these.

Benefits to the Mental Health Staff

The social worker providing direct SEL instruction builds a reciprocal nature, benefiting all mental health staff at the school. With effective SEL services, the number of students needing more intensive services may decrease as students learn adaptive coping skills, healthy relationships, and effective conflict resolution within the classroom setting. When students are equipped with these proactive skills for addressing common problems which emerge in school, maladaptive responses that require the assistance of mental health professionals become less common.

Further, students who do need additional social work services benefit from a renewed sense of anonymity and decreased shame. When all students in the school are accustomed to interacting weekly with the school social worker, it becomes less obvious which students are receiving intensive services. Young students do not assume when a social worker walks into a classroom they are there for one specific student and therefore, privacy is restored.

Additionally, by offering ways for all students to see the social worker through self-referrals and lunch bunch services, almost all students trickle in and out of the social work office at one point or another. With this volume of foot traffic, students are much less likely to be concerned a peer may notice them coming or going from the office. Talking to the social worker about problems and issues becomes the norm, effectively alleviating mental health stigmas which often permeate through schools and the larger community.

Lastly, when the social worker takes such an active role in the classroom setting, they are better equipped to effectively respond to students with high needs when crises happen. Oftentimes in large school settings, student to social worker ratios can be extremely high. This presents challenges to building authentic relationships with all students at the school as social workers may be meeting students for the first time during a crisis. When the social worker provides direct SEL instruction, it is almost guaranteed the student and social worker have interacted positively during class previous to the incident. A level of trust is built faster and with more authenticity during the most difficult situations.

How the SEL Coordinator Position Works

Social workers are ideal providers of SEL instruction and support in schools. The social work mission requires practitioners to enhance well-being and empower those who are most vulnerable (NASW, 2008). By supporting students with SEL development in school, social workers equip students with valuable life skills that not only enhance their well-being, but may in the long-term serve as a protective factor for many inequitable outcomes.

Presently, I work in partnership with our school counselor in a school of approximately 600 students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to provide wellness services. Our school counselor provides tier two and three services while I primarily provide tier one and two. This arrangement allows me to be available for predictable and scheduled classes in a way school social workers are typically not, as I am not pulled out for crisis response. I provide SEL lessons through direct instruction in all 19 of our elementary homerooms bi-weekly.

On the weeks I do not provide direct instruction, I prepare lesson plans and materials for homeroom teachers to implement the lessons on their own. To support the SEL curriculum, I also provide ongoing training to staff and family roundtables for parents/guardians. Additionally, I provide social skills and therapeutic services for students through individual and group services outside of regularly scheduled lessons.

All students are given the opportunity to meet with me through lunch bunches, where students sign up to eat lunch in my office. Through self-referral services, students request to discuss mental health-related concerns with a member of the wellness team. Overall, my week is split halfway between direct instruction in the classroom and more typical school social work services.

Closing Thoughts

When I enter the school building, I hear echoes of “Good morning Ms. Knipp!” as I make my way to my office. One elementary student holds up two fingers when he sees me, to indicate he has put two drops in classmate’s buckets (our way of measuring kind acts) so far this week. When I arrive at my office and open my calendar, I see today I have four lessons, a lunch session, two therapeutic groups, and a parent learning event after school.

I have the best job in the world. I am a social worker, but my official job title is “Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator.” My main responsibility is proactive, preventive work through direct instruction of social and emotional learning.

Empowering students with tools for SEL development at a young age promotes social justice in the long run. Social workers have the training and values necessary to implement these lessons in schools now. SEL instruction implemented by social workers not only improves the school, but it also improves social work practices within educational environments.

What is Collaborative Law and Social Work

Collaborative Family Law offers divorcing couples a new approach to untangling marriage. The traditional approach has family lawyers settle disputes with at least the threat of litigation.

Collaborative Family Law takes the threat of litigation out of the equation to concentrate on helping the parties settle between themselves yet with legal support. Litigation is not an option.

Lawyers practicing Collaborative Family Law report more satisfaction with this form of practice and believe that negotiated settlements leave the parties more intact as individuals and as parents.

Along with the new approach to settling disputes, there is a new role for those professionals who would otherwise practice divorce mediation or provide custody and access assessments.

These professionals, often social workers and psychologists, are being reenlisted by Collaborative Lawyers as Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists.

In traditional family law, a Divorce Coach may be hired to prepare one parent for court in order to gain a strategic advantage in the litigation process. In the Collaborative Law context, the Divorce Coach helps the parent to understand emotional issues that could cause him or her to be unreasonable.

In other words, in the former context, the coach helps make a better warrior for the battle of litigation, while in the latter context the coach helps make a better conciliator to facilitate settlement. Within the Collaborative Law model, each parent has his or her own Divorce Coach.

The “Child Specialist” is generally described in therapeutic terms, working with the children directly. In this context, the Child Specialist meets with the children to help them deal with the impact of the parents’ divorce on their lives. The Child Specialist may also share information with parents to help them protect the children from untoward outcomes.

There can be challenges arising when using individual Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists as described. Each coach may provide perspectives or information to their respective client that pulls them in different directions, confounding settlement. Certainly “over-identification” with one’s client is a risk inherent in any form of individual support.

Further, when a Child Specialist meets alone with children, there can be conflicts of interest and confidentiality issues if the Child Specialist then reports to parents. Some jurisdictions have confidentiality rules for counsellors working with children, particularly early adolescents.

There are ways to mitigate these issues.  Social workers have a rich tradition in working with entire family. As such, the social worker can engage the entire family in a consultant role. Within this role, perhaps titled Family Divorce Consultant, one social worker would be assigned rather than hiring two separate coaches.

Working from a system’s theory perspective and using clinical discretion, the social worker would have latitude to meet with the entire family system and/or pertinent subsystems (marital, sibling, parent-child and even individuals) as necessary.

The Family Divorce Consultant’s involvement would be time limited and goal directed. The goal is to facilitate the transition to a new family structure (pre-divorce to post divorce) whilst maintaining the integrity of pertinent relationships. Further, the consultant would provide education to the parents to facilitate their mutual interest – the well-being of their children now and developmentally.

Social Work has much to offer Collaborative Family Law. Social Work is built on a tradition of inter-disciplinary teamwork with the goal of win/win outcomes. The structural changes sought to facilitate post-divorce adjustment meet well with the training and values of social workers. Collaborative lawyers and social workers make a natural team.

Collaborative lawyers looking for social workers should consider those with; a “systems” perspective; custody and access experience; current knowledge of relevant theory and practice of divorce and child development; and good inter-personal boundaries. Collaborative Law marks a revolution in thinking. Next will be interesting to view the evolution. Social work is a good fit.

Inhumane Immigration Policies: Separating Children from Parents

United States Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

As of May 6th, 2018, new harsher immigration policies have been implemented with the sole intention of instilling terror to act as a deterrent to other immigrants attempting to enter the United States, regardless of the reason.  This comes as a result of “zero tolerance” policies enacted under Jeff Sessions.

Sadly the most vulnerable, the children, are impacted the greatest by this policy when they are now being routinely separated from their parents at the border while the parents of these children are being portrayed as criminals and being called animals by the President of the United States.

Kirstjen Nielsen has equated their attempt to enter the United States as the same as an individual that breaks into your home and has their child taken away as a result. The reality is far different. While a large number of individuals come because of economic push factors many of the individuals entering, particularly those with children, are fleeing violence and are legally seeking asylum in the United States for themselves and their children.

One woman from Honduras described the heart-wrenching experience of giving her 18 month old son to immigration authorities, and even strapping him in his car seat for them, despite following the proper protocol in presenting herself to immigration authorities to seek asylum. More than 600 children have already been separated from their parents in the first few weeks since the new policies were enacted.

Even before these new policies were officially implemented, there was another case several months ago involving a woman from Congo and her child who were separated at the border for four months, despite passing a credible fear test, and were later reunited as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

These immigration policies are meant to maximize suffering of those entering the country in order to act as a deterrent to future immigrants. This is in stark contrast to our values as a country, as well as our legal responsibilities.

The American Bar Association has condemned this new policy, citing increased inefficiency in the immigration court system as well as the psychological trauma of separating children from their parents. Sadly, many of the policies surrounding immigration have been archaic and draconian even before these new changes, including toddlers representing themselves in immigration court unless they have the ability to pay for a lawyer.

As social workers, we know the impact of early childhood adversity, and the NASW has spoken out against this new zero tolerance policy. Many of these children have faced great adversity prior to coming to the United States including witnessing or experiencing physical and sexual violence, living under threat due to violence in their communities, or being targeted specifically because of who they are—aside from the possible trauma experienced on their journey to the United States.

Research demonstrates the incredible resiliency of children in being able to bounce back from adversity, and one crucial component to that is in having one stable adult in their lives. This current immigration policy seeks to traumatize the families and potentially takes away the one resiliency factor the children have.

What can we do to help? There are several agencies that are working to help this population that you can connect to. It is crucial to apply pressure on elected representatives and vote in upcoming elections.

Most importantly, we must fight against the notion that it is ok to dehumanize immigrants.

How to Support Foster Children

When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.

Listen

Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.

Celebrate

Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.

Playdates

Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,

Getaway

Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

Systems Perspective and the Myth of the Self-Made Man

As a social worker, we spend a good deal of time looking at systems, and systems work means we can’t only focus on what’s “wrong” with the individual in our office. Our focus can’t simply be what can this person do to move toward more emotional happiness? We need to always be considering how living in the world and engaging in relationships with other systems and other people play a large role in what this client does, how they think, and how they feel.

My job isn’t to just locate the unhelpful belief my client has about their self-esteem or retrain how they respond to a negative thought. When doing systemic work—even with just one person—I need to look at how race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and gender play a role in my client’s life. I need to look at how that client’s family system, school system, government system, community systems, and more played a role in shaping my client.

As basic as this is, it’s important to note that It’s a fairly un-American way of going about things.

The Big Lie of Individualism

We’re taught that we should hold up the self-made man. We celebrate that guy to no end in movies, plays, songs, and stories. It’s our enduring myth.

We, social workers, see the monstrosity in that idea—pleasant and attractive though it is. We know that human beings can only grow and thrive within relationships, not apart from them. We know that nothing is self-made. We know that we are working from day one of life to attach to others.

We need to push back on the “self-made man” myth because it’s racist. It’s sexist. It’s heteronormative.

And it’s killing us.

And since I work mostly with men I want to be very direct because it’s literally killing us as the suicide rate for men is incredibly high: five times greater than for women. And we apply words like “strong” and “hard” when we’re describing masculinity? Something is missing. The weaker sex, the special snowflakes, are the ones who are supposed to need help. Not us.

Social workers disagree about many things and we have lots of ways we think are the best way to help any given client, but one thing we can all agree on when it comes to healing is that the relationship does a great deal of the work. It can begin to heal trauma, mental illness, and the “worried well.” It’s the way in, it’s the way through, and it’s the way out of suffering. It’s not the only thing, but it’s part of everything. Death is in the separateness, the lack of relationship.

And name your –ism because that’s about separateness too. We can’t fully heal a white person without moving through white supremacy together and we can’t help men without addressing the patriarchy. We may not call it out or by these names, but to connect with someone in their suffering is to refuse white supremacy and masculinity.

We need to keep doing what we’re doing, but we need to go further. We’re healing the people without healing the system and we can only thrive so much within a sick system.

Moving Ourselves Toward an Ego Dystonic State With the World

In a mental health session, our work is often to connect our client with other people. Often this happens through the therapeutic relationship with us first, but ultimately, it’s done so they can connect with the other people in their life. Doing this on an individual level is important, and as difficult as it is (and it is difficult), it’s really the bare bones of our work. Because what we’re doing, if we stop there, is helping people build up coping strategies to survive in a broken system.

So we have to stop and ask ourselves if in our work we are challenging the system that our clients live in and, not for nothing, that we’re living in too. Now, this can be a controversial stance for some people. It sounds “agenda-driven” and done unskillfully it is just that. But for those who feel they are thriving in this patriarchal, white supremacist world, do we have any choice, ethically, but to aid them in shifting their lens?

For too many of us, we have come to see this world as ego syntonic and we need to push toward discomfort in ourselves to see the world as it is. And that will move us toward change.

A Child Welfare Example

Let me take my work in child welfare as an example. Most of the parents I’ve worked with over the years are well-meaning and loving people. Many of them are involved in child welfare because they had hit their children in order to discipline them. Many of them feel this is ok. Many of the child welfare workers think it’s ok to physically discipline a child. We even have different words so we separate “abuse” from “physical discipline” and we jump through hoops to try to define “excessive corporal punishment” as separate from “physical discipline”. Many parents have no hesitation telling me that when their child gets out of line they need a slap, a spanking, a something that lets them understand limits, but that this is discipline and not abuse.

And in the course of this conversation, I usually hear the inevitable, “It happened to me and I turned out ok.”

And right there is the thing that I’m talking about with these systems. You “turned out” in such a way that you think it’s ok to hit a child, your child. And this is the proof that you didn’t turn out as “ok” as you think. You grew up with something violent being normalized.

But that’s our society. That’s the society that collectively calls sexual assault “locker room talk” and elects a president. That’s the society where powerful, talented men are allowed to produce and direct movies for years without consequence for their sexually abusive behavior.

Systems work is helping people see that things they take for granted could be wrong. Knowing

  • That there are not simply two genders.
  • That race is not encoded in our DNA.
  • That women are not genetically more nurturing.
  • That there are no such things as boy and girl toys.

Knowing all that means we have to fundamentally shift our way of thinking, our way of feeling, our way of living—day to day—in this world. And we may need to fundamentally, though not radically, change the way we approach therapy.

Merging the Therapist and the Advocate

Great things can come from our work with individuals, couples, and families. We can support people in relieving a lot of pain and finding healthier ways to interact. We move people through trauma, out of depression and anxiety, and to better navigate relationships. We help people live within our broken world—which is no small feat. Part of our happiness can only come by becoming more open to uncertainty which is all we really can be certain about.

But can we do more or does our job end there?

I believe we can. Not by “pushing an agenda” or preaching, but by becoming grounded in a strong analysis of the patriarchy, in racism, and in anti-oppressive work. With this analysis, we understand ourselves differently and we understand others in a new way. We see more easily how reactive our clients can be while not realizing they’re being reactive. We are so skilled at reaching for feelings or for picking out the latent content. We see through all of the mental healthy stuff, and we bring it into our work. But, we can see through the racism, the gender norms, the patriarchy, the homophobia and bring that into the work as well? The stronger we are in our own analysis the more able we are to help clients see when they’re reacting to a system instead of their own desires or someone else’s needs.

Most of us just aren’t so good at doing it yet. So many of us separate this work: “I’m a therapist in the office, and I’m an activist when I’m outside.”

That’s great. It is. But we need to find a way to merge the two. To make them inseparable.

Can we repair an airplane while we’re flying it? Can we change our systems while living in them?

Well, first off, we have no choice. We can’t step outside of it because it’s the air we breathe.

With everyone we meet, whether client, friend, lover, or family we need to be grounded in our awareness. We need to support the people we care about, our clients or otherwise, and do all the great engagement and interventions we learned in social work school and beyond—but we have to have an eye on the system. The system they’re in. The one we’re in. The whole shebang.

We need to not preach. We need not be so agenda driven that we miss the humanity of the client or clients sitting in our offices and their suffering. Our need to end the patriarchy cannot be at an individual client’s expense, of course!

But in session and out, we need to be on the lookout for moments to open our own and others’ eyes to the sickness that we are living in. The sickness that lies and says this is the only way to be.

A Student Perspective: Social Work and First Responders

It may be rare for a social work student to reflect on an assignment as something inspirational rather than a stressful experience with a deadline, but at the end of  3rd year of my social work degree, one assignment was a challenge filled with hope. The assignment allowed me to contribute to a program that will give insight to other helping professionals about the mental health of first responders: police, firefighters, paramedics and others who respond to emergencies on the frontline.

The University of Newcastle has a particularly effective way of integrating workplace experience based learning with academic learning throughout the degree. The program options offered in third year which allow students to develop a program for a real agency was the most useful for me. To know your work might form a foundation for a real program in the community was a great honour and challenge to work on.

In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from the program development project. I was apprehensive about working with a professional capacity with a real agency, but I was excited also to learn more and try something new. There were diverse programs offered- from gardening programs to developing group projects designed for children and developing a program for professionals working with first responders.

The university gave us a chance to preference our interests and I was fortunate enough, with some other amazing women to be selected for the first responders team. The aim of our project was to put together a draft training package for helping professionals to enhance understanding of first responder mental health.

This topic drew my interest as it was beyond my scope of knowledge and I have a keen interest in mental health, so it was intriguing to me on both a personal and professional level. On starting, I very quickly became aware that I had actually put very little thought into the work first responders do in our communities to keep us all safer.

I learned just how complex the actual work of first responders can be, I learned the challenges that first responders face as a consequence of their work, the most traumatic of which is often invisible to the communities that they protect. I learned how repetitive exposure to trauma can complicate all aspects of first responder’s lives if they don’t or can’t seek or obtain support. I learned how much awareness is lacking within the multiple levels of the community, which is needed to enact change for first responders and their families.

Also, I learned the difficulties that can be faced by first responders and their families when attempting to access help. Whilst organisational supports are in place for some of the services, the stigma, shame and potential for the loss of their profession is very real. I heard stories about those medically discharged dealing with the grief and loss of their profession and identity.

My part in the group was to examine the supports already in place for first responders. I was concerned at the limited avenues for assistance and the extent of the difficulties for first responders to seek help. Besides limited services, stigma and organisational culture are barriers to effective help seeking. I found attempting to identify potential services to be frustrating, especially when looking for options within communities rather than those which are employer organisation based. My mind quickly went to how this frustration might feel for someone who was attempting the same whilst being unwell.

Gaining insight and recognition into the role first responders play, the impacts on their mental health, their relationships and all aspects of their lives and the flow on effect to their wider social ecology,  I  realised just how large the scale of first responder post-traumatic stress and other mental health consequences have on our community overall.

The hardest part of this learning experience was seeing the end of the project. The topic is so significant, it is hard to not to explore the topic further.  To me, this feels like a core social work and social justice issue, yet one which is invisible much of the time. My learning from this project has given me a totally new perspective. I have a renewed respect and a much deeper understanding of the issues faced by police, firefighters, paramedics and all others who work on the frontline in emergencies.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the knowledge it takes to work with first responders and enact positive change in their lives. I hope more research is completed and potentially more opportunities for training and professional development come up for social workers, whether it be integrated into core teaching within university programs or externally in workplaces.

Environmental Social Work: A Call to Action

Photo Credit: United Church of Christ

What is environmental justice? Dr. Robert Bullard, often called the father of the environmental justice movement, in an interview with the Union of Concerned Scientists described it as environmental justice centers on fairness, equity, and particularly racial justice. For decades, the movement has worked to make sure that all communities—especially communities of color and low-income communities—are given equal protection. We have environmental laws on the books in the United States, but they’re often not applied and enforced equally.

It isn’t difficult to believe that the poorest get the worst – that the most vulnerable populations are exploited. But it is not as easy to identify ways that social workers can advance environmental justice and I have been asked several times how specifically social work can play a role in the environmental movement. This article attempts to clarify social work roles in addressing environmental injustice.

In 2011, I published a piece on Environmentalism & Social Work and the importance of social work adopting environmental priorities has only become clearer since that time. Many students have expressed an interest infusing environmental concerns into their work. Instead of viewing a person in the environment, they find it equally important to view the environment in the person.  Environmental social work sometimes referred to as ecosocial work is different from ‘regular’ social work in that it takes an ‘ecocentric’ instead of a people-centric view. The ecosystem is at the core of practice rather than the person.

The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare proposed 12 Grand Challenges for our profession. All of these challenges will become worse if we don’t give priority to this one:  “Create social responses to a changing environment”

The Academy goes on to illuminate this challenge: The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.

Historically, the profession of Social Work has been slow to embrace remediating environmental injustice as in the scope of our practice. Fortunately, there has been a burgeoning social work literature on the subject. A 2017 content analysis of the literature published in the British Journal of Social Work identified three themes for social workers to explore in ecosocial work:

Creatively apply existing skills to environmental concepts and openness to different values and ways of being or doing

Shift practice, theory and values to incorporate the natural environment: This shift implies a move to ecocentrism with the core value being that all beings have equal access to safe and clean environments. This aspect suggests using social work skills such as empowerment, team-building, community development, management, anti-oppressive practice, holistic interventions, and advocacy to address and mitigate environmental destruction. As first responders, social workers often respond to the community aftermath of natural disasters, but ecosocial work calls for us to be more proactive and preventative in our actions to prevent environmental deterioration and disaster.

Learn from spirituality and indigenous cultures: Appreciating cultural diversity is a given principle in social work practice and in ecocentric social work valuing and using the wisdom of native and tribal cultures is prioritized. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of all life is paramount. How can people live in harmony with the environment?  How can social workers ensure sustainable environments for the physical and emotional well-being of inhabitants? Concepts of transpersonal theory would be helpful in individual and group interventions.

Incorporate the natural environment in social work education: The increasing literature suggests that social workers have a base from which to study the subject. Some schools of social work have adopted concentrations in community sustainability and environmental justice.

Appreciate the instrumental and innate value of non-human life: The concept of biosphere and biofilia are emphasized in ecosocial work. Looking to the natural environment for restorative and transcendent experiences are emphasized.  The premise of adventure-based programs and animal-assisted therapy are certainly reflective of this concept.

Adopt a renewed stance to a change orientation

Change society: Social workers are charged with being “change agents” yet the change required to ensure environmental safety is too often neglected. Valuing environmental and ecological justice should be the driver for change. Advocacy and legislative initiatives that aim for ameliorating environmental injustice are necessary. For example, supporting fair districting and elimination of gerrymandering enables marginalized populations to have a vote that counts.

Critique hegemony: Challenging the social construction of dominance by a particular class calls for radical thinking and action. Anti-oppressive practice demands we examine the political architecture that maintains power and control over people and environment instead of protecting people and environment.  In the previous administration, the EPA asked for social work input on pending regulations. The current administration calls for less regulation and elimination of the agency that is charged with protecting the environment. Challenging the political structure to further progressive environmental causes is necessary.  The foundational core of the Green Party, popular in Europe, and increasingly so in the US, is environmental justice.

Work across boundaries and in multiples spaces

Expanding our usual scope of practice to educate, mobilize, and support community activism is at the core of this theme. Developing partnerships and coalitions demonstrates work across boundaries. Coalitions with public health organizations address toxic environments. Dual degrees such as the MSW/MPH exemplify such a coalition. The American Public Health Association has earmarked 2017 the Year of Climate Change and Health. Workshops have been hosted monthly to illustrate how public health professionals can help build resilience for the traumas and toxic stresses of climate change.

Social Work needs to have a presence at such workshops and establish similar priorities. An example occurred when members of the International Federation of Social Workers organized a workshop at the UN Headquarters in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations. This workshop aimed to highlight social work’s role for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals on the local, subnational, national and international level.

Work with communities: This type of work is our profession’s biggest opportunity in the ecosocial work movement. Think Flint, Michigan where social workers were involved in going door to door, helping to mobilize groups to demand safe water. Social workers can identify food deserts and participate in, or organize food co-operatives, community supported agriculture and community gardens. The plight of migrant workers remains dire, particularly if undocumented. Studies have shown a significantly shorter lifespan among migrant workers due to pesticide exposure.

Family intervention, support groups, managing an environmental non-profit, providing education at the agency and community level are all ways in which social workers can use their skills. Rural communities affected by fracking or mountain-topping and the resultant loss of jobs, land, and health consequences beg for social work intervention. With the recent hurricanes and evacuation orders came reports of immigrants identified with DACA who resisted going to shelters for fear of being deported. Social work advocacy was needed to provide safety for such vulnerable populations.

Work with individuals: Most social workers provide service at this level. Borrowing from the afore-mentioned suggestions, micro interventions need to assess the environment in the person. How does the environment influence the presenting problem? Are there developmental residuals, is access to healthy nutrition an issue? What environmental barriers exist?  Is there a healthcare inequity?  Does the natural environment provide an opportunity for restorative or spiritual or transcendent experiences? Does it hinder or enhance our quality of life?

Identify the contextual environmental influences that your client may be experiencing. We are all aware of barriers to access, like lack of transportation that clients experience. But do we assess the pollution-laden community in which the client lives?

Of the three levels of social work intervention, micro, mezzo, and macro, several ways in which social workers can make an impact on environmental injustice have been identified.  It is imperative that social workers meet the grand challenge to create a social response to a changing environment. As global citizens, we have no choice.

For more information and resources please refer to my website:  https://sites.temple.edu/dewane/.

UMSSW’s Financial Social Work Initiative Celebrates 10 Years

The University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Financial Social Work Initiative (FSWI) during the 2017-2018 academic year with a new Financial Social Work (FSW) Certification Program and numerous activities that honor its achievements over the past 10 years and lay the groundwork for ongoing work in this important, emerging area within social work.

In celebration of this milestone, the FSWI received a leadership grant of $100,000 from The Woodside Foundation, whose trustee, Meg Woodside, MBA, MSW, UMSSW alumna, is a co-founder of the FSWI. The Woodside Foundation is a private family foundation focusing on program development, outreach, and advocacy in the areas of family financial security and asset building in Maryland. “Social workers have been on the front lines of stabilizing vulnerable families and communities for decades,” notes Woodside. “Today’s challenges necessitate integrating new tools, skills, and evidence-based practices to strengthen the profession’s ability to address financial stressors and economic disparities. As FSWI’s 10th anniversary unfolds, we will be able to offer several new opportunities to engage even more social workers in financial social work.”

This generous grant will underwrite several planned educational and community events during the anniversary year. In the spring of 2018, a new Financial Social Work (FSW) Certificate Program will be launched, which in addition to financial support from the Woodside Foundation, has received a notable $23,600 grant from the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation, Inc.

“For more than 60 years, the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation has provided economics and personal-finance education to various audiences, most particularly to teachers,” says Michael MacDowell, the foundation’s managing director. “We are now also investing in social service providers. We see social workers as having an immediate impact on improving the financial well-being of their clients. The foundation applauds the work at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work and its innovative new certificate program. We are pleased to be part of this important undertaking.” OneMain Financial also contributed $3,000 toward the certificate program, and it has sponsored other programming offered through UMSSW; OneMain Financial provides support and sponsorship of community financial education programs and activities, in addition to offering financial services to individuals nationwide.

FSWI will offer the certificate program through UMSSW’s Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Office. The Certificate Program will run from April to December 2018 and will meet an identified need for greater knowledge and skills in financial capability, stability, and empowerment on the part of social workers who practice in nonprofit and other social service agencies, as well as in schools, medical settings, and justice and court settings. This is especially critical for social workers who work with individuals, families, and communities facing complex financial and psychosocial issues.

In large part due to the efforts of the FSWI and its partners over the last 10 years, social workers and human service organizations are seeking additional FSW education and training, in addition to skill-building strategies to enable them to intervene more effectively with financially distressed individuals, families, and communities. Beyond providing resources, social workers must have sophisticated knowledge about issues in typical daily financial life, such as credit, debt, budgeting, financial struggles, and how these intersect with other stressors, and they must be knowledgeable about and familiar with financial issues and barriers, and feel comfortable in addressing such issues directly and effectively with people and communities they serve. Also, social workers who work in FSW must be well-versed in historical and current policy issues that influence and affect people’s paths toward greater financial stability, as well as those policies that hinder financial stability or perpetuate economic injustice.

More information about the FSW Certificate Program is available online at www.ssw.umaryland.edu/fsw/education. It will span seven full-day sessions from April to December 2018. The in-person classroom style of the FSW Certificate Program will enable rich class discussion and learning through interaction among the macro and clinical practitioners.

FSWI’s 10th anniversary year officially kicked off with the 2017 Daniel Thursz Social Justice Lecture in April, featuring noted economist, author, and commentator Julianne Malveaux, PhD, who provided incisive commentary on the topic of “Economics, Race, and Justice in the 21st Century: Perspective on Our Nation’s Future.”

In addition to the FSW Certificate Program, the FSWI will host the following:

  • The third Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) Convening on Jan. 10-11, 2018, to be held just prior to the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) annual conference (Jan. 10-14, 2018, in Washington, D.C.). The third convening is titled “Using Evidence to Influence Policy and Practice” and will feature managers of widely used databases in FCAB work, along with social work researchers who are using these sources to further the FCAB research agenda.
  • UMSSW’s Homecoming 2018, slated for March 9, 2018, will focus on family financial stability and  feature influential advocate Jonathan Mintz, executive director of the New York City-based Cities for Financial Empowerment, who will speak on “Strengthening Family Health: Advancing Economic Stability.”
  • Increased infusion of FSW and its role within psychosocial assessment in the Practice 1 courses offered in the MSW curricula.
  • Development of an FSW alumni network at UMSSW.
  • Increased financial support through scholarship opportunities to support MSW students who have an interest in financial social work: The Woodside Foundation Scholarship Endowment in Financial Social Work is available to all MSW students who would like to apply, and The SunTrust Foundation Scholarship Endowment in Financial Social Work is available to incoming first-year students.

“It is hoped that through these events and offerings, and especially with the launch of our FSW Certificate Program, the UMSSW FSWI will continue to advance and lead the field as financial stability plays an increasingly important role in social work education, research, and practice,” states FSWI Chair Jodi Frey, PhD, LCSW-C, CEAP.

UMSSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, lauds the efforts of the Financial Social Work Initiative. “I am thrilled by the rapid development of the FSWI from a kernel of an idea and a few active participants to a wide array of services and educational programs that now appear destined to become central to much of what social work accomplishes.”

For information on these and other FSWI activities, visit www.ssw.umaryland.edu/fsw.

BASW and SWU launch ‘Respect for Social Work’: The Campaign for Professional Working Conditions

With half of social workers intending to leave their jobs soon, BASW and SWU launch ‘Respect for Social Work’: the campaign for professional working conditions

The recent UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study paints an extremely worrying picture of ‘spun out’ social workers at risk of leaving the job they love through high demand and austerity cuts. They are often invisible while other public-sector workers get noticed in the media. If social workers are to continue protecting and supporting children, adults and families, they need good professional working conditions.

This is why, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) are launching a new campaign ‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions’

BASW and Swu are heading into parliament, to employers, to the press and to their members to get improved professional working conditions for social workers.  There is urgent need to stem damaging levels of stress amongst social workers and the risk of vital, skilled staff leaving the profession.

‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions’ is being launched today at the Social Worker’s Union’s AGM in London. It will see BASW discuss issues with MPs at the upcoming Labour and Conservative party conferences, with MPS and Peers in Parliament, with employers at the national Directors’ Conference in October. It will also link with members’ participation in anti-austerity demonstrations in October.

BASW is taking this important action because of the alarming findings from July’s UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study which highlights that increasing demand but diminishing resources has created a crisis in many social service departments, and social workers are bearing the brunt.

This has led to record-high sickness levels and over half of those surveyed reporting intention to leave the profession early.

The independent study by Bath Spa University’s Dr. Jermaine Ravalier was produced in conjunction with the BASW and SWU. Over 1600 social workers were questions about what is happening in the profession, how social workers are feeling and how they are reacting. It found social workers love their job – but conditions for practice are pushing many away.

It was the first research to look solely at the wellbeing of social workers, and the results are concerning.

A standout finding was that 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months, this increases to 55% for social workers working specifically in children’s services.

The study also revealed that UK social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime.

Making the connection between the two facts isn’t difficult. The study went further, by shining a light on the chief reasons social workers gave for wanting to leave the profession.

High, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome red-tape and bureaucracy came top for over 70% of social workers surveyed.

On behalf of BASW, Mike Bush, member and user of services following work stress and independent mental health consultant said:

“The concept seems to be that social workers can give endlessly to others and not need anything in return. Cars breakdown if they are not properly serviced and maintained – so do people in caring professions like social work.

“A burnt-out social worker is no good to anyone. Nobody is winning from this situation. We need to address this now and it would be wise for the Government to listen to what BASW and SWU are saying and take heed of the solutions they recommend.”

So how can we reverse the conveyor belt of talent leaving social work?

As the professional association for social workers, BASW’s manifesto is to work with partners across the sector to ensure social workers have manageable workloads, effective organisational models and the right working conditions for excellent practice.

Another cornerstone to the manifesto is to end austerity policies that cause harm to children, adults and families with care and support needs

BASW and SWU believe it is possible to create professional working environments to keep social workers in practice.

“We know the key elements of success: access to professional supervision, manageable caseloads, good leadership and management, fair pay, reduced unnecessary bureaucracy, time to spend with individuals and families, and access to ongoing professional development and wellbeing support,” says BASW CEO Ruth Allen.

“Peer support amongst social workers is also crucial and protects against burn out, as the study showed,” adds Allen.

“It is essential social workers are supported, both through SWU their dedicated Union and the professional body, BASW, because this combination ensures social workers are empowered to improve their working conditions and their standing as skilled, dedicated professionals.” Says John McGowan, SWU General Secretary.

Which is why BASW and SWU are leading a new drive to work positively with employers and politicians, and social workers in practice, to promote these solutions.

  • Treat social workers like professionals who have solutions as well as legitimate concerns
  • End management regimes of unmanageable workloads to reduce stress and attrition rates: employ more social workers, ensure good caseload management, enable flexible working and smarter use of technology
  • Ensure time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
  • Ensure all social workers have access to good continuing professional development
  • Ensure social workers’ managers have completed relevant training for their job
  • Provide administrative support to enable social workers to focus on people they serve
  • Lift the public pay cap for social workers, as for other public professionals
  • Ensure social workers have independent professional support, through their professional body (BASW) and other resources, readily accessible through various touch points such as a ‘hotline’.

“A stable and well-trained workforce, with replenishment of new joiners as well as ongoing development of advanced skills is essential to meet social care and social work needs of children and adults,” says Allen.

“Less experienced social workers need mentoring from experienced staff. We must stem the risks of losing – and wasting the skills – of experienced staff.”

Together with the author of the report, Dr. Jermaine M Ravalier, BASW will be meeting MP’s over the next couple of months to press the case for a government rethink on its continued austerity measures regarding social services, as well as to challenge further barriers to good social work practice.

NASW-Michigan and Emerge Michigan Partner to Train Social Workers to Run for Office

NASW-Michigan Testimony for Public Hearing Re: House Bills 4188, 4189, 4190 (adoption/foster care)

The National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter (NASW-Michigan) is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Emerge Michigan in order to train social workers to run for public office.

Over the course of the next year, NASW-Michigan and Emerge Michigan will collaborate to host several training events in order to increase the number of social workers in all elected positions. This will include two virtual education events in December 2017 and April 2018, and two in-person trainings in November 2017 and in late spring 2018.

NASW-Michigan encourages social workers to run for office because social workers are a profession of trained communicators, with concrete ideas about how to empower communities. Social workers understand social problems and human relations, are skilled in collaboration and are committed to improving the quality of life for all people.

Executive Director Maxine Thome affirmed that NASW-Michigan is strongly committed to inspiring and motivating social workers toward political leadership, and providing them with the resources and tools necessary for electoral success. As a profession of over 80% women, it was important for us to partner with an organization that focuses on female-identified candidates. To this end, Emerge Michigan is an asset to NASW-Michigan in supporting members and allies who are seeking elected office.

Despite making some gains over the last decade, women are still extremely underrepresented in our decision-making bodies at every level of government,” said Beth Kelly, Executive Director of Emerge Michigan. “At this rate, it’ll be almost a century before we achieve equal representation in our government. That’s just not fast enough. At Emerge Michigan, we’re tackling this problem head on by providing the aspiring female leaders of today with cutting-edge tools and training to run for elected office and elevate themselves in our political system. Our work is having a direct positive impact on the number of women who are choosing to jump into the political arena and are ready to win.

NASW also encourages social workers to offer their professional expertise to campaigns by working as campaign managers, volunteer coordinators, and political directors. These leadership roles can translate into legislative jobs in which social workers can shape policy, and help constituents by working with federal, state, and local agencies to get individuals appropriate resources and assistance.

More information and registration information will be available for social workers at www.nasw-michigan.org.

Increasing Workplace Diversity: The Glass Escalator Phenomenon in Female Dominated Professions

20 Jobs Dominated by Women – Business Insider

Many assume that most workplaces are meritocracies where effort is rewarded by advancement and success. But as companies in the United States strive to accommodate greater racial and ethnic diversity, this premise has proved questionable for women and non-white men.

Broadly-designed efforts to incorporate black workers into positions where they are underrepresented, particularly in professional or managerial jobs, have been largely unsuccessful. Relatively few black people have attained high-status positions in the medical, legal, and scientific and engineering fields; and racial gaps persist for highly-educated blacks in white collar and professional positions.

To support the advancement of black workers in white-collar occupations, researchers and managers need to understand how implicit behavioral biases can sideline black careers. My research deals with these issues in various kinds of job settings.

Emotional Performance

Various jobs come with unspoken emotional requirements, rarely codified, that hold workers accountable for creating feelings in themselves or others. For instance, customer service workers are expected to make clients feel respected and valued. Flight attendants must remain calm even when interacting with unruly passengers. Such emotional requirements mean additional labor for workers of all races, yet black professionals in predominantly white environments must also deal with racial dynamics that further complicate this work.

Both inside and outside of the workplace, the implicit emotional rules that black professionals must meet – often, they say, at great cost – are quite different from those applied to their white colleagues. Black professionals are expected to express emotions of pleasantness and kindness constantly, even in the face of racial hostility.

Diversity trainings require them to conceal feelings of frustration even when colleagues express racial biases.  Black men in particular report a prohibition on any expression of anger, even in jobs where anger is accepted or encouraged from others.  Black women, in contrast, deploy anger strategically as a means to be taken more seriously at work.

Black Men in Female-Dominated Fields

Such gender differences are not limited to emotional performance and even prevail in occupations where men are in the minority. Research shows that white men working in culturally feminized fields – nursing, social work, and teaching – are privileged by the “glass escalator” phenomenon, in which they are afforded advantages and advancement unavailable to colleagues who are women or non-white males.

For example, white men are generally supported by male authority figures, encouraged to pursue administrative or supervisory positions, and enjoy a positive reception from female colleagues who welcome men into “their” professions.  But the same advantages do not extend to black men in traditionally female jobs. Black men in these fields experience social isolation from those who might support their climb up the career ladder.  Any “glass escalator” that may exist for white men in female-dominated jobs is largely out of service for black men.

Black Men in Male-Dominated Fields

Black men in culturally-masculinized occupations — lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, engineers – are uniquely positioned. In workplaces like this, majority and minority racial and gender statuses inform how black men are expected to present themselves and interact with colleagues. Specifically, black men’s minority status keeps them from fully integrating into their jobs, even as their gender status gives them advantages over their women counterparts.

As the racial minority, black men often empathize with the ways women are treated and use their gendered privileges to advocate for gender-equitable workplace policies. At the same time, black men report wanting closer relationships with other black professional men, but are uncomfortable engaging in the socially stereotyped feminine behaviors that are necessary to achieve this– such as initiating contact, staying in communication, checking up on one another.

Similarly, the black men are reluctant to express or reveal a need for social support, because men are culturally expected to “go it alone.” As a result, black men in white-collar occupations often remain quite isolated at work.

Although black men may be able to bond with white men over “guy things,” they lack access to critical social networks (to elite white friends, neighbors, and acquaintances) that can provide boosts up the corporate ladder. Racial and gendered stereotypes often also force black professionals to develop and maintain alternative types of black masculinity.

Bottom Lines for Employers, Organizations, and Policymakers

Workers of color face numerous challenges in the workplace that differ greatly depending on the field, profession, and specific office setting. The challenges faced by black men and black women are not identical, even in the same work environments. And specific work settings matter, too, because black men in the medical field, for instance, face distinct challenges from those practicing law.

Because one-size-fits-all approaches and generalized diversity policies will not effectively address the specific challenges facing workers of color, organizations, and offices must try to understand how racial and gender dynamics play out in their specific fields and workplaces. Only with such understanding can a workplace succeed at becoming more attractive, accepting, and comfortable for diverse employees.

How to begin? A workplace could start by soliciting buy-in from professional black men, who may have been overlooked in previous efforts to foster equal acceptance. Employers can tie diversity outcomes to concrete rewards for managers and workers. And because black professionals are often required to leave their racial identity at the door – under the dubious rationale that it will reduce race-related stress – perhaps the most important step is to openly acknowledge that racial issues impact workers’ lives.

Find out what the issues are for each workplace and its employees – and then tailor solutions to real-life experiences. Overall, this is important work for employers.  As the U.S. workforce continues to diversify, workplaces must be creating acceptance and support from the ground up in order to remain competitive.

Child Protection in Ireland Post McCabe

Sgt. Maurice McCabe

The controversy surrounding the treatment of Sgt. Maurice McCabe by various State agencies has raised significant issues regarding the operation of our child protection system in Ireland. Issues that perhaps have needed attention for some time and that will now hopefully receive due attention. Before we try to disentangle the fallout from this controversy, let’s briefly remind ourselves of how the McCabe case unfolded.

It was revealed the child sexual abuse allegations made against Sgt. McCabe, referred to TUSLA (Irish State Child and Family Agency) in August 2013 by a counselor employed by the Health Service Exectuive’s (HSE) National Counselling Service (NCS), were false. The HSE is Ireland’s national health service provider.

The following year in 2014, a TUSLA social worker opened files on all four of the McCabe children which also included their then adult children. It has yet to be determined why files were opened on adult children as this is not standard procedure within TUSLA practice or child protection practices. Additionally, it is also yet to be determined what was the reason for the time delay from the initial referral?

It also emerged that the referral to TUSLA originated from the same individual connected with previous 2006 allegation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” against Sgt. McCabe. However, after an investigation by the Office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions),  the investigation determined there were no grounds to proceed with prosecution against Sgt. McCabe.

Nine months after the NCS referral to TUSLA, the NCS contacted TUSLA to advise them that the referral had included an error. They stated:

 “the line ‘that this abuse involved digital penetration, both vaginal and anal’ is an error and should not be in the referral. It is in fact a line from another referral on another adult that has been pasted in error”

An error that will surely gain significant attention under the Charleton inquiry which is investigating the alleged smear campaign against McCabe who was a whistleblower.

In 2016, approximately two years and four months after receiving the initial referral, a TUSLA social worker contacted Sgt. Maurice McCabe to advise that he was the subject of an allegation of child sexual abuse. Sgt. McCabe’s issued a statement through his attorney refuting the allegations and referred to the previous decision not to prosecute him. This was the first contact TUSLA made with Sgt. McCabe regarding the referrals they had received relating to him. The following June 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe that there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, another error that will surely receive significant attention.

The following June, in 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, an error that will receive significant attention in McCabe’s defamation investigation.

So what’s the child protection context of all this?

In the ordinary course of things, the allegation of sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour in childhood made to the NCS by the then adult individual constitutes what TUSLA terms a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’. This is a disclosure by an adult of abuse they experienced as a child. These types of referrals make up approximately 10% of TUSLA’s child protection caseload and have been the source of some controversy in recent years.

The independent Health and Quality Authority (HIQA) is tasked with assessing the efficacy and function of Tusla child protection and welfare services nationally. They carry out both announced and unannounced inspections of child protection and welfare services and in recent years have begun to pay attention to Tusla’s management and assessment of retrospective disclosures.

In recent reports, HIQA has deemed Tusla’s handling of such referrals as inadequate and posing potential risk to children. They have reported in respect of some services:

“…a large number of retrospective abuse referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”; “inspectors found there were significant delays in the service assessing risks in relation to retrospective abuse and there were immediate and high risks that were not dealt with in a timely manner”.

An adult disclosure of abuse may relate to an incident that occurred decades ago. For example, a sixty year old man coming forward to disclose abuse he suffered when he was eight or nine. It may also, however, relate to abuse disclosed by a 19 year old in which the incident occurred when they were 17.

These disclosures, therefore like all referrals to child protection services, may or may not contain details of an alleged abuser, details of an identified child or children at risk or specific locations or dates of where and when the abuse took place. It may be argued that some of the more ‘historic’ of these referrals may contain no identifying information at all with no way for social workers to ascertain the level of risk to children. But what is crucial here is the above HIQA report which states, “referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”. 

As recently as February 2016, two months after their initial contact with Sgt. McCabe, TUSLA Child Protection services in Cavan were assessed by a team of HIQA investigators. The inspection was announced in other words the social work department knew the inspection would be taking place. HIQA reported, “there were waiting lists for assessments and for retrospective allegations of abuse and the system in place to manage the assessment wait lists was not robust”.

HIQA stated at this time that TUSLA team leaders kept a list of all adult referrals and that these cases had been audited and categorised with on-going liaison with the Irish State Police Service (Gardaí). This would appear to be good practice in the face of the growing number of referrals to TUSLA, albeit the cases are remaining on a waitlist for full assessment were required.

Despite this, reports concerning the handling of the allegations against Sgt. McCabe highlight a two-and-a-half-year delay in Social Work action on the matter. HIQA are not the only ones who have highlighted concern in respect of Tusla’s handling of retrospective cases.

As early as May 2015, then Senator, Jillian van Turnhout raised the matter with, then CEO of Tusla, Gordon Jeyes following the Laois/Offaly controversy; and as recently as July 2016 Fíanna Fáil frontbench spokesperson for Children, Anne Rabbitte TD, raised the matter in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) with Minister Zappone herself.

During this latter exchange, Minister Zappone acknowledged the failings in Tusla’s assessment of retrospective disclosures. She went on to acknowledge that frontline social workers are in a position where they are working from a draft guidance document and advised that she would seek clarification on the entire matter from Tusla, stating “I have asked to meet senior officials in Tusla next week to be updated on the steps they are taking to deal nationally with these cases, and on cases currently before the courts which may impact on Tusla’s practice in these matters”.

The Minister went onto state “I want Deputy Rabbitte to know that I do have concerns in relation to dealing with adult disclosure cases or retrospective cases. I would like to see timelines on when they have been allocated”. It would appear that the outcome of Minister Zappone’s meeting with Tusla following this exchange is relevant in respect of what is unfolding currently.

The bottom line is that retrospective disclosure of childhood abuses are not being prioritised or resourced. HIQA have noted long waiting lists in respect of these referrals to TUSLA and despite draft guidelines and a number of specific Tusla teams being set up to assess these cases the problems remain. What is occurring is a system failure within Tusla or maybe a failure due to a lack of a system being in place in the first place.

Frontline practitioners are not receiving adequate training and clarification in respect of how to handle retrospective allegations of abuse.

Competing Rights and Confusion

One of the key issues in this allegation or referral of abuse, which occurred in childhood, casts two sets of competing legal rights into play. The adult referrer’s right to justice and to have his/her referral investigated and the right of the alleged abuser to privacy, good name, and the presumption of innocence.

It is these competing rights which have caused the most confusion within the child protection system which is also the central cause of what can only be termed ‘paralysis’ in relation to the investigation of adult disclosures of childhood abuse. If an alleged abuser or victim refuses to engage with social work, does the duty to protect children cease? Justice Barr was quite clear that social workers have a duty to assess any potential future harm to identified or unidentified children. And to do this “before the risk crystallises into actual harm” as Justice Hedigan added in a later case.

It would appear that Tusla’s fear of suit in these matters, or maybe just sheer confusion, has led to these referrals being moved down the caseload list and in some cases not receiving an assessment at all. This can have detrimental effects on alleged perpetrators who, if falsely accused, want to clear their name. It also has effects upon victims who have taken a monumental step in disclosing the abuse they have suffered. Finally, it also affects the social workers who are tasked with assessing these cases. Competing rights to justice and good name hanging in the balance while these matters sit in social work offices.

The McCabe case deals with a false allegation against an individual. However, the central fear is the non-assessment of a referral for a child potential being abused by an individual who has been identified yet has failed to be assessed in a timely manner.

There are no winners in the McCabe case. While the political fallout is yet to be determined, we must remember, in this specific case, a man and his family have been put through hell at the hands of our most trusted of State institutions. Meanwhile, the reputation of confidentiality and professionalism of our child protection services and of our State-run counselling service hangs in tatters.

It is critical that steps are taken to rectify these issues, to support and guide front-line staff and ultimately to provide an efficient and sensitive service to those wishing to disclose abuse, those who may be falsely accused and all and any children who may be at actual or potential risk in our communities.

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