A Teacher’s Response to Charlottesville for Social Workers in Practice with People with Disabilities

Charlottesville Black Cop
Officer patrols in front of a recent KKK rally in Charlottesville, Va. – Jill Mumie

I am currently teaching a course on social work practice with people with disabilities.  The course uses an intersectional lens, acknowledging the fact that people have many intersecting social identities that can result in varying types of privilege and oppression.  As such, I had to provide some venue for my students to address the Charlottesville violence and hate speech.  The following is a discussion prompt I provided for them to respond to, and I thought other social work educators might be interested in seeing this so that they could use it and/or modify it for their own courses.  Feedback welcome!

Discussion prompt: As we are part of a course on social work practice with people with disabilities in the United States of America, I would be remiss not to address the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. As you have already likely gathered, there are important links between the White nationalist/Nazi actions in Virginia, and the work we do as social workers with people with disabilities – who often have intersecting marginalized social identities.

Many of the perspectives held by members of White nationalist/Nazi groups are clearly identifiable as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and even Eugenic in nature.  Therefore, as social workers practicing under our particular Code of Ethics, we need to respond. If you need some quick resources to learn more about the dynamics that led to the Charlottesville rally and violence, you can check out the “Charlottesville Syllabus” at this link.

As disability-aware social workers training to view the world through an intersectional lens, we need to acknowledge and act on what has happened in Charlottesville. That means that we need to engage in discussions – often difficult in nature – with our families, our co-workers and with our clients. Let’s start with our work with clients.

One prominent disability civil rights activist, Rebecca Cokley, has noted that when terrorist incidents like this occur, people with disability count the minutes until ableist claims about the ‘crazy’ person who engaged in terrorist acts roll in. That may be an important place for you to start a conversation with a client with a disability in a week like this one. In this essay, Ms. Cokley points out another important link between disability and trauma.  She calls for the disability community (and disability service providers) to reach out to those whose disabilities came about as a result of trauma, such as the people who were injured and impaired by the car driven by the White nationalist/Nazi from Ohio. Her essay is short, easy to read and compelling and you can find it here.

It is also important to remember, however, that our work is not just direct care work. Remember, the NASW Code of Ethics states that we must fight for social justice, as it is a core value in our profession. We need to do more than discuss these difficult topics amongst ourselves, we also need to take a stand on them. I am fond of the idea that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

It is important to move beyond ideas of ourselves as “good” people and work towards actively addressing the webs of oppression that exist in our world, little bit by little bit. Here is an example about how ADAPT, the national disability civil rights organization, has taken a stance on the events in Charlottesville. Where might you be able to stake your claim to your own stance?  Check out these ideas for 10 ways to fight hate from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Finally, I want to leave you with a challenging set of questions. Although there are many facets to the NASW Code of Ethics, let us remember that the mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values, including the idea that there is dignity and worth in every person.  How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color?  What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color? What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

Please leave your comments about this discussion prompt and how it might be improved or expanded upon.  All feedback is welcome.

Innovation in Social Work: Where Does it Come From?

As social workers, we often confront complex situations. And we are all about developing solutions and strategies for change. In doing so we draw on our past experience, research, the experience of colleagues, and best practices. But sometimes we come up short and find we need new ideas–we find that we need to innovate.

What is innovation, anyway? Merriam Webster defines it as “a new idea, device, or method” or “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation in social work, wondering how we get and develop our new ideas. Maybe we need to do something new to deal with a practice or policy situation we’ve never encountered before, or with a radically-changing environment. Or perhaps we just think our work needs a new approach to keep it fresh, or to increase our capacity to engage our client systems. Regardless, innovation is a part of what we do in our work, at least occasionally. If it never shows up in our work, it’s probably not a good sign!

Where My Ideas Come From

My biggest source of innovation is reading and listening to what others are doing, especially others who are only “weakly” connected to me and my day-to-day work. I build on the principle of “weak ties,” that is the theory that our best sources of new strategic information come, not from our closest relationships, but from those people with whom we have only sporadic contact (see Innovation, Strategic Networks & Social Media: Or Why I’m Here for a discussion of this principle). In addition, I remember what I learned from a paper I wrote about innovation in my doctoral program: if you’re looking for new ideas, read outside your field.

What that means, in practice, is that I try to monitor content outside of social work through Twitter, that is, following thought leaders and organizations that are not social work related. I “clip” the ideas that strike me as interesting, read them, tag them as “ideas,” and store them in a program called Evernote.

This process allows me to both monitor trends and to see what others have been doing. When I have a chance, I might even write the ideas up on my blog, or in one of the internet-based social work communities that I’m in and see what others have to say about what I’ve come across. Discussing ideas with colleagues can be a really fun, creative process.

Sometimes reading outside my field means looking at another aspect of social work practice. For example, when I was working in addiction treatment settings I tried to stay abreast of the major developments in mental health, in addition to addictions.

I’ve also found new ideas by listening carefully to my clients — several of my forays into new technology (e.g., blogging, Second Life) were by inspired by hearing what my clients were doing. I was intrigued by what I heard (and didn’t quite understand what they were talking about), and so I decided I needed to explore the new technologies on my own.

The result of such exploration resulted in many new innovations in both my teaching and practice. For example, around 2004, I set up a protected blogging community for my EMDR class: all students had to complete a weekly blog entry about how they were applying the class content. Interestingly, that was the only year that 100% of the class (as opposed to the typical 70%) actually used EMDR with their clients by the end of the semester.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

So you’ve read what I do — I would love to hear how you get your new ideas. I have no doubt that there are many pathways to innovation. Please take a moment to share, in the comments, what works for you to generate new ideas, and perhaps, an example of a time that you did so.

Innovation, Strategic Networks, and Social Media: Why I’m Here

I suspect that most of my academic colleagues think I’m crazy. They don’t understand social networking, especially not Twitter. And they really don’t understand what I am doing here.

I could explain why I’m here in many different ways and there are certainly many things I get out of social media (including relationships with some wonderful people). But honestly, one of the main reasons I’m here simply comes down to this: ideas, ideas that drive innovation and allow me to forecast trends.

Innovation and Networks

One of the most valuable papers I wrote in graduate school was a paper on innovation for a course on social work administration. I discovered then that if you want to innovate, then read outside of your field. A Harvard Business Review blog post on the Three Networks You Need confirmed the importance of noting trends outside of your familiar domains.

The authors, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, write that managers/leaders need three kinds of social networks: operational, the people you need in order to do your work; developmental, the people who have helped you grow as a manager and leader, and to whom you turn for advice; and strategic, the people who will help you prepare for tomorrow. In other words, strategic networks are key to anticipating changes: “You need a strategic network because the forces that drive change in your field will probably come from outside your current world.

Strategic Networks, Weak Ties, and Social Media

Hill and Lineback state that strategic networks can often come from “weak ties,” that is, people we don’t know well but connect with infrequently (e.g., 1-2 times a year). However, it’s important to note that the research on which the concept of “weak ties” was based was done in 1970 (see The Strength of Weak Ties by Marc S. Granovetter), which raises the question for me about how social media might influence this concept.

I think that social media can feed strategic networks, even when we don’t have a mutual relationship with the people we are learning from. For example, I follow some people on Twitter that I really don’t interact with, but who post awesome content that covers a wide range of topics. These people are important sources of information about key issues outside of my discipline (social work).

When people tell me they don’t know how I stay abreast of all the information that I know, I confess that I don’t spend a lot of time looking for it. Instead, I look for people “in the know” who I can learn from. I take advantage of the outstanding work that they do discover and curating key content and then just check in with them periodically.

I may develop mutual relationships with some of them. But in some cases, it might simply be that I am learning from what they are sharing. Either way, this content keeps me abreast of trends outside my profession, so I am usually able to anticipate trends well before they “arrive” in my world. I think of them as my virtual key informants.

My biggest struggle with social media is that I want to gravitate toward following the people who are similar to me. For example, over the past year, I have grown to connect with an awesome international network of social workers on Twitter. I have learned a great deal from these colleagues, and I appreciate each and every one of them. So naturally, I want to spend more time interacting with them.

At the same time, I am mindful of how important it is for me to stay connected to my virtual key informants, even though they may not be similar to me or even know that I exist. Because this is often where the inspiration for something totally new originates. I think of these virtual key informants as part of my network of “weak ties”–part of my strategic network– even though, strictly speaking, I don’t have a relationship with most of them.

I would love to hear how others relate (or not) to some of these concepts. Can you connect to the idea of a strategic network? How does social media relate to this idea for you?

Engaging Individuals Entrenched With Power and Privilege

University of Southern California Professor Melissa Singh with COBI Fellows in Washington, DC

Like many Macro students trying to obtain their MSW, I have gone through many trials and tribulations trying to pave my own path of what I can do with my degree. From the countless lectures spent being forced fed how to conduct Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (I do not want to be a counselor) to being placed as an elementary school counselor (once again, I do not want to be a counselor). I honestly began to question if I would ever break free from the stereotypes of what position I could fill and achieve as a social worker.

Oftentimes, when a macro social worker states they do not like clinical work they are often met with the counter argument: “Clinical work is the foundation of our profession and every social worker must know how to engage their clients.” However, the clients we work with as macro social workers are not the same clients as a micro social worker. Macro social workers are working with clients entrenched with power and privilege.

Macro social workers are working with clients entrenched with power and privilege

In my opinion, we are working with the most difficult populations and we must  develop a different type of skillset. Skills that allow us  to navigate through the bureaucracies and change the public’s perception on what they deem underserving or the bottom of their priority list.

I have been in two different social work programs and each time as a macro social worker, I feel my education is not tailored to fit me. It wasn’t until I had to opportunity to apply for University Southern California’s Community Organizing Business Innovation (COBI) Fellowship, a program with a mission to create professionals trained to tackle organizational problems and social worker’s grand challenges by introducing, developing, and facilitating social innovation in local, national, and global settings. This mission resonated with me, and it fits my definition of what social work can be.

Over the summer, USC’s COBI Fellowship gave me the opportunity to learn and practice my macro skills. I was able to engage with individuals from 16 different agencies who are bringing innovation into the public sector and learn the tricks of the trade on how they bring positive change in resistant spaces.

There were many takeaways from the trip but here are a few:

  • The OPM Innovation Lab emphasized the importance of navigating through bureaucracy and to inspire public sectors to take risk. We also learned the concept of human-centered design.
  • We discovered the concept of developmental evaluation with Tanya Beer at the Center for Evaluation Innovation.
  • Congresswoman Karen Bass discussed how to engage individuals with privilege in the workplace. She further discussed her Shadow Day, where a foster youth is paired with a U.S. Representative and how it is not only a transformational experience for the foster youth but also, the U.S. Rep. Once a U.S. Rep spends a day with a foster youth teaching them, it becomes personal, and they think twice before saying no against a bill in the favor of foster youth. THIS IS INNOVATION!!!
  • SAMHSA discussed how to engage agencies on the importance of evaluations and message tailoring.
  • Ashoka with Changemaker Executive Partner Sachin Malhan identified the difference between addressing a need and changing the system.
  • Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) discussed looking for ways to weigh in as professionals in policies.
  • NASW consultant, Joan Levy Zlotnik discussed being at the table and articulating both facts and story.

It was inspiring to be among leaders who are experimenting with different models and methods to tackle societal problem. I gained a sense of empowerment and agency being able to sit among them and exchange ideas.  Most importantly, I not only first handedly experienced the importance of having a seat at the table, but I saw my place as a social worker. After this experience, I wished more macro social work students could have an experience like this.

Like many social workers, I chose social work because I want to bring positive change in the world. Although we need social worker helping the immediate needs of individuals and their families, we also need social workers looking at the bigger picture and changing the system.

Until we invest in more macro initiatives where social work students can engage with leaders and learn the skills to navigate and collaborate with individuals who possess power and privilege, our profession will not be in the frontier of innovative change in the public sector.

New NASW President Kathryn Wehrmann to Support Push to Modernize, Improve Services

Incoming National Association of Social Workers (NASW) President Kathryn Wehrmann will continue to support the association’s ongoing initiative to modernize and improve services, intensify advocacy at the state and local level, and recruit more social workers and social work students.

Kathryn Wehrmann

Kathryn Wehrmann

“At this time in our nation’s history social work is more important than ever,” said Wehrmann, PhD, MSW, LSW, LCSW. “Social work has long played a role in making our society a better place and I want to ensure that NASW and social workers are at the table helping solve some of the major issues of the day.”

Wehrmann is an associate professor at the Illinois State University School of Social Work.

She has been a member of NASW for more than 20 years, held many offices and committee assignments with the NASW Illinois Chapter and served on the NASW Board of Directors.

Wehrmann succeeds former NASW President Darrell Wheeler, PhD, ACSW, MPH, interim provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at the University at Albany State University of New York School of Social Welfare. Her three-year term begins this month.

As president-elect Wehrmann has already served on the NASW Foundation Board of Directors. During her term as president Wehrmann’s responsibilities will include providing leadership to the NASW Board as that body makes policy decisions, allocates financial resources, guides program priorities and oversees committees.

Wehrmann said she will support NASW’s ongoing efforts to modernize operations, which will enable the association and its chapters to provide value-added products and services to members that will enhance their professional development. It is also important that NASW strengthen its efforts to advocate for the social work profession and issues important to social work on the state and national level, she said.

“I think (social workers) have a role in supporting social workers in having a civil discourse. We have a lot of skills and abilities to do that. People need to be heard and understood. It’s never been more important than now.”

And in these divisive political times Wehrmann said NASW and the social work profession can play a role in bringing together Americans, no matter their political affiliation.

“I think we have a role in supporting social workers in having a civil discourse,” she said. “We have a lot of skills and abilities to do that. People need to be heard and understood. It’s never been more important than now.”

Wehrmann lives in Champaign, IL with her husband of 32 years, Allen, and their dogs Finn and Bailie.

She was inspired to go into social work because she was raised in a family that believed in pitching in to help others. In fact, one of her aunts was a school social worker and an uncle was a social work professor at the University of Illinois.

Her first job in social work was in child welfare, an area of social work that Wehrmann said attracted her because “children have the least power and have a right to a safe childhood.” She has also worked in health care, especially with older adults who needed an advocate when they experienced complicated medical issues.

Wehrmann continues to have a special regard for foster parents who give of their family and resources to keep children safe while families work to bring their children home. She is also an advocate for services that are more preventive, helping families before protective services become involved.

Wehrmann decided to join NASW because of her role models and mentors at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who were NASW members.

“They helped me see how important it is to support your profession through being involved with the organization that is the voice of social work in our country,” she said.

Helping Out: What Social Workers Do

By: Tricia Hussung

Becoming a social worker is an ideal career path for those seeking to help others and make a positive impact in their communities. In general, social workers “help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They work closely with individuals and communities to assess needs and provide both resources and support.

The overall aim of social workers is to improve quality of life for their clients by providing access to resources and services that meet their specific needs. They may work with children, adults, people with disabilities, or older populations. Specific job responsibilities vary depending on client type, but all social workers are responsible for maintaining a caseload and keeping detailed records concerning each of their clients.

One of the most important elements to a social worker’s career is advocacy. They can help raise awareness about key issues on the local, state, or even national level, serving as a voice for their clients. As part of this work, they may work closely with community leaders and organizations to develop new resources or improve existing initiatives.

Social work is not a one-size-fits-all job. There are a variety of different types of social workers, each with their own clients and specific responsibilities, from treating drug addiction to locating qualified foster families. The following are some social work specialization options.

Child and Family Social Workers

This type of social worker serves families who need help. This includes protecting children in vulnerable situations and helping parents access resources such as housing, healthcare, or nutrition benefits. Another important responsibility for child and family social workers is arranging adoptions or placing children in foster care. Employment of child and family social workers is expected to grow 6 percent through 2024.

School Social Workers

As the name suggests, school social workers usually work within school systems. They work closely with students, parents, and administrators to “improve students’ academic performance and social development,” according to the BLS. They might address issues such as bullying, truancy, or misbehavior. In many cases, struggling students are referred to school social workers by their teachers. The BLS reports that demand for school social workers is the same (6 percent) as for child and family social workers through 2024.

Clinical Social Workers

Also known as licensed clinical social workers, these social workers are responsible for diagnosing and treating clients with mental health or substance abuse issues. Through individual or group therapy, clinical social workers help individuals create strategies to cope with existing issues and change their behavior.

Clinical social workers may refer clients to other healthcare resources such as psychiatrists or support groups. They usually work in private practice. The BLS reports that employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent through 2024; that rate is much faster than the national average for all occupations.

Healthcare Social Workers

This type of social worker is responsible for helping patients “understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare,” according to the BLS. This might include conducting support groups and providing information on patient resources like home care. Like clinical social work, the healthcare social work specialization is experiencing rapid growth. The BLS reports a 19 percent increase in employment through 2024.

Social Worker Education Requirements

For entry-level social work roles, a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is required. BSW programs prepare students for social work roles that involve working directly with clients. They “teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work,” the BLS says. Students must complete internships or supervised fieldwork as part of their education, as accredited BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience.

Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) along with two years of work experience in a supervised clinical setting, the BLS notes. Licensure is also needed, and specific licensure and certification requirements vary by state. The median annual salary for social workers is $45,900.

Research Grant Aids Social Workers and Medical Providers in Identifying and Treating Sexual Abuse

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) clinical nursing professor Kathleen Jordan is leading grant-funded research to aid medical professionals and social workers who examine and care for children who have been sexually abused.

Jordan, who is an active nurse practitioner, created the study, titled “Pediatric Sexual Abuse: An Interprofessional Approach to Optimizing Emergency Care.” The goal of the research is to improve not only emergency providers’ ability to identify sexual abuse in their pediatric patients but also their ability to treat these children.

UNCC clinical nursing professor Kathleen Jordan Photo Credit: UNCC

Jordan has been an advanced practice nurse in emergency care for 30 years and has specialized in pediatrics, emergency care and child maltreatment. She also works as a nurse practitioner with Mid-Atlantic Emergency Medical Associates, which staffs Charlotte-area Novant Health emergency departments.

Funded by a grant from the UNC Charlotte School of Nursing, the research includes two phases. First, participants will learn from experts during an educational seminar. Presenters include a sexual assault nurse examiner who will discuss the examination of sexually abused children and evidence collection; a social worker will provide instruction about the manner in which to talk with children who have been abused.

That presentation will be followed by small focus groups in which participants create an open dialogue about their strengths and weaknesses in identifying sexual abuse, what they learned in the educational seminar and any additional education that may be needed for medical personnel. Those focus groups will allow Jordan to identify steps that can be taken to further support emergency providers.

Novant Health is one of more than a dozen partnering agencies of the Mecklenburg Child Abuse Prevention Team that has embarked on a public awareness campaign this month. April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

For information about the Mecklenburg Child Abuse Prevention Team, upcoming events, ways to help, tips for parents and other resources, visit www.meck4kids.org.

Since 1983, April has been designated nationally as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The Mecklenburg Child Abuse Prevention Team is made up of representatives from various local agencies, including the Council for Children’s Rights, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, the Mecklenburg County Guardian ad Litem’s Office, the Mecklenburg Guardian ad Litem Advocacy Foundation, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, the Arts Empowerment Project, Child Care Resources,  Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, Communities in Schools, the Junior League of Charlotte, Novant Health, A Child’s Place, Teen Health Connection, Care Ring, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department and Mecklenburg County Community Support Services.

Social Workers Are the World’s Most Genuine and Unsung Humanitarians

On March 1st, 2017, celebrity and grammy award-winning singer, Rihanna received the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award from Harvard University. According to the Washington Post, “She has used her wealth, influence and global reach to advocate for access to health care and education and speak for women and girls.”

As I decompressed (with bourbon) in the hours that followed my chaotic and draining workday, I found myself curious about Rihanna’s humanitarian contributions. Each article I read said pretty much the same thing—Rihanna was chosen for this celebrated award because of her involvement with and financial contributions to “a number” of charitable causes. I wondered if some of these charities simply called Rihanna to demand “bitch better have my money”, which is a Rihanna song for the uninitiated.

Rihanna’s benevolent aid includes the development of a Barbados based oncology and nuclear medicine center to treat breast cancer. Rihanna provides monetary support to charities that give children in developing countries access to education. Rihanna also created a scholarship for students from the Caribbean who attend college in the United States.

Certainly Rihanna’s contributions are nothing to sneeze on. Yet the more I read, the more I could not help but feel a bit resentful that our society seems to completely and utterly discount the consistent humanitarian efforts of social workers. I do not mean to disregard Rihanna’s charitable efforts nor do I know the extent of her philanthropic involvement or her motivations for such. Still, it is time that we acknowledge the challenging, tiresome, stressful, important, impactful and authentic work of social work for its humanitarian influence.

Each and every single day, more than half a million of us social workers (and people who function in the professional capacity of a social worker even if their titles differ) diligently go about the cause of promoting human welfare. They do it in schools and hospitals, in homeless shelters and in correctional institutions. They do it in private practice and in child welfare. They do it in refugee camps and during natural disasters. They do it in mental health clinics and community based agencies.

They do it quietly, humbly, and without expectation of acknowledgement. They do it in the early morning hours and long after many others have already gone home to their eager pets, their hungry children, their loving partners. They do it even when their day is done because it never leaves their hearts.

They do it in the face of adversity. They do it when others make it nearly impossible. They do it in situations that threaten their safety and challenge their values. They do it for little compensation and tons of bullshit.

They do it because they are passionate and sympathetic. They do it because they never want to stop learning, growing and practicing. They do it because they believe that at the core of the human condition is a resilient spirit. They do it because they believe people, no matter how old, how sick, how demoralized, can and do get better, get stronger, and find stability.

They freely give their limited supply of sympathy and empathy to hungry mouths, tired souls, needy hearts. They sit uncomfortably in the pain of others. They drown themselves in sorrows that are not theirs. They swim in seas of suffering not meant for them.

They protect. They serve. They stand and walk beside the most vulnerable, oppressed and broken citizens of our world. They speak for those with voices too meek.

They do not do it because they have unlimited resources from which to give. Social workers instead go about the cause of promoting human welfare because they are the world’s most genuine and unsung humanitarians.

No Mean City: Glasgow City Health Partners with Social Care in North East Glasgow

On World Social Work Day, alongside social workers across the world, we are celebrating our professional identity and ‘socialworkness’ while pausing to reflect on what we stand for on this day of unity.

I am privileged to serve as team leader in a large children and family’s team in Glasgow’s East End where I have worked for 15 years and lived for many more. The Glasgow Public Health and Social Care Partnership was designed to innovate and integrate community services in an effort to increase outcomes and efficiency in delivering services.

Sadly, the East End is often conveyed by negative media portrayals and by the grim reality of the outcome data for this community which includes high levels of child poverty, low levels of adult life expectancy, homelessness, addiction, criminality and many other social ills. However, this is not who we are…. by a long shot! There are real issues facing our communities presenting huge challenges which cannot be tackled in isolation from each other, but they do not define us.

The East End is a crazy, colourful and diverse local community with many strengths and amazingly resilient people who are known for their generosity, support and care for one another and their community spirit. My 10 year old son Peter was born here and loves this place.  He tells me he can’t imagine living anywhere else (unless near Real Madrid somewhere… #Ronaldo)!

We are an emotionally intelligent, resilient, caring, hard-working, ends-meeting, charity giving, Tunnocks teacake-eating, and football-supporting (the list goes on) diverse bunch of individuals and families. But, significantly and heart-warmingly so are the team of social workers I work with.

The same can be said for most of the social work teams in Glasgow, and other places in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and smaller towns I’ve been. Most of my colleagues, like myself, have ‘a social story’ which has led them down this career path. We do our jobs every day as much with our hearts as with our heads. It’s a vocation. We are care leavers, we are parents and grandparents who have received support from social work ourselves, we are survivors of the range of adversities life has brought to us as children and adults. We are from different countries and different cultures with a shared value base in our profession and our humanity.

We care about the hundreds of children and families we work with. As a team, we fight oppression and discrimination of any kind including the institutional type, and we have high caseloads and not enough pairs of hands. We team who have their own personal lives to run and deal with, but we come in every day to help families and one another to try and tackle the range of crisis and tasks at hand.

There is flexibility and team spiritedness second to none, which ensures we are keeping children safe and meeting their needs, but we are looking out for one another as well. A team I am very proud of and inspired to be a part of. We do however have our moments, understandably so, as our resilience and our emotions are tested continually. We dust ourselves down and get on with it for our families.

Our team is an interdisciplinary consortium of helping professionals which include social workers, educators and a variety of other healthcare professionals in effort to provide a holistic plan of care to the families we serve. There are also national organisations such as CELCIS who are committed to making positive and lasting improvements to the wellbeing of Scotland’s children living in and on the edges of care.

Families are the heart of our community. This is demonstrated by the huge kinship carer population we have around us, those extended family members who are willing to care for children when care is not possible for them in their parental setting. Unlike anywhere else in Scotland, we have around 1,300 kinship care placements.

We also have tremendous support within our community from the third sector, from early morning visits to help children to school, to evening groups for children, parenting supports, community respite carers.

On World Social Work Day, I want to give a big shout out from me to social workers globally and to my amazing colleagues. I am so proud to be a social worker in the East End, both personally and professionally. I want to say thank you for everything you do. This is not unique to my own doorstep, there are social work teams throughout the world who are doing similarly inspiring work. My message to them is to keep your chins up and your hearts strong. You all make a difference every day.

For more details of World Social Work Day see: .

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Celebrates World Social Work Day

Today is World Social Work Day, a time to honor social workers and recognize the contributions they bring to society.  As social workers play an instrumental role in the health and improved quality of life of individuals with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering a special discount, throughout the month of March, on its “AFA’s Partner’s in Care: Supporting Individuals with Dementia” training DVD.

“This month is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the profession as we recognize the more than 600,000 social workers across the country,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and chief executive officer. “Social workers are a vital part of the care team.  They face challenging issues on a daily basis, working with individuals and families, helping them to reach their full potential.  It is beneficial for them to have dementia-specific training so they can learn how to make a greater impact in the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.”

Social workers help individuals increase their ability to solve problems, cope with stress, and find valuable resources.  It is always advantageous for health care professional to increase their knowledge, especially when it comes to disease-specific topics.

The “AFA Partners in Care” training series assists health care professionals in gaining a better understanding of dementia, learning effective communication strategies, facilitating care transitions and developing relationships with the individuals in their care in order to foster more meaningful living. It also includes tips and strategies for professional self-care.  Developed by healthcare professionals for healthcare professionals, the program is appropriate for a variety of disciplines. 

Individuals who complete the program and pass the associated exam can pursue designation as an AFA Dementia Care Partner. They will also be eligible for six continuing education contact hours.  Social workers can order the “AFA Partners in Care” training DVD, and take advantage of the discount, which is only $150 this month, by contacting Molly Fogel, AFA’s director of educational and social services, at 866-232-8484 x131 or mfogel@alzfdn.org.

Social Work Day at the United Nations

Social Work Day at the UN 2007 Photo Credit: Monmouth University

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Agenda is a plan of action for people, the planet, and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.

The Agenda recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.

It resolves to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. The agenda is determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what they did not achieve.

They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social, and environmental. The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet, and social workers plan to be an important part of this transformation.

The International Federation of Social Workers and the International Association of School of Social Work are pleased to announce the 34th Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations is scheduled for Monday, April 17, 2017, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Monmouth University School of Social Work will begin registration on March 20, 2017.

Social Work Day at the UN is a gathering place for people around the world who are working to make a difference. For 34 years students, practitioners, and educators have been convening at the UN to learn more about the United Nations, global goals, innovative projects, and issues related to increasing outcomes for women, children, and families around the world.

The Intersection Between the Worldwide Refugee Crisis and Human Trafficking

Bilal Hussein/AP

The worldwide refugee crisis, largely spurred by the historic mass migration of people from war-torn Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, are seeking refuge around the world. Many of these individuals are unaccompanied minors and are at even greater risk of exploitation with no social support from their family and sometimes no support from the host country where they are seeking refuge. Some of these individuals have been targeted by human traffickers who are taking this opportunity to exploit their vulnerability.

Many unaccompanied refugee youth have entered the sex industry in Greece as a result having no other means to support themselves. Many are teenage boys, a group often overlooked as potential sex trafficking victims, are trading sex to meet their basic needs. Many of these youth have nowhere to stay and no way to support themselves. This is a commonality with many runaways in the United States that are lured into the sex industry with the promise of a having some place to stay. CNN also reported there are around 1200 unaccompanied minors living on the streets of Greece with no place to stay—but it is believed to be much higher.

Other reports suggest approximately 10,000 unaccompanied refugee minors are unaccounted for and may have been trafficked by underground criminal networks. The United Kingdom is proposing to halt unaccompanied refugee minors entry into the country after only accepting 350 of them. Advocates fear this move will lead to an increase in human trafficking while leaving them with no formal support system and no ability to stay in their war-torn home countries.

Meanwhile, in the United States unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America and other countries are also at risk. In 2014, several unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America were accidentally released by a shelter to human traffickers and forced to work on an egg farm in Ohio where traffickers threatened to kill them if they left. When historic numbers of unaccompanied minors entered the US in 2014, there was an increase in trafficking visas issued to children as traffickers once again exploited this vulnerable population.

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been targeting the religious minority Yazidi, forcing them to flee as refugees. Many of the women and girls have been captured by ISIS militants and forced to ‘marry’ or are used as sex slaves for the men. Again, like other victims of human trafficking, the women and girls are systematically raped and traded among ISIS fighters. The New York Times estimates that 3,144 Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive. One courageous Yazidi woman escaped her captivity and has been telling her story to bring awareness of the
others that are still being held captive.

Human trafficking is an exploitation of vulnerability and refugees can be among the most vulnerable populations. As a result, it is necessary that providers be aware of the potential risk factors leading to trafficking, be able to identify and assess for trafficking, and be able to provide trauma-informed care to those that may have been trafficked. This is a clear issue of social justice and re-emphasizes the humanitarian necessity of assisting vulnerable refugee populations—particularly children. Likewise, policy can be crucial in providing the resources to
support refugee populations that may be at risk.

With the scale of the problem being so vast, complex, and multi-faceted, it can feel like any effort at combatting this issue cannot possibly make an impact. Yet, social workers are at the intersection of mental health, the medical field, the justice system and the school system as well as various social service agencies. Social workers may likely be the first to identify a trafficking victim which places us in a unique position to make a real difference for this population.

What can you do to help?

    • Educate yourself on the issue of human trafficking and let others know what you’ve learned. Attend a workshop or training on this issue.
    • Learn how to assess whether an individual may be trafficked. As a social worker, you may be the first person to identify a potential trafficking victim.
    • If you think someone may be trafficked report a tip to the Polaris Project hotline: at 1888-373-7888.
    • Host a film screening on the human trafficking to raise awareness, such as A Path Appears.
    • Make a donation to an agency working with survivors. Tangible needs for survivors of human trafficking may include: clothing, toiletries, money for rental assistance/getting a first apartment, bus passes. This can include international agencies working with survivors.
    • Survivors of human trafficking also have long-term needs in order for them to become self-sufficient. This may include GED classes or ESL classes, medical services, counseling services, job placement services and immigration services. Consider whether your agency may be willing to help provide some of these services for survivors.
    • Become a mentor for a survivor. Continue to advocate for vulnerable refugee populations around the world, particularly unaccompanied minors who may be at the greatest risk. Educate others on the worldwide refugee crisis and our responsibility as social workers to take a role in addressing this issue as one of social justice.

While it is an audacious goal, we must aspire to end human trafficking in our time and renew our commitment to serving vulnerable refugee populations. As abolitionist William Wilberforce is quoted as saying, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

The Savvy Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media and the Internet

Social media is ever-present and will only continue to grow. As such, social workers need to know how to ethically and successfully navigate the many paths of the online world to protect themselves and more importantly, their clients. Social media in particular can be used in a myriad of ways from networking with other professionals to marketing your practice.

How Social Media Can Be Useful for Social Workers

  • Network with other providers. In addition to networking in person with local social workers, social media platforms give you connections ranging from your own neighborhood to all over the world. While there’s no shortage of social media platforms to choose from, Facebook is clearly the front-runner based on audience engagement according to Tech Times’ analysis of comScore’s data. Below is a chart comparing audience engagement across the top social media platforms.

Due to Facebook’s popularity, there’s a good chance you’ll find a group pertaining to an area of social work that interests you.

Do you want to connect with private practice therapists? There are groups for that.

Are you interested in networking with child welfare or geriatric workers? There are groups for that.

Are you interested social work pertaining to social justice or advocacy? You guessed it – there are groups for that, too!

Your best bet is to get into a secret or closed group. A closed group can be searched for and anyone can find it, but you have to be approved to join and your posts are only seen by members. A secret group is a group you are invited to join so it’s not searchable.

  • Build reputation and showcase expertise. People look up their providers on the web all the time and clients will search for you. If you have professional blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, or Pinterest accounts that are public – you control the story you let others see. You choose content that allows clients to get to know you, the practitioner.
  • Use social media to enhance your motivation for your career. Create and develop Pinterest boards with your social work interests. And while you’re at it, blog about social justice issues that are important to you. Exploring your area of interests can remind you why you love what you do!
  • Use discussion boards to connect with other social workers. Engage in conversations about policy and procedures, or concerns with other professionals. You might join a listserv, a therapy site, or even LinkedIn – interact with other professionals, gain knowledge, and share your own thoughts.

How the Internet Can Be Useful for Social Workers

  • Take advantage of online educational opportunities. There are plenty of options online for Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs in social work and related fields. There are also certificates you can earn online to hone your skills and increase credibility. You are no longer confined to your community to find preferred training classes. Online courses are offered for virtually any aspect or specialty of social work.
  • Tele-social work is an option. Online platforms allow social workers to see and talk to their clients, and provide services like therapy, without ever having to step into an office! This can be ideal for clients who live in rural areas, lack the means for proper transportation, or are just having difficulty getting to a traditional office. Using telehealth to reach clients is becoming steadily more popular among doctors and other health providers.

Ethical Considerations

  • Get educated about on-line rules and regulations. Look into classes and certification courses you can take regarding online etiquette. Know that most email is not confidential, and that a telehealth platform has to be HIPAA compliant. With all of the rules governing social work and social media, it’s essential for you to be informed so you don’t make an inadvertent mistake. You can use the following infographic by Scrypt as a quick reference for using social media without violating any HIPAA regulations.
  • Don’t talk about clients online. If you must – keep it in the broadest sense possible. Don’t include any identifying information about your client, not even gender. Social workers often want to share cases and funny stories with their colleagues, or ask for advice from others in the field. Be aware that what you write could get out for anyone to see. Even in a private Facebook group, you’re not going to know all the people who can see the posts.

Before writing anything about a client, consider how they would feel if they knew what you were writing about them. If you are looking for feedback, ask broader questions instead of focusing on a specific client. Instead of saying “I have a client with PTSD and am wondering…?” Try asking “What interventions can people use to help alleviate someone’s symptoms of PTSD?”

  • Avoid looking up your clients online. It is human nature to want to find out more, but doing so can harm the therapeutic relationship. A client will tell you only what they are comfortable sharing. If they ask you to read a blog post they wrote or look up something they were featured in, then by all means do so. When tempted to look, ask yourself what you’ll do with the information you find, and what’s your purpose for searching it out? If it’s simply for the sake of curiosity – stop.
  • Whether you work for a private practice or in an agency, it is vital to have a social media policy in place. Let your clients know you won’t friend them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Set that boundary. You can like, respect, and have an excellent therapeutic relationship with a client, but you are NOT their friend.
  • Nothing truly disappears on the Internet. Even if you delete a tweet or blog post – it’s still findable. It is a good rule to not put anything on the Internet you wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone you know – including grandma and your boss – seeing. If you have a personal Facebook page, blog, or other social media account – keep the privacy settings high. Realize even when you post privately, your post isn’t always private. It comes down to not writing or posting anything that you are not willing to be a representation of you to the world.

Like many professions in the 21st century, the Internet has been an amazing asset to social workers. This technology allows us to connect with peers, colleagues, and clients from all over the world, but it can also land you in hot water if you’re not careful. Luckily there’s a vast supply of online resources and courses you can take to help you have a successful and secure virtual presence.

Oncology Social Workers: Patient and Family Advocates

When the profession began in the 1960s, oncology social work focused on providing palliative care. Defined as “interdisciplinary, person- and family-centered health care for individuals and families affected by serious or life-limiting illness,” palliative care seeks to “relieve pain, other symptoms and stress of the illness, thereby optimizing quality of life,” according to an article from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Oncology social work later added a number of other services to people living with cancer and their families. Today, the growing specialty has become a vital part of cancer care.

Understanding Oncology Social Work

Service Areas

The Association of Oncology Social Work identifies four service areas for scope of practice in oncology social work.

  • Services to cancer survivors, families and caregivers through clinical practice. Comprehensive psychosocial services and programs: assist survivors in navigating through health care systems; foster coping and adaptation to cancer and its effects; mobilize resources for social and emotional support; and advocate with or on behalf of survivors, families and caregivers.
  • Services to institutions and agencies to increase their understanding of cancer and ability to provide quality psychosocial programs and care. This includes collaboration with other professionals for quality psychosocial care, education and research; education and consultation to professionals and staff about factors that impact cancer care; and development of programs and resources to address the needs of cancer survivors.
  • Services to the community that strengthen programs, resources and services available to meet the needs of cancer survivors. This includes education of communities to increase awareness of the psychosocial needs of survivors, families and caregivers; collaboration in development of special programs and resources to address community-based needs; and collaboration with community agencies to remove barriers to cancer prevention, screening and early detection, and access to care.
  • Services to the profession. This includes support of the appropriate orientation, supervision and evaluation of clinical social workers in oncology; participation in and promotion of student training and professional education in oncology social work; and advancement of knowledge through clinical and other research.

Role as Patient and Family Advocates

Oncology social workers provide a large number of services to those facing cancer, health care institutions, the community and the profession, but their role as patient and family advocate is central.

“If you talk to 10 different social workers, you’ll get 10 different answers of what they assist with,” Jennifer Bires, program coordinator for the cancer center at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, D.C., told NASW. “They provide help to patients and their families, from the start of diagnosis to survivorship, and, if it unfortunately comes to it, the end of life.”

“Oncology social workers provide information on resources, medical and insurance coverage, and how to talk to your family and the children in your lives about cancer,” Penny Damaskos, director of the social work department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “We are patient and family advocates. We provide assistance in coping with the diagnosis to patients and families all along the disease continuum, teach relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety, lead psycho-educational support groups, help individuals transition to survivorship, and conduct research about all of the above.”

Changes in the delivery and quality of health care have increased the focus on oncology social workers’ role as advocates. “We are in the middle of a huge transition in medical care coverage and delivery in this country,” Damaskos said. “This massive change impacts oncology patients tremendously, and now more than ever, we are advocates for individuals as they undergo treatment and move into the post-treatment phase of the cancer experience. Due to advances in treatment options and screening techniques, more people are living with cancer as a chronic illness.”

Oncology Social Worker Salary

Role-specific salary data for oncology social workers is unavailable. However, social workers who have a Master of Social Work degree and practice in hospitals and medical centers (which describes most oncology social workers) earn a median annual salary of $60,000, according to a salary analysis from NASW.

Bires and Grace Christ, professor emerita at the Columbia University School of Social Work, agree that there will be more employment opportunities for oncology social workers in the future. This is partly the result of an initiative in the late 1990s to early 2000s that examined the treatment of people with cancer. “During that time, it was realized that care for cancer patients was very treatment-focused, very physically focused, so there was an emphasis to integrate more psychosocial components,” Christ said. “Cancer is a disease that affects people in many different ways besides the physical.”

Bires adds that the need for psychosocial care in oncology will only increase. “Oncology social work is a hopeful field because as the community at large realizes cancer is not just a ‘medical’ illness — it affects the whole being of a patient, and their families — we will see more jobs open up,” she said.

How to Become an Oncology Social Worker

The first step to becoming an oncology social worker is earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. This is the most common requirement to start working in the social work profession in entry-level positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some employers may hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

An oncology social worker is a type of clinical social worker, and to perform clinical work, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is needed. MSW programs develop clinical assessment and management skills. By earning an MSW degree, graduates enhance their careers and choose specialties such as oncology social work.

Aurora University’s online BSW and online MSW programs prepare graduates for careers in direct-service positions and clinical social work. In a flexible and convenient online learning environment, students learn the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their field. Aurora University’s programs are Chicagoland’s only CSWE accredited online programs.

Building a Political Agenda for Social Work

The foundational values of human rights and social justice have always been compounded with socialism and social democracy as core ideals and “right principles” of social work. Social workers are committed to promote human rights, social justice and address the root causes of poverty, oppression and inequalities.

The “Global Agenda” launched in 2012 by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), and the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) has reinforced this commitment. In that sense, social workers need to understand and analyze the impact of change on social welfare and the transformation of society towards values of equality, human well-being, social justice, and citizens’ participation.

The nature and operation of institutions and economic systems and the distribution of resources and power are also core commitments for social work. Thus, the pursuit of social justice in the twenty-first century requires that social workers acknowledge the political dimensions of all practices and the need to engage in multifaceted struggles to regain influence within the political and public arena.

Therefore, social work needs to strengthen its progressive values and influence the understanding of social problems and social relations through a materialist perspective. Social work also needs to focus its commitment on the impact of the wider social structures such as class, injustice, power, oppression, exploitation, domination and inequality promoted and reinforced by capitalism. Under the current neoliberal paradigm of austerity and market justice, social work needs to see society as a struggle between groups with competing interests.

Social work should focus upon economic and political institutions that influence and are influenced by institutions supported by the dominant neoliberal ideology. The central concern of social work should be, power – both personal and political – and how the powerful elites define and constrain the most vulnerable and working classes. Thus, social work needs to criticize the dominant institutions, advocate for their dismantling and suggest a vision of transformation. In other words, social work should seek to transform the conditions and social structures that cause these inequalities in order to contribute to the transformation of the current society to one that is more congruent with the principles of social justice.

Why Ideology Matters?

Ideologies are systems of beliefs that guide our choices and behaviors, and indeed justify our thoughts and actions. As Bailey and Gayle explain, structures, systems of power and advantage play a central role in maintaining the development of points of view. In this sense, it is important to see the world through an ideological lens. Why? Because ideology relates to power and the distribution of power in society. In questioning this relationship, social work has the opportunity to achieve a new moment for social and political action in accordance with its own values and commitments.

The Ideology in Social Work

Social work in Western countries has lost its political direction. It has failed to clarify its own ideology and to preserve its own values and ethical commitments. Social work emerged from working-class movements for social justice and became in time a mediator between the state and the people. Social work values are guided by the pursuit of socialism and social democracy. Thus, socialism and social democracy are embedded in social work values and commitments.

Both have a common understanding and sharing interests about the collective needs in relationship to the individual. They also believe that social justice is a goal for all in society. Those actions and policies to achieve social justice will emerge from a more equitable distribution of wealth and knowledge among classes. Social work needs to rebuild a new relation between the political and social movements, based on the recognition of the rights and claims of the citizens. Economic and material needs are a key priority for citizens and social work should advocate for them through political and social action.

The state has a fundamental obligation to play a major role in the maximization of social equality. The collective goals of the community must be respected. The distribution of resources should serve the public good, not the private needs. Another important element in achieving social justice is the recognition of class interests and the gendered and ethnic class locations within society. In that sense, “The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development” needs to bring and reinforce the ideological dimension as the central focus of social work in order to social work pursue political and social action.

(Building) a Political Agenda for Social Work

According to McKendrick and Webb in Taking A Political Stance in Social Work, “taking a political stance in social work necessarily involves a close historical examination of the influence of social and economic structures as well as the constituting context of relations of domination”.  In that sense, social work needs to rebuild its own political strategy to confront structures that need transformation. Thus, to build a political strategy some key questions should be defined: should social work take a conflict perspective?

What can social work do to reinforce its own progressive values within society? How should social work position itself between citizens and competing neoliberal interests? What is the political agenda of social work? How can we promote social justice without pursuing a conflict perspective?

Social workers cannot be servants of financial capitalism and supervisors of expenditure of the most vulnerable. Neoliberalism brought managerialism, corporatisation and performance as key demands for social work. McKendrick and Webb also argues that “the ‘spirit of capitalism’ is the ideology that justifies people’s commitment to capitalism, and which renders this commitment attractive within the mainstream society”.

Social work needs to build a strategy rooted in ideology that will confront and transform the nature of capitalist exploitation that affects the most vulnerable citizens, and the working class. As McKendrick and Webb acknowledge, “social work, inevitably operates within a ‘grand tension’ of refusing the dominant order while at the same time being contaminated by this very order”.

However, social work should clearly advocate for a large public sector which is directly provided by state allocation. Education and health care should be provided as decommodified public goods. Economic and material needs should also be at the forefront of any social work political strategy, such as the debate and implementation of a basic income that will enhance people’s standard of living. Moreover, immigration and refugee policies should also be key priorities in which social work should advocate and lobby for them.

The “Global Agenda” is embedded in progressive social work values, so it should define and promote a political strategy to pursue and respect those values in order to contribute to the transformation of the root causes of social and economic inequalities.

The Migrant Crisis: Rediscovering the Politics of Hope

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 alone. This has been the largest movement of people fleeing persecution in modern European history. The political and humanitarian crisis we have been witnessing is fuelled by conflicts in Northern and Eastern Africa, in the Middle East and Central Asia. The constant flow of images of destruction, death and devastation from regions affected by conflict can only serve as a reminder of the horrors of colonial and sectarian politics. European governments have been historically involved, one way or another, in all those conflicts. Unashamedly, they still do. Let’s not forget that what is described at the moment as the removal process of ‘vicious and evil regimes’ in most cases refers to regimes selected, installed and supported by western countries.

The response to the migrant crisis has exposed a fascinating discrepancy between European governments and European societies. In 2015 alone, 3,406 men, women and children instead of finding a safe haven in Europe, died brutally in their effort to reach the continent. This was mainly due to the stubborn and unprincipled decision of European Governments to turn Europe into a Fortress of cruelty and intolerance, refusing to ensure safe passage to asylum seekers. Instead of providing a safe land passage, a number of walls and barriers were erected. Ironically, this happened almost a quarter of century after the fall of the berlin wall, when the people of Europe emphatically pronounced a ‘walls no more’ commitment.

Nevertheless, over the last couple of years we have witnessed a plethora of grassroots responses showing that an alternative Europe already exists. Among others, these were expressed through the spontaneous acts of Greek islanders who despite the economic crisis provided unconditional support to those reaching Greek shores. It was reflected in the way German and Austrian societies warmly welcomed refugees. It was crystalized in the way British and French activists challenged the brutality of their governments that had led to the creation of the Calais ‘jungle’. An alternative Europe of humanity and social justice has been shaped through the small acts of millions of Europeans who refused to accept bigotry, coercion and xenophobia as ‘European values’.

In several cases, social workers supported those movements through their direct work with refugees, awareness raising activities, and solidarity events. SWAN, EASSW and IFSW were instrumental in facilitating and coordinating solidarity activities. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the power of numerous spontaneous and grassroots activities organized by social workers across Europe, outside the radar of established social work organisations. As the EU seems determined to ‘outsource’ the refugee crisis and divert it to non-European countries, in 2016 social workers will need to achieve a far better level of co-ordination and actively work with social movements.

Of course social work’s involvement in supporting refugees, even under the most extreme of circumstances, is not new. Our profession has a very proud history of supporting refugees and extending genuine solidarity with those fleeing war and persecution. Numerous stories of sacrifice are a testament to this fact. To mention but a few, between 1940 and 1943 Irena Sendler, Polish-Jewish social worker saved nearly 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto through the creation of underground networks.

Also, African American social worker, Thyra Edwards, who strongly believed at the universal nature of the struggle against all oppressions, left the US in 1936 and travelled to Barcelona in order to support displaced children through dedicated work at the Rosa Luxembourg Children Colony. She also helped the evacuation of children from Francoist Spain, often through clandestine networks. Janusz Korczak, educator and orphanage director, demonstrated that the true meaning of pedagogy is supporting and empowering the most oppressed people in society when he refused freedom and stayed with Jewish orphans as they were was sent from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. He stayed with the children and he died with them in the Nazi gas chambers.

Today, Social workers find themselves in a unique position in society, as they are usually among the first to witness the catastrophic consequences of marketization and austerity. They work at the sharp edge of society, at the point where government policies on the most vulnerable people in society come into direct effect. Day in, day out they see how poverty and inequality crush people’s lives and aspirations. They know all too well that poverty and unemployment have never been the result of ‘feeble’, lazy or immoral individuals. On the contrary they recognize that millions of people across Europe have been stripped of the opportunities to well being and happiness on the basis of where and by whom were they born.

In these extraordinary times, social work educators and practitioners, once again are expected to be in the frontline of the academic, political and social struggle for the defence of human rights and social justice. The mobilization of international and national social work organisations has been both crucial and necessary.

Walking The Walk is The New Activism

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

In times of change, challenge, and disillusionment, you might be feeling like you want to stand up, speak up, and protest. If you are a helping professional that urge might be so strong and very deeply rooted in the foundations of your vocational role.

You want to take people by the shoulders and knock some sense into them. Are you the only one who can see what is wrong with this picture? Someone has to do something.

When things happen in our society that we don’t understand or don’t agree with, the Internal Activist comes to the forefront. We must help educate people! We must stand up for what is right! We must speak out against the wrongness of the situation.

Protests and demonstrations have taken place throughout history and are occurring in our world right now. Many protests have resulted in more violence, more problems to solve and a greater degree of separation. Sometimes, it changes things and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, things get better and sometimes they get worse.

Embody A New Way

If we want to create change, open minds, or change the world, it is time to embody a new way.

When someone is doing something we find offensive, perhaps, they are acting out of ignorance or maybe, they just don’t care. One of the first things we try to do is make them understand. We are convinced if they just had all the facts and could see how this situation affects so many people in adverse ways, they would stop and would be on board with our mission and it would all be fine. And sometimes, this is all it takes.

I recall a conversation with a young man I worked with many years ago. He had sustained a traumatic brain injury and he was convinced that other people needed to understand how challenging life was for him. He just knew that if they understood brain injury and all that comes with it, they would behave differently, they would choose differently, and life would be easier for him.

Any of us who have a cause in life often feel this way. Other people need to understand ______ fill in the blank. The cold hard truth of the matter is that they don’t need to understand. They really don’t. Quite often, we are not motivated to understand the plight of others unless we are somehow personally impacted by it.

Well, unless you are someone who is guided to be of service.

Don’t judge the judger. If we meet someone else’s offensive remarks or lack of empathy with our own judgement and inability to understand, we are just adding more of the same energy to the situation. Nothing changes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Ramming our beliefs and knowledge down other people’s throats does not open the doors to understanding ~ it creates defensiveness and shuts down communication.

Guidelines for A New Activism

So, stand up. Speak up. And consider the following suggestions:

  1. As Mother Teresa suggested, “Be for something instead of Against something.” Stay focused on what you wish to create instead of what you oppose. Put your energy into being the embodiment of whatever it is. If you want peace, be peaceful in your communication. Bring a peaceful presence. If you don’t bring what you wish to see, that energy may not be there at all. Result ~ Things stay the same and you remain frustrated.
  1. Be willing to be wrong. Things might look dismal now AND it is still possible that there is much in any situation that can be used for good ~ much that can happen to move towards a more positive outcome. You are being challenged to maintain the essence of Unconditional Positive Regard. Result ~ You feel powerful in your own actions by staying true to your personal values.
  1. Do not let someone else’s behaviour dictate your actions. Resist the urge to define them by it. No matter how challenging it can be, you are always responsible for what you choose to do ~ No. Matter. What. Separating the person from the behaviour is helpful in reaching a place of non-judgement and opens the door to understanding. Stay curious and maintain personal responsibility. Result ~ Your Freedom.
  1. In the face of fear and all the “what ifs”, remain hopeful. You can either add to the drama by hopping on the fear train to nowhere or you can stay centered in a place of hope inside of your heart. Expect a miracle. Hope for the best. Keep your eyes open so you can respond as you need to and keep yourself protected on all levels. If you have to think in terms of “what if” try following that statement with the outcome you wish to see. “What if this could all turn out well in the end?” What if? Result ~ Your peace.

Perhaps, this comes across as “pie-in-the-sky” to some, and I’m okay with that. Detaching from the outcome and the reactions of others is also a powerful practice. Remember, at the end of the day, you stand in front of your own mirror; you lie in bed with your own thoughts and feelings. This is where you have immense power to be the creator of your own experience.

As you step more fully into this place of power and commitment to your own sense of well being and peace, you demonstrate who you are in this world, and you walk the walk. It may be the most powerful statement you ever make.

What Can We Do to Help Support Refugee Resettlement in the United States?

With the recent change in administration, many questions remain in regard to the potential policy changes that may affect refugees being resettled in the United States, and have already started to affect refugees.

Most notable the executive orders that have been recently signed will have an impact on the number of refugees being received, the countries we will accept refugees from, as well as a proposed suspension of any refugee resettlement for 120 days.

This comes largely as a result of the negative rhetoric that came out of the campaign from various candidates, but most notably from the President elect. We have an obligation to educate the public on who refugees really are, to advocate for and defend policies to resettle refugees in the United States, and to support refugees that are arriving or are already here.

Refugees arriving in the United States are a diverse group, including those from Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma. The commonality among these individuals is that they are all fleeing due to a, “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” as defined by the United Nations.

They represent many different religious backgrounds, languages and cultures. Welcoming refugees is woven in the fabric of our history and culture, with the first refugee legislation enacted in 1948. Over three million refugees have been resettled since 1975 from 70 countries around the world.

The United States has welcomed refugees fleeing Europe as a result of World War II, refugees escaping the former Soviet Union, those who came as a result of the war in Vietnam, Cubans, those from the former Yugoslavia as well as the more recent arrivals previously mentioned.

While refugees are welcomed primarily for humanitarian reasons they also bring benefits to the community they are being resettled in. Firstly, refugees contribute to their local communities economically. They are eager to work, and have been shown to retain their jobs longer than native born individuals. Many refugees have an entrepreneurial spirit and are more likely to start their own businesses.

Aside from that, in some cities that have lost population or that have aging populations, refugees are viewed as not only adding population but also contributing to the economy and enriching the community by sharing their culture. This has been seen in cities like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Rutland, Vermont who is making a concerted effort to welcome refugees. Refugees should be viewed as resilient for having survived
unimaginable circumstances.

What can social workers or those interested in supporting refugees do to help? Firstly, let your opinions be known to your elected representatives. Policy action is the crucial to maintain the existing resettlement programs. Secondly, support resettlement agencies and refugees in your community. Make your city a ‘welcoming’ community for those who are newly arriving. This may mean training police, schools and social service agencies on who refugees are and being prepared to provide culturally appropriate services. Furthermore, donate to your local resettlement agency.

Many resettlement agencies may be in need of gently used furniture and clothing for newly arriving refugees. Resettlement agencies are also in need of volunteers to help set-up apartments, as well as helping refugees to learn life skills like taking the bus or tutoring them in English. If you are a business owner, hire a refugee. Employment is crucial for newly arriving refugees to integrate into their new communities.

Finally, educate others on who refugees are and why it is important to maintain this program. Refugees are not a traditional population that social work or social workers tend to focus on and this should change. Supporting refugees is an issue of social justice—refugee resettlement saves lives. In no other case is this more apparent than of those fleeing Syria, as the war continues to rage with no end in sight. Yet the United States has been slow to accept these refugees and is now proposing effectively ending resettlement of Syrians. In stark contrast to this are the Canadians who met their goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees last year.

We need to mobilize to defend the integrity of this program and affirm that this is a key social justice issue for social workers to focus their efforts on.

Self Care is a Requirement

Ensuring the self care of social work staff is an organisational requirement. No matter which way you look at it, social work organisations are required to look out for the safety and wellbeing of their staff. It is a basic occupational health and safety requirement, and it is also one many organisations are failing.

Every day we meet with social workers who are burning out. Caseloads are too high and ever more complex, staff are working longer hours some even without pay and to top it off we are having to defend our jobs everywhere. Many staff feel that they can’t take holidays and many managers would prefer if they didn’t. Taking a mental health day is getting harder and of course there is a form to fill out. In short, our sector is feeling the increasing strain brought about by the neoliberalist agenda.

So what’s the solution? Revolution! As a sector we need to stop blindly following in the ways which have got us in this position. We need to find the difference. Start by making sure the organisation you work for have clear policies about staff care. If they don’t lobby for them. Put self care in your work plan. Bring it up in supervision sessions. Take your allocated holidays and advocate for more, one great organisation we know gives staff a week for reflection. Bring self care up at staff meetings.

According to the article Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction: Top 12 Self-Care Tips for Helpers:

Dr Charles Figley, world renowned trauma expert and pioneer researcher in the field of helper burnout has called compassion fatigue a “disorder that affects those who do their work well” (1995) It is characterized by deep emotional and physical exhaustion, symptoms resembling depression and PTSD and by a shift in the helper’s sense of hope and optimism about the future and the value of their work.

The level of compassion fatigue a helper experiences can ebb and flow from one day to the next, and even very healthy helpers with optimal life/work balance and self care strategies can experience a higher than normal level of compassion fatigue when they are overloaded, are working with a lot of traumatic content, or find their case load suddenly heavy with clients who are all chronically in crisis.

Compassion fatigue can strike the most caring and dedicated nurses, social workers, physicians and personal support workers alike. These changes can affect both their personal and professional lives with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, intrusive imagery, loss of hope, exhaustion and irritability. It can also lead to profound shifts in the way helpers view the world and their loved ones. Additionally, helpers may become dispirited and increasingly cynical at work, they may make clinical errors, violate client boundaries, lose a respectful stance towards their clients and contribute to a toxic work environment. Read Full Article

If you are a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your staff are looked after. We all know that the better staff are treated the more they perform. If you are a frontline worker you must look after yourself. If you don’t you are doing a disservice to your clients and ultimately the profession of social work.


Windows into a Life in Poverty and Lessons for Social Workers


Living in poverty is more than not having enough money to meet an arbitrary threshold. For many, a life in poverty is one of perpetual disappointment, missed opportunities, self-loathing and blame. Recognizing these feelings in others, and the impact they have on us professionally, is an important step in creating change. A simple transaction at a thrift store, or a quick inventory of gas purchases, can open our eyes to so much more.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself browsing the racks at a nearby thrift store, shopping for clothes for my upcoming second child. As I haphazardly tossed one-dollar onesies and two-dollar leggings into a growing mound in my cart, I observed another woman, presumably a mom like me, anxiously moving through the store aisles. She carefully scrutinized each item and, even more carefully, examined the price tag. Surveying items that held promise, she would look at the cost and quickly place them back on the rack.

I encountered this woman again at the checkout. She had ended up with four or five items—clothing for a small boy–and paid for the items using carefully counted nickels, dimes, and pennies.

As I got back to my car, I couldn’t help but feel great sorrow for this woman; too poor to buy many of the second hand items she wanted for her young son, and pulling from the bottom of the barrel to provide him with a few essentials. As a mom, I could intimately relate to the deep-seeded desire to provide for your children, and the failure and humiliation we feel when we can’t do that as well as we feel we should.

I, however, had visited the thrift store because I am thrifty, not poor. I can’t stomach the prices at fancy children’s clothing stores for items my child will likely wear once. I have never been unable to purchase clothes for my kids for financial reasons. I have never had to worry that my family won’t have enough of what they need.

Of course, my assumptions could be off. There are undoubtedly multiple scenarios for the woman’s behavior, and there are certainly those who would presume this mom’s prior bad choices or poor money management had gotten her to the place she was that day.  But as a social worker, these are the experiences I can’t help but internalize and analyze. Like many social workers and other helping professionals, I can’t help but feel the pangs of sadness and anxiety, observing the lives of those who struggle to make ends meet.

These observations offer a window into the reality of living in poverty; an unending series of difficult decisions and stress, feelings of unworthiness and humiliation, excited to watch your children grow, but scared about what it will mean for your tight budget. Research increasingly points to the impact of poverty on cognitive functioning and physical health, which is likely no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field. As social workers, observing and internalizing these feelings is a part of what makes participating in this profession so profound, yet often so painful.

This is certainly not my only experience which offered a glimpse into the daily lives of the poor, and if you gathered a group of social workers to discuss, they could most likely build a long list. Both in practice and in our daily interactions in the community, we see it. Some are more obvious. Observations of diapers not changed because there are too few to get through to the next pay, bare cupboards during a home visit, moms who stay with abusive partners to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

Others are less obvious. One dollar lunches at a fast-food restaurant, kids in too-small clothing. A mother snapping at her child who asks for something at the store, not out of anger at the child, but anger with herself for always having to say no. I keenly remember, several years back, watching a low-income parent at a birthday party interacting with the other moms and dads. One mom was gleefully sharing about an upcoming family event in the community. “Only five dollars per child!” she exclaimed. I saw the other mom hesitate, look down, shame in her eyes. Five dollars per child? Easier said than done.

My father, a life-long advocate for low-income people, has many times encouraged people to take a glance at the gas pumps in any given community when they stop for gas. In wealthy and middle class communities, pumps will show recent purchases of $30, $40, even $50 dollars. Full tanks, gas flowing until the pump clicks, symbolic of the abundance in the community. What about a glance at the tanks in poor communities? Purchases totaling $2, $4—gas purchased one or two gallons at a time, as money becomes available (sometimes borrowed or found) — to support a single trip to the store, or the doctor, or work. This strategizing with scarcity is a prime example of the difficult day-to-day decision making that plagues many in low-income communities.

Much like identifying signs of child abuse and neglect, social workers are often the first to observe these seemingly insignificant behaviors. And while others may be quick to blame poor judgement or character deficits for these unfortunate circumstances, we as social workers can see them as symptoms of a larger problem. We can choose to believe that all people, regardless of income, have the desire and the right to care for their families, have meaningful work, and participate in the community. We can choose to view these conditions as motivation for why we must take care of one another.

Internalizing the pain that these families and individuals feel, day after day, is an occupational hazard that we can’t completely avoid. Sometimes these feelings can seem like a burden too great to bear. Compassion fatigue is very real, and we must always remain mindful of the need for rigorous self-care. But it is important not to ignore these instincts, as it exactly these feelings of empathy and care for others that are at the root of our profession, and that can serve as a call to act. I would encourage us to use these experiences and our reactions as ammunition to become better helping professionals.

These interactions can provide us with needed inspiration to keep going in our pursuit of social justice. In daily practice, there are small opportunities. We can provide families with information on free community events so parents can still feel the pride and joy of giving their child a new experience. We can organize a clothing swap among low-income clients to share gently used items. If there are no options for free diapers in our community, we can work to create one. When interacting with clients, we can consider the physical, cognitive, and emotional implications for those living a life clouded by scarcity. More broadly, we can bring these issues to light to our decisions makers, locally and beyond, in the hopes of developing sustainable solutions.

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