Where are the Social Workers, and Why Are They Missing from the Global Conversation?

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Human rights, economic inequality, access to clean water, and improving educational outcomes are consistent narratives mentioned in the media on a daily basis. Where are the social workers, and why are we missing from the national conversation?

Media outlets are constantly reporting on the challenges and barriers facing teachers, nurses, and law enforcement. However, the social work community appears to be invisible. There is no doubt in my mind that Social Workers are the restorative power and profession of hope, but this power must be manifested into united action. The current structure of our profession promotes fragmentation and isolation of social workers with different focuses into smaller groups.

Social Workers are the single factor that permeates through every spectrum affecting the human condition. Social workers are in hospitals, schools, social service agencies, care facilities, prisons, and police departments. Although we may not use the title, social workers can be found holding positions in the government, private sector, nonprofits, and even in Congress.

I believe that removing barriers preventing intra-communication, collaboration, and sharing of ideas and resources within our profession is the single most important factor in solving issues facing our communities as well as uniting our profession. With the austerity cuts to public agencies, we must be even more innovative in pooling our resources and responding by not being invisible anymore.

Uniting Social Workers with different areas of focus would be the most powerful force needed to address the important issues facing society today. Our different focuses are not our weaknesses, but our strongest attributes collectively. But, we must first elevate our profession’s presence on the global stage.

We must double our public relation efforts in showing our contributions around the world and in our local communities. As social work month starts on March 1st, it’s the best opportunity for us to elevate our profession in the global conversations on poverty, inequality, and human rights.

World Social Work Day 2016

On March 15, 2016, please help @SWHelpercom make the #socialwork trend world-wide on March 15, 2016, on our most important global day of the year. I am asking everyone to tweet out your thoughts, social work resources, research, articles, or just say Hello World using the hashtag #SocialWork all day long. You can utilize Hootsuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets throughout the day if you are extremely busy.

Social Work allies and organizations who have social workers working within them, join us on this day by tweeting out articles, resources, information, and research to share with our profession.

Children’s rights/advocacy groups and family advocacy groups, we want to hear from you too. Share your thoughts, articles, information, and/or resources social workers should be familiar with.

Let’s see if we make Twitter History on this upcoming World Social Work Day!

Money: What Rich Social Workers Do To Make More

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Ask any random social worker on the street what the number one complaint in social work is and they’ll say it’s the money (or, rather, the lack thereof).

This is not a new complaint and not likely one to go away in the next several years. Social work has long been associated with volunteerism and poverty and it seems that the more good we try to do, the harder it is to make a living doing it.

And if it wasn’t hard enough for those of us who work in the field, it’s even worse for many of our clients. Ironically because of often limited resources those of us who are trained to do more just aren’t financially empowered to do so.

But why is that? Why aren’t more social workers making more money? Better yet, what are rich social workers doing that the rest of us are not?

Suzy, Steadman + Brené

A while back I wrote about three amazingly wealthy social workers and outlined how they had built their enormous wealth.

Besides all being linked to Oprah in some way (which never hurts), they all share the common variable in that they each created unique products or services that they then sell to those who want and can afford them. In turn they’re able to not only take better care of themselves, but they also  create more time to do more of the things they love.

Not only is this a good strategy to create wealth, but it allows you to serve many more people than you could one-on-one.

That’s Not Social Work, Is It?

The universally accepted definition of social work is that:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. – International Federation of Social Work 2014

Basically, we help people grow and cooperate with their environment to reach their maximum potential.

Traditionally, the methods to do this have been through providing services such as community programs, case conferences, home visits, counseling sessions, advocacy meetings, policy developments, administrative delegations and personal burnout (just kidding about that last part…kind of). And rightly so. In order for social work to work there must be practitioners on the ground to help clients meet their goals. Without them social work would cease to exist as we know it.

Now in the business world, these services are actually called products and services and they’re no different from the products and services that rich social workers create, except that in the traditional social service work-world social workers don’t create the product, they are the product.

I call that getting swindled and pimped. ~ (Macklemore’s words, not mine.)

Case Study

Now stay with me. We’re going to look more closely at Brené Brown: a tri-degreed social worker (I just made that word up and I like it), a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and a rich social worker. Brené offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the idea of how a social worker might create wealth through offering his or her own products and services while still working within a social work system.

I got a chance to hear Mrs. Brown speak at the National Association of Social Worker’s Conference in 2014. She was every bit the engaging presenter that you’d expect her to be. As mentioned in  the above-referenced article, Brené has managed to expand her social work efforts to the masses and in the process she’s become very, very rich.

So how did she do it? She created products.

Not only has Brené published several books  for the commercial market (not just for academics) – two of which are New York Times’ #1 Best Sellers – but she has a blog, has authored several CD’s, she’s created online classes, and she speaks at various events. So even though she has a salaried position as a university research professor, she still finds time to create products and offer high-priced services.

In short, Brené is a product creation machine. And you know what she does with those products, don’t you? She sells them and creates for herself multiple pay days per year.

Go’head Brené!

Brené Brown on Empathy

Motivation For Creation

So why would a social worker go “off the grid” and create multiple products and services, and what does this mean for you?

Well, one reason obviously is to have a way to make more money, but if your only motivation for creation is to make more money I guarantee you’re doing it wrong.

As social workers we often hear about the magical, mystical legend called “self-care.” Sadly, far too many of us continue to ignore its routine practice until we find ourselves so far down the rabbit hole of burnout that the only choice we have left is to cut our losses and run.

That’s sad and should not be (yes, I used the “s” word).

But the act of creation has it’s own kind of magic in it too. Studies show (here’s one) that when you take the time to focus your energy in a way that is creatively stimulating  in order to bring a new thing into existence  it can have tremendous benefits on your mental, emotional, and even physical health.

But I’m sure you knew that already.

The Missing Piece

What you probably didn’t know is that most social workers have no idea how to create a product or service that they might sell to someone and generally, unless we’re talking private practice, it’s a wildly foreign idea.

In the upcoming weeks I’ll share with you the process of what it takes to use your creativity and package it into a sellable product or service, but in the meantime why not schedule some time to reconnect with your inner creative? Write, paint, sing, read, connect, ski, cook, draw, climb, dance; pretty much do anything that pulls out the creative side of you and try to see if you can assess your level of prowess compared with someone else not as skilled. Those gaps may provide the very clues you need to identify  where your opportunity for product development may lie.

But for now, answer this question:

How would my life change if I were able to create and package my expertise and passion that others could then purchase to improve their lives?

The more clearly you can describe this, the better.

Finally, if you you know someone that could benefit from this, please pass it on!

What Happens When You Actually Read the Grand Jury Testimony

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As a Social Worker who works in East Harlem with students who hail from all different ethnic backgrounds the current climate surrounding this case has been palpable. Walking through the streets of NYC, specifically Harlem, in the days following the release of the Grand Jury’s decision regarding Michael Brown is an experience that is almost beyond words. The upset, outrage, and fury are an undeniable presence in these streets.

As always is the case in 2014, my Facebook feed has been a constant stream of varying opinions regarding this case. My fellow Social Work friends post up a relentless stream of civil rights memes and human rights sentiments. My conservative acquaintances persist with as many random videos they can find of ‘Blacks’ committing heinous crimes, some from several years ago, anything they can find to hack down any identification people may be forming with this tragedy.

Caught as a bystander in the constant racial hail storm, I decided to default to what I used to do as a Sociology major in Hunter College. I did a case review. When I was a student in one of my Law classes, we were not allowed to speak about cases until we had read a majority of the actual case. So, I happened upon St. Louis Public Radio’s site that breaks down the ,Grand Jury Testimony on Michael Brown into bite size pieces and by bite size I mean around 100 pages.

Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury, and it must be noted that a non-indictment by the grand jury is not a finding of innocence or guilt. Therefore, double jeopardy does not attach, and prosecutors have the ability to seek another indictment to charge a suspect if they deem appropriate. However, in this case, it is highly unlikely this will happen.

According to Think Progress,

Assistant District Attorney Kathi Alizadeh instructed grand jurors on how to decide the case based on a statute that was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court two decades ago. As O’Donnell points out, that statute had not been valid for the entirety of Alizadeh’s legal career. That statute said that officers can use any force they deem necessary to achieve the arrest of a fleeing suspect. It does not preclude deadly force ,saying only that officers are “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or to prevent the escape from custody.  Read Full Article

This is hard to grapple with as a Social Worker who is outraged by another young black youth losing his life at the hands of law enforcement. As a Social Worker we advocate for those that are oppressed, those that are disadvantaged and those who lack basic human rights. The way the law is written offers a vast amount of gray area that spans what feels like a galaxy of space between what is allowed and what really ‘should’ be done. But therein lies the crux of this case. What should have been done?

Rumor # 1: Darren Wilson was patrolling after learning of the convenience store burglary and engaged Michael brown under the assumption that he was involved and guilty of said crime.

Reality in Testimony: Officer Wilson engaged Michael Brown and another youth with absolutely no knowledge of the previous crime. Officer Wilson testifies that he engaged Michael Brown and the other youth because they were walking in the street and he asked them to move onto the sidewalk.

So… this all happened essentially because these two boys were jay-walking in a quiet area of Ferguson?

Rumor #2: Michael Brown was shot a few times when Officer Wilson was in fear for his life.

Reality in Testimony: Officer Wilson testifies that Michael reached into his patrol car and was pummeling him with the strength of ‘Hulk Hogan and testified that he feared for his own life. Wilson also testified Brown reached for his weapon and it ‘went off’ in the patrol car, startling Brown and causing him to flee. Wilson stated he then exited his vehicle to give chase. However, Brown, by Wilson’s report, turned around and started charging back towards Wilson in an effort to challenge and shoot him.

According to the Medical Examiner, Brown had nine wounds including one in the top his head suggesting Brown was in some type of submissive position.

Brown’s body was approximately 100 feet from Wilson’s patrol car, which is the equivalent to the length of a football field. Wilson added in his testimony that at the same time he started to ‘charge’ at him he reached for his waistband.

According to the Medical Examiner, the only items found in Brown’s pockets were few dollars and a small amount of marijuana. No stolen goods and no weapons.

My Question:

Why would a young black male reach into a cop car, beat a cop, reach for his gun causing a discharge, give up and run away from the car, but then turn around and go back towards that same officer  shooting a hail of bullets?

If Brown was armed from the beginning why wouldn’t he have pulled his weapon on Officer Wilson when he was in point blank range allegedly beating him in the patrol car?

None of the facts add up at all, not even close. Eye witness accounts said the body was uncovered for many hours in the blistering heat. Wilson’s supervising Officer reports that he covered up the body as soon as he reported on the scene. So which is it?

Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley were two prosecutors appointed by St. Louis County. One of the very first things Ms. Alizadeh says in the opening statements was : “Some housekeeping notes to start. I’m going to pass out to you all, you all are going to receive a copy of a statute. It is section 563.046, and it is, it says law enforcement officers use of force in making an arrest. And it is the law on what is permissible, what force is permissible and when in making an arrest by a police officer.”

At the onset, there is no question as to ‘what’ actually happened or what was going to happen, she sets up the entire jury to believe that the only issue that we should be looking at here is how much force is allowed by the law period. There is no thought of “Was he supposed to be making an arrest?” “Did Michael Brown actually break a law?” Just to name a couple of thoughts.

When you take the time to read all of the testimony, there are so many holes in the story that it would be like trying to plug up a sieve. All of the case has been organized perfectly into a little box that says ‘Self-Defense’ on it all of the players behind the scenes drinking the same Kool-Aid.

Conservatives and racists alike want to believe that this irate black kid attacked this officer and he’s just another one who “doesn’t respect authority”. People who live and walk in these streets every day know better.

People want to shout, “What about black-on-black crime??! They are shooting each other every day!”

To them, I say, one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. The truth is that the temperature of law enforcement interactions with minorities has turned hostile and has spiraled out of control. Only someone incapable of sight would say that it has nothing to do with race.

Take the tragedy of Eric Garner’s passing. The videos of his arrest and actual death are everywhere on the world wide web. Conservatives like to shout, “He was resisting arrest! They had to take him down, he should have just complied.”

Again, I’ll play devil’s advocate sure, you can push me to say, okay, he did resist arrest which is illegal, so they took him down. However, as he’s on the ground you can clearly see the moment when he passes. Does anyone lean down and take a pulse? Police Officers are all trained as first responders. No. Does anyone even look concerned that he might be dead? Not at all.

This is where the value of the actual lives of minorities is absolutely non-existent. Here-in lies the problem. How do you quantify that? How do you write a law that says you have to care about killing innocent people of a different race? You can’t. It doesn’t exist. It is up to the individual to care about the next person, to value their place on this Earth. The penal code will always be written to excuse the law enforcement and vilify the alleged ‘criminal’.

After all this reading I am sad down to my bones. I dedicate my life to lifting people up who are constantly trampled on doing a job that pays less than being a secretary for a mid-level executive in corporate America. I don’t know how to tackle this, I don’t know where to begin. I can’t help people love each other. I can’t help people stop hating each other. I can’t prevent people from believing, in their core, that some people’s lives don’t matter as much as others.

I am left, empty.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Huffington Post

Growing Number of Homeless Children is Shameful

A troubling new report released recently by the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research documents the growing distress among the nation’s children. More children are sliding further into poverty and experiencing homelessness. Using data from the Department of Education and the Census Department—researchers led by Ellen Bassuk found that one in 30—or 2.5 million American children—were homeless at some point last year. That represents an eight percent increase nationally from 2012. They found child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia and that the problem exists in every state, every city and every county in America. We know that outcomes for children experiencing homelessness are disastrous. We know that this growing problem does not get solved by the mothers of these children just doing the right thing.

Posters-on-the-Ground-03-685x438Childhood homelessness is a self-perpetuating cycle of despair. Many of the mothers of today’s homeless children were homeless when they were children. There are high rates of sexual and physical abuse among these mothers. Many were raised in unstable families which often moved from place to place disrupting any possibility of their getting adequate education. Before they realized what was happening, they found themselves advancing into adulthood with little or no skills and very little chance of finding meaningful employment. The men in their lives often left them battered, bruised and pregnant. And somehow they were expected to be responsible, caring mothers and provide for their children. The very people who would judge and condemn them most voraciously are the ones who would deny them family planning services.

Dr. Bassuk has been researching this problem for more than 25 years and still the problem not only persists but is growing according to this latest study. Back in 1988 she estimated that homeless families accounted for approximately one-third of the total homeless population. They now represent 37 percent of the homeless population and growing. Her research has documented that many mothers heading homeless families are overwhelmed by their circumstances. They suffer from high rates of post-traumatic symptoms, major depressive disorder, and high anxiety, greatly reducing their ability to provide proper parenting for their children.

Research has found that homeless children are four times as likely to develop respiratory infections and suffer with asthma as children in stable housing. They have limited access to quality food and nutrition, are often targets of neglect and abuse, live in neighborhoods where there is greater likelihood of being exposed to violence, are more likely to live in households with higher rates of divorce and substance abuse, experience social stigma, and have disrupted relationships with family, friends and teachers. In addition to suffering from a number of well-documented traumatic problems, children in homeless families are less likely to receive quality treatment for their problems as are children in stable housing. Homeless children often receive services in cramped, crowded and otherwise hostile environments, which reinforce the trauma and stigma they are already suffering.

One reason many children experience homelessness is due to the lack of cooperation between housing agencies and child welfare systems. Deborah S. Harburger, director of Fiscal Strategy at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work’s Institute for Innovation and Implementation, in a 2004 article in Child Welfare, estimated about 30 percent of children in child welfare systems are there because of housing instability and that cooperation between the two systems could save about $1.94 billion annually and provide stable housing for thousands of displaced children.

The United States is the richest nation on the planet yet we rank 34th out of the richest 35 countries in child poverty. It is estimated that child poverty costs the nation $500 billion annually. Like most social problems, just rescuing these young victims will not solve the problem. More shelters and social services will barely keep them alive. What is needed is more long range planning to reduce poverty and prevent children from experiencing homelessness. We know what it takes to solve the problem of homeless children. The country needs an adequate supply of safe affordable housing—something the free market will not provide. Unless we as a society concede that some children are expendable, we need to do more to reduce current levels of homeless families with children and find ways to give every child a chance to succeed regardless of the circumstances in which they are born.

Site Launches to Help Millions of Abuse Victims Find Help Faster

Online you’ll find plenty of information about domestic violence. That’s not a problem. What is a challenge is trying to find the right help quickly and easily. Search results often reveal disparate shelter sites, help blogs, opportunistic ad-driven sites with outdated data, and paid placements by attorneys. The new website domesticshelters.org is changing this reality by providing consumers the first online searchable domestic violence provider database.

domesticviolence“The great news is that there are many good people, organizations and providers trying to help, and in fact, helping,” said Sylvia Torralba, membership director for the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) which has partnered with Theresa’s Fund to develop and launch the site. “What we’re doing is aggregating an ocean of information into a single place.”

More than just aggregating information, the organizers of domesticshelters.org tirelessly spent six months unearthing and identifying 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations in the U.S., and then gathering up to 156 data points on each.

The result is the largest database of its kind ever created, and importantly, the ability for domesticshelter.org visitors to enter their location, language and service preferences, and with a single mouse click, instantly see the most proximate, relevant opportunities for help.

“If you conduct a search in this area, you’ll often not find all of the local providers listed on page one. Some providers don’t even have a web presence,” said Chris McMurry, a marketing and technology entrepreneur and director of Theresa’s Fund, who notes that the overwhelming majority of consumers begin their decision making process with an online search.

“We will be fixing that by moving the exploration of the provider community to the forefront of search results, and then by presenting visitors of domesticshelters.org with standardized data on the providers that allows people to make comparisons and more educated decisions.”

Generally speaking, for each provider there will be contact information excepting confidential locations, languages spoken, populations and geographies served, hours of operation, vacancy rates, and detail on 46 different types of services that may be offered.

Importantly, provider organizations will be able to self-administer their organization’s profile on the website, updating fundamental information as it evolves and adding custom content to enhance the comprehensiveness and attractiveness of their operation and offerings.

According to Google more than 3,000,000 searches are conducted per month for information related to domestic violence, and most often related to seeking help. The website will be optimized for smartphone and tablet use, recognizing that consumers are increasingly using their devices to conduct searches. Indeed, the number of local mobile searches is expected to exceed desktop searches by 2015, according to eMarketer.

“With some 36,000,000 million searches a year in just the U.S. on the topic of domestic violence, domesticshelters.org is an overdue and much-needed concept that may help more people than any other service ever offered in this space, and may help save lives because it will be so easy, accessible and fast to use,” added Torralba.

The website will also publish and supply helpful information about domestic violence, in addition to the provider database. Providers will be able to gain access to the entire database behind the website in order to better coordinate inter-agency referrals and services.

About NCADV

The survivor led and survivor focused National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has worked for more than thirty-five years to end violence against women by raising awareness and educating the public about the effects of domestic abuse. Our work includes developing and sustaining ground-breaking public policy at the national level aimed at ending violence; assisting the 2,000+ urban and rural shelters and programs at the local, state, and regional levels of the nation in the programming they offer to victims seeking safety and assistance; and offering programming that empowers and supports the long-term health and safety of victims of domestic violence. Currently, our constituency encompasses more than 80,000 programs, survivors, advocates, and allied individuals and is growing daily. Learn more about us at: www.ncadv.org.

About Theresa’s Fund

Theresa’s Fund is a private family foundation started in 1992 by Preston V. McMurry, Jr. that has helped to change the landscape of domestic violence services in Arizona through grant making, board development and fundraising that has helped to generate more than $49 million in donations for Arizona-based organizations such as East Valley Child Crisis Center, Sojourner Center, Florence Crittenden, Emerge, UMOM, and West Valley Child Crisis Center. It developed the domesticshelters.org concept as a way to expand its reach to people across the U.S.

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

Social Work and the Welfare State

As a social worker on the Hill, I have had a front row seat during battles over the welfare state. Usually, the main combatants are Republican conservatives who continue their relentless quest to reduce government’s involvement in providing for indigent Americans and Democratic progressives who believe government must be involved to ensure an adequate safety net. Conservatives want relief for the poor and disabled left to private charity. They believe citizens should not be taxed to provide welfare and other social services and should be allowed to willfully give a portion of their earnings and resources to private caregiving entities. They view the welfare state as an unlawful transfer of wealth—taking from those who worked hard to be successful and giving to people who lack the motivation and drive to do for themselves. They believe providing unemployment insurance to laid-off workers reduces their incentive to go out and find another job. They believe individual effort—personal responsibility—should be the driving force of a healthy economy.

Progressives on the other hand believe society is strongest when people work together to achieve common purposes. Jared Bernstein characterizes this debate as YOYO vs. WITT—“you’re on your own” vs. “we’re in this together”. Somehow, I believe there is more to that phrase in the Constitution’s preamble—promote the general welfare—than just providing security and an orderly society. I believe the founders had to believe in a “we’re in this together” philosophy because they knew cooperation was needed as much as competition to ensure progress. You only need to look at Congress today to understand how dysfunctional competition is without compromise.

After centuries of leaving poverty to private charity, we got the English Poor Laws. The economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression forced the federal government to intervene in order to keep many Americans from starving. Since then we have been in this endless battle to define the parameters of the welfare state. Conservatives have been working nonstop to rollback New Deal policies. They would like to see the privatization of Social Security and the elimination of unions and other collective bargaining efforts. Progressives have been hard at work protecting safety net programs—preventing the block granting of social welfare programs, fighting against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. All the while the economy is spiraling out of control in the favor of the wealthiest Americans. The top 0.1 percent of American families now own as much as the bottom 90 percent.

 

Inequality-Chart

Economic inequality is the mother of the modern day welfare state. Even conservatives are beginning to understand this. Arthur Brooks, president of the free enterprise promoting think tank the American Enterprise Institute, recently declared that it was time for conservatives to make peace with the welfare state—a startling comment from a hard line conservative. My guess is that he understands it is the price that must be paid for such a high level of economic inequality. In a society where income is distributed more equally, there would be a larger middle class which existed in the middle of the last century. There would be more people working because we would have more consumers with more disposable income. We would have less people needing food stamps and less people would be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So, where should social workers stand on the welfare state? We should of course fight to ensure there is an adequate social safety net, but at the same time we should be looking for ways to reduce the number of people who depend on a social safety net which requires a more fair and equitable society—concepts that are foreign to conservatives. Those of us—social workers—who take seriously the profession’s commitment to social justice are the best hope for the poor and middle class. However, if we are not able to present a compelling vision about how we become a more just society then we will spend all of our energy trying to protect a burgeoning social welfare safety net.

Democrats lost big time in the midterm elections not because of the low voter turnout. They should not expect better results in 2016 because the composition of the electorate will be more in their favor. Democrats lost because they failed to present ideas to the American people about how progressive policies would make their lives and their children’s lives better. Had they been able to articulate a path to a more just and equitable society, voter turnout would not have been a problem.

Ethical Dilemmas Facing Mental Health Social Workers

In practice, it is sometimes necessary for social workers to make a judgment call, and one needs to be sure they are choosing the best options to resolve issues wisely when encountering an ethical dilemma. The social work code of ethics are designed as a guide to follow in order to help aid you in finding the best resolution when possible. Circumstances will naturally be further defined or complicated as specific details arise from any number of given scenarios a social worker may face over the course of his/her practice.

Accounting-EthicsOne important key principle to emphasize is the client’s right to self-determination which means the client’s desire to make his or her own choices including finding resolutions takes priority. This is paramount whether or not the social worker personally believes it is the right decision.

Instead, it is the role of the social worker to present all of the options available, thus allowing the client to make an informed course of action. For instance, perhaps a client has a different set of personal beliefs, such as those regarding sexual orientation. The social worker will need to put any differing opinions regarding this aside as they work with the client.

This right to self-determination may come into conflict with the right of confidentiality if the subject display or express being a danger to themselves or others. If a client expresses a desire to commit suicide or seriously harm another person, the social worker has a right to disregard confidentiality, as this is now a matter of public safety. In any other cases, any personal details shared with a third-party must only occur after the client has signed a consent form. Confidentiality extends to the educational process, in which case a social worker may never use a client’s real name when recounting certain events in a learning environment. Also, social workers should remember to stay updated and educated about advancements made in the field, which will also help you maintain the continuing education credits needed for licensure each year.

When providing mental health services, it is important for social workers to make sure they have the client’s consent to treat them. Clients need to be aware of the extent of the services they will be offered as well as the obligations for payment. If the patient is a minor, then consent will need to be obtained from a parent or legal guardian. The client should also be made aware of any alternative treatment methods that may be available to them.

Another ethical consideration for social workers is to determine how long treatment is needed in order to be effective. The social worker should seek to terminate the relationship with the client if they believe that treatment is no longer in their best interest, and the social worker will also need to keep records of their work. However, you need to be sure that names of third parties are kept confidential, and they you do not violate HIPPA Laws. Social Workers should seek to protect the privacy of your clients at all times as well as maintaining a professional relationship with their client at all times.

Also, you want to ensure to limit treatment only to areas in which are trained  and officially licensed for. Leaving your own personal issues or biases out of the therapeutic process is paramount to your client’s success, and always seek additional consultation for a patient as it is needed. It’s important to acknowledge if additional guidance is needed.

Teaching for Change

Why are you a teacher, and what is the point of doing the job you do? Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to “inspire” students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to “fill gaps in the labour market” or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests.

For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it.

change-4-1imepycHowever, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time. you have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infiltrate the walls of our schools and shape the real world experiences of our students.

Regardless if our students come from a place of privilege or oppression, these issues impact our classrooms and challenge us to confront them to ensure that the students we care for can overcome these issues as well as not perpetuate them as they move from youth to adults.

For teachers, it means that we cannot be ignorant to how these issues impact education and the lives of our students. Teaching is an inherently political act as the decisions we make from choosing to ignore these issues or confronting them demonstrates to our students the attitude we should have towards the major issues of our times.

If we want our students to have a chance of following their passions in life and to take on the major social and environmental issues of our time, we need to demonstrate a sense of courageous teaching that is not afraid to speak out against the issues that impact education and our students. Teachers must act in a way that promotes the ideals we strive for that would create a more democratic and equitable world for all.

That is why it is necessary that teachers eliminate the ideas of objectivity and neutrality from their practice. As one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, Paulo Freire said, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. As we see governments take on more austerity measures against education systems and demonize teachers in the media, it is essential that we assert ourselves as a profession that has the power to change society.

It is my hope that if you are a teacher reading this, you will join me in embracing a radical vision of what your teaching practice and the education system you work in could be. Teachers, in partnership with their union and other ally organizations, must understand the power we can have if we understand the principles of social justice and democracy. When you signed up to be a teacher, you also signed up to advocate for your students. I hope you’ll join me, and many other teachers, advocating for a more just and equitable world free from oppression for all people.

Until that day happens, teachers must engage in the long-term struggle for justice both in and outside of their classrooms. Social justice must be a centerpiece for why we teach and we must advocate for social justice as a framework for understanding teaching and education to our elected officials, unions and all others concerned with making the world a better place.

Will the Supreme Court Deal a Fatal Blow to ObamaCare?

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All eyes are on Republicans gaining control of the Senate and affirming their commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act as known as ObamaCare. However, the decision by four Supreme Court justices to hear arguments in King v. Burwell challenging premium subsidies on healthcare exchanges operated by the federal government could deal a blow to the ACA if the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies. The Internal Revenue Service provides subsidies in the form of tax credits to consumers purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act whose incomes are below 400 percent of the poverty threshold. However, opponents of the law say that wording in the ACA stipulates that these subsidies can only be provided to consumers purchasing health insurance on exchanges “established by states” and that they are not available to people purchasing health insurance on federally managed exchanges.

To date, 13 states and the District of Columbia have established their own exchanges. There are an additional 18 states that have established exchanges in some form of partnership with the federal government. The remaining 19 states are those who have refused to participate in the process and have exchanges run exclusively by the federal government. Much is at stake. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) 86 percent of people enrolled through federally operated exchanges rely on the subsidies to reduce their premiums to an affordable level. The Urban Institute estimates 7.3 million people could lose $36.1 billion in subsidies if the Supreme Court strikes them down.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case surprised many because traditionally the Court will only take up a case if there is a split on the issue at the Circuit Court level. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the legality of the subsidies for federally managed exchanges in its ruling in King v. Burwell. However, in another challenge, Halbig v. Burwell, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the use of the subsidies. Judge A. Raymond Randolph, appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and Judge Thomas B. Griffith, appointed by President George W. Bush, voted against the subsidies.

Judge Harry Edwards, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, voted to uphold the subsidies. At the request of the Obama Administration, the full court agreed to revisit the decision. With seven of the 11 authorized judges currently on the court appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama, it seems likely the full court would support the subsidies effectively eliminating the split. The Supreme Court however decided to revisit King, despite the Obama Administration’s request that it wait for the decision by the full D.C. Circuit Court.

Hardline conservatives saw last week’s evisceration of Democrats during the midterm elections as a fatal blow to Barack Obama’s presidency. They believe he is a lame duck who is weakened both domestically and internationally. They see the Affordable Care Act, which they derisively coined as “Obamacare”, as his only significant legislative accomplishment and it sticks in their collective craw. Although the law remains unpopular with 53 percent of respondents in the Gallup Poll having a negative view of the ACA while 41 percent views the law favorably, it is losing ground as an important concern for the public. According to exit polls most voters in the 2014 midterm election—59 percent—said their vote had nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act compared to 28 percent who cast ballots to express displeasure with the law. During the 2010 midterms 45 percent said they cast their ballots as an expression of their displeasure with the law.

Doomsday forecasts about the Supreme Court’s ruling on subsidies in the Affordable Care Act may very well be overblown. Over at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth—my favorite blog by the way—economist Brad DeLong says even if the Supreme Court rules against federal subsidies, conservatives may not get the results they desire. He believes the 31 states with either state-run exchanges or working in partnership with the federal government will largely be unaffected. He wonders if politicians in the 19 states with exchanges solely operated by the feds will be willing to deny their middle class residents nearly $40 billion in subsidies to purchase health care insurance.

I believe the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. Republicans will waste their time and taxpayers’ money on fruitless attempts to repeal the law knowing full well a law repealing the ACA cannot get past the President’s veto pen and may not get out of the Senate without relying on budget reconciliation as a strategy which is a recipe for disaster. Then imagine what Republicans would do if they could repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have no credible idea about what they would do to replace it.

Foster Care – Doing It Right Is Part of the Deal!

“Over the next 10 months, Jake and his brother were moved 11 times, sometimes in short succession.” This quote is from a report issues by the Saskatchewan Advocate, Bob Pringle. The report details the events that occurred to Jake prior to his death. In taking a child into care, we enter into a bargain with them that care will be better. As the report notes, Jake was a vulnerable child.

Our investigation found that Jake was vulnerable in many ways due to his young age, the challenges presented by his parents, his inability to talk along with suspected delays in other areas, and his 11 placements during his 19 months in care. (p.5)

Bob Pringle
Bob Pringle

This is a serious challenge for a child. Coming from dysfunction, systemically Jake was placed in a form of systemic dysfunction but with strangers. Pringle also notes that the role of child protection when a child is in care is to act as a parent so they should do that – which can be tough when the parent is a system that cannot offer stability in placement and relationships. Children can pay a price for that.

Child protection did not prioritize Jake’s developmental health in the management of his case, as they should have when acting as his parent. As a result, many opportunities to address his suspected developmental delays were missed. (p.5)

It is not that others were unconcerned, as the report notes that several other professionals had raised their worries for Jake. As the report title suggests, Jake got lost in the system.

I pondered the issues of foster care as well when I saw the story of Detective Jack Mook. He is a Pittsburgh police officer who found two boys living in foster care in what is described as horridly deficient conditions. His story is reported by the Huffington Post. However, this is a story of a system that appears to have lost sight of two boys who ought not to have been living in the home. It appears not to have been a fit place for them. Fortunately, this story has a happier chapter now being written.

Fostering got a further bad rap as a Calgary foster parent was convicted of sexual assaults of several children in his care over a period of years. The Calgary Herald reports that the abuse seems to have gone on for about 9 years.

Yet, fostering is tough work typically done by highly dedicated people who seek to offer temporary or longer term care to children who cannot be with their families. Research recently published by Thompson, McPherson & Marsland remind us that there is a cost, particularly for family who have their own biological children in the home. Relationship change as a result of the foster children. These researchers note that biological children place importance in their position within the family (e.g. oldest, youngest). This forms part of how they relate to their parents. This positional security can be disrupted with foster children also present. Foster children also bring competition for parental resources – a competition that biological children must enter.

Foster parents and their children need support. As the story of Jake illustrates, children coming into foster care arrive often with significant challenges that can place a great deal of demands on the whole of the family system. The biological relationships still need nurturing while creating room for the foster children to be part of the family.

As children come into care we offer them a bargain that this will be better. We have a real obligation to honour the bargain. But we also have an obligation to effectively support foster parents and their biological children.

Thompson H, McPherson S, Marsland L (2014) “Am I damaging my own family?”: relational changes between foster carers and their birth children, Child Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry. OnlineFirst doi:10.1177/1359104514554310

Scapgoating Social Work Again

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British Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s proposed reform of UK social work training in the light of the Rotherham and Manchester child sexual abuse and trafficking scandals is another example of a knee-jerk reaction from a desperate government trying to deflect attention from  the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis and the consequences of Casino banking and millionaire tax dodging. The resulting operational problems in child protection services are not going to be solved by undermining and restructuring social work training. By targeting social work, other professions such as Teachers, Health and the Police are left relatively untroubled despite their legal role as jointly responsible for child protection.

Morgan wants to make social work more like teaching, where professionals are “free from the burden of over-prescriptive guidance and paperwork” and trusted to “make sensible decisions about the children in their care.” Many teachers might laugh at this description of their working environment. Her plans include yet another re-structuring of social work, following a pattern established in the 1970’s when society came to realise what was happening to vulnerable children and families. People demanded action and Politicians provided scapegoats.

Social workers are easy targets for the right wing media when it comes to reporting child abuse failures. BBC’s Panorama recently showed how other professionals notably the Police and Health Service staff were equally culpable in missing the risks to Baby Peter Connolly prior to his death at the hands of his carers in 2008. The programme was in stark contrast to the Establishment newspapers which targeted a social worker and her boss with blame. But history shows this witch-hunting, scapegoating reflex is nothing new and part of the modern Capitalist media narrative seeking to undermine the principles of the Welfare State, Local Authority social care and to pave the way for more privatisation.

In 1974, DHSS published a report into the death of Maria Colwell, another young child killed by her parents who was known to Social Workers. It was the first modern media scandal involving child abuse, death and a newspaper campaign to scapegoat social workers. Needless to say it was the first of 30 such reports between 1974 and 1988 as a steady number of similar cases grabbed public attention. Running in parallel with these developments in legislation over the past decade has been a deepening sense of public concern prompted by evidence of widespread physical and sexual abuse in children’s homes.

Several major public inquiries have taken place. They include inquiries into abuse at the Kincora boys’ hostel in East Belfast (1989), the ‘Pindown’ regime in Staffordshire children’s homes (1991), Castle Hill School (1991), Ty Mawr former approved school in Gwent, Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution (1993) and Leicestershire children’s homes (1993). A tribunal of inquiry and full-scale police investigation is currently examining allegations of abuse in children’s homes in North Wales.

Legislative changes have mirrored or preceded such inquiries. In 1975, Parliament passed a Children Act which contained provisions relating to care proceedings, adoption, custodianship and the treatment of children in care. The provisions of the Act were implemented in stages over the next 10 years. Various measures relating to children in care were consolidated into the Child Care Act 1980. In 1984 the House of Commons Social Services Committee, produced a detailed report, Children in Care, which examined policy and practice in regard to children looked after by local authorities, voluntary organisations or other bodies other than their families. The report recommended that the DHSS establish a working party on Child Care Law. This recommendation was accepted, and the review which followed led, via a White Paper, to the enactment of the Children Act 1989, which forms the basis of current child care policy and practice.

The Cleveland Report (1988) and The Rochdale ‘Satanic Abuse’ Report (1990) had similarities with Rotherham and Manchester in that they presented a government with an excuse to quickly respond to the findings, be seen to be doing something, and placate the badgering right wing media. In 1982 the British Association of Social Workers published its own report into Child Abuse Inquiries. It found that ” frequently inquiries simply repeat the recommendations of previous inquiries and in many cases recommendations, if they have not already been carried out before the report is published, remain unimplemented. In few cases can it be claimed that the findings and recommendations of an inquiry justify the anguish, disruption and paralysis caused.”

With Morgan’s half-baked idea for a new level of training to be imposed upon social workers in the form of an Approved Child and Family Practitioner Status, it gives all the appearance of a logical step in enhancing social work practice and better protect children. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Social Work education and training has undergone countless changes since the early 1980’s after the Barclay report – yet another soul-searching exercise undertaken after the deaths of children known to social workers.

The Barclay report led to the Diploma in Social Work being established as the modern, skills-based professional training qualification with clear standards, supervision and evidence-based practice. But after yet another round of child protection scandals, media publicity and scapegoating, a new qualification was inaugurated in 2003 which made social work a graduate level training involving more time spent in practice learning and more extensive research evidence to back up a complex knowledge base acknowledged as necessary to enable staff to tackle entrenched poverty, adult mental health, modern parenting problems and new evidence of the extent of child sexual abuse. But these quick fix solutions fail on several counts.

First, they tackle the symptoms not the cause of child abuse and the deaths of children by their parents or carers and the underlying economic deprivation. Second, they fail to provide resources in terms of time, money and staff to respond to increasing numbers of child protection cases as communities suffer under austerity budgets. Third, they cause huge disruption to established training programmes and recruitment patterns so staff are relocated, redefined and given new guidance leading to confusion and defensive practice. Fourth, management are shielded from blame or themselves scapegoated causing a breakdown in the quantity and quality of experienced practitioners able to use their wisdom and experience.

Changing procedures or creating a child protection elite within social work is superficial window-dressing and a cruel deceit by a government ideologically repelled by the notion of community, solidarity and collective welfare. A comprehensive child protection system is best able to look after vulnerable children when all agencies are working jointly together with a common set of procedures and risk assessment tools, and who should be a last resort after proper resources are ploughed into families in need of support, and preventative methods of intervention to help rather than persecute vulnerable families.

Using Car Rides to Get Teenagers to Open Up

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For many years as a frontline practitioner and later as a respite foster carer, I have often driven children and young people to supervised contact visits with birth family members or to 1:1 session outside of the home. After talking to some workers the other day, we all agreed that these car rides provide opportunities for some of our most powerful conversations to take place with the young people in our care.

Many of us recognise the importance of this uninterrupted, private time with no risk of a direct gaze which often enables children to share and process their experiences and emotions. Then, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment and thought about it in the context of the child’s trauma and attachment needs, and these car conversations made even more sense.

Children who develop in homes where they experience stress and fear because adults are emotionally unavailable due to their own trauma, their mental illness, substance dependency, interpersonal violence, or are perpetrators of sexual or other abuse don’t get to internalise a sense of a safe person or place they can go to, either literally or metaphorically. They have more reactive survival brains and fear/threat responses that are easily triggered.

Daily life can be a brutal assault on their senses, triggering continual fight, flight, freeze, friend or flop responses in a random way so car journeys can feel more contained, predictable and less sensory stimulating. Hence why I have often arrived at the fast food outlet and the young person has preferred to carry on talking and it’s been my anxiety about feeding them which has eventually got us out and into McDonald’s!

Thinking of the children’s early childhood relationships which have often been largely unpredictable, chaotic and/or inconsistent then the time spent with a worker who offers a better attachment experience can be calming and reassuring. A car journey can become a non-threatening, attachment focused, time and space without too much sensory overload with a trusted adult to begin to explore, express and invite a reaction or response to complex, memories issues or concerns. The side of someone’s head who is slightly distracted by driving can offer a less intense interaction allowing a child to think and share what they feel the need too.

Of course, for some youngsters, cars may remind them of traumatic events. I remember a 6 year old telling me how Daddy had hit Mummy in the car, and he had tried to stop him. Then, he showed me how he had tried to wedge himself between them. We talked about how this had felt for him and our journeys gave him a different experience and memories. Other children may find being in a confined space with a relative stranger very frightening and triggering so they may not settle well, may fiddle with things and wriggle about as they get the urge to flee without the opportunity to fulfill this need.

As workers, hopefully we can see car journeys as potential opportunities to listen whilst taking the foot off the ‘find out information/fix it gas, so we can focus on relationship building and just ‘being’ emotionally available and present with the child or youngster in our care. Then, we can offer them a journey that’s not just getting from A to B, but a space that  is about them.

What Else Can I Do With My MSW?

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They say unemployment is on the decline, but I can tell you as a recent graduate with a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) from a top rated school that it isn’t low enough! Many from my cohort are still unemployed, and many who expected to be employees by their second year practicum were disappointed!

The University of Southern California, my Alma Mater, spent a great deal of time asserting that your MSW was more than just a degree for therapy and could be used as training for multiple work force sectors. By receiving your MSW, you learned skills needed to go into consulting, human resources, and any number of nonprofit sectors. In addition, combing these skills with other talents will create a variety of new and interesting opportunities

Though I remain unemployed, I am still using my MSW, and the skills I have gained are being used in way I would never of expected. Here are a few ways I am using my MSW that might surprise you and more importantly might give you ideas on new ways to use yours!

Documentary Interviewer:

Every single MSW had to take classes on how to interview clients and most have done many interviews themselves. These skills lend themselves directly to interviewing people for documentaries. You can interview patients at a hospice, creating personal histories of these peoples lives so that their families have something to remember them by!

Consulting:

What is a needs assessment? A systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or “wants”.  Doesn’t that sound like a skill that might be useful in the work place. Working as a consultant allows you to put those strong assessment skills into practice in combination with your other skills to better understand what your client needs rather than what they might want.

Not only will you have the necessary skills and abilities, but you will already have experience working directly with difficult populations. A hyped up lawyer in a suit is nothing compared to staring down someone who is suffering a psychotic episode, and sometimes you still have to deal with a hyped up law in a suit when you go to court. Most people have little idea that a MSW has a backbone made of steel!

Data analyst:

Though it may require that you have some experience with statistics, a MSW’s eye for detail is important. In addition, social workers have a strong knack for understand both Qualitative and Quantitative statistic after reading over the tides of research papers during your program.

Many of you who have “Macro”  specific MSW degrees concentrated your course work with data collection and program evaluation which are both skills data analysts use on a regular basis.

One challenge that social workers face is convincing others that their degree is for more than just a clinical position, I know because I face that challenge in showing others my skills translate. Unfortunately, to do this, we have to pick up other skills and certifications along the way.

If you are using your MSW in interesting ways, let us at Social Worker Helper know in the comments below.

Should Republicans Gain Control of the US Senate

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Should Republicans take control of the United States Senate there will be many political pundits faulting Democrats for their inability to get black voters to go the polls. Why won’t black voters go to the polls in large numbers? Well, it’s a non-presidential election which typically leads to low voter turnout by the party in the White House.

However, this year there is another subplot—black voters are disappointed with President Obama because they have been overlooked during his first six years. Former Harvard University professor Cornell West continues to be an ardent critic and excoriates the President’s record on black issues in his new book.

Dr. West and others point to efforts made by President Obama on behalf of other voting blocs. They rail about what he’s done for gays and lesbians because of his support for gay marriage and the significant legal battles won in recent years. However, the President’s support for same sex marriage was rather tepid during his first term in office. Some say he’s done more for Latinos with his commitment to immigration reform and his executive actions on behalf of Dreamers.

Yet, he passed on any further executive action and the numbers of immigrant deportees remain significantly high. It’s difficult to make the case that President Obama has completely ignored the concerns of black Americans with the aggressive actions taken on their behalf by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department on the issues of voting rights and criminal justice reform. Did not the President recently launch “My Brother’s Keeper”, an initiative for boys and men of color?

In contemplating these “what have you done for me lately” propositions, it occurred to me that social workers might have some concerns as well. How are social workers feeling about the President? What should social workers expect from President Obama? It is well documented that African Americans and Latinos voted for President Obama in large numbers in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, he received 71 percent of the Latino vote and 93 percent of the African American vote.

I have not found any data on the percentage of social workers who voted for President Obama, but I would believe that most social workers are progressive and that he received the majority of our votes. But we are not a large constituency, so why would Democrats care? At about three quarters of a million strong, social workers are not a voting bloc to be feared. However, with our skills at organizing and persuasion, we could easily be a force to reckon with. But right now, that’s potential.

Gay and lesbian voters have a clear agenda—equal rights, freedom to marry, and freedom from discrimination. Latinos have an agenda that is less clear but generally focused on finding a path to documentation if not citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. They have more social and economic concerns, but providing some peace of minds for millions in this country illegally is a high priority.

Likewise, the are many social and economic problems plaguing African Americans, from high unemployment, to disproportionate criminal justice involvement, to low performing schools. However, it is unclear where the President should begin. What are the priorities? What are the policy prescriptions? Someone should have been working on these before President Obama was elected.

There are many social and economic challenges awaiting the next President who just might be Hillary Clinton. Now is the time to set priorities and identify potential policy remedies. What do social workers want from the President? Which issues are most important? But understand, while the President might be willing to support our initiatives, he or she will not do all the work for us.

We must be willing to provide policy ideas, the political strategy and be willing to take the lead on getting things done. That is what lobbyists do. Of course some lobbyists are able to reinforce their agendas by spreading around money, but nothing prevents social workers from helping to draft bills and nothing stops us from working to get more sponsors.

Stages of Development: Aging Across the Life Span

 

Working in a legislative office, I’ve come to learn that people are always at least 20 steps in advance of the institutions of learning, government, healthcare, and other providers whom we turn to for help and leadership.  As a result, much of what we are taught is the way things were and not the way things are.

This phenomenon is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of Erikson’s Stages of Development in his lifespan theory.  From the day I walked into my first casework class in social work school, I realized that the prevailing academic view of the lifespan after adolescence was out of sync with reality.

Remember these last three life stages from Erikson’s 8 stages of development?

6.  intimacy vs. isolation, ages 21-40  (Adulthood Stage I)

7.  generativity vs. stagnation, ages 40-65 (Adulthood Stage II)

8.  ego integrity vs. despair, ages 65+ (Senior)

When I look at this, my first reaction is “oh my, it looks like 65 is the end of life.”

As I age and I would now be considered a “senior”, I have come to realize that the stages along the lifespan are not fixed. No, rather it is a process that is ever-changing, fluid, and flexible. Mixed into this process is the huge diversity of human experience and culture that characterize the elder generation.

Recently, I have become aware that there is a new stage of life, not yet considered or noticed by the keepers of knowledge.  Those of us who are somewhere between 60 and 80 are often a broad and flexible age group that tends to be difficult to generalize. Therefore, no real place in society.

Just as adolescence as a developmental transition between childhood and adulthood was not always considered a life stage, so the “older boomers” or the “young old” are now in that same state of irrelevance in our culture. Nobody, including ourselves, knows what to call us. It seems to me that we are in our own developmental transition between adulthood and seniorhood.

Before psychologist G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) coined the term adolescence and studied it as a distinct developmental period, our society considered adolescence a luxury.  It is reported that perhaps the real reason there arose the developmental period of adolescence was to delay young people from going into the workforce, due to the scarcity of jobs.

Today, we the “young old”, are being pushed out of the workforce.  Could it be for the same reason? When we leave our career jobs, whether by choice or not, we step into a void, a world that has left no space for us.  We are truly the invisible generation, searching for an identity.  People start offering us seats on the bus, but many of us are not ready to sit down.  We are too old by some standards and too young by others.  What we are searching for is a way to remain relevant in today’s world.  A friend said to me recently, “I don’t mind getting old, but I do mind becoming irrelevant.”

If one looks at the new longevity statistics, one might come to the conclusion that these extra years are just added on to the end of our lives.  Yet, that is not at all what is happening.  What has happened is a whole new stage of life has opened up.  No longer are 65 year olds edging toward the end of their lives.  If they are relatively healthy, they actually have a long way to go.  And, they are not going to Florida to play golf and bingo.

So maybe it’s time to rethink the stages along the human lifespan.  Just as young people are taking longer to enter adulthood, those of us in the over 65 category are taking longer to enter seniorhood.  Maybe those young adults need to create a new life stage for themselves just as we, the old boomers, are creating our own new stage of life.

Now, what we need is for society to accept it?

Social Workers Need to be Social Networkers!

Networking is probably the most important part of anyone’s career, and everyone, especially social workers and students, should be practicing proper networking habits. As social workers, we need to be leaders in our community and build successful relationships with various people, and it is important to connect with professionals in all sectors that can influence the social atmosphere.

imageofsuccessnetworkingcocktailpartyfundraiserNetworking can help build relationships with potential employers, potential clients, potential business partners, and potential personal relationships. Personal relationships drive the way our society operates because we are a social society made up of social human beings. People are more likely to give jobs to people they like or do business with people they know.

Social work students and younger professionals really need to be out there networking to ensure your career development is an easy transition from school and you career develops successfully. We are also the next generation of leaders, and it is good to connect with the current leaders now to understand how we can one day be in those positions.

A few tips you should know about networking:

  • Ask how their day is going before anything else. Don’t be that person that gets down to business right away. This is not a business meeting, and you will be known as that person in the community.
  • Never talk about yourself unless addressed. This is hard, but don’t make it about yourself. People sometimes think about how they can respond to some rather than actually listening. Focus on listening and asking more questions. You will get to a point where you can talk about yourself, but wait until it comes.
  • Always be respectful! Duh!
  • Be sincere. People can tell if you are just talking to them for business purposes. At least pretend to like talking to them.
  • Ask personal questions. Ask about their job, their responsibilities, and their lives. Unless, they are a spokesperson for their company, steer away from company or career specific questions.
  • Only give your contact information if they ask. Don’t just give it right away or stick your business card in their face. If they ask for your contact information, they actually want to stay in touch. Ask for their card if you plan to stay in touch.
  • If you attend the event with friends or coworkers, do not stick with them the whole night. You can meet more people and have more meaningful conversations if you do not have someone who knows you standing right next to you. They can be there for support, but also drag you down. Remember, one person is easier to approach the two or more.
  • Be prepared. Have a business card ready and be prepared to talk and engage.
  • If you plan to stay in touch, ask how. Email, phone, social media. Set up a plan.
  • Have goals for the event. Goals help you stay motivated and push you to talk to people. If you don’t have a goal, then you may just stand in the corner eating the free snacks. A simple goal is meet three people you never met before, or meet someone who can connect you with an agency who can provide you a job. Keep it simple, but have some goals in mind.
  • Never pull out your phone! It’s extremely rude, and should only be answered in emergencies. Everything else can wait.
  • Also, you should wait for them to share with you before sharing photos of your pets or families

One of my former supervisors taught me this method to approach people at a networking or social event. This has been really helpful personally with building relationships with people you may not expect right away would be helpful. The important thing about networking is no matter who you meet, there can always be a benefit of knowing a person. This method uses the acronym FORM and helps you realize potential opportunities to connect with the person in multiple areas than just business.

Family & Personal Life. Ask about the person about themselves before you ask anything else. You are talking to a person, not just an employee of a business. Talk about where they are from, their family, their education, and anything else personal first. Take note, new parents love talking about their children! Also, asking people about their family the next time you see them shows you actually care about the person. Pets are another great way to connect, as well as hometown or cultural traditions. Try to build a connection with someone rather than force it.

Sample Questions:
· Where are you originally from?
· When do you move to the area?
· What are some of your favorite things to do around here?
· Where do you go to school if you did?
· Do you have family here? If so, do you mind me asking about them?

Occupation & Business. After the personal life questions, transition to work. Some people love talking about their job, and some people do not. Our society identifies people based on their occupation. It’s important to know what career someone has, but always remember not to solely associate that person with their work.

Sample Questions:
· What do you for a living?
· Do you like your job?
· What are the best components of your job?
· How long have you been doing it?
· How did you get into that career field?
· What was the best part of your education?

Recreation & Hobbies. People do more than just work. Ask what they like to do for fun. See if they are involved in clubs or associations. People have many interests outside of working, and you could meet someone who likes similar things as you. Also, this is another area to talk about with someone and connect with them in different ways.

Sample Questions:
· What do you like to do outside of work?
· What do you do for fun?
· Do you volunteer for any organizations or causes?
· Do you know of special interest groups or organizations in the area?

Mission & Message. After speaking for some time with a person, this is where you identify what your goal is with that person. Share information about your agency or your career goals. Try to connect with them for professional development opportunities. Identify and plan a way to stay in touch. This is usually the part where us fundraisers talk about the great work our organizations does, and how the person’s support with be helpful or to be involved in the organization. This is a great time because you have demonstrated you actually care about the person more than doing your job.

Sample questions:
· Do you know anyone who could help me?
· Do you have any ideas/advice for me?
· Is there anyone here than you know that I can meet?
· Could we meet for coffee/drinks?
· I would love to stay in touch. Which way is best to contact you?

I have followed this method in the last few months, and met incredible people in the local community. It is truly amazing to hear more about a person beyond their current job, and their personal community service goals. You can figure out many opportunities that person can help you, and how you can help them! Remember social workers should be doing the best we can to ameliorate our communities. The more relationships you build, the bigger your impact can be on the community. Connecting professionals from various sectors can help unite the community in a way to really make a difference in the community. We sometimes underestimate the power of relationship building on a professional level, and it is certainly a priority of social work to advance social justice causes and change the community for good. The more people we know, the more our impact can have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eventbrite

Who Will Fight for Social Justice

There is a push among social workers to return to the profession’s strong commitment to social justice. Two significant events occurred last week. On Wednesday, a group of supporters gathered to mark the first year of existence of the Congressional Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the presentation of our 2014 Social Justice Champion awards to two social work stalwarts. Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from the 13th District in California, and Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys, the founder and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work, were on hand to receive well-deserved accolades for exemplifying the best of the profession who agitates for social justice. It was an uplifting anniversary celebration with the gregarious former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns acting as host and emcee. CRISP executive director Dr. Angela Henderson was on hand to greet our guests and ensure everyone had a good time.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Board members Dr. Darla Coffey, president of the Council on Social Work Education, and James Craigen, Sr., an associate professor at Howard University’s School of social work were joined by NASW social work pioneers Dr. Bernice Harper and Howard University School of Social Work dean emeritus Dr. Douglas Glasgow, along with Dr. Jo Nol, psychotherapist and spouse to Nancy Humphreys, and Dr. Mary McKay, director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and assistant director Dan Ferris. Several of my former students attended and my Clark Atlanta University classmate Alie Redd flew up from Atlanta to help celebrate.

Wednesday’s event was significant because despite the odds, CRISP has survived to begin another year. Our institute was born out of the need to complement the mission of the Congressional Social Work Caucus which I had the honor of helping to create with former Congressman Ed Towns in September 2010. The birth of the Social Work Caucus happened as a result of my personal pursuit of social justice.

I became a social worker because I wanted to do something about the many men of color who were being scarred as a result of the mass incarceration that began in the 1970s. Along the way towards earning my M.S.W. degree in clinical counseling I learned the importance of policy in creating a more just society and completed my Ph.D. in policy analysis. After a stint in academia, I landed on the Hill and found my opportunity with the Social Work Caucus which was created to provide an official platform in Congress for social workers to engage our nation’s representatives. CRISP was launched a year ago with the theme: Unleashing the Power of Social Work on the Hill.

Nancy Humphreys

On Friday, the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) held its second annual Macro Conference featuring Dr. Nancy Humphreys and Dr. Jack Rothman whose models of community organizing continues to have a significant impact on how social workers organize communities in pursuit of social justice.

The focus of the conference workshops and activities was on evaluating the current state of social justice in social work. Rothman’s report on the marginalization of macro social work on many campuses has renewed interest in rebalancing the profession’s work in direct service practice and its commitment to social change. The Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) has organized a Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice that will release its recommendations later in the year.

One of its commissioners, Dr. Linda Plitt Donaldson, an associate professor at the National Catholic School of Social Services, and Dr. Michael Reisch, the Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland, led discussions about the future of social work, the challenges of licensing, and strategies to advance macro social work practice.

The conference was organized by NASW Maryland chapter executive director Dr. Daphne McClellan, and Dr. Ashley McSwain, chair of its Macro Social Work Committee. Proponents of expanding macro social practice do not see this effort as a zero sum game—increasing macro social workers at the expense of direct practitioners. We see this as an opportunity to attract a different breed of social worker with an eye on changing society.

Ten Tips for Wrapping Up Your Internship!

Many college students are finally ending their academic years and semesters. Classes always seems so long, but at the same time, time flies! Since the semester is ending, internships are coming to a close as well. It can be a sad situation, as many students love their internships. On the other hand, it may be a nice relief for the students who did not care for their position. Regardless of interest, it is important for all students to make sure they end the internship in good standing. An internship can provide references and connections for students in their later career endeavors. A good student always makes sure that they have wrap up everything at their internship and maintain a great relationship.

career-opportunitiesHere are ten tips to help you interns finish your experiences:

1.Finish any projects/assignments. This is self-explanatory, but make sure you complete everything you were assigned. The completion of your hours is not an excuse for incomplete work. Your contribution to the agency may be really important, and you do want to be the intern who leaves incomplete work for the agency.

2.Set a final date with your supervisor. Another self-explanatory tip, but it is important. Some schools have hours requirements for credit, and some students think they can just peace out once their hours are completed. This is not true. Sit down with your supervisor and figure out an exact date that works for both of you, before you plan to leave.

3.Ask about other agency opportunities. If you are about to graduate, it would not hurt to ask about jobs with the agency, full-time, part-time, seasonal. You already have an understanding and connection to the agency, which may make the transition a lot easier. Also, internships can be long interviews! Many interns get hired after their position, so make sure you ask about sticking around to let them know you are interested!

4.Offer to train the new intern(s). For those of you at agencies where interns overlap, offer to help train the next intern. You obviously can give the new intern a great perspective and prepare them for a great internship experience. You have an insight your supervisor does not have, and you can maybe help them avoid any mistakes or ensure they do things a certain way. This always shows your supervisor that you care about the agency, and they may connect you to future opportunities.

5.Thank your supervisor and other colleagues. An internship is a great experience, and it takes work to plan and hire an intern. Make sure you thank your supervisor and anyone else you worked with before you leave. A nice thank you card is good way to show you a thankful for the opportunity they gave you.

6.Be sure to leave your contact information. You probably won’t be keeping the email address they made for you, so make sure you leave an updated email address they can contact you. Make sure it is professional obviously. Also, seniors and graduates, ensure that your email address is not your school one, because you may lose it once you graduate.

7.Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you haven’t already, add people in the agency on LinkedIn, while they remember you! You don’t want to wait a few months or years, and have them try to remember you. If you add them right away, then they can endorse your for some skills or write a recommendation for you while your performance is still fresh in their head.

8.Update your resume/LinkedIn. Before you leave, update your resume and professional profiles with everything you completed. Have your supervisor look at it, and help with the wording. You want to make sure you encompass your whole experience before you forget and move on to the next opportunity.

9.Sign up on the volunteer list. This applies mainly to my nonprofit folks. If you agency uses volunteers in any capacity, sign up to be one. Staying connected to the agency can only help you later on in life. I interned at an agency in the fall, stayed connected through the spring via volunteering, and was offered a job once I graduated. Do extra things to stay noticed and they will remember you.

10.Stay in touch. Again, staying in touch can only help you. Before you leave, ask if it is alright for you to stay in touch with them, and then ask what is the best way to contact them. This will prove that you plan to stay in touch. Remember connections could lead to many things!

Internships are the most important experiences for students to figure out their career development goals. Make sure you optimize your experience, and take advantage of the future opportunities that could come. Just because you end an internship, does not mean it cannot benefit you later down the road. Social work students should especially be doing this, since many of us spend a whole year as an intern. We receive quality experience, and our supervisors did a lot for us. Make sure you do as much for them, and put yourself in a situation for them to believe you are going to be a great social worker. Be a superstar intern, and make them remember you!

Successful Strategies to Help Students Prepare for Job Searching After Graduation

As graduation approaches, many students are contemplating about the next step.  Both graduates and undergraduates are on their way through the job process searching for various post-graduation opportunities. As many know, finding a job does not just instantly happen and finding a job you actually want can be a miracle. For us younger professionals, it may seem impossible to find a full-time position and we may feel discourage approaching the work force. Part of the reasons for this are societal factors that we cannot control, but students can decrease the stress that may arise from graduating and open multiple doors.

images (35)While we are preparing ourselves for the next step after college or graduate school, the weird thing is that many students just sit back and relax thinking everything is going to work out for them. It is very frustrating when students think that once they graduate, opportunities are going to come right to them. This is not reality. The real world is competitive but vast, and all you have to do is go out and look. You have to prove to your community and yourself that you are a professional and capable of the job you want to get.

Here are a few easy things to do that every student can do that make their professional development grow:

Challenge yourself at your internship. I am tired of hearing students saying they do nothing at their internship or it is too easy. You have the ability to do more opportunities. Evaluate your current responsibilities and speak with your supervisor about doing more things. Meet with other people in the agency and ask them for help. Helping out the agency in ways they need shows you are willing to work and contribute to the success of the agency, not just yourself. Internships are not only learning experiences, but crucial to professional development.

Network! Network! Network! The majority of jobs are found through networking! People hire people they like, and people connect people they like. The more people who like you, the more people who can help you. Meet as many people as you can at your internship. Just Go to events, meet people at programs, conduct informational interviews! Network! Many of the social workers I have met, have not been the greatest at networking. Starting to network as a current student is a great way to practice, develop professional skills, and build connections for future opportunities.

Find a Mentor! Having a mentor is probably the greatest thing you could ever do. I have a mentor right now, and he is awesome. We get to talk about our interested fields and connect with each other on a professional and personal level. Find a mentorship program to participate in, connect with alumni from your school, or reach out to people in the desired career industry. Having someone with experience who will then offer advice or advocate for you, is definitely a resource you want to have. You never know who they know or what they can do for you later on.

Join a Local Chapter of Professional Organization!  This is really surprising because many students do not realize the opportunities from joining a relevant professional organization. The main reason why you should join is: They want younger people involved! They are established professionals in your field who can give you advice, trainings, connections, and maybe even a job. I think it would be smart as a student to connect with people in your field who can connect you with a job after graduation. Reach out the a local chapter of a professional organization related to your career interests. You definitely should be involved!

Attend trainings! There are tons of trainings out there for professional development and opportunities to learn more than you can in school. There are two main benefits from attending them: you get information you can put on your resume or apply the material to a current position AND you get to meet people in your profession. It’s a win win! Go learn and network!

Volunteer for LOCAL organizations! Students sometimes get in that bubble of their college and do not branch out into the local community. Volunteer with local community members. Help out at a special event. It shows you care more than yourself. Many of you intern for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for the fundraising department or any needed areas could put you in a great position with the agency.  A great position that could lead to a job. Plus, you meet more people and more opportunities arise! (Hint: if you didn’t get the points about meeting people, then I am telling you right now. It’s important!)

All these tips are good strategies social work students can be doing to build our career development. We students are going to be the leaders of the future, and we need to develop our professional profile. Even doing one of these tips, can give you an advantage to either get a job or obtain better opportunities. Even though a Master of Social Work degree is a professional degree, the education forgets about professional development. We need to prove right away that we are capable of performing the tasking jobs we are preparing to have.

Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet

There has been much talk recently about who can legitimately call themselves social workers. What training is required? Which licenses are needed? And, there have been many discussions about the variations of social work licenses that exist in different states. License or no license, we know that many social workers are “hiding” in non-clinical environments where it doesn’t seem much social work is happening in places like Congress, the World Bank and federal agencies such as the departments of Labor, Housing, Education and Health and Human Services (HHS). In many of these settings, social workers operate under cover. They often do not identify themselves as social workers and they have little or no connection to professional social work organizations. Yet, they are trained social workers with a B.S.W, a M.S.W., or a Ph.D. from an accredited social work school, but you would never know.

The subject arose this week during my lunch with three very special social workers who are at the forefront of promoting greater emphasis on macro social work practice. Darlyne Bailey, dean of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Terry Mizrahi, a professor at Hunter’s School of School of Social Work, are co-chairs of the Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice formed by the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA).

With us was Jenifer Norton, a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr who provides administrative support for the commission. The commission’s mandate is to examine the state of macro social work practice and offer recommendations on how to strengthen the macro dimension of social work. To date, 46 schools and departments of social work and two organizations have donated funds to support the commission’s work. In addition to 21 commissioners, there are about 50 allies who are participating in the effort by working with one of five workgroups.

The ACOSA group was in DC for a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to discuss the current state of macro social work practice. It is encouraging these major social work organizations are finally paying more attention to macro social work practice. This new found interest in macro social work practice was triggered by a 2011 report by Jack Rothman that concluded macro social work practice was being marginalized at many schools of social work. He and Mizrahi followed that report with a published article quantifying students who are pursuing macro practice.

While discussing the working group I have joined—Promotion and Public Support of Macro Leaders and Practitioners—Terry suggested that identifying social workers in macro settings is often difficult because many of them are hiding in the closet. Whether this is intentional or just a byproduct of being in a non-social work setting, we need to know who these social workers are, where they are plying their trade and how they are providing leadership. Many are operating at high levels and have very inspirational stories that need to be told. Why? Because many are in the closet because they feel their work might be devalued by colleagues who may not appreciate the value of social work.

My favorite example is Jared Bernstein who I have written about on several occasions. Bernstein is the former chief economist for Vice President Joseph Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team. Bernstein earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and chose to hone his economic skills and practice in that arena. He proudly self-identifies as a social worker but when he is introduced on television programs and in settings where he is discussing fiscal and monetary policies, he is introduced as an economist. Would listeners value his input if he were identified solely as a social worker? His commentary would have the same value, but I doubt that his audience would give it the same weight if they thought his ideas were those of a social worker and not an economist.

We need to identify more social workers like Bernstein. NASW has agreed to work on identifying social workers in these settings. That should help much. If you know of social workers in macro settings—working at the Supreme Court, leading corporations, working in the media and other arenas—please shoot me an email at celewisjr@gmail.com.

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