From Homelessness to Giving Back – A Student’s Journey

On August 12, 2020, Gordon Wayne began a 16 day, 550-mile trek from Virginia to Boston College, all on foot. At first glance, Gordon may appear to be an average, middle-class college student. However, last year, Gordon was facing very different circumstances. Despite working extremely long hours and attending community college, Gordon was experiencing homelessness. With his car as his only means of shelter, Gordon applied to Boston College and was accepted with a full financial aid package which included housing. Months after, during a pandemic that caused a rise in foreclosure and evictions, Gordon took to the streets – literally – to create awareness and raise money for homelessness.

Gordon is far from alone in his experience of homeless – in Virginia alone, there are almost 6,000 people experiencing homelessness every night. Throughout the United States, the number increases to over 550,000, with about 68,000 of those individuals being college students. In fact, a recent study showed that 60% of college students had experienced food insecurity or housing insecurity within the last 30 days. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put an increased strain on the available resources for students who were already struggling. The time spent residing on campus during the semester was often a safe space for these students, who may now have to find alternate arrangements.

With many colleges now going remote, some students are left with no place to go to finish their semester. Some schools regularly have programs to address homelessness among students; for example, Kennesaw State University’s Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment (CARE) Services is a program that offers assistance with housing, food insecurity, and supportive services. A growing number of schools host campus food pantries, which have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While other schools may not have ongoing dedicated programs like KSU, many are able to provide guidance to students about local resources.

Depending on the area they live in, people experiencing homelessness can face harsh weather conditions if they are unsheltered and struggle to access basic necessities like food, water, and bathrooms. Without access to bathrooms or similar facilities, it can be near-impossible to maintain a socially acceptable presence, making it even harder to find a job. On top of all of this, many people experiencing homelessness encounter high levels of violence and do not have access to adequate healthcare. The inability to access healthcare can leave many physical and mental problems untreated.

One of the most effective programs to reduce homelessness is the federal housing assistance program. While it can take time to access due to waiting lists, this is a stable solution to housing insecurity. Recent years have seen a push for a new approach using the Housing First model. Housing First means that while housing is the top priority, services are available to help in other aspects of life as well, while taking the whole person into account. Housing First takes away many of the traditional barriers to accessing housing and offers it to those who want it, not just those who have proven they are “ready” for housing by maintaining sobriety or meeting other prerequisites.

Gordon’s journey was an incredible display of both human resilience and generosity. A few strangers brought Gordon supplies during his walk and even more donated to his fundraising site. Since starting his walk, Gordon has raised over $160,000 to benefit the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

https://twitter.com/Time4Homes/status/1325801599793500167

This year, the week of November 15-22 was National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Every year the National Coalition for the Homeless works with the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness to raise money and awareness for individuals struggling with food and housing insecurity. To make a contribution to National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, click here. For those in need of assistance with food, here is a list of food pantries.

With winter approaching and many unknowns still surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the stressors each individual is facing are constantly changing. Until December 31, 2020, there is a national eviction moratorium, meaning you cannot be evicted from your apartment due to the nonpayment of rent or fees. In order to be protected under this moratorium, you must submit a form to your landlord. If you are in need of help with rent, there are COVID-19 rental assistance programs throughout the country. You can also find local resources by calling 211 or visiting the 211 website here.

New Year’s Resolutions for Students

It’s that time of year again — the new year when many of us set impossible goals or make empty promises to ourselves about “bettering” something in our lives. Do you know there’s a better way to set achievable goals?

When I instruct my students about reflecting and goal setting, I use the popular SMART goals method, an acronym which helps direct us to make goals that are, well, smart. The same directives we use in the classroom to set SMART goals can be easily applied to students’ papers about New Year’s resolutions, a short writing task I give my students on the first day back from winter break. I, too, will use the SMART goals method to set and reach my own personal New Year’s resolutions this year. But how, exactly, can we weave SMART goals into resolutions for students?

Let’s take a look!

SMART

The acronym varies slightly among teachers and educational resources, but the basic expectations of SMART goals are seen below:

Specific (simple, straightforward)

Measurable (meaningful, monitored)

Achievable (attainable, agreed upon)

Relevant (reasonable/realistic, results-oriented)

Timely (trackable, tangible)

Specific, Simple, Straightforward

Much like setting SMART goals, students’ New Year’s resolutions should be specific or straightforward, meaning “Do better in school” would not make the cut. We must prompt students to specify exactly what they hope to change or achieve. Ask questions like, “In which class or classes do you want to see improvement?” “What grade do you consider to be ‘better’?”

Measurable, Meaningful, Monitored

A measurable or monitored resolution should be quantifiable; it must involve progress which can be tracked. Ask students how they plan to track or measure the progress, and how often they should check-in, evaluate, or adjust based on the measured progress. For instance, if a resolution is to improve their timed mile run by dropping 30 seconds, encourage them to keep time logs, workout schedules, and other exact measures of their progress.

Achievable, Attainable, Agreed Upon

An achievable resolution is one within the realm of reality — and students need to be aware of this fact. Resolutions must be attainable and realistic. While we teachers should not dash dreams or cut anyone short of their highest potential, we also need to help students realize what is and is not achievable in the manner or timeline they have allotted. If a student’s resolution or goal is to win the state’s 1st place mile, but they have never run any sort of distance race, their aim is set much too high. This is not to say they cannot one day reach that level, but this resolution should detail smaller steps in an effort to reach that point in the future.

Depending on a student’s age, the achievable factor should be agreed upon, meaning a parent or other adult figure is “in” on the accountability of the resolution. Relevant resolutions should be goals that matter on a larger scale. If a student wants to focus on family time, a resolution might be to keep the cell phone off and away during meals, gatherings, and other family activities. This goal is certainly achievable; there are no outside factors which could disrupt the goal. The student simply has to be mindful of his or her presence during family time. It is relevant because the cell phone is a likely distractor during conversations and meals.

Timely, Trackable, Tangible

Finally, a timely resolution is one that has a definitive starting point and incremental check-ins. When writing a New Year’s resolution, students should ask themselves, “What can I do today to work towards this? What can I do two weeks from now? Two months from now? What would this resolution look like in 6 months?” Working towards the resolution or goal should start right away — as we all know, procrastination is a surefire way to derail our progress.

Study Highlights Racism, Sexual Assault as Contributors to College Mental Health Challenges

A text mining analysis of academic and news articles related to mental health issues in higher education finds that racism, violence and sexual assault are key contributors to mental health challenges for students. The research also highlights the need for mental health services, and outlines some ways that mobile technologies may be able to help address these needs.

“We had found in our previous work that students are concerned about mental health issues, and we wanted to better define the scope of mental health challenges for students and what factors contribute to those challenges,” says Fay Cobb Payton, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.

To address these questions, the researchers used text mining techniques to analyze 165 articles published between 2010 and 2015. The researchers drew on both peer-reviewed research literature and articles published in higher-education news outlets.

“We included news outlets because that allowed us to capture timely information that reflected conditions across campuses nationally,” Payton says.

The most common theme that cropped up in the articles was an increased need for student mental health services, an idea that appeared in 68 percent of the analyzed material. Among factors that contribute to mental health concerns, the most common was racism and bias against ethnic groups, found in 18 percent of the articles. The researchers also pointed to violence and sexual assault – mentioned in 5 percent of the articles – as a significant contributing factor.

The researchers note that colleges and universities are taking steps to both provide mental health services and offer targeted outreach to students of color. But, the researchers say, many students are simply not taking advantage of the services that are available.

“More needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help in the aftermath of violence or sexual assault, and more needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health challenges,” says Lynette Kvasny Yarger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University.

“Students who are facing the trauma of sexual assault are dealing with the dual stigma of seeking help for both the assault and the ensuing mental health challenges,” Payton says.

The researchers also note that mobile technologies may help to meet some of these mental health needs.

“Mobile apps may be valuable for sharing information and resources with students, as well as providing students with improved access to treatment or to connect with communities that could offer peer support,” Payton says. “Apps could also be used to create opportunities for peer training or for storytelling that could address issues related to stigma.”

However, the researchers note, such mobile app interventions should be driven by evidence-based approaches – and the field of mobile interventions is still in its relatively early stages.

“Our study highlights salient mental health issues for researchers seeking to develop impactful mobile interventions,” Payton says. “Additional evidence-based research is needed in this domain.”

The paper, “Text Mining Mental Health Reports for Issues Impacting Today’s College Students: Qualitative Study,” is published in the journal JMIR Mental Health. The paper was co-authored by Anthony Pinter of the University of Colorado Boulder.

How to Ace your Social Work Fieldwork Placement

Undoubtedly, social work fieldwork placements are a key component in social work education. Acting as an essential link between studies and practice, field placements can greatly impact the future functioning of students, and hence why students do their utmost to achieve a successful placement.

But how you may ask?

Throughout both of my fieldwork placements, I gained a number of skills and tips which helped me to cope with the demands and stress fieldwork placements brought with them.

Time Management

In the beginning of my fieldwork placement, I struggled. I was still finishing my dissertation, had to keep up with 8 cases, as well as attend lectures once every fortnight. I had no other choice, but to challenge myself to plan before hand and manage my time better.

My advice to you is to write an exhaustive list of all the things you have to do. You can either do this every week or once a month whichever you deem the most helpful. Prioritize the list accordingly and plan how much time you will need to spend on each task. Avoid getting stuck on single activities, if you feel like you cannot concentrate on a specific task, be flexible, and move on to another task. Every time you finish something, tick it off your list – it is so satisfying!

Supervision

You have probably learnt the importance of supervision during your lectures. Now is the time to actually make use of it. Do not hesitate to ask for supervision if you feel more guidance and information is needed. Additionally, ensure the time allocated for supervision is not used solely for case management. Use some of this time to discuss how you are coping with the workload, the feelings clients are evoking within yourself, your fears and safety concerns if any. Do not be afraid to use supervision as an added support. Whatever is said during supervision is confidential (obviously, if no harm will be caused to self or to others), so use this opportunity to process and assess your placement because hearing others’ problems is surely emotionally draining.

Research

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of doing research throughout the course of your placement. Be informed and read about the client group you are serving. Understand and be aware of the services available to them and the skills you can use when working with them. Fieldwork placements are a great opportunity for you to widen your knowledge, so make sure that you do this to the best of your ability. Both editorial and academic journal articles can be a source of information for you. Read them while commuting, watch videos while eating or cooking – educate yourself as much as possible because as they say, “you cannot pour from an empty cup!”.

Ask Questions

Your practice educator is not expecting you to know it all on your last day of placement – let alone your first day! Social work is a learning process, and we can never reach a point where we can say we know everything. Human beings are different and dynamic. Hence, why asking questions will only help you understand your client group and what is being expected to enhance your practice. Do not hesitate to tell clients that you are not sure about an answer while assuring them you will research a solution. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, if you did not understand something. Ask your practice educator about the agency’s policies, regulations, procedures or any reference materials you can access when needed. Do not pretend you know it all – because you do not, nobody does!

Respect your Practice Educators and Tutors

You may not always agree with your practice educators and tutors, but ultimately they are the ones who will be assessing your progress. Starting on a wrong foot is surely not ideal which can derail the placement before it begins. Try to stick with their guidelines and even though you may feel at times it’s wasting your time on unnecessarily. I highly suggest you take a step back before complaining. I am not saying you should be passive, however, avoid arguments about word limit of essays, working hours or workload. Keep in mind your practice educators and tutors know what they are doing, so if they request something try to find a diplomatic path forward.

Do More than it is Expected

Give your placement your very best, and at times this may entail doing work that is not compulsory. Attend any meetings, conferences or opportunities taking place within your organisational framework. Observe how graduate social workers interact with their clients, chair a meeting and extend your comfort zone. Volunteer to take phone calls or intakes, even if this may mean staying for an extra hour. It is amazing how much you can actually learn from this! In the beginning of my first placement, I was terrified to answer the phone because I was always scared that I will stutter, or say something wrong. However, after sitting in the office and answering the phone for 10 weeks, I have gained a lot of confidence while talking to others over the phone.

Self-Care

Ultimately, as social workers, we have to preserve ourselves because we have minimal tools to protect ourselves from burnout. So while I highly suggest you do all the above, you also need to have an ‘off’ button. Learn to assess and identify your limits in order to detach yourself from placement related work for a few hours a day especially before going to bed. Dedicate some time for yourself, read a fiction, watch a funny video, take bath or go for a walk – do something that makes you feel good. Stop yourself from going to bed thinking about the following day and the long to-do list that you have waiting for you. Avoid thinking about action plans and give your mind a well deserved break.

Although sometimes you may feel unstoppable and very motivated, especially in the beginning you must remain mindful of your body limits because otherwise, you will be risking being burnt-out before actually stepping into the profession.

Mental Health Matters: Why Schools Can’t Afford to Ignore Staff and Student Needs

With education reform being the buzz term of the decade, there has been lots of talk about how we can make schools better. New instructional methods, increasing technology, longer days, more differentiation. All great ideas, of course, but none take into account the enormous pink elephant in the room.

You can’t teach kids that you can’t reach, and children who come into the classroom with mental health needs require different tools in which teachers are not routinely being equipped with.  This is creating school buildings where the teachers and students end the day feeling like refugees, having engaged in a war none of them is equipped to win.

The NPR calls it the silent epidemic, referring to the 20% of students who come into the classroom each day with a diagnosable mental illness. With the large numbers of students I’ve personally seen diagnosed with ADHD or even PTSD, I tend to consider that stat a little on the conservative side, but even as it stands if one in five children in a classroom of 30 have needs that go untreated, how much learning can really occur?

Beyond the needs that walk into the classroom, there are the needs that develop in the classroom.  Staff and students who are impacted by witnessing or experiencing the outward expressions of the internal turmoil caused by the child with ADHD who “picks” fights to stimulate his brain or the student with ODD who makes the class late to lunch every day by disrupting the walk through the halls. Or what about that teacher whose anxiety over test scores and job performance has begun to creep into every area of her life? Are the kids who are being taught by the shell of her best self which walks in the door actually going to be getting all the instruction they need?

Mental health care in this country has never been what the experts would want to see.  Working from the deficit model that says you should be experiencing a problem before you seek support and even then you’ve got exactly 10 sessions to fix it leaves much to be desired. But in schools, it’s much worse.  The one or two professional counselors, social workers or psychologists that work in the school typically cover all 800-2000 students by themselves, which means only the highest needs get addressed. This is leaving staff and students vulnerable and schools must stop ignoring the need.

Here’s what we must begin:

School-wide mental wellness.

Why do teachers have sick days and not well days? When I train educators on working with students who are at-risk of academic failure, I encourage them to take a mental health day periodically in order to stay fresh and avoid burnout.  Many respond by saying they are penalized on their annual reviews for using these days.  Huh? How can having a teacher who doesn’t want to be in the classroom benefit anyone? Schools should encourage self-care and stress management, including planned time off.  Recent research has also shown that schools who include mindfulness practices also see great benefits such a decrease in staff stress levels and discipline referrals.

Proactive and Responsive Mental Wellness Supports.

When it comes to staff mental health, most employers rely on employee assistance programs.  The services historically include a few mental health sessions with a licensed professional and are seen as the primary source of defense for staff who are facing a crisis.  But with as little as 5% of staff actually using the services, the full benefits of this resource has yet to be seen.

Some research has concluded anything from lack of awareness to the negative stigma of mental illness contributes to low usage rates, so what if employers encouraged or even required at least one visit per year? That way, needs are identified sooner and the stigma is reduced. I’ve worked in schools that rewarded me for taking a physical exam or even paid a bonus for lowering my blood pressure or cholesterol, could the same be done with mental wellness? Of course, it could.  Staff who are more mentally well can have no adverse effects on student outcomes and it’s worth exploring how it can be used to improve them.

Reading, Writing and Mental Wellness for all.

For students, many schools have begun contracting with outside mental health offices to provide school-based services.  While these relationships do benefit some students, the vast majority of kids are remaining overlooked. One of the best solutions is decreasing the student to counselor/social worker ratio. While national organizations continue to encourage rates close to 250 to 1, most schools still come in much closer to 400+ students for each professional trained in mental health needs.  The best solution, however, is making sure that all staff are clearly trained to understand, recognize and respond to mental health needs that present themselves in the classroom.

There’s no magic bullet for eliminating mental health needs, but with the right tools and consistent effort, all staff and students will get the support they need.

Group Work: How to Make it Work

Cooperative learning, collaborative strategies, group rotations—whatever we decide to call it, the research behind group work in the classroom makes a strong case for embracing collaborative learning. As beneficial as it is, however, group work can easily go awry if the planning and structures are not in place. Here are some suggestions for well-managed group work in the classroom.

Consistency is key when introducing group structures and routines.

Rotations, stations, and group collaboration involve much more than having students circulate through different activities together. Before you can even begin the actual group work, students need to be explicitly instructed on how they will form and work in their groups. Devote some time to having students practice moving into their groups in a quick and organized manner. Encourage students to have only necessary materials out during group work. Practice timed cleanup so that groups familiarize themselves with the amount of time needed to wrap up a work session.

Teacher-derived groups should be deliberate on multiple levels.

Be sure that groups contain personalities that will jive and complement one another. Also be careful to level the groups so that there are higher-ability and lower-ability group members in each group. When possible, groups should be gender-balanced and small enough that every person will play a vital role in the process and product. For the typical classroom, groups should be kept to 4 students or smaller to allow for accountability.

Begin implementing group work by stressing the importance of the process, not necessarily the product.

Of course the end result is important; however, cooperative dialogue, perspective-taking, and synergy are the foundations for a successful group—perfecting the product will come later. You want the groups to work like a well-oiled machine in the sense that each person knows that her individual input is necessary to achieve the end goal.

Have open dialogue about that end goal.

Part of the nuisance of group work is the fact that every group member has a different work ethic, mindset, motivation, and concept of the result. We have all experienced the headache and stress of completing “group work” individually because a partner or group mates were banking on someone else completing the job. To avoid this common pitfall, encourage groups to discuss what each individual’s end goal is and work on compromising from there.

If one person’s goal is to complete the task in as little time as possible, assign that person one of the initial planning, prewriting, or beginning tasks for the project. If another person expresses a deep desire to perfect the group’s project, put that person in charge of checking the final product against the rubric and making edits or adjustments as needed. If one person simply aims to turn something in for credit, put him or her in charge of organizing materials, brainstorming ideas, keeping the group’s notes, etc.—the key is to play to each person’s strengths and desires so that everyone’s intrinsic motivation leads the group to the same end goal.

If one person simply aims to turn something in for credit, put him or her in charge of organizing materials, brainstorming ideas, keeping the group’s notes, etc.—the key is to play to each person’s strengths and desires so that everyone’s intrinsic motivation leads the group to the same end goal.

Engaging Individuals Entrenched With Power and Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Big Mistakes College Students Make In Their Job Search

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.” –H. Stanley Judd

Out of all the job seekers I come across, there’s a special connection I share with the college grads. Their incessant zeal to turn the world upside down is contagious; but, it’s a shame to see over 76% of them failing to get a job even after spending months doing unpaid internships. If I talk about myself, it’s because it cost me 4 internships and 2 training sessions to secure my place in the firm I aimed for; however, not every friend of mine put the same effort.

I totally envy a few of them who got their dream job served on a platter. Not every friend of mine who got the job first was an ace scorer, but they avoided making a few mistakes that cost others a lot of time and efforts in their journey. Given below is a brief account of the same.

1. Not Responding To Your Emails And Calls

I understand it’s the age of texting, and for the college grads, nobody actually keeps a check on those emails. But, employers do! A large number of employers keep a constant check on the emails they receive and choose to communicate with the candidates via emails. Similarly, missing on those calls can cause the loss of a kickass opportunity you’ve been aiming for long. To keep up with the employers, check your emails daily and make a rule to answer all your calls.

2. Choosing Facebook and Twitter over LinkedIn

As a student, I spent a lot of time surfing through the funny videos on Facebook; however, I realized a bit late that it did not help me at all to achieve my respective goals. As per a survey, 90% of the college students claimed to network with their peers using Facebook, but over 46% said they have never been on LinkedIn. As a college grad, it is important to gauge the right platform to develop a network that would help you in the long run. It is a must to create a LinkedIn account by the time you’re a college senior. LinkedIn is a great way to network and develop links with the people who can help you professionally. This adds on to the odds of getting a job faster than your friends.

3. Taking ‘No Response’ As A No

It’s no lie that thousands of resumes go directly into a black hole and the applicants never really hear back from the employers. And to be honest, it has happened with almost all of us. While giving up is easy, I would suggest the college grads to keep swimming and find a thread that leads them to the employer. Look for a personal connection or a network that could help you in your quest. While you are in a competition with thousands of others who haven’t heard back from the employer, make yourself stand out by not giving up easily. If you think the job is a good fit then chase it till you get it. This would not only get you a step ahead in the rat race, but it also help you in fetching the perfect job.

4. Not Using The College Network To Max

A big mistake that college grads make is relying too much on the online listings and anonymous placement fairs. While, I don’t undermine the success rate of such listings, looking for a personal connection to the employer can give you faster results. Build a solid network of people on your campus who can help you achieve your goals. Keep up a casual conversation with your friends, professors, alumni and tell them you are focusing on finding a full-time job. Ask them if they know someone who works or have been associated with the companies you’re interested in. It would definitely lead you to the opportunities you would have let go otherwise.

5. Presenting A Self-Centered And Untidy Resume

Young job seekers usually work too hard on their resume and in that effort, they sometimes end up creating a copy that’s full of pages but lacks the required tidiness and grammatical accuracy. Another big problem I usually come across is the self-centered objective section that talks a lot about a candidate’s goals but very little about the employer’s requirements. To bag the job, one should emphasize more on what he/she can contribute to the firm and present the same on the resume.

6. Thinking That You Have Enough Knowledge

Well, I’ve come across a number of fresh college graduates who feel just because they have completed their graduation with great marks and from an esteemed college or university, they can get any job instantly. That’s not how it works in real life. To tell you the truth, there are a number of employers out there who are not even interested in your GPA or marks. Preparing yourself is a must before you apply for a job. While you are still looking out for the right job, keep revising your studies and never forget to get a hand on new skills that will help you bag the right job.

7. High Salary Expectations

Many young students who have completed their schooling or graduation from a reputed college expect too high of a salary for their first job. Students should keep it in mind to never bar themselves from certain jobs just because they are not paying well. In order to kick-start your career, I would advise you to focus more on your growth potential and knowledge that you’ll gain instead of what you’ll be paid.

8. Lack Of Career Focus

Most of the young grads I have encountered lack the career focus they should have. It is very important for you to have an in-depth knowledge of the career path you have chosen in addition to your passions. Research the field in which you have interest so that you don’t get tongue-tied when an employer asks about it. You would not believe the number of alternate options you’ll find relating to your desired job once you start researching.

9. Limiting Yourself Geographically

It’s an undeniable truth most college grads always prefer certain locations to begin their career. But that’s not how it happens every time. As far as my experience goes, it’s a really bad idea to give up on a certain job just because it asks you to relocate to a specific location. Never limit yourself geographically. Be open to all the jobs, whether they are in your preferred location or require you to shift somewhere else. Don’t be confused between going and staying if you are getting a really nice job. I would suggest the students to focus more on the opportunity that they are getting rather than focusing more on the geographical limits. Always have 2-3 choices for locations so that your career is not put on halt because of such a trivial reason.

10. The Dream Job Crisis

While most students have a dream job for which they work hard day and night, others turn out to be blank when asked about the same. If you have a dream job then it’s time you have a reality check as a majority of people do not land their dream job right after graduation. Waiting for the perfect dream job is a really big mistake many graduates fresh out of college make. While it’s okay to work hard for your dream job, sometimes, it’s better to just accept what’s coming your way in order to find better opportunities with the career growth. Instead of avoiding these jobs altogether, you should embrace them and turn them into a stepping stone towards your dream job.

It’s even better for students who haven’t thought about a dream job just yet. They should be open to any opportunity that comes their way and take it up right away. You never know what could be the turning point in your career. Instead of expecting too much from the first job, I say you should try a number of options and retrospect what you actually like doing.

A tip for all the students: Leverage each interview to learn about the corporate culture and underlying career advancement opportunities. It is your time, put your queries, ask questions and observe how employees interact. It’s okay to fail at some interviews and it is equally okay turn some down, there’s a better opportunity waiting for you out there.

Report Provides Rates of Major Depressive Episodes Among Adolescents Across the US

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A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides state-by-state results on adolescents (ages 12-17) who experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Based on combined 2013 and 2014 data, the report shows the prevalence of major depressive episodes among adolescents residing in various states – from a high of 14.6 percent (annual average) in Oregon to a low of 8.7 percent (annual average) in the District of Columbia. Differences over time are also reported.

A major depressive episode occurs when a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and has at least some other symptoms such as problems with sleeping, eating or concentrating for a period of two or more weeks.

Nationally, 2.7 million adolescents (11 percent) experienced a major depressive episode in the past year – roughly one out of every nine adolescents.

Among the 10 states with the highest rates of adolescents experiencing a major depressive episode four were in the West (listed in order of highest prevalence – Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Washington), three were in the Northeast (Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire), two were in the Midwest (Wisconsin and Indiana) and one was in the South (Virginia).

Among the 10 states with the lowest rates, four were in South (Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and the District of Columbia), three were in the West (Alaska, New Mexico and Hawaii), two in the Midwest (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one in the Northeast (Connecticut).

The overall rate of major depressive episodes among adolescents rose from 9.9 percent in 2012-2013 to 11 percent in 2013-2014 Thirteen states experienced a statistically significant increase during this period, with the remaining 37 states and the District of Columbia experiencing no real change in the level of adolescents experiencing a past year major depressive episode.

“Adolescence is a critical time in a person’s development, and battling with depression can be devastating for teens unless they receive effective treatment,” said Paolo del Vecchio, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “Effective treatment is available, but parents, teachers and all concerned members of the community must work to assure that adolescents in need get help.”

SAMHSA is helping states, tribes, and communities address this issue through a number of grant programs:

  • The Safe Schools/Healthy Students State Grant Program supports states and communities in their efforts to build early identification and referral systems, to improve access to care, and to implement policy and programming to help children succeed.
  • Project AWARE: Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education grant programs support widespread mental health literacy training of adults who interact with youth to help them understand the signs and symptoms of adolescents who may be experiencing a mental health problem, and how to connect them to help.
  • The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program supports states, tribes and communities to create, expand, and sustain community-based, collaborative, individualized services for children and youth with a serious emotional disturbance that are family-driven, youth-guided, strength-based, and culturally and linguistically competent.

The report entitled, State Estimates of Major Depressive Episodes among Adolescents: 2013 and 2014, is available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2385/ShortReport-2385.html. It is based on data from SAMHSA’s 2012 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports.

For more information about SAMHSA and NSDUH please visit: .

For more information, contact the SAMHSA Press Office at 240-276-2130.

A Students’ Guide to Making the Most of Field Placement

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Being a social work student on my final placement before I graduate, I know how daunting and challenging they can be. From my own student perspective, I have put together some tips that I hope will help you make the most of your placement.

All social work degrees in the UK require students to undertake compulsory placements. In Northern Ireland, where I am based, students must complete two placements of 85 days and 100 days in practice, respectively.

Once you have received your placement, the nerves may start to creep up on you but try not to let them affect your enthusiasm!

First things first, do your research. Read up on the area/specialism that you will be working in as this will provide you with knowledge about what to expect and what the role might entail. Although, social work has no set role and changes depending on what area you are in, so it is important to bear this in mind. Our expectations of how we view the social work role can negatively impact how we perceive our placement so it is best to stay positive and keep an open mind!

In Northern Ireland, we are required to arrange a pre-placement visit. This is just a meeting with your practice teacher to talk through the logistics. If your university does not require this I advise thinking about organising one anyway. They allow you to meet your practice teacher, the team and to get a real understanding of the environment you will be working in. This can be a good way to minimise anxiety!

Every placement is different. As students, we sometimes have an idea of the area we want to work in when we graduate. This is good but don’t let it put you off other placements! You may find that your mind changes with your experiences!images (1)

Be organised! Keep and maintain a diary that sets out your working hours. Do you have assignments? Make sure you know when they are due. You need to time-manage effectively. Some placements will allow you to complete assignments during your working hours, however that depends on the service users. They are your priority!

Make full use of supervision! Supervision is vital regardless of whether you are a student or professional, so don’t waste the opportunity it provides. This may be your only time with your practice teacher. Prepare what you want to talk about and set an agenda. They will be impressed if they know you are motivated, proactive and thinking about practice.

Not everyone hits the ground running, and it’s okay to have doubts about your placement and/or your own abilities. I doubted myself during my first placement, but don’t let one placement dictate your view of social work. Some placements can be challenging, but there are things you can do to make it that little bit better!

Find a staff member that you can work alongside. For my first placement, I wasn’t placed in a statutory setting, so I did not work with other social workers. This can be daunting, but you are not alone. There are many other members of staff more than willing to help you! Find one who you can communicate with and who you think could give you good ideas. Staff members know the service users, so don’t be afraid to ask questions as they may have knowledge you can utilise that you won’t find in a textbook.

Know yourself. Sometimes, as students, we get so overwhelmed by what all our friends are doing that we worry whether we aren’t getting a good experience. When you have spent many semesters reading pages upon pages, once you get out into the real world of practice, we sometimes have expectations set too high. We have thought about what we want and what we hope to do, but placements can’t change to our way of thinking. We need to adapt to theirs. Changing your mindset about how you view your placement can help you understand exactly what you need to achieve and how.

In the UK, there are evidence criteria that have to be met during placement. Usually these are listed in a huge table in a 288 page document. Break it down. Go through each standard, either on your own or with a team member, and jot down ideas as to how to meet it.

Placements aren’t meant to be easy. Social work in general isn’t easy, but don’t overcomplicate it. You can only work with what you are given. Adapt work to suit your placement and your learning needs. Think of things in the context of your own placement, this makes it easier to understand exactly what you need to do.

If you need to, talk to someone. Never keep an issue to yourself. Social work requires us to be available, physically, mentally and emotionally. We cannot work with people effectively if we are worn out or stressed. Talk to your practice teacher, or a university tutor as chances are the issue will have arisen before with other students and they will know exactly how to help!

Honesty is the best policy! As students we sometimes have the dilemma of, if we see something in practice that we don’t agree with, should we challenge it? Weigh up the risks. You are going somewhere on placement that some people may have worked at for years. An ethos can be drilled into an organisation and change is not a quick thing. However, don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way and if you don’t feel comfortable doing this publicly, mention it in supervision. Supervision is a ‘safe place’ and a place for you to critically reflect on your practice.

Self care is important because placements can be tough and draining. Look after yourself! Do things that help you relax, maybe yoga, reading or exercise. Listening to music really helps me zone out but I would also recommend adult colouring books! These are great for alleviating anxiety and just channeling your energy for a while and there are also free apps too if you want to try it out!

Lastly, have fun! You are on your way to becoming a qualified social worker. This may be one of the last times you can do social work without the heavy case loads and the safety net of university! Be open to it, seek out your own work and view everything as an opportunity.

Giving Students Therapy is Not the Answer to Dealing with Microaggressions in Education

This article is continuing analysis of the Atlantic’s article, Coddling of the American Mind written by authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff . The authors believe that ‘political correctness’, or reacting to ‘microaggressions’, is damaging students’ intellectual and emotional wellbeing on university campuses. In an earlier article, I considered what microaggressions are and some of the unsaid assumptions and attitudes of the authors as well as taking into consideration their backgrounds.

In short, microaggressions are small and unconscious acts of oppression, such as erasure, using someone’s identity (sexuality, gender, race) as an insult, assimilation as a compliment, and assuming badness or deviance as a result of someone’s identity. Here, I want to consider more of Haidt and Lukianoff’s content, beginning with their concern:

“What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors?”

I’ve already noted their victimising, legal vocabulary – ‘polices’, ‘prosecutors’, ‘strict control’, ‘authorities’, but it is worth bearing in mind. In fact, American college campuses are surprisingly lax in their response to problems around race and sexual assault. Sexual assault is common on college campuses and misogynistic language is rife, yet policies, discussions, and ‘messages’ around dealing with rape and sexual assault properly are lacking.

Likewise, there are examples of students who have not faced consequences aside from criticism and discussion after chanting actively racist slurs on film, and there are a great many incidents of verbal or physical racism with no real consequences to the perpetrator (although, as the last link shows, there are also cases that do have real consequences, such as court cases).

Essentially, it’s difficult to believe that whilst overt cases of aggression are not being dealt with effectively, college campuses are somehow ‘policing’ microaggressions. In fact, the authors later go on to give an example of pro-‘trigger warning’ policy that was “subsequently retracted in the face of faculty pushback”, which does not suggest ‘policing’ or ‘victims’, but people who were listened to.

Haidt and Lukianoff’s lamentation that words can be treated as a “form of violence” is also somewhat problematic. They state it as though words and actions are completely separate. For example, by saying “You don’t look like a lesbian” as a compliment, you are performing the act of reducing the status of lesbians.

There are other ways that words perform actions, such as “I now pronounce you X and X” being the act of marriage, and “Sold” being the act of ending an auction. In fact, the part of the brain that responds to social pain (e.g. social insults) is the same circuitry of the brain that responds to physical pain. Additionally, words can be worse, as the damage of psychological abuse equals or outweighs the damage of physical abuse. So whilst words are clearly not the same as physical violence, that doesn’t mean they can’t be violent.

Now, let’s move on to another point they make: “Students seem to be reporting more emotional crises; many seem fragile”. These statements are curious. Firstly, somebody with a mental health or wellbeing ‘crisis’ is at risk of significantly harming themselves or others.

Most people, most of the time, are not in a state of ‘crisis’, nor would most students claim to be. And the problem is framed as the inherent fragility of the students, rather than emotional distress being a rational response to the way things are at the moment. They hedge this with “We do not mean to imply simple causation, but…” and then go on to do essentially that.

There is no mention of the fact that American college prices are utterly extortionate, and unemployment high in the young. America has been at war for most of students’ lives. Privacy is now essentially nonexistent, people’s very bodies are becoming objects as women and men are increasingly exposed to unnatural and unrealistic ideals. Lives are doctored through social media, so everyone else looks like they’re doing great while the gap between the haves and the have-nots in America is bigger than ever. More people are going to university, making it more competitive, yet job prospects are poor. This wasn’t always the case with university degrees.

Indeed, the two well-off men who wrote this article forgot, or just didn’t know, that the biggest predictor of ‘mental health’ and wellbeing problems in any society is its socioeconomic inequality.

That’s right, Socioeconomic inequality, and America does not do well on that front. On top of this, socioeconomic inequality is directly threatening university students. It seems staggering, if not downright insulting, that anyone could claim in light of this that students’ suffering is primarily due to their own faulty thinking patterns and oversensitivity to ‘triggers’.

Regarding ‘triggering’, the phrase ‘trigger warning’ can indeed be used thoughtlessly, or overmuch. Pre-discussions about potentially upsetting content, however, aren’t unreasonable. We often have these in my doctorate; it teaches us to trust and understand our rational and emotional responses together, wisely.

It also makes us realise things that weren’t a problem for us might still be a problem for someone else – the ‘social learning’ of which Haidt and Lukianoff warn is not learning to fear what others fear, but learning how to empathise with others who are bothered by things that we aren’t. Finally, it facilitates learning, because animals physically can’t learn when overly stressed and anxious.

They say of this: “However, there is a deeper problem with trigger warnings. According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.” They appear to use one particular branch of psychological therapy to represent both their argument, and psychology as a whole.

It is difficult to provide an semi-objective reply to authors who have suggested that microaggressions based on societal oppression and ‘anxiety disorders’ are the same thing. It’s a struggle to understand quite how the cognitive leap from one to the other occurred.

The Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) data to which they refer is based on samples of people who have clinical diagnoses of anxiety disorders. The most ‘basic’ tenets of cognitive behaviour psychology suggest that, in people with anxiety disorders, exposing themselves to things they fear will habituate them, so long as this exposure doesn’t result in a negative outcome like a poisonous spider bite or falling off a high ledge.

CBT is effective for anxiety disorders not just because it exposes people to unpleasant thoughts and situations. It also provides through learned experience for individuals to see their fears aren’t as bad as they first thought. However, if your so-called ‘distortions’ are proved true through experience, then you are unlikely to be ‘cured’ as Haidt and Lukianoff suggest. This is why behavioural experiments must be chosen carefully – not to ‘fix’ a positive outcome, but to test reasonable situations. Indeed, Martin Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness suggests that the more you are exposed to negative stimuli over which you have no control, the more likely you are to get depression.

Microaggressions are rooted in real societal inequality. They cause a complex range of emotions, from anger, shame, confusion, self-consciousness, and perhaps fear if the person microaggressing seems threatening. The point is, there is an extraordinary gap between CBT for anxiety disorders, and calling people out on societally oppressive actions and comments.

Now, some people who ask for certain things (e.g. rape not to be included on an exam paper) may have PTSD or an anxiety disorder. However, that is a separate issue to ‘microaggressions’ as a whole, and should be dealt with on a purely individual basis – though I don’t see the problem in at least asking about individual support.

Additionally, we can make the argument there are some ideas we would rather people not be habituated to such as violence, hardcore porn or constant absorption in technology for example. Perhaps society-wide habituation is simply what we call ‘the norm’. In the case of microaggressions, is habituation for the people oppressed by societal power dynamics really what we want?  There is a statement about calling people up on microaggressions which has almost become proverbial:

“If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot. If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot. If you step on my foot without realising it, you need to get off my foot.”

The last thing we should be doing is habituating people to having their foot stepped on. But this seems to be what Haidt and Lukianoff support by saying: “What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin in the years just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection and enter the workforce? Would they not be better prepared to flourish if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”.

People from oppressed groups don’t suddenly hit university and therefore enter a “cocoon of adult protection” where discrimination no longer exists. They are, in fact, consistently taught to question their own emotional reactions to microaggressions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt, their entire lives. An example is women being harassed – ‘boys will be boys’, he ‘didn’t mean anything by it’, or the ever-present ‘it was a compliment’. People don’t need more of this.

Of course banning books like Huckleberry Finn isn’t appropriate. Treating such books, concepts and ideas with context, consideration and respect is appropriate. Demonising people based on their ignorant comments is an understandably contentious matter; there are unresolved arguments regarding “letting people learn” versus “when can we stop catering to the privileged”. However, the middlespace between intellectual freedom and respect is still being hashed out.  And people who have systematically been ignored and oppressed are angry. They have every right to be.

In their deep analysis of how this ‘situation’ came about, Haidt and Lukianoff fail to see that oppression and microaggressions may be becoming more prevalent discussions points on college campuses simply because people from traditionally marginalised groups are now more likely to go to universities in the first place.

Haidt and Lukianoff suggest “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses”, but don’t seem to consider that this is exactly what people of oppressed demographics are doing by being vocal about microaggressions. They are probably pretty good at navigating the ‘offence’-laden system actually, having got to university in the first place. Now they’re trying to change it.

Perhaps we don’t want to prepare students for ‘the workforce’ as it stands. There is still racism, sexism and homophobia, particularly at higher levels of employment. There is still a gender pay gap. People’s income is still more likely to match that of their parents’ income, their skin colour, and their gender, than that of their potential. Why would anyone suggest people take therapy to get used to this system, rather than trying to change it? There is a balance to be had with dealing with and accepting current circumstances, whilst also committing to make changes where possible.

Is it not more reasonable to suggest that during their university education, students start to think about the actions that their words perform, instead of pretending ‘academia’ and ‘intellectual debate’ happens in a vacuum? Might it not be academically important to consider the context of one’s ideas, where they come from and why, and moreover in whose interests these ideas work?

If these ideas are perceived to be dangerous, and “fear of federal investigations” and “fear of unreasonable investigation and sanction” are rife within institutions, then perhaps it is not the students who should be receiving therapy for their dysfunctional thinking patterns.

Perhaps, instead, we should deal with the cognitive distortions within the system.

Top 4 Ways to Improve #SocialWork

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Recently, I wrote an article entitled, The Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing, which has become one of the most read and searched for articles on Social Work Helper since its inception. Whether you agree or disagree with my reasons, we all can agree that social work has some serious issues that must be addressed in order to improve outcomes for social workers as well as the perceptions of our profession with the public. Social work institutions are not providing adequate resources or responses to assist social work students and practitioners engaging or who want to engage in grassroots organizing, social justice advocacy, and public policy reforms.

Part of the job of a social worker is to assess and define the problem, but the other part of our job is to look for interventions to implement in order to limit the effects of the problem while adding protective factors to help increase outcomes. In an effort to be solution focused, I went on search to find actionable interventions that we could implement without needing an “Act of Congress” to get the ball moving. Social workers are the first responders to society’s social problems because we engage people from birth to death in all aspects of their life.

As a social worker, I have counseled an oil executive whose life was failing apart, an engineer after an all night drinking bender, a school teacher contemplating suicide, a man who has taken his family hostage at gun point, and a woman who was shot by her partner to name a few. Pain is universal, and it is not limited by socioeconomic boundaries which is why its imperative for social workers to be apart of the conversations developing public policy.

For Students 

As a future practitioner, you will not be able to work in a vacuum which means you will have to interact with other disciplines in order to be effective in practice. However, social work students rarely interact with disciplines outside of their programs or with social work students from other schools. By working in concert with other disciplines at the higher learning level, we are our best examples of how social work skills translate into other areas.

RICNDue to our isolative nature, what opportunities are we not taking advantage of that will serve us later in the workforce? It’s great to have social work clubs and organizations to increase collaborations within our profession, but it is also equally important to form partnerships and collaborations outside of the profession.

For students, I recommend seeking out the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network at your university, or starting a chapter if your university does not have one.

According the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Website,

Campus Network develops local laboratories of democracy and policy experimentation where young people can work with community members to innovate, scale, and replicate the best ideas and policy initiatives emerging from our generation.Students have changed policies around predatory lending; established a tax fund in New Haven capable of sending every high-school graduate to college tuition free; and even included an automatic healthcare enrollment policy in the Affordable Care Act. Read More

Don’t miss out on available workshops, fellowships, and connections with community partners because you are afraid to step outside of our social work bubble.

For Practitioners

In school, most of the time, you have access to a support system through your professors, peers, and other services. However, once you enter the profession, it feels like your professional support system diminishes. Many schools don’t dump a lot of resources into developing strong and thriving alumni networks in order to maintain connections to former students that will allow us to interact with each other. Many social workers, especially those on the lower end pay spectrum, may not be able to afford access to a professional association membership or costs for conferences to gain those connections.

alumnifyMany social workers have turned to social media in attempt to forge those connections, but most would prefer an option for these connections to be an extension of their university community. Social media constructs like Linkedin are not designed for you to connect with each other within a Linkedin Group. How do you find alumni in your area when you are looking for a mentor or trying to expand your network for possible employment opportunities?

For practitioners, I recommend to request that your School of Social Work add an Alumnify Network for its graduates.

According to the Alumnify Website:

Alumnify will give alumni the ability to sign in with LinkedIn and receive data on their professional career and interests. It will allow graduates to find each other in their immediate area, making it as easy as possible to grab coffee and network. Alumnify also provides interactive and modern data that helps universities reach your alumni and understand them like never before. Read More

Currently, Schools of Social Work are making important school policies based on a couple of  hundred surveys they can get people to answer. Alumni get tired of the robocalls and email requests only they want something, and we begin to tune them after the second year we leave school. Why wouldn’t they implement a mutually beneficial system which could be free to users or for a modest fee to offset cost?

For Schools of Social Work

If we are going to advance our profession, we need to be engaging in the national conversations and social issues of our day. Social Workers are attempting to find ways to do this on their own, but utilizing social media improperly can have the opposite intended effect. Earlier this month, I wrote another article on how to reduce risks to employment when using social media where I stated,

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As a profession, we can not begin the journey of leveraging online technology and social media to advance social work because we are stuck having conversations about account creation, security, and ethical use. These things should always be ongoing conversations, but we have got to start making advances in tech education and training.

Agencies, associations, and social work faculty can not adequately answer or provide solutions because most don’t use social media or they utilize outside firms to meet their social media needs. There is nothing wrong with contracting out to meet the needs of your organization, but we must also have mechanisms in place to address social workers’ technological IQ at the micro and mezzo levels. Read More

Social Workers should be engaging in national awareness campaigns which can provide many opportunities to showcase our areas of practice and engagement on social policy issues.  Schools of Social Work should be leading the charge, and when used properly, these could become valuable marketing tools for your university while engaging community stakeholders.

If anyone is interested, take a photo or do a vine using the hashtags #TurnOutForWhat and #SocialWork telling why you are turning out to vote on November 4th. Then, tweet to @swhelpercom, share on SWH Facebook Fan Page, or tag me on instagram. I will be happy to share and promote the issues that you care about.

Learn How to Use Twitter Effectively

When I first started blogging, twitter was the number one tool I used to connect with people. In turn, I credit Twitter as the number one factor in growing Social Work Helper’s readership. Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter does not place limits on who you can follow, who can follow you, or who you can tweet to.

If you decide to tweet a member of Congress or parliament, you may actually get a tweet back. Some of my twitter highlights include a tweet from the Oprah Winfrey Network and being retweeted by the US Department of Labor and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union.

As an individual, you don’t have to wait until #socialwork get its act together and do a better job at promoting the profession. This is something that we can start doing today.

8 Reasons Social Work Students Should Volunteer More Often

I have mentioned in previous articles that volunteering is important especially for students. Volunteering is usually thought of as an act of kindness benefiting the community, and it makes you feel good about yourself. Although this is true, volunteering can also provide opportunities which may far exceed your original expectations of simply giving away free time. It surprises me when social work students do not want to volunteer or decline opportunities given to them.

The social work mission is focused on ameliorating the community, and social workers should be at the forefront of improving as much as we can. Students especially should volunteering because the competitive job market, as well as the many doors that can be opened. Here are some of the benefits volunteering gives students:

  1. VolunteerExpands your network. I cannot stress enough to fellow social work students that your network is vital to your success. Being community leaders, the more people we build relationships, the stronger the impact we can have. Volunteering connects you with other volunteers, agency staff, and other community members.
  2. Career exploration. Many students do not have a sense of what they want to do when they enter a social work program. They sometimes struggle with their career goals, especially when they are placed at internship sites they do not enjoy. If every once in a while they get the opportunity to volunteer doing a new job, they can personally explore for themselves the career path they wish to take.
  3. Develop or learn new skills. Social work is a diverse field and requires us to have many different talents, but sometimes our internships and jobs only focus on a few of those areas. Volunteering allows you to test new skills that you may have not be using in your internship. Clinical interns can be learning how to fundraise, build networks, lobby, communications skills and other macro skills. On the other side, macro students can be working directly with individuals or providing counseling they may not be doing in their day-to-day responsibilities.
  4. Start building rapport with your new staff. Currently in my program, the first year students end their first year placements around May, and then begin their new ones at the end of August. We have a whole summer in between these where we have no required internship commitments. This is a great time to maybe volunteer or get involved with the agency you plan to be working. I just spent hours volunteering for special events organized by my next year’s placement, and I definitely plan to volunteer more before the end of the year. I made the time to get to know my staff before I start my internship which will make the beginning easier.
  5. Free Food/Giveaways. Do I need to elaborate? Financially strained college students not wanting free food and sometimes free giveaways, now that’s a problem.
  6. Personal Time. We all need personal time and we all need to relax. Social workers have a greater risk of burning out because of the exhausting work they do. Volunteering can be a great way to relax, feel like you are still contributing to the community and escape the hardships of their jobs or academics.
  7. It’s fun! I have the best time volunteering and I know many others do. Get some friends together and go have a good time!
  8. Feeling of Enjoyment. We all know that volunteering gives individuals a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. We know it feels good and it is important. Volunteering feels even better if I know that I am assisting the staff with their jobs, making an impact on the community, as well as developing my professional skills. It’s a win-win-win!

Volunteering may not be easy with the amount of commitments social work students have, but if we remember that volunteering now only helps the agency and community, but helps yourself at the same time. With the amount of benefits that come from volunteering, I highly recommend students to do help out as much as they can handle.

Bullying of Students with Disabilities in Our Schools

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn-FAiutC_Q[/youtube]

Though the 2013-2014 school year is ending for the summer, the bullying of students with disabilities epidemic has made headline news this academic term.  A recent headlining story took place late May in Richmond, California, where a father boarded a school bus, and attacked the student who allegedly bullied his 9-year-old son, who has autism. Burris Hurd was charged with child abuse and corporal injury to a child, and was held in jail on a $50,000 bond.

Reports stated that Hurd’s son identified an 11-year-old student to his father that he claimed had bullied him. Hurd, supposedly inebriated, reacted by grabbing the alleged bully by the hair, pulled and raised the student by his hair out of his seat, and shoved the child on the side of the bus.  Hurd also made threats to the suspected bully, and other students on the bus.  The bus driver failed to restrain Hurd from assaulting the student nor did he report the attack to school officials.

It was the attacked student who reported the incident to the principal, who then contacted the police department. Both students attend the special education program at Wilson Elementary School in Richmond. It is without saying that Hurd’s actions towards his son being bullied by a student was highly inappropriate, life-threatening, and extremely counterproductive to finding a solution to the program.No adult should ever put his or her hands on a child, whether disabled or not, in any fashion that will yield bodily harm and/or intimidation. Though parents and guardians of children with disabilities tend to be overprotective and on high-alert as to how their child(ren) are treated by others, assaulting someone is never the answer to resolving the issue that may exist.

The Astounding Reality of the Bullying of Students with Disabilities:

According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, research found that students with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled classmates.  One research study discovered that 60% of students with disabilities have reported experiencing some form of bullying, which is an incredibly higher percentage than non-disabled students who reported being bullied (which was 25%).

How Bullying Affects A Student’s Ability to Learn & Thrive in the Classroom:

The effects of bullying can negatively impact the educational experiences of students with disabilities.  Contrary to what we adults would like to believe, bullying is NOT a harmless rite of passage that children endure; its only purpose is to embarrass, ostracize, and belittle the student targeted.

Bullying has the ability to adversely influence the targeted student’s access to education, to the point where the student’s academic success can be jeopardized.  Here are some of the devastating effects of bullying on a student’s educational experience:

  • School avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
  • Decrease in grades
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in academic achievement
  • Increase in dropout rates

Bullying Based on a Student’s Disability Status is Considered Harassment:

Bullying and harassing behavior can be deemed as:

  • Unwelcomed conduct, such as verbal abuse, name-calling, epithets, and/or slurs
  • Graphic or offensive language, or written statements
  • Threats (verbal or implied through non-verbal communication (i.e., pounding fist into palm))
  • Physical assaults
  • Other behavioral conducts that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have both stated that bullying may be considered as harassment when it is based on a student’s identity status(es), such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

The issue of bullying and/or harassment due to a student’s disability status are outlined under two federal policies:  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  (The OCR is responsible for reinforcing Section 504, and Title II of the ADA.)  Students with disabilities who have a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which are used in addressing, outlining, and implementing any accommodations and resources they may need in the school environment, qualify for the legal protections under these mandates.

The Responsibilities of School Officials in Addressing Bullying:

Bullying 3In the Dear Colleague letter issued by the OCR in 2000:

States and school districts also have a responsibility under Section 504, Title II, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is enforced by OSERS [the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services], to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is made available to eligible students with disabilities. Disability harassment may result in a denial of FAPE under these statutes.

In the letter, the OCR also addressed how bullying and harassment has the potential to stymie a student with an IEP from receiving an educational opportunity that is appropriate for their needs:

The IDEA was enacted to ensure that recipients of IDEA funds make available to students with disabilities the appropriate special education and related services that enable them to access and benefit from public education.  The specific services to be provided a student with a disability are set forth in the student’s individualized education program (IEP), which is developed by a team that includes the student’s parents, teachers and, where appropriate, the student.  Harassment of a student based on disability may decrease the student’s ability to benefit from his or her education and amount to a denial of FAPE.

The OCR released another Dear Colleague letter in 2010 as a reminder to school officials of their responsibilities to protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities from bullying and harassment.

Under these federal policies, parents and students have legal rights when bullying and harassment occurs.  It is the school administrators and school districts responsibilities to ensure that a non-threatening environment is available to all students, and are to take proactive measures to eliminate situations that may affect a student’s physical and emotional safety, and academic achievement.

What Can Be Done To Combat Bullying:

Responding Appropriately to Bullying Allegations Made by Students with Disabilities

From the headline story covered at the beginning of this article, the parental response was undeniably ineffective in grasping an understanding of what was taking place between the alleged bullying victim and accuser.

Parents/guardians, educators, school district officials, and other adults involved in students’ academic experience, have to realize that they are the frontline advocates for bullied students with disabilities. Advocating for the safety of students and ensuring that students are able to function fully in the school environment should be the top priority for everyone; losing that focus will be ineffectual handling of the situation.  Students with disabilities who are bullied need to feel that those who are supposed to protect them will do so.  Receiving that protection and support from these adults will allow students to be comfortable in discussing what has transpired between them and their classmate(s) in order to resolve the problem.

One key thing for adults to realize:  it is NEVER the bullied students’ responsibility to “fix” the problem; if they could do that, then they would not need adult intervention.

Educate Yourself About What Your State is Doing to Fight Bullying in Our Schools

Bullying and harassment are not only mentioned in federal laws – many states have enacted laws addressing the detrimental effects and responsibilities of schools.  StopBullying.gov, a federal resource that provides information about bullying and cyberbullying, targeted populations, and what can be done to ameliorate and extinguish this issue, has a webpage called Policies & Laws that gives you the opportunity to learn about the anti-bullying mandates in your state.

Create a School & Community Environment Where Peer & Self Advocacy are Supported

Allowing students to be stand up for themselves and their classmates when bullying and harassment occurs is a powerful peer supporting mechanism to establish in school and community settings.

Students know who are the “instigators”/”bullies” in their schools, but they may not want to be the one to “snitch” on their friend or classmate.  Teaching students that they have a responsibility to stand up for what is right by speaking up when it is necessary has the potential to reduce the occurrence of bullying and harassment by more than 50%.  The reason peer advocacy is so effective is because a student who confronts a peer about their bullying behavior resonates more than it would coming from an adult

Teaching self-advocacy to students with disabilities will allow them to find their voice.  Learning to be direct about what they need, and when they feel unsafe will eliminate feelings of intimidation or shame due to bullying.  Self-advocacy is an empowering tool that students will be able to use not only in the school environment, but also in the workforce, addressing public policies, etc., when they become adults.  It is truly never too early to promote self-advocacy to disabled students; it is an imperative life skill to have.

Resources About Bullying in Our Schools

Awareness and action regarding bullying are dire so that all students will can learn in our schools without fear or isolation.  StopBullying.gov’s Prevent Bullying page and PACER’s Resources webpage has a plethora of online tools for parents, educators, and students to fight against bullying.

Final Thoughts about Bullying:

We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand anymore; our students are hurting, and in some cases, are taking their own lives, because of bullying.  It is our responsibility as parents/guardians, educators, helping professionals, and community residents to work together to protect and empower our students of all abilities.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of JLSL.)

Being Black at the University of Michigan

Black students at the University of Michigan have come together to make demands on the administration this week. After bringing national attention to the injustices faced by Black students at the University through the top-trending hashtag #BBUM (Being black at UM), the students have taken the first step toward alleviating those injustices. They announced their demands to the University administrators on Monday the 20th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in what they’re calling an extension of the original Black Action Movement (BAM) at the University.

#BBUMThe demands center around moving Black students in from the margins – provide affordable housing nearer to campus, move the multicultural center nearer to campus, increase the number of Black students enrolled at the University to 10%. The current percentage is 6.4, well below state and national representation.

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan reaffirms its commitment to affirmative action as a 2006 constitutional amendment banning the policy in the state is being reviewed by the Supreme Court. The University’s commitment to diversity and affirmative action has always been driven by the student demand for it, as the Black Action Movement of the 1970’s demonstrated.

As stated in their demand letter,

“From the White House to Teach for America to the Peace Corps, on ever point of every corner of the globe, the legacy of Michigan is the audacity to be ambitious about its pursuit of social justice.  View in Full

The University’s own Provost recently cited current Black students’ efforts as a part of this legacy in a letter released to the University community last week.

“This commitment is longstanding and fundamental to who we are as an institution. And yet, there are times we have not lived up to our highest aspirations. Last term, we saw this in public displays of racial and religious insensitivity and in the daily aggression our students so eloquently described in the #BBUM (Being Black at UM) Twitter dialogue.” Read More

So what of this legacy? Why does a University that proclaims from all aspects to be committed to diversity struggle to create an environment where Black students can come in from the margins? And if they can’t do it – after court case after court case, after task force after task force – who can? And what does that mean for the growing racial gap in access to education in our country?

Last week at North Carolina State University, President Obama renewed the country’s commitment to providing a robust and accessible education for our young people. We can only hope that his message will trickle down to the institutions of higher learning struggling to increase their numbers and improve their climate or those institutions flat out refusing to do so.

In the meantime, we must be grateful to students who continue to push the envelope and pave the way for their younger brothers and sisters. At first glance, the ‘Black Wolverines’ demands seem extreme, but upon further reflection you realize that it is only this audacity that moves us forward. Many of us professionals once dared to dream that big as students.

Our hope now is that Black students at UM have the courage to expand the dialogue to include other students of color and marginalized communities. As a direct result of legacy of activism by Black students at Michigan, they have a voice that other communities of color do not have and perhaps, therefore, and obligation to lift others’ voices alongside their own.

As we know from experience in and outside of college activism, you can push faster and farther with more people beside you, and all our students deserve the chance to be leaders and the best.

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