NASW Technology Standards: How Do You Measure Up?

Social Worker 2

One thing that students and current working social workers are familiar with is the NASW, which has a huge influence over most of the standards set for social work practice and education.  They also have some clearly defined standards for technology as outlined in the NASW’s Code of Ethics.

The standards cover a wide variety of topics, and I know that my education as a social worker did not address more than a minimum number of the standards. As discussed in an earlier article by Deona Hooper, Social Work and Technology: Fails in Teaching Students Technology, even though in 2005 it was directly laid out that we should by the NASW!

Lets take a look at what the NASW’s standards are and we can see how we measure up:
I will be scoring myself on a 1-5 scale you should too!

Ethics: 4/5

“Social workers providing services via the telephone or other electronic means shall act ethically, ensure professional competence, protect clients, and uphold the values of the profession.”

Technology adds an entirely new dimension to the ethical standards social worker’s have to abide by. Not only do you have to know what can  and cannot be shared via communication on telephone and email. Technology has a way of blurring lines that are otherwise clear. If someone texts you something are  you still mandated to report that or is that something you keep private? What about if you hear something in the background of a Skype conversation?

Privacy: 4/5

“Social workers shall protect client privacy when using technology in their practice and document all services,taking special safeguards to protect client information in the electronic record.”

Do you know about HIPAA regulations? Do know about the many ways client confidentiality can be compromised in electronic means? More importantly do you know what you might be held liable for? To compound  the issue  most social workers need to know about how to maintain client privacy when using nonstandard means of communication. This is particularly relevant when looking at the recent development of teletherapy (therapy via video conferencing). Worse, what happens if you store your clients information on a personal computer and it gets lost?

Let me know in the comments section if you have ever had questions about client confidentiality and privacy related to technology!

Access: 3/5

 “Social workers shall have access to technology and appropriate support systems to ensure competent practice, and shall take action to ensure client access to technology.”

The NASW acknowledges that we work in organizations that often have obsolete software and equipment and they clearly state we should advocate for both ourselves and our clients when it comes to access to technology, something I agree with. Good job NASW! Do you have access to “appropriate technology”? Do you know what the technology you might need is? Let alone the technology that your clients might need. This is a gap in education for social workers that needs to addressed by schools across the country.

If you know of any schools that have classes that address technology and social work let me know in  the comment below!

Proficiency: 3/5

“Social workers shall be responsible for becoming proficient in the technological skills and tools required for competent and ethical practice and for seeking appropriate training and consultation to stay current with emerging technologies.”

This is where you can check where you measure up, do you know how to use the technology in your workplace? Does your workplace offer training in that technology so that you can better help your clients? What should social work programs offer in the way of technology?

Let me know in the comments below what you wish your social work program had taught you about using technology to help your clients!

Final Score: 14/20

Ouch  70%!  It is pretty obvious that this is an issue that still needs to be address, for right now you can keep visiting Social Work Helper to educate yourself about technology until social work education gets its act together!

And don’t forget to let me know your final score in the comments below!

Hackney Child – An Interview with Jenny Molloy

Hackney Child
Hackney Child

Hackney Child is a riveting book about the challenges a child encounters growing up in the care system. The book is based on the true life events of author Jenny Malloy who uses the pen name Hope Daniels and written with Morag Livingstone.

I had the opportunity to interview Jenny in order to get a first hand account of how writing this book has transformed her life. Jenny tells a tale of resilience and courage, but also one of the system failures and needed programs to help families function better.

According to the Hackney Child’s website,

“Hackney Child is a shocking reminder of what some children are subjected to as they grow up. The scars can last a lifetime and there is no certainty they will ever heal. The best way is always to fight back. Hope Daniels has done this and displayed great courage in reliving the events of her childhood through this manuscript. I wish her all the success in the world’ Hackney Child offers a supportive Advice and Training role which will remind Social Workers why they chose the vocation of Social Work, and why Looked After Children are so special.

SWH: Tell us about your thought processes and decision to write Hackney Child, and how did you go about the process?

JM: This is such a big question! My thoughts on writing Hackney Child was that I was very very scared about being judged. I was adamant that I would remain anonymous, and this is why I have a pen name, Hope Daniels. I was absolutely paranoid that my mum would hate me for doing this but decided to write it with Morag and decided we would go ahead at the end.

I went through a massive rollercoaster of emotions and feelings throughout – and had to take a couple of months off at one point, as you see, when writing Hackney Child, I was totally transported back in a way that I had never experienced before. I found myself reflecting on my childhood, and my experience in Care, and whilst it was cathartic, it was also extremely painful. Myself and Morag had 1-1 interviews, I sent writing, we used my SS Files, and Morag interviewed 1 person who had applied to foster me. We spent much time sending writing between us until we got the story right.

SWH: As a result of your book and experiences, have you been engaged with the thought leaders within the social care UK system to implement changes or improvements for children who are cared for?

JM: Yes, in so many ways, and continue to do so. I was influential in producing the Care Leavers Charter, endorsed and implemented through the Care Leavers Foundation, Care Leavers, and the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson. I am currently working alongside OFSTED, Martin Narey – Government TSAR on LAC, The Chief Social Worker, and many thought leaders in Scotland, including the Scottish Government.

I have also devised a training programme based on my own recovery from my childhood and addiction, and have been sharing with Local Authorities. It has received a response which I didn’t expect, one of enthusiasm, passion to carry the learning’s through to direct work, and an understanding of what it is really like to live through an abusive childhood, a life in care, and then life as a care leaver.

My time working with frontline social workers, Care Leavers and kids currently in the system is what drives me to work within the policy world. I have met huge number of inspirational kids and professionals, that when the going gets tough, and my frustrations at changes not happening quick enough, motivate me to stick at it.

SWH: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing outreach to practitioners/providers and children who are in long term care?

JM: Accepting the flaws in the system, and accepting that I cannot rescue the kids.

SWH: What is your mission and vision for Hackney’s Child, and what do you hope to ultimately accomplish?

JM: My mission is to make the UK Care System a place where LAC are loved, protected and successful.

There will always be a need for safe secure and loving places for some children to be cared for away from their birth families; to enable this Hackney Child strives to:

  • Ensure all children in care are safe and protected by those who care for them
  • Every child in care is expected to succeed, and receives the emotional and practical support to do so.
  • All children in care receive equal opportunity to recover from trauma experienced.
  • Those acting as corporate parents understand and take personal responsibility for developing and safeguarding the children they care for.

My ultimate goal is for the shocking statistics around Care Leavers, homelessness, drug addiction, offending, revolving door prisoner sentences and repeating, at times, the cycle of Care for their children to be seen as a failure, of the system, that served to rescue them, and the fire in your belly anger that should be aroused at these statistics by the policy makers raises itself, and changes happen.

It’s too easy to blame front line staff, who, in my personal view, are passionate, caring, skilled people who have an inner vocation to change children’s lives

SWH: Most importantly, what is your life like now, and have you found a sense of peace through your work and writing?

JM: My life is beautiful. I had no idea who I was, how I could ever have a life away from the pain, shame and guilt that I had carried for so many years, which I have discovered through Hackney Child and my direct work with the “Care System’, wasn’t mine to carry. I was a child.

I have worked through strategies on dealing with the sorrow that comes over me at times, together with the flashbacks of my childhood, some which are forever new and haven’t come to me in years, and now use these strategies with the children and young people that I work with.

I have 2 wonderful kids, now grown up, a husband who helped me to accept my character assets, and a beautiful, content granddaughter, who will never have to experience a mother with the pain that her grandmother had.

I’m now proud to say that I was raised in the Care System, and not ashamed to say that my family consists of people who were my social workers and care home staff. I love them and they love me. My family is now free from my past.

Social Work in Hong Kong: Interview with Dr. Terry Leung

Hong Kong

Each time I have a conversation with a social worker or social work educator, the narrative tends to sound the same no matter where they are located. In Hong Kong and Mainland China, social work is one of the fastest growing professions.

When I was working in Child Protective Services, an Asian film company came to my agency to document practices in the United States. It appears they were looking at the US model for possible implementation in their country, and this made me more curious about what social work looks like in Asia.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong has become a more unequal city over the past decade, according to new government figures. The city’s wealth gap now outstrips that of Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia as well as other major cities notorious for inequality such as Washington and New York City, says the Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department. In 2011, the city’s Gini coefficient—an index from 0 to 1 that measures the wealth gap—rose to 0.537, up from 0.525 in 2001. It’s a figure that exceeds various estimates even of inequality across the border in mainland China. Read Full Article

Recently, I had a conversation with Dr. Terry Leung who is a social work educator at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where she is also a program director in the Department of Social Work. Dr. Leung was willing to share her knowledge about social work practice in Asia specifically in Hong Kong.  Although the social work profession in Asia is growing at a great pace, social workers are also facing great challenges. Here are Dr. Leung’s responses to my questions about social work education and practice in her country.

SWH: Can you tell us about your background, and what led you to choose social work as a profession?

Terry: I started my career as a social worker in Hong Kong in the 1980s. At that time, Hong Kong was still a British colony, enjoying rapid economic growth that allowed great stride in welfare service development. When I was fresh from college, social work was attractive to me as a relatively new profession. It promised the opportunity for new and creative ventures for meeting the changing social needs. I worked with young people in Hong Kong for twenty years before I started my second career as a social work academia. I am now teaching Social Work in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

SWH: What is the mission and role of social work in your country, and how are social workers utilized?

Terry: A note is necessary when talking about social work in my country. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China under the principle of “one country two systems”, after the return of its sovereignty to China in 1997. Social work in Hong Kong has started its development since the 1970s with the support of the colonial government. In Mainland China, social work was accepted as an academic discipline in the 1980s, and recognized as a profession only in recent years. Given the different legacy and dissimilar socio-political circumstance between the regions, the mission and role of social work in Hong Kong is not exactly the same as that in the rest of China.

Dr. Terry Leung
Dr. Terry Leung

Let me talk about Hong Kong my homeland first. According to the Hong Kong Social Workers Registration Board (a statutory body for monitoring the quality of social workers in Hong Kong), the mission of social work is to help people in need, and “to promote, maintain and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations and communities” by strengthening relationships among people (Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers, Hong Kong Social Workers’ Registration Board.

As in other parts of the world, social workers in Hong Kong mediate between individuals and their environment in their strive to prevent and relief individual hardship and suffering, address social problems, and advance social justice. Social workers in Hong Kong worked in both governmental and non-governmental organizations. They engage in a spectrum of services including family and child welfare services, services for young people, services for the elderly, services for people with disabilities, services for offenders, medical social services, and community development services.

The social work community in Mainland China is represented by the China Association of Social Workers. The objective of social work as stated by the China Association of Social Workers is to provide services to those who are poor, weak, sick, and physically and mentally disabled for getting them out of problems. “Helping people to help themselves” is an important tenet of social work in Mainland China. Whilst Hong Kong follows the Western liberal democracies to emphasize social justice as an important value of social work, the social work community in Mainland China highlights “social management” (maintaining social order and stability) and policy enactment as the key responsibility of social workers. Social workers in Mainland China are deployed in a wide range of public services, from civil affairs to the judiciary system, and from youth and women service units to the People’s Liberation Army.

SWH: What are some of the similarities and differences of social work education in Hong Kong from the Western World? 

Terry: The social work curriculum in Hong Kong largely follows the global social work education framework. It emphasizes the value base of social work, with core courses covering social work theories, social welfare system and social policies, human behavior and social environment, as well as social administration and management. Field work practicum is also an important component of the social work curriculum in Hong Kong. The social work curriculum in Hong Kong has more similarities than differences when comparing with the Western world.

In Mainland China, the social work curriculum also includes theoretical knowledge, professional values, and direct training in practice skills. But as Yan & Tsang (2005) observe, the social work curriculum in Mainland China is largely confined within the ideological and political parameters of the Chinese Communist Party. Social work being a newly developed occupational terrain, universities operating social work training in Mainland China often have difficulty locating suitable venues for field work practicum. Neither can experienced social work practitioners be easily found for coaching the social work students.

SWH: Who are some of the social work pioneers that have helped shape social work in your country from its conception to present day?

Terry: Philanthropic organizations providing welfare services in Hong Kong before the 1960s were pioneers laying a significant foundation for social welfare development in Hong Kong. Enactment of social work education in Hong Kong owed to Eileen Younghusband from Britain, who, in 1960, advised the then colonial government of Hong Kong on the development of social work training in the territory.  Based on Younghusband’s report, social work education developed in the major universities in Hong Kong since the 1960s.

In Mainland China, early attention to social work was drawn by Lei Jiequong, a renowned sociologist who documented civil affairs as “social work with Chinese characteristics”. This connection of social work with civil affairs helped to secure the support of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Civil Affairs to inaugurate social work training in Mainland China in the 1980s. Meanwhile, social work educators and practitioners from Hong Kong played a significant role in supporting the training of social workers in Mainland China. Noticeably, in the southern city of Shenzhen (which is adjacent to Hong Kong), experienced social workers from Hong Kong took part in a “supervision purchase scheme” financed by the Shenzhen municipal government to coach the newly hired social workers in the city.

SWH: What are some of the current challenges and barriers social workers in your country face, and what are your hopes for the future as the profession continues to evolve?

Terry: There are invariably a lot of challenges that social workers in Hong Kong and Mainland China have to face. To name just a few, we are encountering rapid social changes with an ageing population, changing family structure, and increased exclusion of the marginalized population from social and economic participation. Social workers have to be strategic and creative in order to deal with these challenges.

Meanwhile, in the current encroachment by managerialism, social workers are pressurized by the increasing demand for quantitative outputs, which often diverts their energy from quality intervention to the pursuit of numbers. Apart from the challenge of rapid social change and pressure for outputs, social workers in Mainland China also have particular challenge in the novelty of social work as a profession. It has yet to gain recognition from the general public and to negotiate for its occupational mandate with the bureaucracies. Despite all that, I think the social work community in Hong Kong and Mainland China is vibrant enough to confront the challenges.

 

CSWE Virtual Film Festival Series: The LGBT Community “Insights to Strength”

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Service Woman abused by a Fellow Soldier

This week’s film maker being highlighted is Jen Ackerman who created a documentary on the challenges and barriers that members of the LGBT community face in being open about their sexuality. Her film “Insights to Strength” has been nominated in the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) Virtual Film Festival 2013. Jen was able to capture some heart wrenching stories in her documentary. One interviewee was a service woman in our armed forces, and she recounts how a fellow soldier who suspected that she was a lesbian forced her to commit sex acts in lieu of turning her in for being gay in the military which could result in charges under military law.

Someone’s sexuality should not be a predisposition to abuse and predatory behavior. By ignoring and protecting those who prey on the LGBT community and other vulnerable populations, we involuntarily become complicit actors.  I had an opportunity to interview Jen about this project and why it was important for her to tell these stories from the LGBT community, and here is our discussion.

SWH: Tell us a bit about the background of the film maker(s) who worked on this project. 

Jen: This film was developed and completed as part of a documentary workshop I signed up for at the University of Central Florida. At the time, I was in the University’s Social Work program but still wanted to explore film. During the same period of time that I joined this workshop, I also decided to do an undergraduate research thesis. Originally my plan was to have the documentary and the thesis compliment each other. I wanted to keep the same subjects and themes. However, in the end, my thesis focused more on social work students and their comfort level with gay and lesbian families, while my documentary became a profile of the strengths perspective through the lens of LGBT community members in Orlando and Tampa, Florida.

Through the development/ planning stages all the way to the shooting and editing, I worked on this film a majority of the time alone. I received much guidance from classmates and of course the workshop instructor, Dr. Lisa Mills. But this project was a chance for me to learn everything by doing and that was what I did. On a couple of interviews I had a friend or my brother help with audio, but that was the extent of others working on the film, at least on the production side. The art in the film was done by a high school friend of mine who worked with me to create the vision in my mind. The art piece took about four days to complete and it was filmed in my apartment with black sheets hanging from the walls. And there is of course, the men and women I interviewed for the film. They are the heart of this project!   The background of finding the interviewees for the film is best explained by the snowball effect. I asked a few people and they recommended others and it spread. At the end of filming I completed around twenty interviews and had over twenty hours of footage.

SWH: What attracted you to the CSWE Virtual Film Festival, and what are your thoughts on your film possible influencing the education of future social workers and current practitioners in providing services to vulnerable populations?

Jen: I was attracted to the CSWE Virtual Film Festival because I strongly believe in the promotion of the film medium as a tool for learning and education. The power of film is illustrated time and time again when a person watches a film and that film makes them think about something they otherwise wouldn’t have. I loved the idea of a social work film festival because I feel so many of the core values in social work need to be highlighted and praised. I always knew I wanted to make films but when I found myself in film classes I felt something was missing. I was not learning how to create change. When I finished my first social work class it was very clear to me that the foundation I wanted for my films was based in social work theory and practice. Now that I have finished my BSW, I am not the same person and I no longer see the world the way I did previously.

There is something very special and very strong about the way social workers think and function. I find it to be revolutionary and brave. I respect all social workers and it is an honor to think that my short film could possibly influence a social worker. I am excited by the thought of my film influencing the education of future social workers and current practitioners. It is vital that we never stop learning, especially in our changing society. The LGBT community is a currently on a roller coaster of progress with hills and valleys all over our country and the world. If my film can open a few minds or at the very least start a few conversations I accomplished my goal. I only wanted to show others that the strengths perceptive can always be present, even in a place of unfortunate circumstance.  People can survive and it is beautiful. I also hope that this film shows social workers that there is room for art, even in our field. The beauty surrounding even ugly situations should be acknowledged. The art in my film in subjective. The face can be different for anyone watching, but what is important is that it is there and its’ presence cannot be ignored.

SWH: What would you like to accomplish with your film making, and what advice would you give to aspiring film makers who want to tell other’s stories?

Jen: I hope to continue creating films with social work themes. I want to give others a view of social work that they have not been exposed to before. It is important to me that society understands the remarkable men and women who become social workers. The advice I would give to aspiring filmmakers is to not be afraid. I think it easy to be intimidated in the film field or realm. But the thing is, everyone has a valid story and when it comes to making films it is about being uncomfortable and learning. There is so much about filmmaking that I do not know yet, however I decided not to let that stop me from continuing in this field. When you think you have a story, tell it and get it out there in a way is has not been told before!

Join us for a Live Twitter chat on August 15, 2013 at 8PM EST using the hashtag #SWunited to discuss the barriers and challenges of the LGBT community with Jen Ackerman as our guest.

View “Insights to Strengths”:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE-I-ZPzpF0&noredirect=1#at=34[/youtube]

Social Work Action Network (SWAN) London UK: Interview with Dan Morton

In the wake of austerity, there appears to be a resurgence of a social work movement to address the increasing inequities being forced upon vulnerable populations. Social Workers around the globe are revisiting and taking notes from generations passed in how they responded to the onset of the civil rights movement.

Recently, I interviewed Dan Morton who is on the steering committee for the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) in London, United Kingdom. We discussed how austerity policies by global governments are causing social workers to become more involved in politics. Here is our discussion:

SWH: What is SWAN, and What types of issues do SWAN focus on?

DAN: The Social Work Action Network (SWAN) is a radical campaigning social work organisation which was formed in the UK in 2004, and it sees itself in the tradition of 60’s/70’s radical social work movement and the magazine ‘Case Con’.

What makes SWAN different from those days, is that we are a partnership of practitioners, service users, educators and students. While SWAN still has a large membership in the UK and rotates its national conferences here, it has a strong international focus – there are SWAN groups or similar organisations elsewhere in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.

SWAN sees the value in both collective practice and good relationship based individual social work, but understands that social workers must analyse and act upon the social problems they encounter with a close eye on structural and cultural influences on people’s lives. In the present international context, that means understanding austerity as a project of neoliberalism and opposing its levers in social policy – managerialisation, marketisation and privatisation. We understand the links between capitalism, crisis and the inequality and social devastation it causes. Instead we are broadly in favour of a model of human rights and partnership based practice, radical community work and a comprehensive, progressive social security system. The notion of linking ‘private troubles to public issues’ is a touchstone for SWAN.

SWH:  What is the mission and vision for SWAN in the wake of Global Austerity?

DAN: SWAN has strong links to progressive global social movements, for instance Occupy and the wider anti-capitalist movement. We are keen to support those involved in social action such as colleagues in Greece and more recently Turkey. We also have also run defence campaigns when social workers are attacked or vilified, such as Norbert Ferencz a Hungarian social worker who was arrested for speaking out against a law to criminalise rough sleepers. Likewise, in the wake of the Baby Peter tragedy in the UK some years ago, SWAN defended practitioners against the British tabloid The Sun‘s witch hunt against social workers, by highlighting unbearably high case loads, lack of resources and support experienced by many practitioners.

SWAN has often reconfigured the anti-capitalist phrase ‘another world is possible’ to ‘another social work is possible’ – we live out our methods for practice while we work towards that world through respectful alliances between practitioners, trade unions, grassroots movements, user lead organisations and pressure groups.

SWH: What are SWAN’s highest priorities?

DAN: At present to continue to build our networks and encourage practitioners and those who use services to work collectively against inequality and oppression. This means working with trade unions and service user movements to avoid divide and rule. While imperfect, we need to defend what system of social support we have left while envisaging something better. While we are under a sustained attack in the UK which is resulting in a marked increase in poverty, in Greece we have seen people turning their children into social services, as they have no way to buy the necessities of life for them.SWAN has a network of regional groups in the UK and in Eire and they will have their own particular priorities.

At the moment anti-racist social work is especially important in the wake of increased far-right activity in the UK (the rise of the English Defence League and Islamophobia in the UK, the brutal attacks on Roma in Eastern Europe). We must continue to work with disabled people to refute attacks dividing them as either ‘lazy scroungers’ or ‘worthy strivers’.

SWH: If someone wants to become more familiar or collaborate with SWAN, where would they find you on the web, and what key points do you want them to know?

DAN: SWAN has an English language website – www.socialworkfuture.org – and a Facebook site. Our twitter handle is @swansocialwork. We gladly welcome written contributions on radical practice both in the UK and internationally- email swansocialwork@gmail.com. We would also be delighted to have more folk in the US and Canada link up with us, though we do have connections already in some cities and states. In terms of key points, we would ask practitioners to look at the global neoliberal project over the last 30 years and the attendant rise in inequality and social problems. What do you feel the priorities of a social worker should be?

What’s the Difference between Social Justice and Social Work

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice  (SCSJ) is a nonprofit dedicated to the expansion of civil rights located in Durham, North Carolina, and I have been watching their activities for a long time. They are truly on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, protect voting rights, racial profiling, and immigration reform.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Shoshannah Sayers, the Deputy Director at SCSJ. Although mostly composed of lawyers, they also have community organizers who assist with outreach to help aid vulnerable populations. Before we get into the interview, I want to share several reasons why I believe collective collaboration with various fields is needed in order to impact today’s societal problems.

social justiceOften, I talk about my work as a social worker, but I have never really discussed what fuels my passion and desire for systematic change. When I got out of college, my first job was at a Youth Correctional facility until I was transferred to the Super Max facility which housed the worst of the worst inmates in the State of North Carolina.

It was a 24 hour lock-down supervision facility, and once I entered, I was locked-down with them too. To transfer an inmate, they had to be strapped down like Hannibal Lecter, and this is no joke. Then, I went into law enforcement as a patrol officer because I thought I could do more prevention, but this proved to be problematic for me too because of the systematic flexibility.

After I finally started working in the field in which I was educated, social work, the realization hit me that these systems are not designed to do prevention.

As a third generation teen parent, I may not have a PhD behind my name, yet I feel uniquely qualified in understanding how education, social services, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system aids oppression and retards vulnerable populations’ ability to rise above their circumstance. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is not possible without opportunities and a support system. These systems can not be reformed from within because one must either conform, leave voluntarily, or against their will.

My hope is that macro-practice social work and organizations such as SCSJ will begin to collaborate and share resources by realizing you are working to uplift the same demographics.  Here is the Q&A with SCSJ on their mission and vision for the future. Spoiler Alert…They will have their first MSW Macro intern starting in the fall.

SWH: Tell me a bit about the mission and goals of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, when it was formed, and your role there.

SS: The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, or SCSJ, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in August 2007 in Durham, North Carolina, and I was privileged to be part of it. We were a multidisciplinary group, predominantly people of color, who believed that families and communities engaged in social justice struggles need a wide variety of tools to be successful in overcoming structural racism. We saw the need for a team of lawyers, social scientists, community organizers, and media specialists to support them in their efforts to dismantle structural racism and oppression.

Most importantly, this diverse group of experts needed to be willing to listen to what each community wanted instead of “parachuting in” and telling a community how we experts thought the problem should be addressed. SCSJ was born from this deep passion for listening to communities first and foremost. We do give advice and provide multiple options, but in the end, it is the community that decides how their issue will be addressed and our commitment is to provide the highest quality tools available to execute the community’s plan of action.

I was a board member from the organization’s founding in 2007 until early 2013, when I resigned from the board in order to pursue a staff position with SCSJ. I am currently the Deputy Director, and quite honestly it’s my dream job – I get to help people and support our mission every single day. I also get to work with some of the most dedicated, passionate social justice advocates I have ever met.

SWH: What kind of tools and research do you guys use in helping to support the cases and projects that you take on?

SS: Because our staff includes a variety of experts, we are able to bring many tools to the table. We have a policy analyst/researcher who uses GIS maps to give visible representations of inequality in the system. For example, he was able to create maps showing where marijuana arrests take place and then lay that over a map of where high concentrations of African American communities were. The result is a clear visual depiction of the practice of targeting African American neighborhoods for marijuana arrests. Being able to see this on a map is so much more powerful than reading statistics in a report.

Other tools include our legal team, which engages in social justice litigation ranging from voting rights to environmental justice to criminal justice reform. And our bilingual community organizer is able to mobilize local communities on issues from immigration reform to job opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

SWH: Social Workers were originally the staples in the social justice movement, and now social justice advocate positions tend to be held by attorneys. In what ways have you guys engaged macro community practice social workers or would like to engage for collaboration or partnerships?

SS: This is an exciting area that we are just beginning to explore. Our first macro social work student will begin her practicum with us in the Fall 2013 semester, and we are excited about the new tools she will bring to the table. Her work will largely be around helping formerly incarcerated people organize and gain the tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society. Based on her experiences, we plan to create a plan to more widely integrate macro social work into our efforts.

SWH: What are two of the highest advocacy priorities of the coalition at this time?

SS: Right now our two highest priorities include one litigation strategy around voting rights issues and one community organizing effort around empowering formerly incarcerated people. We have been involved in redistricting litigation since 2011, where our goal is to get over 40 North Carolina voting precincts redrawn in a more fair and equitable way. In our opinion, the current redistricting plan attempts to dilute the vote of African Americans by cramming them all into a few districts and leaving their voice unheard in many other districts. We had a trial on part of this case during the week of June 10, 2013, and we hope to hear back on the success of that effort very soon.

Our second effort is around solutions to the epidemic of unnecessary drug arrests in communities of color. The general population of North Carolina is 68.5% white, 21.5% black, and 8.4% Latino, while the state’s prison population for drug-related offenses is 28.5% white, 53.2% black, and 17.6% Latino. Communities of color are obviously disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, which makes these communities more likely to face the harsh, sometimes lifelong collateral consequences triggered by a criminal conviction. Last year we supported a bill in the general assembly that would have gotten rid of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, replacing these with civil penalties and fines that did not involve a criminal conviction. In the current political climate, this bill died in committee.

As we regroup and wait to see what the legislature will look like in the next long session, we need to find more immediate remedies. Our first community organizing effort was a successful Ban the Box pilot in Durham, NC. Ban the Box campaigns ask local government employers to remove the check-box question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” from their employment applications. This gives formerly incarcerated people the chance to get a job interview where they can explain, in person, the nature of their record rather than being automatically excluded without ever getting an interview. Once we were able to pass Ban the Box in Durham, it was taken up by other communities across the state and we now have 6 municipalities participating. SCSJ continues to organize communities to expand Ban the Box.

Building on this success, our new community organizing project is to make marijuana possession a “lowest law enforcement priority.” This means that the police would be seeking out people committing more serious offenses rather than seeking out marijuana possession. We plan to use the same community organizing model (and probably work with many of the same communities) for the LLEP initiative as we have used for the Ban the Box initiative. Together, this type of community organizing can make important strides in reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration while we await a General Assembly that may be more interested in these issues.

SWH: What vision does the coalition have for the future?

SS: Our vision is simple: Communities will succeed in realizing their own goals and people will know from experience that they can make a difference on issues that matter to them. I think of it like this: once a community works with SCSJ and has a victory, they will know that THEY hold the power to make real chance. They will go forward, either with our help or on their own, to make more and more positive social change.

SWH: If readers want to follow your activities and projects, how do they find you on the web?

SS: I encourage people to visit our website at www.southerncoalition.org. We are also available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southerncoalition and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scsj. Readers are also invited to join our LinkedIn Group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Southern-Coalition-Social-Justice-5021808

Daryl spent 40 months in an Alabama Prison before getting his associate’s, bachelor’s, and law degrees. Listen to his story and plea for change:

Interview with Sherry Gaba from Celebrity Rehab and Sober House

Social Work Helper caught up with acclaimed author, life coach,  and host of CBS radio A Moment of Change, Sherry Gaba from Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. Sherry Gaba is wanting to help other therapists learn how to become a media expert, and she shares her contact information later on in the interview in case anyone is interested in learning more about using media to elevate your practice.

sherry-pose-2[1] SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, and your work as a therapist and life coach? Could you explain the difference between the two?

Sherry: I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Life Coach. I added life coaching to my business because I have always been a goal oriented, solution focused psychotherapist, therefore, life coaching was a natural fit for me. A Psychotherapist looks at family of origin issues, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma and life coaching works on helping individuals move forward in their lives.  For example, if someone is feeling stuck at a job and has always wanted to start his or her own business, my role as a life coach is to help him/her create goals towards starting his/her own business and be accountable to those goals.  If my client is stuck because of trauma from the past, he might benefit from psychotherapy and we might start there working on deep seated early trauma issues.  I either see clients as a psychotherapist or a life coach, never both.

SWH: What was it like working on Celebrity Rehab, Sober House, and Celebrity Sex Addiction as the go-to expert?

Sherry: Working with Dr. Drew on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, Sober House, and Sex Addiction was an amazing experience that I will always be grateful for.  It launched my media career and since then I have published a book, The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Positive Recovery and have hosted a radio show on CBS, as well as been a media expert on CNN, Showbiz Tonight, HLN News, Jane Velez Mitchell on HLN, Inside Edition, The Bio Channel, E!News, and many more media appearances.  I have coached therapists worldwide create their own celebrity expert careers, as well, from my own experiences in the media.

SWH: Currently, you have a radio show with CBS and a new book out. What kind of topics do you discuss on A Moment of Change, and  what do you want readers to know about your award winning book, The Law of Sobriety?  

Sherry: The radio show is a show about positive transformation with celebrities, experts and authors that share their own moments of change with insightful, enlightening, and healing conversations along with my co-host, Cathleen O’Connor who has a doctorate in Metaphysics.  The Law of Sobriety is the first addiction and recovery book that looks at recovery from a law of attraction perspective.  It takes the approach that we are creators of our own realities. In other words, our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and emotions attract back to us what we bring into our lives. If we are vibrating on a positive frequency, we are going to attract positivism into our lives. If we are putting out to the universe negativity or self deprecating thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors, that is exactly what we will attract back into our lives, as well.  The book also takes the reader through a process of meditations, journaling, and affirmations that will help him/her unearth his/her , highest potential, therefore, discovering  what his/her life purpose is.  Everyone has a calling and once an addict or alcoholic gets sober,  it is helpful to their recovery process  to replace their addiction with something that brings them joy and passion so that they don’t go back to using or drinking.

SWH: Clients and potential clients have the ability to schedule skype appointments with you. What’s your thoughts and experience with using technologies such as skype for conducting sessions?

Sherry: We are living in a new world and clients are demanding new ways of getting the help they need so it is important as social workers we keep up with the trends. What I don’t approve of is individuals out there calling themselves energy healers, coaches, shamans, and other types of spiritual healers working with clients on very serious issues such as trauma or with clients that are severely depressed or  suicidal and needing a licensed social worker or other mental health professional.  I believe this is dangerous and as social workers, we need to find ways to make sure these “snake oil salespersons”  are kept away from clients that need real mental health services.  This is a pet peeve of mine and with the internet, there of zillions of these fraudulent so called healers taking advantage of many individuals and it must be stopped!!!!

SWH: What are your aspirations and what new adventure(s) would you like to pursue in your career?

Sherry: Presently, I am creating telseminars workshops for therapists and online meetings based on techniques from my book, the Law of Sobriety and coaching therapists to become media experts.  For more information go to www.sherrygaba.com or email me at sherry@sgabatherapy.com or 818-756-3338.

Is Being Gay A Choice

By Deona Hooper, MSW

I had no intentions of doing any writing today, but I came across a video in my inbox that was too good not to share with SWH readers. Many people believe members of the LGBT community made a conscious choice for their sexual preference, or they believe it was a combination of genetics and environment that has led them to the same-sex lifestyle. Upworthy does something that is pretty darn amazing. They make a logical rebuttal to the common question Is being gay a choice?  by asking, “When did you choose to be straight?”.  View the video and watch the responses:

Interview with Social Work Professor Barbara Zelter Arrested for Protesting with NAACP Against Bad NC Policies

I had the opportunity to catch up with Social Work Professor Barbara Zelter after she escaped the clutches of the Wake County Detention Center due to being arrested for protesting with NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) against the terrible policies of the North Carolina Legislature. Barbara teaches social work policy at North Carolina State University, and her class has been following legislation being enacted by North Carolina’s new super majority Republican led state legislature which means they control the majority in the house and senate with a Republican Governor. Here is some of our conversation:

SWH:  Tell us a bit about your background, and what fuels you to fight for vulnerable populations?

Barbara: It seems to me that some people are born with a kind of radar that makes them notice social unfairness.  Even as a child, I noticed things like rich and poor neighborhoods, and I seemed drawn to those living nontraditional lives on the edges.  I grew up in a middle-class family in Rochester, New York, the daughter of a Jewish Dad and Episcopal-turned Catholic Mom.  We had international visitors, and this opened my eyes to various cultures and traditions as enriching and fascinating. Religion was always compelling to me for its mysteries and the social gospel.  In 2008, I returned to hometown of Rochester after 40 years to get a master’s in theology at the seminary across the street from our childhood home.

Barbara Zelter Social Work Professor NCSUMy Masters of Social Work was from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), in 1991 (I get a degree every 20 years: college 1971, MSW 1991, MA in Theology 2011–we’ll see about 2031).  When starting with the MSW program in 1988 we had three children in elementary school.  Before that, I had been an employment counselor, an editor, a refugee sponsor, a crisis counselor volunteer for Hopeline, and other things.  I went to social work school wanting to be a therapist, like most students.  But graduate school can be wonderfully transformative if we allow it to be.

I was solicited to move into the Administration and Policy track at UNC and never looked back. The next 20 years involved community organizing for health care equity, living wages, campaign finance reform, against the death penalty, in support of families on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), etc.  The pay was terrible, but the people doing the organizing inspired me.  A graduate school internship opened my world to the layer of community agitators for social justice all over the state.  I knew I had found a home with them.

Ten years were with the North Carolina Council of Churches; for five of those years, two others–Kathy Putnam (MSW, with the NC Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition) and Micheline Ridley Malson (my first Social Work MSW teacher and a consultant now)–and I ran a statewide nonprofit called JUBILEE, around welfare reform.  It was a project of the NC Council of Churches and emphasized getting the voices of the families in the welfare system into the new welfare reform plans, and also involving trained teams in religious congregations to partner with families who would be losing benefits.  We had a third area of work, called Public Samaritan, that spoke for economic justice–jobs that paid enough, health care for all, etc.  We believed that you must combine community support with policy advocacy.

After that, I worked with the Council from 2003-2007 as their statewide organizer around peace and economic justice.  Then came seminary–I finished there in December of 2010 not wanting to be ordained and having exactly zero clue what might be next. I landed unexpectedly at NC State, opening field internships in advocacy organizations and then teaching.  It was a close friend from my MSW program, Dr. Jodi K. Hall, now the Field Director at the Department of Social Work at North Carolina State University (NCSU), who invited me to come to NCSU.  As she says:  “Don’t burn any bridges!”  You never know which of your classmates, teachers, field people, or others may open a door for you one day.  I am in debt to Dr. Hall; I dearly love working with students at this stage of my life.

SWH: I have heard many social workers say that social work is not political. What is your response to this statement?

Barbara: You know, we are at a time in history that greatly dishonors the proud foundation of social work in the settlement houses. A tradition that blended solidarity with immigrants and the poor emphasized a strong critique of the social systems that neglected whole segments of the population.  We live in a time where the Mary Richmond casework model of professional casework and the subsequent intrapsychic (focus on the psychology of the individual) tradition has almost completely taken over the professional social work field. I have a lot of opinions on this subject!

Serving individuals and families is a great social work task–relieving pain, finding resources, helping people find their ways to health, and community support is the area in which most social work jobs can now be found.  I do not blame students for following the areas where they actually can make a livelihood around caring and empowering people.  This is good work.  However, the alternate path of community organizing, policy focus, and political advocacy simply does not offer the same range of paid job opportunities.  There was more funding for these things a generation ago.

Teaching social policy and social welfare history, I find that students DO care about unfair policies, programs, and systems, but are simply not sure what to do to make a difference in the beyond-agency world of policy and politics. A world clearly driven and controlled by moneyed interests.  As they learn who actually represents them in the government, and which groups are out there to advocate on issues they care about, they DO jump in with fervor.

I think that at this time, it is best to acknowledge that social work jobs are mostly in the personal healing world but to challenge all service providers to always see individual situations in the analytical context of broad sociopolitical structures.  Service-provider social workers should be attuned to ways they can best advocate at the local, state, and national levels for funding, programs, and policies best for the common good.

Some will be called to serve at the next level, direct action, and civil disobedience, in the classic civil rights tradition of nonviolent resistance.  To me, we are at a historical moment that demands far more than polite letters to legislators.  Our bodies must be on the line.  Arrests and jail must be part of our social work advocacy options.

SWH: Social workers have largely been absent from the national conversation on discussing the social safety net that we implement. How did this happen, and what needs to be done to get back into the conversation?

Barbara: Schools of Social Work need to emphasize social justice, political economy, where the dollars come from for programs people like, and our Code of Ethics mandate around civic voice and participation.  I love the fact that NCSU’s Department of Social Work has this clear focus.  Additionally, individual social workers need to simply put in the time it takes to stay connected with local, state, and national advocacy groups that speak out on these social safety net policy issues while they are busy day to day in the trenches.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of debt bondage, just like it was described in biblical times.  Students carry an impossible load of debt, so of course, they think mainly about how to get a job that pays well.  The debt forgiveness movement around student debt is a hopeful sign.  If Wall Street gets a bailout for bad decisions and risky investments for the gain of the few, why does our country not “bail out” students who will be the leaders of our next generation?  When individual social workers are not heavily involved in the national social safety net conversation, we need to look clearly at the fiscal and political systems that keep the whole “caring community” in dire financial straits.  When we do not have national health insurance, a national care plan for the elderly, etc., the entire social services public and private sectors run like hamsters on a wheel to serve the millions of desperate Americans.  Unless we get our heads out of the trenches of service and deal with the large systems, the future for social workers and those we serve is bleak, I believe.

SWH: Many journalists and other disciplines become experts on social welfare policy because of their writing. What can be done in social work education to encourage more students to use technology and journalism to advocate for vulnerable populations?

Great question. I am mightily encouraged by the young generation’s use of social media, visual arts, and nontraditional communication methods to gain attention to issues, raise funds, tell stories, attract support, and move people to political action.  This is an exciting time, and social workers can be part of this transition from classic and sometimes punitive social service systems to creative, crowd-sourced means of rebuilding communities of support and equity.

SWH: What is next for you, and how should others get involved and become aware of the rights being rolled back in North Carolina?

Barbara: I am a member of the NAACP, and as one of the first group of arrestees during this North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) session, I will remain involved in the continuing witness on each of the “Moral Mondays” coming up at the legislature until they close this summer.  Much credit goes to the North Carolina Chapter of the  NAACP for catalyzing a “movement, not a moment” at this time.  Scholars, medical professionals, students, clergy, and others are coming together in a bold way to speak loudly against drastic racist and anti-poor legislation.

We all are naming the culture flip in North Carolina back to the ways of the Old South.  We are becoming an apartheid state once again, and this is serious. The Voter ID bill, for instance, is a blatant attempt to block the Black vote, which was so active in the 2012 election. We are basically at a time when the white old guard is pressing back against the new multicultural majority, resisting the browning of America. This of course is not the language of the discourse, which is around debt and budgets, not cultural change. I hope to encourage more social workers to join in this effort of public witness and resistance.  As Rev. Barber says:  These legislators may do what they do, but it will not be in the dark!  We are watching, and naming the violation of moral, religious, and social work ethics.

NAACP has produced a string of videos with the statements of all protesters who were arrested. I have attached the video statement of Barbara Zelter, and the others can be viewed on Rev. William Barber’s Youtube Channel.

Today is Wishbone Day: Osteogenesis Imperfecta Awareness

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

May 6th is Wishbone Day, an international awareness day for Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), better known as “brittle bones.”  The idea for Wishbone Day was birthed at the Australian OI Conference, held in 2008.  There was a discussion about how to raise more awareness about OI, which is one of the lesser-known congenital disorders in America, and abroad.  Those who attended the conference decided to declare May 6th as the date for an OI awareness day.  On May 6th, 2010, the first Wishbone Day was celebrated, and the growth of this special day has grown exponentially, reaching North America, and parts of South America, Europe, and Asia.

This awareness day is very dear to me because I am a person living with Osteogenesis Imperfecta.  There is an estimated 25,000 – 50,000 people thought to be affected with OI in the United States.

Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) is a genetic disorder characterized by fragile bones that can easily break.  This is a congenital disorder, meaning that OI is present at birth, and the individual will be affected by OI throughout their entire lifespan.  OI is the result of a mutation error on a gene that is responsible for the body’s production of collagen, a fibrous protein, found in bones and other tissues.  OI is not the result of poor calcium intake or poor nutrition.

Those with OI are not only afflicted with multiple bone fractures, but can also have other medical issues, including muscle weakness; hearing loss; fatigue; joint laxity; curved bones; scoliosis (curvature of the spine); blue sclerae (blue-gray tint to the “whites” of the eyes); dentinogenesis imperfecta (brittle teeth); and short stature.  There are 8 different types of OI.  These types range in severity of symptoms and the specific medical problems someone with OI may face.

Personally, I have had less than 10 bone fractures in my lifetime, along with mild hearing loss, and have endured numerous rodding surgeries that made it possible for me to walk (with leg braces and a walker).  The rodding surgeries allowed me to develop my independence, which is a natural characteristic of mine.  (I remember reading reports describing me as being a very independent child at five years old.  I have always enjoyed doing things for myself, and if I need assistance, I have no qualms about asking for it; just give me the chance to try it on my own first.)

OI is one of the few disorders that have characteristics of average to above average intelligence, as well as having a natural euphoria for life.  (One such person that comes to mind when I think about someone with an infectious optimistic spirit:  the self-proclaimed Kid President, who has OI.)  Those of whom I have met with OI are very intelligent, successful in their respective professional  fields, bursting with positive attitudes and inviting personas, seem so enthusiastic about life, and meeting other people with OI.

Though it may seem strange, I am very appreciative to be living with OI.  “Appreciative” may not be a word usually associated with having a disorder, but it fits how I view my disability.  Though I may have to use a manual wheelchair to travel,  having OI does not prevent me from achieving my goals and fulfilling my purpose.

Despite the “challenges,” I view my life as very humbling.  I know how fortunate it is to be as mobile as I am (even on wheels or using a walker), and I recognize that I was given this life for a reason.  As I like to say, I have made “sweet lemonade” with the lemons (“lemons” in this context, meaning OI) life has given me.  I do not view my disability as a disadvantage; it has allowed me to connect with people in ways that I do not believe would have taken place if I was able-bodied.  With each experience and interaction, I grow as a person and my outlook is forever changed, and I believe that the people I encounter are positively influenced by my steadfast, determined demeanor as well.  I know that some people with disabilities shy away from the “inspirational” label, but I do not.  If someone meets me and my life story causes them to no longer permit obstacles or negative circumstances to rob them of reaching greater heights in their own lives, those kind of revelations drive me to work harder in urging others to achieve their unique life missions.

When I saw the various newsletters about Wishbone Day, I knew that it was my duty to use my platform on SWH to bring forth awareness about this lesser-known disorder.  Though those with OI may be fewer in numbers compared to those with other disorders, we still need to do our part to ensure that OI is on the radar of disability advocates, organizations that support people with disabilities, and our local, state, and federal politicians who implement policies and support medical research funding for various congenital disorders.  If we do not make our voices heard by telling our stories, then who will pay attention?  Who will stand firm in demanding that scientific research focus on developing more ground-breaking treatment options for those with OI?  If we want progress to come, we have to be a unified front in requesting such actions take place.

I hope that you will support Wishbone Day by wearing yellow (the official color of Wishbone Day), and learning more about OI.  One great source that has almost everything there is to know about OI, medical treatment, current research studies, and testimonies of those living with OI is the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.

As I like to say, my bones may be fragile, but that is the only “weakness”  I have.  As long as I am alive, I will continue to shatter stereotypes and glass ceilings – my spirit is unbreakable and my future shines brighter than the sun. 

Being born with a disability, can sometimes be a struggle, but it is the ability to overcome such a challenge, that makes it so worth the fight.  NEVER GIVE UP!!!
Robert M. Hensel

Interview with Matt Braman: Author Behind Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence

Rarely, do I read an opinion piece or article not located on a social work site written from a social work friendly place. When I do, I immediately think this person must be a social worker or affiliated with the profession in some capacity. When I came across the article Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence,  I wanted to know more about the person and inspiration behind the article, so I contacted the Washington Square News, New York University (NYU) Student Newspaper. I had the opportunity to discuss with Matthew his article, and here is some of our conversation:

SWH: Tell me a bit about yourself and your educational background?

Matt Braman NYU Welcome Week Photo
Matt Braman NYU Social Work Student

Matt: Currently, I am an advanced standing Masters of Social Work (MSW) Candidate at New York University Silver School of Social Work. My MSW Field Placement is with Good Shepherd Services (GSS) in the Brooklyn LIFE program. GSS is a leading youth development agency based in New York City and the LIFE program is a juvenile justice initiative based in East New York, Brooklyn.

I am also a contributing opinion columnist for the Washington Square News and a member of the NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week student planning committee. My undergraduate social work degree (BSW) is from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Michigan where I also interned at the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative for the BSW Field Placement.

Following my graduation from EMU, I served one year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) also where I built program capacity, provided direct services to ex-offenders on parole and in seek of employment, and co-facilitated two psychoeducation and support groups which included Job Club and the Men’s Trauma Group for ex-offenders.

SWH: How would you describe the MSW Program at NYU?

Matt: For me, the MSW Program at NYU is quite versatile despite the one year commitment for advanced standing students. Before I decided on NYU, I was contemplating offers from the University of Michigan, Boston University, and University of Southern California. I visited the Washington Square Campus, and I was intrigued by the allure of NYU and the city in addition to reconnecting with friends of mine living in NYC. I researched all of the professors I could select before signing up for classes and selected some of the top social work professionals in the field including Carol Tosone, Gary Holden, Steven Ball, and Jeane W. Anastas (President of NASW).

They each have prominent to the field in international social work, research for practice ), group practice with the LGBT community, social work education, and public policy. Thus far, I have been developed advanced clinical, research, policy, and advocacy skills despite NYU’s reputation for providing solely clinical training. I feel energized and delighted to experience NYU Silver with classmates and professors from across the globe. I feel ready to be in my career, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the NYU and the Silver communities.

SWH: What was the inspiration behind the article you wrote for the Washington Square News (NYU Student Paper), and how did it come about?

Matt: So far, I have written three articles for the Washington Square News which is the NYU Student Paper. The first was a part of an independent study for the course Legislative Social Policy and Social Work Advocacy: Federal Issues in Action with Dr. Anastas at the NYU-Washington, D.C. campus. I was to write and submit a letter to the editor based on my policy analysis of a federal policy, and I chose social security 05/bramen/). I submitted the letter to the NYU student newspaper, and they offered me a regular slot to publish opinion articles. Next, I wrote a position piece on how social workers can end more than just gun violence 14/braman/).

I wrote this piece as a reaction to a public panel discussion hosted by the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge called “Triggering the Debate: Guns, Race, and Mental Illness”. In general, I plan to bring my social work perspective to the national discussion and focus on timely issues that I feel are important to social work practitioners and clients. Also, I published another article which reiterates my opinion that males have a responsibility to end gender-violence, which is timely because of the recent reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women Act, Women’s History Month in March and NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week which occurred April 8-12th.

SWH: Hypothetically, what would need to happen for the vision outlined in your article to become reality?

For the vision of the gun violence article to become a reality there are several things that would be needed. First, social workers should explore the existing knowledge base and become familiar with facts and political rhetoric. When that is accomplished it is important for social workers to create new knowledge based on research. Anytime someone is advocating for a position on a policy issue it is crucial to have evidence that supports their assertions. Otherwise there is a potential that a hostile critic can exploit the weakness of an argument that strongly needs an advocate with a credible social work perspective.

I admit that a weakness exists in this column and I accept it as a learning experience provided by my group of professors. I think that the main goal is to know the rhetoric and change it to align with interests of social justice and human diversity. I learned at NYU-Washington, D.C. that ideas and values affect opinion, and politicians vote on opinion, which thus, makes policy creation personal. Its our responsibility to shape opinions using our social work perspectives, and to do so with evidence as much as possible. Above all, we have to be politically active, and encourage and empower political participation across systems and populations in collaboration and in coalition with relative and interested groups.

SWH: What aspirations do you have for your future, and how will your writing be a factor?

My immediate aspirations are to enjoy the remainder of the semester since it’s the final opportunity for me to maximize my MSW experience in such a rich academic environment. I plan to obtain licensure in New York State as a Licensed Master Social Worker following graduation. I am currently entertaining potential job offers and developing relationships with interdisciplinary professionals in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. I plan to work primarily as a clinician to begin my career.

I am trained in Solution-Based Casework for my field placement, and I am highly interested in Ego Psychology, Existential Psychology, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Family Therapy, Group Psychotherapy, and Interpersonal Neurobiology. I plan to contribute writing to the field in whatever way makes the most sense for me given the period of time when I find any opportunity. If I find an opportunity to create knowledge through research, then I will look forward to publishing it. Meanwhile, I plan to continue writing opinion articles. Eventually, I plan to explore more opportunities to add to my knowledge base and professional portfolio.

Child of Adversity, Social Work Student, and Wilma Rudolph Recipient: Interview with Josh Nadzam

Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)
Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Josh Nadzam who is an award winning track star and social work student at the University of Kentucky, but it was Josh’s community service awards and his work with Soles for Souls that led to the latest article about him in the university’s school newspaper. Josh was very candid about the suffering and tragedies he has endured in order to escape his circumstances.

However, Josh credits his mother, extended family, and coaches for the support he needed to believe in himself. Most importantly, the University of Kentucky give him something every other Division 1 school denied him….A chance and the opportunity to prove himself.

We live in a day in age where people who have never lived in poverty feel quite comfortable telling someone who is poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  For those who don’t escape poverty, do not fail to do so simply because they lack will. The lack of access and opportunities along with doors constantly being closed in their face over and over again are barriers often too high to overcome.

SWH: Tell me about your background, and what led you to social work as a major?

Josh: I grew up in Monaca, Pennsylvania, a small blue-collar town of about 6,000 people.  I was born into a dysfunctional, broken family plagued with alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, and other issues.  After my parents split and divorced during my childhood, my mother raised me as a single-mother in the projects.  My father lived nearby and bobbed in and out of my life. When he was involved, it was highly detrimental.

When I was five years old, his heavy alcoholism culminated in a fall where he struck his head and had to be life-flighted to a nearby hospital.  The fall resulted into a coma where he underwent emergency brain surgery which left him with permanent partial paralysis of his left side.  Despite this traumatic event, he eventually returned to alcohol and throughout my childhood he attempted suicide three separate times.

My mother fought valiantly to raise me by herself, working many different jobs, and selflessly putting my needs ahead of hers at all times.  Unfortunately, she battled schizophrenia which often left her hospitalized for months at a time. However, no one comes close to her portrayal of selflessness.

She is truly my hero.  She worked tirelessly, battling a mental illness and raising me as a single mother to ensure I had the best opportunities possible and that I was protected from the drugs and violence that pervaded our neighborhood. Anything I have accomplished is framed by her sacrifices that allowed me to pursue my dreams. I also had unconditional support from my maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle, and high school basketball coach that I could not have persevered without.

Fortunately for me, I excelled in both academics and sports. My senior year, I was a captain on the football team, basketball team, track team, and the only member of the cross country team (our school was very small!) Track ultimately looked to be my best opportunity to escape my situation.  My running times were decent, but unfortunately they did not warrant Division 1 recruiting.

However, I still believed that I had the potential to compete at the Division-1 level, so I recruited myself.  I sent emails out to many D-1 coaches and got rejected by all–except the University of Kentucky (UK).  The UK coach at the time said I might have a chance to walk-on, which was like saying I might have a chance to have a chance. A chance was all I needed. Without visiting the university or stepping foot in Kentucky, I applied, got accepted, and came to UK.

With a lot of hard work, persistence, and discipline, I continuously improved and eventually earned a full scholarship. My sophomore year, I took a social work class and immediately found my passion. I connected with the values and principles of the profession and came to love it. Soon, I realized I wanted a career in social work.  I discovered early on that I was not going to make a lot of money, but I could care less. I found a career that I was passionate about and genuinely happy to pursue.

SWH: You have received the distinguished Wilma Rudolph Award for track and field, but what drives you to do community service which has led to multiple service awards?

I’d say there are many different reasons why I am driven to do a lot of community service. I genuinely want to help people, and I enjoy the intrinsic value of community service.  As a broke college student, I can’t help people by donating money, but I can certainly make it a priority to donate my time.  Also, I love the idea of community and everyone pitching in to help each other.  At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and everyone needs help once in awhile.  Finally, my mother taught me through her actions what it means to be more concerned with the needs of others rather than your own.

SWH: Also, your track and field team is doing something with Soles for Souls, could you tell us about that? 

Josh: Three years ago, a teammate (Luis Orta) and I started a shoe drive off of an epiphany.  Luis came to me after feeling guilty over discarding his worn out running shoes. As runners, we have to get new shoes every 400-500 miles or else we will be susceptible to injury.  While the shoes are no longer appropriate for intense training, they are still good for walking around in, especially for someone who has never owned a pair before.

So together we started the UK Track & Field Shoe Drive and collected 2,100 pairs in our first year.  Our second year we expanded it to the SEC, collected 2,900 pairs at UK and 13,000 pairs throughout the SEC.  With the help of Hiruni Wijayaratne and many other teammates, coaches, athletes, and community members, we are in the midst of our third year and it is looking bigger than ever!  Each year, we have partnered with Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville that distributes shoes to over 125 different countries.

SWH: It appears you have found a way to incorporate doing community service with the track team, what would you say to other schools of social work or other teams to encourage them to utilize the service model the UK track team has successfully created?

Josh: I would highly encourage other teams to create community service projects and become invested in the community, especially for teams at large universities. As athletes, we are so blessed to receive the best clothing, training shoes, and equipment.  We are provided with such great opportunities and the very least we can do is give back to those who are less fortunate.  Also, the fans are so supportive of every community initiative we have led. I’ve learned that people are generally very eager to help out and give back. All it takes is a few people to lead the charge.

While everyone has the potential and ability to start a service model, those of  us in schools of social work need to be the leaders of these initiatives.  After all, our very profession is based on service and the welfare of others.  If we apply our education, skills and resources, we can create empowering service models that can change the world.  Just thinking about the potential we have as social workers fires me up!

SWH: What are your aspirations for both track and field as well as social work? Also, would you ever consider doing a public service announcement on social work and community service?

For track and field, I actually just finished up my last year of eligibility. I still run regularly and may compete unattached in the future, but for now I am just concentrating on finishing my master’s degree in social work.  For social work, my dream is to replicate Manchester Bidwell, a nonprofit organization that began in Pittsburgh.  This organization, founded by Bill Strickland, has a youth visual arts component that works to inspire at risk youth through the arts and ensure they graduate high school.

Manchester Bidwell also has an adult component in which unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers enroll into a workforce development program and upon completion subsequently obtain employment in a prosperous occupation. The main theme of this center is that environment shapes people’s lives and each center is beautiful, filled with art, flowers, and sunlight. I have been chasing this dream relentlessly for the past year and it is really starting to come together. It is very exciting! If you are interested in checking out more about it, here is my website: www.gofundme.com/JoshNadzam

University of Kentucky Social Work Student Lands Role on New BET Series Being Mary Jane

Although he is not a household name yet, University of Kentucky College of Social Work Student, Trey Lindsey, landed a role in the original BET series “Being Mary Jane” starring Gabrielle Union.  I was able to catch up with Trey for an interview with SWH as a result of an impromptu Twitter exchange.  Trey was excited to do his part in using his soon to be celebrity status to help bring some visibility to social work.

It was a great interview, but what struck me most about Trey’s responses is that he still self-identifies as a social worker although actor is probably more appropriate.  Trey’s character is a superstar pro-athlete from Tennessee who gets suspended for six games for testing positive for Adderall. Being Mary Jane will begin airing sometime this Spring. You can follow Trey on Twitter using @treylindsey.

Trey Lindsey SWH: Tell me a little about your background and why you chose social work as a major.

Trey: Well, I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I had a great upbringing as a child and caught the acting bug at a very young age. I have three older siblings; two sisters and a brother. I am of course the baby of the clan. I came to the University of Kentucky (UK) originally wanting to major in Broadcast/Communications and switched my major a few times until I fell comfortably into the College of Social Work. I have a strong passion for helping others. I know what it’s like to struggle and have the odds against you, so helping others and giving back in some capacity has always been a priority for me. I believe social work allows me to do that among many other things.

SWH: Tell us about your social work program, and what kind of school projects have you been working on.

Trey: The Social Work program at UK is great. It’s one of the smaller colleges at the university so everyone pretty much knows one another. The professors are very hands on and provide great resources for the students to use. With being a male in the field though, you kind of find yourself outnumbered when it comes to the ratio of male to female. It was a little difficult for me to get use to only because I had never had classes before with all females. Being an African American male in a college full of majority Caucasian females, it was definitely an environmental adjustment for me lol. However, I have grown used to it.

I haven’t really been working on too many school projects. Mainly,  you can catch me writing research papers constantly and interning at my practicum which is where a lot of my free time is utilized.

SWH: Is there any crossover between your social work skill set and acting skill set? 

Trey: I believe there is a great relationship when it comes to my social work skill set and acting skill set. What I’ve learned about the Social Work profession is that you have to be a great listener. You want to meet clients at their levels and always follow the Code of Ethics, and lastly, always be professional.

When it comes to acting, you’re a professional and you have to behave as a professional at all times. It’s a very demanding profession that requires a lot of discipline, focus, confidence, determination and perseverance. When I’m on a set filming, I am focused 100% on doing my job. Acting uses the “Give and Receive” method that I find useful in the social work profession as well.  

SWH:  How did you prepare for your role, and how did you get your big break? 

Trey: Well once I’ve been hired for a role, I usually prepare myself mentally by learning everything I can about the character and transforming myself into it. I’ll read the script word by word at least twice from front to back, and dissect on a separate sheet of paper some of the emotions and different view points on how the character may respond to a particular given situation. Once it’s time to film though, I zone out. I’m all about performing to the best of my ability and listening to the direction of the director. I try to stay in character even in-between takes and blocking so that everything stays fluid and realistic when it’s time to start filming again. A lot of people don’t know this, but I HATE being in my trailer! Haha

I would much rather be on set watching everything and learning as much as I can behind the scenes. The film industry is its own world that has its own language and set way of doing things. I am truly in my most comfortable state when I am on a set filming. It’s my passion, it’s my world, and it’s what brings me a level of contentment and happiness that words can’t describe.

I guess my introduction to the big leagues was when I filmed on “Big Momma’s: Like Father, Like Son” with Martin Lawrence. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot because of it. As an actor, you want to always be progressing in your career, and I am blessed to say that so far.  God is providing me with amazing opportunities. 

SWH: Even though, you are entering show business, are you open to doing any public service announcements or using your celebrity in the future to educate about social work?

Trey: Absolutely! I’m not one who’s focused on the title of being a celebrity. Quite frankly, it’s a false illusion. If the privilege of having that title allows me to educate, advocate, and bring awareness to others about certain issues affecting our world, then I think that’s AWESOME.

The Social Work profession does not receive its due credit or recognition in the way it should. It has a very negative stereotypical image that was created by the media, and I want nothing more than to be a contributor to turning that image around.  I would be honored to show people just how passionate we social workers are about helping others in need.

 

Can the Education Profession Teach Social Workers Innovation with Technology

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Education Technology Consultant, Margaret Powers, spared some time to do an interview for SWH on the advances the education field is making in incorporating technology in the classroom. Margaret is also working on a google glass project in which she will tell us about in the Socialworkhelper Live Twitter Chat scheduled for April 15th at 8PM EST. Margaret frequently shares technology lessons designed for educational professionals on her blog located at http://margaret-powers.com/.  Margaret is a regular contributor for SWH, and she will be passing on her learning here also.

SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and your current work?

Margaret PowersMargaret: I have always been intrigued by learning so studying psychology and education felt like a natural fit for me in college. Since my mother works with young children I was also exposed to the importance and value of early childhood education from a young age and decided to make that my focus. I studied in Reggio Emilia, Italy, the birthplace of the Reggio Emilia Approach to early care and education and while there, realized how vital it was for educators around the global to share and exchange pedagogical practices so that we could all learn from one another. After receiving my B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, to deepen my knowledge and experience with international education, I went to get a Master’s in International Training and Education from American University.

Starting in high school I began to gravitate towards technology and as I started to formally study education and travel abroad, I realized its power in connecting people around the world. With that in mind, I have explored ways technology can be integrated in education, particularly to deepen learning experiences and facilitate global collaboration. This work led me to my current position as a Lower School Tech Coordinator, where I am able to bring my three passions: early childhood education, global education, and educational technology together. I work with students and teachers in Pre-K to 2nd grade, helping teachers integrate technology in developmentally appropriate and meaningful ways and helping students learn to see technology as a tool for creation, communication, and global collaboration.

SWH: What is ETMOCC, and how is it useful in combining technology and education?

ETMOOC is a massive open online course (MOOC) focused on educational technology. It was created by a group of “conspirators” or people working in the fields of technology and education who dedicated over 11 weeks to facilitate and support over 1400 students in exploring new tools and topics while building a network of co-learners. ETMOOC did a great job in having practical, “hands-on” prompts encouraging participants to try new tools and learn new technologies (e.g., creating a GIF) while also inviting participants to think about how these technologies can, should, and do integrate with or affect education today. For example, Audrey Watters, the writer of the blog Hack Education, spoke about digital literacy and data ownership. If you are looking to think critically about how technology and education intersect while also learning some new tools and joining a community of practitioners and researchers, I would recommend participating in ETMOOC next time it’s offered.

SWH: How does technology help you to be more effective in education?

Margaret: I believe technology can help me to be more effective, as well as more innovative in my work in education, as long as it’s used in meaningful ways. For example, by using technology, I can help my students see an animal species that is not local to our community in real-time or I can have my students Skype with a class in a region they are studying but could never travel to on a field trip. These activities bring new ideas and concepts to life by helping students experience them beyond just hearing or reading about them.

I would also argue that technology is an invaluable asset in helping me be a more innovative educator, primarily because it allows me to be connected to an almost endless community of experts and co-learners. Through mediums like Twitter, I am constantly learning about new tech tools, pedagogical practices, and ways of integrating technology into the classroom. I am also connected to a network that can help me solve problems and provide suggestions when I’m trying to start a global collaborative project with my students or explore a new resource. Without technology, I would be exposed to many fewer ideas and experts.

SWH: How has blogging and social media helped you to carve yourself out as an expert in your field?

Margaret: Blogging and social media can both be instrumental in helping you to share your expertise with others in your field. Both mediums allow people to more easily access your knowledge and therefore identify what areas you are knowledgable about. They can also facilitate connections between you and other people looking to learn about topics that you know. Blogging is particularly useful for sharing more in-depth reflections or information about a specific topic while social media seems more suited to conversations, sharing links to your material, and building connections with others. By sharing your blog posts on social media, you can draw people to that space and share your thoughts or expertise about a specific topic and then others can spread the word about that post, helping to increase the number of people who know about your expertise. Digital “word of mouth” is very powerful so using both blogging and social media, your identity as an expert can grow as people share from one person to another.

SWH: What are your aspirations for yourself and how would you like to see ETMOOC impact education?

Margaret: My own aspirations include working to increase my own knowledge of growing trends within the education and technology fields, such as the Maker Movement and the push to integrate computational thinking in our schools. I seek to be an innovator who is willing to try new technologies (e.g., Google Glass) and pedagogical approaches in order to constantly grow as a teacher and learner and model for students and teachers the importance of exploration, adaptation, and reflection today’s world. I also hope to continue making connections around the world with other technologists and educators who are dedicated to improving the ways in which we all teach and learn. I would like to see opportunities like ETMOOC grow so that more people can have access to that type of self-paced, personalized learning, centered around a supportive community. I believe ETMOOC offers a model to other MOOCs and traditional courses for how people from diverse background and with different learning goals can come together to exchange ideas, push each others’ thinking, and build meaningful relationships. I hope it is a model that is taken up by others in the field of education.

How to Make Yourself an Expert with Feminista Jones

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Have you ever wondered how people use social media and technology to carve themselves out as an expert? Then, you may want to continue reading this article. Recently, SWH had the opportunity to catch up with Feminista Jones who used social media and blogging to craft a web presence that has led to a guest appearance on Dr. Oz, column for Ebony Magazine, and more. Ms. Jones discusses with SWH how she developed her web persona and crafted herself as an expert in love and relationships.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background and how the Feminista Jones (Persona) was born?

I began blogging humorously about the connections between sex, feminism, kink, relationships, etc. about 2 1/2 years ago and took on the moniker “Feminista Jones” combining the label “Feminista” from the Erica Kennedy book of the same name and the Blaxploitation character “Cleopatra Jones”. Jones is also a common surname for African-Americans, so I took it on to represent my Black Feminism, which I think differs from standard definitions and understandings of “feminism”.

At first, I was rather tongue-in-cheek; it was me engaging readers in conversations about approaches to relationships and sex in humorous ways. I began to realize that I had an audience and people were truly listening to what I was saying and sharing it with others. I realized that I could use this audience to spread a more serious, relevant message and I began to make a transition. I decided to approach sex, sexuality, and discussions about relationships from a sex-positive feminist perspective. The rest is history.

SWH: How useful is your social work skill set when giving advice on sex and love?

I use my social work experience and knowledge in everything that I do. I’ve been in the field over ten years and it is fundamentally part of who I am and has greatly shaped and informed my world view. When giving advice on sex and love, I always take in what’s being said and focus on what’s not being said. Everyone has a story and while we don’t always get the intimate details during the first encounter, there are often context clues that allude to there being a larger issue. My work is person-centered and recovery-oriented, so when giving advice, I try to put myself in the person’s shoes and get a sense of how s/he arrived at this particular point in time and this place.

Sometimes, people are hesitant because they don’t know if they can trust me or if they can be safe with me. To date, I’ve never revealed an identity, never “outed” anyone. People who have been supporting me for a while know this, word spreads, and people feel safe. They also know that I’m going to give them my honest opinion. In my social work practice, I never feed people lies or sell them impossible hopes. I’m known for “keeping it real” with consumers and program participants. It’s how I connect with them. I meet people where they are and approach each person’s situation and story as though I know nothing at all. No judgments. No abuse of authority. Just someone who cares, is willing to listen, and wants to help.

SWH: How has blogging and social media affected your career and your ability to reach others?

Blogging and social media have helped me tremendously! On the social work end, I’ve been able to connect and network with others in the field who are doing amazing work in different cities, states, and even countries. On the media end, I’ve been able to secure three freelance positions that allow me to not only earn more money, but expand my reach in various media (print, video, radio, etc). I’ve been able to grow a strong and supportive base which is important to me. The more people connect to what I say, the more they share it with others, and the greater the chance that someone who is struggling can hear it or read it and feel encouraged and connected.

SWH: What advice would you give other social workers who want to carve themselves out as an expert?

I would say focus on something you are truly passionate about. As a sex-positive feminist, it is important that I’m able to get the message out that we, women especially, are free to do whatever it is that we choose to do with our bodies, our minds, our careers, etc. It is important for me to challenge the stereotypes, break down barriers, and challenge centuries-old archaic structures that imprison women, imprison us all. I don’t know if I would call myself an expert. I just know that I am very invested in learning everything I can about the things I care most about and helping those who might be in need of assistance.

I’ve become good as what I do because I continue to care about what I do. Once you stop caring, your work suffers. I’ve known since I was a young girl that I wanted to help people and now I’ve been given the opportunity to do, in several ways. People ought to follow their passion and hone the skills required to be successful in whatever direction their passions lead them.

SWH: What aspirations do you have for Feminista Jones? Politics, radio, or more print media?

I would love to have my own TV show where I get to help women across the country and the world who feel helpless or hopeless find ways to feel empowered. I also want to contribute my knowledge and expertise toward efforts that will bring social media to the center of social work practice. I’m currently working on that in graduate school and within my agency, by developing procedures related to using social media to both train staff and assist clients/consumers in becoming more socially, familial, and community-connected.

I just started a podcast and I’m enjoying radio as a medium. I love my newest position as a section editor with BlogHer.com. I’m a writer, first and foremost (passion-wise), so being able to write for an entity like Ebony.com has been amazing. I grew up reading Ebony! The editing is great because I get to help other women share their thoughts and have their voices heard. It feels good to support people as others have supported me. Right now, I’m simply enjoying the opportunities I’ve been given.

Social Workers for Social Justice: Interview with Relando Thompkins

What is Social Justice, and why is it needed? Social justice is a term used by advocates and practitioners who seek equality and solidarity for the purpose of creating a just society. In today’s current economical and political climate, many people will argue that more injustices permeate throughout society more than ever. With for profit prisons, cuts to education, income disparity, marriage inequality, more people are needed to bring awareness on these issues. I had the pleasure to do a Q&A  interview with Relando Thompkins, MSW who is a dedicated blogger and activist on social justice issue.

SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work? 

Relando Thompkins: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Personal life experiences with the intersections of racism and classism are what initially sparked my interest to explore the systems of oppression, and feeling marginalized for a variety of reasons as a poor young man of color gave me a sensitivity to noticing the marginalization of other people in groups different from my own.

I attended Oakland University for undergraduate school, and found an attraction to the social science courses because my experiences there gave me a deeper understanding of some of the social injustices of which I was already very familiar with through my lived experiences, as well as some that I was not as familiar with. When I sat in my indignation at many of the social ills that existed, I figured to myself that I could either use all of that energy in a negative way, or channel it into something constructive that could be helpful to myself and others.

For me, Social Work was a natural fit because its code of ethics really resonated with me, and not only did I see the profession as a means to study the systems that contribute to oppression on a variety of levels, but I also saw Social Work as a platform where I could use what I already know and have learned to take actions to actively work against oppression and marginalization in a variety of ways.  By the end of undergrad I was hooked, and went on to obtain my MSW at the University of Michigan. Social Work is a way of life, and I’ve been on the journey ever since.

SWH: How did N.A.H. come about, and What types of issues do you focus your writing?

Relando Thompkins: I had experiences in college that helped me to further understand not only the parts of my identity that leave me vulnerable to oppression, but parts of myself that are privileged and can be used to be oppressive to others. I came to an understanding that I’ve learned a lot of misinformation about people who aren’t like myself, and decided to commit to an ongoing journey of unlearning the misinformation, and learning new information. As I’ve explained in another interview, I consider myself to be an Aspiring Humanitarian in the sense that I am continually searching for ways to be more humane to those around me; to unlearn information that is harmful so that I can make room for information that is helpful to, and inclusive of myself and others.

I wanted to document some of my experiences on this journey, and take others along with me. Thus, relandothompkins.com, my very first Blog post, and Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian was created.

I explore a variety of issues through Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, many of which deal with our social identities such as race, sex, class, religion & spirituality, gender identity & expression, sexual orientation, age, ability status and others, and how certain beliefs about people in these different groups can create privilege in the lives of some, and oppression and discrimination in the lives of others.

SWH: How do you define Notes from the Aspiring Humanitarian and its mission?

Relando Thompkins: For myself, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a collection of quotes, personal accounts and reflections, news stories, or other artifacts that I feel have an impact on my development as I work to become more humane to others. Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian also serves as a platform for some of my writings about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice.

In addition, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a valuable resource for social workers, helping professionals, community members, or anyone else interested in social justice, as readers are also able to find any tips or resources I have, as well as any lessons I’ve learned that I feel could be helpful to others who wish to take up the task of working with others toward more equitable and inclusive communities.

By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action, while encouraging others to do so in their own ways. One hope being, that if we can all see ways in which we contribute to the chaos, we can change the way we operate and work toward more equitable and inclusive solutions.

SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their activities?

Relando Thompkins: Anyone interested in reporting their organization can contact me via email at relando@relandothompkins.com or by using the contact form on my website. You can also email me with questions, suggestions for future topics you’d like to hear about, share news stories, and comments. I love responding to questions from my readers, and you can read a few examples of my responses to readers in the past here, here, and here. So please, contact me. I love hearing from you.

I also feature a special segment of Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian entitled “The People Who Inspire Series” in which I highlight individuals and organizations that seek to improve the lives of others in a positive way. Many of the individuals in this series have been nominated by others, so if you know of anyone who inspires that you’d like to see featured in the series, feel free to email me or use my contact form with details. To learn about the work of the individuals who’ve been featured so far, browse The People Who Inspire Series’ Showcase.

SWH: I know you were considering do a podcast on social justice issues….how is the planning process coming?

Relando Thompkins: My planning for this is still ongoing, but I’m enjoying the process. I’ve been playing around with different software, and even recorded a few mock segments on garage band, just to get a feel for how I might present myself. For anyone out there who might be reading this who might have any advice, or resources to offer, send them to me.

SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?

Relando Thompkins: I’ve noticed that I inhabit two spaces in my work: the academe and the community. So often on this path, I encounter “either or” comparisons asserting that one area of focus is inherently better than the other.

Even while I was pursuing my MSW, I noticed that there were at least two “camps” among us in terms of the directions that we each wanted to go in. I’m sure many people may have a preference that they lean towards more than another, as do I. However, I can see a “both and” reality in my practice in which elements of academics and community practice have an interdependent relationship with each other, enabling me to be an even better practitioner.

Long term, I hope to continue to be able to work in areas where I am able to work towards building more equitable and inclusive communities, and have time in the classroom that I can dedicate specifically to engaging social work students, practicing social workers, and other helping professionals in experiences that increase awareness of ourselves and our experiences in relation to others, and how those experiences can impact our lives and relationships personally and professionally.

There’s a quote I love that says “Because oppression is seen as systemic, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame, but unless someone chooses to identify themselves with institutions and systems, the act of honest confession will never take place.”  It’s easy to work against the ills of others, but I think what is even more important and necessary is to look at ourselves to see how we contribute to the chaos, so we can changes for the better. Engaging myself, other helping professionals, and community members in the important “personal work” required to build relationships that can allow us to create a better society will be a lifelong challenge that I’m proud to dedicate myself to.

In terms of what areas I’d like the profession to direct more attention to, I have a few thoughts: I think that in many ways, people are still unsure of what Social Work is, and what it does, so I would like to see more concentrated efforts to increase the visibility of Social Workers on the national stage. I do what I can with N.A.H., swhelper.org does a great job of highlighting the work of Social Workers, and I know that there are many others who are working toward increasing the visibility of Social Workers as well. I think this needs to continue.

One of the things that really resonated with me about swhelper.org is that it seeks to connect helping professionals internationally. I think it builds unity and collaboration, and linking up with other colleagues around the world for a dedicated purpose is very necessary and I think SWH deserves a lot of attention from the profession.

Lastly, I value title protection for anyone who has gone through and completed the education and field experience to be a Social Worker. I can see the merit of ensuring that someone with say, a degree in mathematics who does not possess another degree in Social Work is not able to identify themselves as a Social Worker, but I see Title Protection as it is currently enforced as excluding a lot of our colleagues who have earned the right by getting the degree, particularly those in community practice who see themselves being able to serve best in the community and not by taking the clinical route. In fact, some states only recognize the clinical license, leaving community practice behind. My colleague Rachel L. West wrote about an example of this at her blog the Political Social Worker. This is definitely an issue that I think deserves further exploration do determine if the way it’s being implemented is in service of all Social Workers.

Social Workers in Politics: Interview with Tanya Roberts

It seems social workers fulfilling their thirst for politics, community organizing, and activism on social issues are back on the rise. I recently had the opportunity to interview Tanya Roberts, one of North Carolina’s own rising stars, in order to learn more about her activities in politics. According to the National Association of Social Workers- North Carolina Chapter’s (NASW-NC) website, Tanya served as President on their  Board of Directors until she was recently appointed to the association’s Political Action for Candidate Elections (PACE) Board of Trustees at the national level. In addition to her service with the NASW, Tanya also sits on the Board of Directors for Craven County Department of Social Services in New Bern, North Carolina.

As a policy wonk and political junkie myself, it was a pleasure to interview Tanya who I can definitely see holding public office on the state or federal level. As of a result of the past election, North Carolina’s State legislature is now being controlled by a Republican super-majority which means both the House and Senate has a Republican majority along with a Republican Governor. Currently, Republicans have nothing standing in way of passing their legislative agenda. Tanya and I discussed a range of topics from her background to entitlement reform and medicaid expansion.

SWH:  Could you tell us about your background and what attracted you into the field of social work?

Tanya: My Dad has his MSW and served in the Air Force working with service members, families, and children. Since I grew up in this world while traveling the world, I assumed this was my goal as well. Once I earned my MSW from East Carolina University, I quickly realized that my area of expertise was NOT in the clinical arena and began to explore other ways to bring social work into other parts of our community. For about seven years, I owned a private agency providing mentors to work with adults and children with developmental disabilities and/or mental health issues. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about my community and to bring my social work interests to others. Now I am coordinating NC Operation Medicine Cabinet and coordinating the NC PACCs (Partnerships, Alliances, Coalitions and Collaboratives) working on substance abuse prevention issues. This allows me the opportunity to address issues relevant to the world of prevention with a social work view.

SWH: With your recent appointment to the NASW (PACE), could you explain what the committee does and what kind of impact it wants to have in politics?

Tanya: The NASW PACE makes decisions about which candidates to endorse for national offices and how much to contribute. Candidates must support NASW’s policy agenda. Due to the requirements, PACE hopes to encourage those running for federal offices to be aware of our agenda, advocate for what we as social workers so strongly support and to back this up by making a financial contribution to their campaign. It is a public endorsement to highlight our national position as well as to participate in the election process as an Association.

SWH: Have or will NASW considered doing any collaborations with organizations like Emily’s List that help identify women interested in politics to run for public office?

Tanya: I don’t know if National has any plans to, or has in the past made plans to, collaborate with organizations like Emily’s List. I am certainly interested in helping to facilitate any such work; getting women (especially women social workers) involved in the political process is a goal of mine. On a statewide level, there is not only an interest, but some initial dialogues going on to do just this. We hope to find the best way to engage women social workers in public policy, especially in North Carolina.

SWH:  Also, as a board member of a North Carolina Social Service Agency, are there any concerns about how Entitlement Reforms may impact human service agency’s ability to provide quality services to vulnerable populations with all the demands for budget cuts?

Tanya: I am especially concerned about our most vulnerable populations while maintaining the integrity of the system. We try to ensure that those who need services get the services they need, and those who are fraudulently accessing services are prosecuted. Also, I really want to see social workers more engaged in developing innovative ways to work with individuals and families to move them from public assistance to self-supporting means. This may well take longer than we would like given the economic situation, but it can and must be a focus of all social workers and all public assistance agencies.

SWH: With the implementation of Medicaid Expansion and North Carolina’s recent decision to refuse the additionally funding, what is your take on what this could mean for North Carolinians?

Tanya: I personally advocated to our new Governor, Pat McCrory, as well as to my local representatives to please allow for the expansion of Medicaid. In these difficult times, we cannot afford to cut off people in need. I would like to see our leaders work to gain a better understanding of what the poverty level is, how people work multiple jobs to support families, and the challenges of accepting public assistance because you don’t earn enough to pay your own way. People have tremendous pride and many receiving services want nothing more than to be self-sufficient. It is these people we must reach out to and help to provide supports for transition. But, this can only be done with the availability of appropriate paying jobs, opportunity to access and endeavor to succeed in such jobs and willingness of our leaders to work with the agencies to effect significant policy change.

SWH: With your resume and activism in politics, have you considered or will you consider making a run for federal office at some point in your future?

Tanya: Now that I have run for a county office, I am certainly more interested in the campaign process. I am a Fellow of the Institute for Political Leadership (IOPL) and a graduate of the NC Center for Women in Public Service, Women in Office training. These opportunities provided tremendous education, resources, contacts and encouragement! At this point, I am not sure if actually being the candidate is using my skills best or supporting another candidate. Either way, I will be very involved in politics and working to bring in social workers and women to the process.

NASW encourages social workers to run for office because social workers are a profession of trained communicators with concrete ideas about how to empower communities. Social workers understand social problems and know human relations, and the commitment to improving the quality of life brings a vital perspective to public decision-making. NASW

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