How Should Social Work Respond To The United States Leaving The Paris Agreement?

“Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – Dr. Spock (Star Trek)

This quote is at the heart of a complex political debate; Dr. Spock doesn’t think it’s that complex.  Social justice is one of the tenants of social work practice. This often places social work on the wrong side of Dr. Spocks quote.

Frequently, social workers are providing for or advocating for the needs of the few. Dr. Spock had some help in posing this quote. The question originates from the philosophy of Utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill argued that society is a collection of individuals and that what was good for individuals would make society happy.

You can see this gets messy… and quick. This philosophy was recently put to the test with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. A 195 country agreement to reduce carbon emissions and offer assistance to developing nations to do so as well. Mr. Trump makes a case for economic justice that our involvement in the Paris Accord forces us to over-regulate businesses. He also argues it places an unfair burden on The United States contribution to developing nations. Trump asserts both factors create undue pressure on some of the most economically vulnerable areas in the country. Taking a strict stance stating he “Does not represent Paris…I represent Pittsburgh”. He believes the needs of local Americans outweigh the need to cost-share climate change with the globe.

Should the United States share in the cost of global warming at the cost of our local economies? The economic impact is up for significant debate. The best analysis of this complex issue is provided by FactCheck.org. I’ll let you read it but the economic rationale for leaving the Paris Accord seems questionable. The report he cited on the economic impact ignores many factors including the growth in the renewable sector.

From the social work perspective, this creates an interesting dilemma. The virtues of Globalism versus the “America First” Populism will remain a challenge. How do the local needs of the “Rust Belt” and “coal country” interact with the global energy economy impacted the Paris Accords?

The issue of Global Warming challenges social work to think about where our “systems thinking” begins and ends. Is our profession concerned for the global good or just the area’s they serve? In a recent speech, the UN Secretary-General argued the poor and vulnerable will be hit by climate change first.

Also, what is not in question is the economic impact in the Rust Belt and Coal Country of the United States. This also depends on where you are placing “The needs of the many”. The loss of manufacturing and energy jobs has had a significant impact on services in these areas.  These voters were activated by a hope of a potential change in their economic future. These parts of the country who rely on manufacturing and energy have been economically depressed. There is fear further government regulation and lack of money in these areas will make this worse.

Even if the move out of the Paris Climate Accords does fix local economies, it creates another complex systemic problem. Again thinking about where does our “systems” thinking end? I touched on this in my post about Facebook’s global vision for the world. The debate on globalism is a complex one, but The United States leadership on climate change is not.  Have we put ourselves at disadvantage by not being a leader willing to partner in climate change?

Are countries going to want to “make a deal” with us about innovation and technology in the energy sector? How will the impact on the global economy affect our local economy? Seems like this blog post has more questions than answers.

To attempt to answer this, I again consult the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.  Section 6.04 in social action says…

(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.

No easy answers when thinking about dedicating United States funds which may help globally but detract from the local action. This also brings about thoughts of our core value of competence. That whatever we do to help the most vulnerable citizens in the Rust Belt, I hope it based on sound evidence.

Those policies are based on science and evidence-based practices to try to help these local economies. Whatever we do globally it places the people we serve in the healthiest and most prosperous situation.  It’s not just social workers who are thinking about the impact but physicians are weighing in as well …

Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Independence Day: An Ongoing Fight for Freedom

Independence Day is a day we celebrate being free from tyranny, oppression, and persecution. It’s a day we celebrate a democratic society with the rights to freedom of speech, religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am especially thankful to the men and women serving in our military who have made many sacrifices to protect the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

However, when power shifts from one entity to another, its we the people who must demand our rights and freedoms be endowed to us. As I reflect on the current state of our society, Independence is an ongoing fight to be free. Around the world and the United States, civil disobedience is being seen in historic fashion from the streets of Cairo to the state houses of Texas and North Carolina.

Pockets of small wealthy groups seek to rule this planet through war, famine, poverty, and oppression. They seek to pit oppressed groups against each other in their efforts to attain more wealth and retain more power.

independence-day-movieOn this Independence Day, I am reminded of a speech and a call to action by one of our finest movie Presidents ever who said it best:

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We’re going to live on!
We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day! – President Thomas Whitmore (Played by Bill Pullman) ~Independance Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYKvUN3qb4

Will Social Workers Embrace Hillary Clinton

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1GCOG
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her “official launch speech” at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid –

Saturday’s rally in Freedom Park on New York City’s Roosevelt Island provided Hillary Clinton with an opportunity to present ideas about what she will do to boost opportunity for prosperity for the poor and middle class. She spoke of four fights she will wage as President—getting the economy working for everyone, strengthening families, defending the country, and restoring integrity to the democratic process.

She vowed to support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows unlimited money in the electoral process. She defined herself as a fighter who has been knocked down but not knocked out. She received criticism early in her public career beginning with the 1993 healthcare fiasco early in her husband’s presidency and the wasteful Whitewater investigation led by Ken Starr that cost taxpayers nearly $60 million. She is now embroiled in an investigation of her handling of email while Secretary of State.

The relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character have taken its toll. There are many who literally despise her. She has admittedly made mistakes but has not been found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. The voices that are loudest and heard the most are the haters. They wish she would go away. Take the money and run.

At 67 years old, why would she want to take on a Republican-led Congress? What is there to gain? She’s had the White House experience. She says she is seeking the Presidency because of her lifelong commitment to children and those less fortunate. There are millions of Americans who believe in Hillary Clinton and look to her for leadership and she will not abandon them.

Secretary Clinton is taking heat because of the millions she and Bill Clinton have amassed through their Clinton Global Foundation. There is nothing wrong with becoming rich in America as long as most people have a reasonable chance at success and you are not trying to destroy those chances by undermining unions and depressing wages.

Yet, both she and Bill missed opportunities to be magnanimous with their largesse instead of piling up huge sums of money for their personal use. Allegedly charging nonprofits huge fees for speeches seems a bit over the top. She needs to address this issue because it will not go away and while it may not prevent her from reaching the White House it puts a damper on her public support.

Should she be elected President—and the odds are truly in her favor because of the demographic makeup of the electorate during Presidential elections—she will have no magic wand that will bring about the sweeping changes she is proposing with her policy agenda. She will need an active and vibrant citizenry working with her and the Democratic Party to rebalance our political and economic systems to expand opportunities for prosperity.

She will need every supporter she can muster. Social workers should not just be part of the effort social workers should be leaders in the pursuit of a more egalitarian society. That means helping to register new voters, empowering individuals and communities to become more involved, getting people to vote, and running for elected office. Changing the system often requires changing people in the system.

Democrats have a nine point advantage over Republicans among Americans who identify with either party, 48 percent to 39 percent. Yet Republicans were able to win control over the Senate and control 31 state governorships. They are also in control of the State Senate in 35 states and the State House in 33 states. Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House of Representatives in 2014 but gained 57 percent of the seats. Hillary Clinton has pledged to rebuild state Democratic parties that were largely abandoned during the Obama presidency.

The next President of the United States may be in the position to nominate four Supreme Court justices over the course of two terms. That alone should motivate progressives not to sit idly on the sidelines but to be actively organizing and working to get more like-minded people to register and vote. It would be wonderful if Secretary Clinton was flawless but it’s enough for me to know that she wants to improve circumstances for the poor and middle class. I have no reason not to believe her other than the words of those who would like to see her fail.

U.S. Will Soon Stand Alone in Failing to Ratify Rights for Children with the United Nations

In recent news, Somalia became the 195th country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights document in history and was officially adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1989.

l-61-Hands-with-unicef-logoThis landmark treaty includes the promises of civil, political, social, economic, cultural rights and freedoms, including the right to health and healthcare, education, leisure and cultural activities, and numerous special protection measures for children.

When a country ratifies a UN convention like the CRC, it can be held accountable by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to its terms.  Countries then use the treaty as a measure to assess and also improve its policies and programs to better support children and their families.

To date, there are just two UN member nations who have not yet ratified the CRC – South Sudan and the United States of America.  It should be noted, however, that South Sudan only became an independent country and joined the UN less than five years ago and it has since passed a bill to move toward ratification.

While the United States was one of the primary contributors toward drafting this document, it has never made efforts toward ratifying it.  Soon, the United States will be the only UN member country who has not ratified this child and family focused human rights treaty.  The only one! Years ago while campaigning, President Obama said this was embarrassing and that he would review this, but there’s been no momentum toward doing so.

Why should we care?

The U.S. is a world leader and what we do affects other countries.  Ratifying the CRC would send a strong message across the globe that children’s rights should be primary.  Also, how can we promote children’s rights in other countries when we have not yet made this commitment?

This documents clearly enumerates the many human rights specifically relevant and meaningful to children.  At a national level, ratification of the CRC can be used to help strengthen families’ and children’s human rights within our own country.

Using just one example from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24 of the treaty recognizes:

“the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” “to diminish infant and child mortality; to combat disease and malnutrition,” through the provision of adequate nutritious foods,” “taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;” “to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;” “to have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, to develop preventative health care…”

This article refers to a basic foundation required for children to be raised in an environment that protects their dignity and supports their physical, mental and emotional growth and potential.  Yet, from birth, the United States violates children’s human rights and fails its children and their families.

Research shows that infant mortality rate (IMR) is valid indicator of the overall health of a nation.  According to a CDC report, the United States ranked behind 25 other countries in IMR; this, despite the fact that we spend more money per person than any other country on healthcare costs.

Sadly, we do lead the world in many things that violate the human rights of our children, such as:

  • Production of GMO crops and relatedly,
  • Exposure to Glyphosate (the world’s #1 pesticide/herbicide)
  • Global Warming Contributions
  • Youth Offenders Servings Life Sentences Without the Possibility of Parole
  • Relative Child Poverty Rates Among Economically Advanced Countries

It’s time for us to rethink the United States’ record on human rights, especially when it comes to children and families.  Establishing a commitment to the ratification of the CRC would be a step toward doing so.  We must remember that the articles within the CRC layout “human rights,” not needs or wants or ideals.  Using a rights-based perspective is a more powerful way to engage individuals, groups, communities, and even governments to increase accountability and force change.  A human-rights approach empowers children, parents, families, and communities to better understand, advocate, and demand their rights be realized.

You can join the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC and the sign its petition asking President Obama to send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

The ABLE Act Explained: Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE)

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was signed into law by the President on December 19, 2014. Tax-free savings accounts can now be built for a population that has historically been forced to live in poverty. Up until now, in order to be eligible for SSI and Medicaid, a person could not have more than $2,000 in cash and property ($3,000 for couples) or make more than $700 monthly (!) in order to be eligible for Medicaid or SSI.

This means they can’t save money for things that Medicaid and SSI don’t cover like education, housing, a job BLOG_12232014coach or transportation. While the rest of society is encouraged to save for emergencies, unforeseen expenses and rainy days, people with disabilities – who have naturally higher expenses and higher medical needs – were forced to scrape pennies and do without due to archaic laws and discriminatory notions held by society in general.

What is the ABLE Act?

This bi-partisan piece of legislation will give people with disabilities and their families freedoms and security never before experienced. It amends the IRS code of 1986 to allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996.

The Treasury Department is currently writing all of the regulations. There will then be a period of time where public comments on the proposed rules will be allowed. Before the end of 2015, every State will be responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program.

How does it work?

In a nutshell, an ABLE savings account can be opened up by an individual with a disability or by someone else on their behalf. Up to $14,000 may be deposited yearly untaxed, with that amount to be increased as inflation rises. If an account surpasses $100,000, the owner of the account will no longer be eligible for SSI but would not be in danger of losing Medicaid. When a person dies, Medicaid will be reimbursed first from the account before it is dispersed to the person’s estate.

What can the funds be used for?

Any disability-related expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology and personal support services
  • Health, prevention and wellness
  • Financial management and administrative services
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

This is a great step forward in the right direction for this community. Let’s hope the regulations are completed sooner rather than later so that individuals and families can begin saving for a better life!

Why Social Justice Education Matters

After reading about the Isla Vista killings,  it got me thinking about my role as a teacher and what we can do to combat  injustice and inequality within the schools, communities and even classrooms that we occupy. The role of a teacher is complex and multi-layered but we must ensure that teachers have the ability and curriculum to have serious discussions with students about the issues they will/have/are facing in their worlds.

social justiceSocial Justice Education is not only learning about specific topics, but it is a framework for interacting with students, establishing classroom culture, and inviting students to become active participants in their worlds to make it a better place.

If we don’t engage students in this type of learning, and only prepare them for the labour market, then we are failing to engage them with the task of making the world a more just and equitable place.

In short, social justice education matters because….

  1. It challenges and seeks to end dominant narratives/actions of patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny in and out of the classroom.
  2. It seeks to understand social and economic systems that create poverty and suffering for millions.

  3. It challenges students to understand their privilege and encourages them to become allies of those seeking justice.

  4. It seeks to deconstruct racism not just as an individual act but as an institutionalized mechanism of oppression.

  5. It actively fights against homophobia and advocates for the rights of LGBTQ people.

  6. It teaches students to learn and understand the “hard and difficult” issues of our society and that they cannot be ignored if we want to make progress.

  7. It demands that we advocate for the rights of those with disabilities to ensure they can benefit from all society has to offer.

  8. It challenges students roles as oppressor/oppressed and actively encourages them to self-reflect on their actions as citizens.

  9. It demands that we investigate colonialism and challenges us to decolonize for a more just world.

  10. It is essential if we want to end the misery of oppression in all of it’s forms throughout our classrooms, schools, communities and the larger world.

Too often, as parents and teachers, we offer simple solutions to complex issues so we don’t have to have these hard conversations with our youth. This is unacceptable if our goal is to create a safe, just, and equitable world for all people. It’s time we prepare ourselves, and the teaching profession, to take up the task of social justice education.

Leading Change Through Community Practice

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Social work is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, and one of the most rewarding. Community practice focused professionals work at the state and national level to promote empowerment, social change, social justice, and increased quality of life.

Through the building of coalitions/networks, program design and implementation, community practice social workers change the lives of millions of people each day. Based on an infographic by Case Western Reserve University, we’ve highlighted a few of the individuals today that are making an impact on the local, state and national stage.

Susan Blasko, Program Facilitator For Youth & Technology, PNC Fairfax Connection ~”Celebrating the community’s proud history and legacy of hope.”

As program facilitator for PNC Fairfax Connection, Ms. Blasko provides community access to childhood programs, historic preservation and cultural resources for the families of Cleveland, Ohio’s Fairfax neighborhood. Through the program “Grow Up Great,” Ms. Blasko leads a $350 million initiative for bilingual early childhood education.

Geoffrey Canada, CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone~“Cradle to College to Career.”

As the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Mr. Canada leads the charge to serve over 10,000 children and 7,400 adults through a series of educational, social, health, and community-building programs to encourage academic success.  In just the last 10 years, Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded service coverage from 24 blocks to 100 blocks.

Frank Farrow, Director, Center For The Study of Social Policy ~“Ideas into action”

As Director for the Center For The Study Of Social Policy, Frank Farrow develops public policy solutions and provides technical assistance to support vulnerable children and families. The program’s initiative is to strengthen families and prevent child abuse.  In 2012, the Center For The Study Of Social Policy reached 35,000 participants in 23 states.

Paula McCoy, Consultant and Former President/CEO, North Carolina Minority Support Center ~”Serving Strengthening Sustaining Our Communities.”

Today, Ms. McCoy works to create economic opportunity through small business funding and community credit union advocacy across North Carolina. Ms. McCoy has helped 43 small businesses receive the funding they need through the procurement of $2.6 million in loan funding.

Sandra Moore, President, President, Urban Strategies ~”Engaging residents, revitalizing community, empowering possibility.”

As President of Urban Strategies, Ms. Moore leads the charge in rebuilding the physical and human infrastructure in redeveloping urban communities. Currently, Urban Strategies serves 19,980 low to moderate-income families in 14 communities in the United States.

Tom O’Brien, Program Director, Neighborhood Connections (The Cleveland Foundation) ~“Igniting the power of everyday people.”

Mr. Obrien leads the initiative of the Cleveland Foundation’s Neighborhood Connections. Through community grants and funding for over 1,600 projects, he has worked tirelessly to provide neighborhood grants to support every day people that are actively using their creativity, passion, ingenuity and connectedness to make life better.

Michael Sherraden, Founding Director, Center for Social Development ~“Enable individuals, families, and communities to formulate and achieve life goals.”

In 2010, Dr. Sherraden was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. As the founding director for the Center For Social Development, he leads the organization in the development of public policy innovations to enhance social and economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. The center focuses programs on asset building, civic service & engagement, productive aging and thriving communities.

The Skyrocketing Costs of Mental Health Care

Ensuring the mental health of Americans is a costly affair. Three recent unrelated occurrences should help us realize there is no inexpensive way to prevent, diagnose and treat mental illness. By now most of us have heard about the “broken” Veterans Administration and its failure to provide timely services that has led premature deaths of veterans. Newspapers, broadcast media and numerous blogs have reported about various calls for the resignation of VA Department Secretary Eric Shinseki following a few damaging reports about unacceptable medical practices involving veterans—particularly the report out of Phoenix that veterans were dying after secret waiting lists were discovered falsifying wait times for treatment.

VA Summit
Veterans from several generations offered first-person insight to nearly 100 community partners at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System’s Mental Health Summit Aug. 29, 2013

While the focus of the VA investigation has been on medical services, many of the veterans who are not receiving timely treatment are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other brain injuries because the VA simply was not prepared for the huge numbers of soldiers returning from deployments with serious mental health issues. Approximately 2.6 million soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and it is estimated that 20 percent of returning veterans have screened positively for PTSD and depression. The VA estimates as many as 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

So far, President Obama is standing by Shinseki but finds himself faced with another crisis that questions his ability to lead. Unfortunately, there are few topics too sacrosanct not to politicize. But the woes of the VA go farther back than the Obama Administration. The VA budget has been increased significantly over the years even during the sequestration. However, as battlefield medical advances save more soldiers’ lives, they are returning with more complex problems that are quite expensive to treat.

The Veterans Affairs fiasco comes on the heels of the rejection of the National Football League’s offer of $765 million to settle lawsuits by 4,878 former NFL players (and 1,000 family members) who suffered concussions during their careers. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody rejected the settlement reached by the NFL with its former players because she was concerned that the settlement was not sufficient to cover the needs of the claimants. The lawsuit was sparked by the discovery of the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of the late Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster who died in 2002 at the age of 50 years old. That story was the subject of a Frontline documentary, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

Subsequent to the concussion lawsuit, 500 players have filed another lawsuit accusing the NFL of obtaining and administering illegal drugs in an effort to mask the pain and symptoms of various injuries such as broken legs and ankles. Turning a blind eye and even denying the traumatic brain injuries (TBI) suffered by NFL players resulted in incalculable costs to families and children. The NFL has taken dramatic steps to reduce the chance of TBIs but concussions are still a staple of a very violent game.

The third occurrence—another mass killing—in Santa Barbara, California, happened Friday night when Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old son of Hunger Games assistant director Peter Rodger went on a hate-filled rampage, killing six and injuring 13 others before shooting himself. More human life destroyed by someone who obviously should not have been able to purchase guns. Yet Congress consistently fails to pass laws requiring stricter background checks despite the fact that 90 percent of Americans favor stricter background checks. The last serious attempt to pass a gun sale background bill, S.22—the Gun Show Background Check of 2013—failed last year when five skittish Democrats voted against a bill offered by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The National Rifle Association has ensured that no gun control law gets passed by holding many of our nation’s lawmakers hostage.

There is no way to address mental health on the cheap. Failure to provide adequate resources for prevention, screening and treatment often come with a heavy price. Threats to mental wellbeing will increase as we become more socially isolated, consumed and fixated on our device of choice. We no longer have to leave home to bowl alone.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of US Dept. of Veteran Affairs

Who Is Old?

Edith Connors 77 year old body builder
Edith Connors 77-year-old body builder

Who is old?  What does old mean?  Who decides that you are old?  Who do you identify as old?

Is it age?  Do you automatically become old the day you start collecting your social security? Some people collect at 62, some at 66, and some at 70.  Or, maybe it’s the year you become eligible. Can it be the day you retire from your career job?  Or maybe it’s the day you become a grandparent.

My mother-in-law didn’t become old until she turned 90, while my mother decided she was old at 80. They self-selected when to be old. Meanwhile, my best friend who has a form of rheumatoid arthritis self-identified as old when she was only 55. So, it’s possible that old is when you need assistance with certain activities and realize that you are slowing in your performance. A 72 year old friend mentioned to me, “I can’t believe how much longer it’s taking me to walk to the office each morning. I used to be such a fast walker.“  Is she now old?

I am certain that my grandchildren identify me as old, while my peers tell me how young I look. Maybe that’s the answer. Old, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My husband tells me I look as young as the day we met, which can hardly be true since that was over fifty years ago. Maybe we are old when our hair turns gray. Yet, I have a friend who went prematurely gray in her thirties.

Another answer might be that we are old when we start receiving senior discounts. I do have a senior Metro-Card that entitles me to use New York City’s subways and buses at half price. I have an AARP card, and I now go to movies and visit museums for senior admission rates.

Do all cultures and societies see “old” similarly?  Eastern cultures tend to value age and equate age with wisdom. Unfortunately, Western cultures put a higher value on youth. This causes many of the aging people I know to go to great lengths to appear younger than their actual age. I have an 85 year old constituent who came to see me one day carrying a large umbrella. “Is it raining?” I asked. “Oh, no”, she replied, but I refuse to walk with a cane.”

We, here in the United States and other Western industrialized counties, are experiencing a longevity boom. People here may not be perceived as old until they are in their 70s or maybe even 80s. Yet, in third world countries that are ravaged by war and hunger, people are perceived as old at a much younger age.

So, old may be determined by the place you live or the era in which you were born. My grandmother at 70 was an old woman. I am 68 and would not be described as an “old woman” by most people I know. Old can also be determined by one’s environment or the circumstances under which one lives. Those who live in poverty and those who are marginalized may not have access to good health care or healthy food. People who live in these minority communities are old sooner than those from middle and upper class majority neighborhoods.

So, it seems then that old is a socially constructed category. What old is to me may be different than what old means to you.

There is much truth in the adage, “Once you’ve seen one old person, you’ve seen one old person.” We are aging from the moment we are born; and the more we age,–the more we experience our own individual lives–the more diverse we become. Our individual lived experiences then may be the only key to determining when each of us is old.

Are you old?  If so, when did you become old?  If you are not old, what makes you see someone else as old?  Why do you think a society’s definition of old is important?

Ways Millennials Can Step Up their Game and What We All Can Learn

There is an obvious age gap between generations, and each generation face unique challenges of finding their place in society such as the Millennials are facing today. Each generations grows up in a different world full of different problems, yet we all seem to think we can keep things the same way year after year. The reality is times are changing, and we need to all make sure that we as the upcoming generation are prepared to take over for the generations currently leading now. Before that happens, here are few things that we all should be considering.

Ways the Next Generation Can Step Up: 

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Cover of Time Magazine

Stop being lazy and take responsibility. Millennials are constantly chastised for our laziness, addictions to technology, stupid behavior, and unwillingness to work. For many millennials, this is true, but it needs to change. It’s time to grow up, just in some ways. There are problems facing us that we are going to have to deal with someday, and we need to be prepared. You can still have fun and enjoy life, but make sure you are taking initiative, setting goals, challenging yourself and preparing to be leaders in the future. Life is not all about who tweeted at who and who use the Instagram filters the best.  

Find your motivation and passion. I know older people constantly bug you about what you want to do in life, and you have no idea, but that does not mean you cannot explore. It is completely fine not to know what you want to do in life, but doing nothing gets nothing. You also must like to do something. Millennials often underestimate that their interests can turn into possible job opportunities or limit their opportunities based on their major or what their parents/elders tell them they should do. Explore all options! Do not let other people tell you what to do. Your passion comes from inside you, not someone else. Go out there and get motivated!

Listen to more experienced individuals. This is valuable. You should be active trying to listening to people more experienced than you. Why? Because they have experience more than you! Every internship I had, I tried to connect with leaders in the agency and just listened to their story. Whether I believed it was useful or not, I learned how other people developed skills and got to their current position. It’s extremely helpful if you have no idea what to do, or have an idea but do not know which route to take. Learning the pros and cons of someone else’s experiences, can give you the opportunity to learn about paths before you experience them yourself. Also, talking with older people is great; you create a relationships and build your network!

Put down the technology! Now, I know what you’re thinking, I hear this all the time. People are too obsessed with technology now a days. I agree that I cannot live without my phone and my computer, but think about how you use it. Tweeting your every move, posting a picture of every moment, or texting people in the same room as you. Why do you think we have been called the “Me” generation? We are obsessed with ourselves. Put the phone down in social situations. Why don’t you try something crazy and talk to people face to face? Technology should used to advanced society and connect on a larger level, not post your ignorant thoughts or unflattering pictures. People lose jobs over Facebook, people damage relationships over Twitter, and a reputation you have worked years for can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. Learning proper social media and technology practices could go a long way.

Question authority and practices. This is something I constantly do everyday of my life. Why? Because society changes, and the way we run the world should sometimes as well. If you do not understand why things happen a certain way, question it. If you do not agree with how something operates, say something. If you have an idea to make things better, speak up. We need people to step up for what they believe is right in order to effectively collaborate as a society. We need people with many diverse opinions to give their views on how they think what should happen. You cannot complain about how things are run, if you do not contribute to bettering the conversation.

Now that I went over a few ways, millennials can step up their game, let’s discuss some reasons older generations should listen.

You do not know everything. I hate to be blunt, but it is true. This is blatantly evident when I look at the media, read about politicians or listen to people older than me. Many older individuals believe they know everything about the world due to their experiences and a young person trying to tell you something otherwise is foolish. Yes, many times we are wrong or naive about situations, but sometimes we can teach you things too. How else are you going to figure out how to use the new smart phone?

Admit your wrong. Yes, sometimes you are wrong, did you forget that? I am not trying to pick on older generations or be sassy, but really think about decisions and statements you make in your life. We are not the only ones being challenged by every days situations. No one is perfect, and it is ok. Admitting you are wrong and moving forward is a more admirable characteristic than being stubborn.

We think differently. We have great ideas and different perspectives! We will never know if we are doing the right thing, if you do not give us a chance to speak. Whether we are right or wrong, the fact that you took your time to listen means the world. I hated my supervisors when they did not listen to my ideas or thoughts, and they just nod at me to acknowledge I said something. It is frustrating when a person in an older generation does not care we have to say. We are experts in our own ways. Give us a voice for once!

You have not grown up in the same worldWhat worked for you, may not work the same as it would today. It is hard to believe that the world has changed so much in a little time period, but it has. Did you take online courses while in college? Did you have people constantly posting photos of every social interaction to the internet which can then be accessed by everyone in the world? Did you have to take out a more student loans than you will in a home mortgage? Most likely not. Yes we still share similar experiences, but do not assume that back in your day is the same situation as in my day now.

Generations before us made the problems we face today. The economy, climate change, rise in college tuition, poverty, our “laziness”, and many more issues are results of generations before us. You all have dictated the path to where we are today, and we are dealing with it. I am not blaming a particular person, but just keep this in mind before you dismiss my thoughts.

Now that’s done, here are a few things we ALL should be thinking about:

Stop thinking the world revolves around you. It doesn’t and don’t forget it. Selfishly thinking about yourself has led our society to the problems we face today. Don’t think you are any better than anyone else. Focus on how you can contribute back to society and help other people in any way possible.

Never think you are done learning. The world changes everyday, and new things happen. You can always learn something new every day of your life. Do not ever think you are done. Come on Gandhi even agrees.

Give more than you get. I learned this recently in a mentorship program I am participating in. The world is not only about making the best out of it, but giving to other people. The more you give to others, the better you are going to feel. The stronger our society will be stronger as a whole if people just stopped and cared more about other people for a change.

Courtesy of Time Magazine

Ageism In The Workplace

If we are not welcome in the workplace and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially?

Can you imagine a workforce made up of 3 generations?  I am 68, my children are in their forties, and my oldest grandchild is 17. I am one of the fortunate aging boomers who is still part of the American workforce. I have no problem envisioning a workplace where my granddaughter, my son, and I will all be participating in the growth of our nation’s economy. Yet, there is one major obstacle to achieving this goal. It is the oldest, most entrenched form of discrimination in this country. Ageism!

agediscriminationintheworkplace02Nowhere is it easier to identify ageism than in the workplace. As older workers are staying longer and younger workers enter the field, more often than not they will find themselves part of a multigenerational workforce. By the middle of the next decade, the United States will be an aging society, with more Americans over age 60 than under age 15.

What this means for an evolving job market is that there will not be enough young workers to fill entry level jobs. We will then have two choices. We can import young workers from other countries, or we can prepare ahead by accommodating older workers and encouraging them to remain or re-enter the workplace. This would be a welcoming departure from the cold shoulder that older workers receive when applying for jobs today.

Our country’s leaders are always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to planning ahead. For years and years people have been writing about the “graying of the American workforce” and the “aging tsunami”. The boomers are not coming; we have arrived!

We are healthier than previous generations, and we are living longer–in many cases, as much as 20 years longer. Yet, when we leave our career jobs, whether by choice or not by choice, we step into a void. We discover that there is no role for us in society. We become invisible. The invisible man today is not a bandaged wrapped non-body. He is an invisible somebody.

Here’s the dilemma: If we are not welcome in the workplace, and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially? We have the intelligence, skills and wisdom to become one of society’s greatest assets.  Yet, without the opportunity to earn our own way, we will certainly become society’s burden. Most salient is our position as repositories of historical and cultural history and our ability to solve long term problems that younger people do not have the time for.

One excuse I hear for not keeping or hiring older workers is the fear that it will be too expensive. “They will be sick too often and, therefore, be less productive.” Not true. Older workers come with an innate work ethic. We take less sick days than our younger co-workers. We also come with our own health insurance, namely, Medicare. And, older workers are often willing to work for lower salaries as a supplement to our Social Security.

Mainly, we want to be valued and be seen as contributors to a better society, not as a drain. I wonder if those who would shut older adults out of the workforce are ageists who drank the youth-obsessed Kool-Aide that the media hands out. They probably do not even recognize their own internalized ageism. Have they thought about why they do not want a workplace filled with grey haired people? Could it possibly be the threat of having a workforce who reflect the true life process of aging that they would rather deny?

Ageism does not only affect the old. It affects our entire society. It deprives one generation the opportunity to pass on knowledge to the next, while depriving the younger generation the opportunity to learn and build on that knowledge.  It deprives an older generation the opportunity to keep growing and learning new skills for which the young are our best teachers.

The stereotypes of older people that we all own do not match up with the reality of today.  They are out of date.  It’s time for an upgrade.

 

Addiction: Treat the Parent – Treat the Child

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This past week has seen a report from the London School of Economics that has looked at the impact of the war on drugs. What they found is that it has been a miserable failure around the world. From an economic perspective, the war has cost billions but the supply of drugs is cheaper and better quality while rates of usage has not been impacted. The time for a conversation about drugs as a health problem seems to be at hand.

Addiction is one of the most common problems for families that come to the attention of child protection. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration in the United States estimates that about one out of every ten children live with a parent who has a substance abuse or substance dependence problem. Michelle Kelley and her colleagues at Old Dominion University point out that fact in some new research.

We also know that children exposed to greater amounts of chronic substance abuse tend to have more emotional, behavioral, social, academic problems than their non-exposed peers. They also have a 2-4 times greater risk of developing their own substance abuse problems.

This is a major health concern. Yet, it is often not treated as such. The National Academies have just released a report that shows that the United States incarcerates more people for drug offences than any other country in the world. In general, from the 1920’s to the early 1970’s saw stable rates of incarceration. But as the war on drugs began, the rates quadrupled. Drugs became a criminal as opposed to a health issue.

Sadly, many drug users resort to fairly low levels of crime in order to sustain the drug habit. But, they also get caught and end up jailed. Too many of those people are parents. Yes, it is true that drug use exposure for children is negative but so too is the loss of a parent to the prison system.

Knowing the negative impacts on children, when we are able to focus on rehabilitation services for the parents, we can too often ignore the needs of the children. They too need therapy. The research by Kelly and colleagues identified that most parents will consent to their children also getting treatment.

There is a lot of good research that shows addiction is really a family disease. Thus, we should treat the family. A parent entering rehabilitation seems like the perfect opportunity for us to pay attention to the needs of the other family members, including the children.

It might also be remembered that, if the parent is sent to jail, there may be less focus on the health issues, particularly for the children. The research published this last week should allow us to think again. It should also cause child protection to ensure that case planning with these families should have specific treatment objectives for the children.

When Preparation Meets Opportunity: Old Lessons Are New Again

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Years ago in a relatively small town, a failed board election campaign was ultimately lost by the candidate I worked for, but it taught me some fundamental lessons about the political process. Even at that level, the lessons mirrored lessons I had learned years before as a failed candidate for high school student council president. These lessons seem even more important in the face of Voter ID laws, Citizens United, and McCutcheon v FEC. Money can be a menace, but ignorance of the process can be just as detrimental.

First Friends
After watching my friend unsuccessfully compete for the school board seat, he had apparently learned something the second time around when he decided to schedule a meeting with the head of the Ministerial Council.

What he did not practice the first time around is the law of first friends. The whole entourage thing that some celebs have going is also a necessity in electoral politics. If you cannot show that you have friends that will hang with you, it is hard to convince groups to support you. The first meeting with the Ministerial Council, my friend called at the last minute to ask if I would accompany him. He said frantically, “We’re meeting at a restaurant”.  They asked if I had anyone to bring with me. I panicked and said your name.” The meeting went well, but the pastors in attendance wondered aloud why our pastor was not a member of the council. Needless to say, the next meeting included our pastor.

The Power of People Knowing You
The naive may think that politics is a simple matter of getting your name on the ballot. “It’s who you know,” they may say. My friend knew how to get on the ballot. But, his miscalculation was what it took to get voters to select his name as opposed to others. “It’s not just about who you know, but it’s also about who knows you.” Another lesson, he learned the hard way.

The second time around, his campaign was top-to-bottom about creating a compelling narrative to inform constituents. He pulled his family along on trips to local churches, soul food restaurants, school PTA meetings, and more. He became a master of striking up conversations with strangers.

The Mechanism of Campaigning
My friend’s run at the school board post was much more methodical the second time around. I had learned the lessons of creating a campaign mechanism as a high school senior. I was well-known in my school of about 1000 students, but being well-known does not make a campaign that requires action.

One morning a couple of days prior to the election, I arrived to school and was greeted at the door by my two challengers each with their own tables handing out ice cream to the student body. It was if I had turned to stone as I watched voters streaming to their tables accepting treats. I have often reflected on that moment as my career has progressed. Never again will I rely on organic development when it matters. I will find ways to connect with people I do not know, and I will never underestimate the power of a small cup of ice cream.

The Reality of Politics
With the fluster around money, the truth can be lost that voters want to be informed and are capable of voting their conscience. It is true that many vote on ideals or out of resistance to a candidate. My friend’s bid for school board was fraught with expenses from filing fees to yard signs to personal donations to charities. Hosting fundraisers was a legitimate support activity. Yet, he was not the pick of the party. It was not just money he was up against. It was an institutional structure.

Even more striking is the change that happens when a voter or a political wannabe comprehends the political entity itself. More than just how a bill becomes a law, how certain individuals in certain positions balance power and protect individual liberties.

At the conclusion of his campaign, my friend notified me that the party so admired his campaign that he had been appointed to another non-elected board position in the city. On that board, he rose to represent the city in national venues.

My failed student council bid resulted in focused work on the class level, and I was invited by the class president to get involved. Most notably, I worked to craft an awareness campaign for a multi-campus radio competition.

From where I sit, both these failures turned successes were accomplished through knowledge of the system, who knew us, but also through someone who was willing to appoint us to important tasks. Our requirement was to make ourselves a target for appointment.

Bring Back Our Girls: Human Trafficking Must End

@FLOTUS/Michelle Obama
@FLOTUS/Michelle Obama

It is critically important that social workers remain at the forefront of preventing the abuse and exploitation of children and adults. The exploitation of humans both nationally and internationally must be brought to an end immediately. Recently, approximately 230 Nigerian girls were abducted from school by a militant group in hopes of selling the children as a form of human trafficking.

According to the Guardian,

After Nigerian protestors marched on parliament in the capital Abuja calling for action on April 30, people in cities around the world have followed suit and organised their own marches.

A social media campaign under the hashtag #Bringbackourgirls started trending in Nigeria two weeks ago and has now been tweeted more than one million times. It was first used on April 23 at the opening ceremony for a UNESCO event honouring the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital City. A Nigerian lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, tweeted the call in a speech by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Vice President of the World Bank for Africa to “Bring Back the Girls!”  Read Full Article

Across our nation, it is estimated that since 1999, approximately 800,000 have been reported as missing. Children in our very own system are being preyed upon by sex traffickers. The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) will continue to work in partnership with governmental organizations and agencies and Congress to protect children and families in the United States and on a global basis.We must continue to monitor and support legislation introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) – H.R. 1732 Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, and Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – H.R. 3905

We must continue to monitor and support legislation introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) – H.R. 1732Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act,  and Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – H.R. 3905Improving the Response to Missing Children and Victims of Child Sex Trafficking Bill. In addition, let’s continue to linking up with fellow social workers around the world to combat human trafficking through various Departments of Social Services,CNN’s Freedom Project, and organizations such as Half the SkySave the Children, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Social workers are fighters for social justice. Let’s continue to ring the alarm and end human trafficking.

The Crisis of Identity: the First Year Out as a Social Worker

Four intense years are spent learning social work theories and attending practicums to put theories learned into practice. Our values are challenged, we get a feel of our area of interest, and we develop our professional identities by being thrown into the deep end of field practicums. We receive our own clients, we mingle with existing professionals, and  we are responsible for our load. In class, we are placed in role plays that depict social work dilemmas and our conflict skills are tested.

kassie graduateOur assignments involve creating realistic workshops for client groups and given to agencies to use. Then, we write our resumes and locate our professional selves in preparation for employment. Last, we present a conference for professionals in all fields sharing our insights, passion and skills, and we write a final academic paper pinpointing an area of interest and our ideas for positive change.

But at what point do we become social workers? At what point do we suddenly go from student to professional? Our final placement leads us to feel we are inches away from being true professionals – we have our own clients, we participate in staff meetings and discussions, we write client notes and case manage, we attend regular educational workshops.

When we have our final class, we are congratulated as social workers; our photograph is taken and hung in the University humanities foyer. Then, we are told see you ‘in the field’.  We relax for a few weeks…we feel OK to kick back from job searching instantly as we are burned out from the crazy hours and stress spent on our conference paper. Also, it is near the end of the year, and we are told jobs will roll out at the beginning of next year.

Next year comes. We start searching for jobs. But we find a lot of the criteria requires two years POST experience…despite our placements, our four years of study…we are suddenly not qualified enough. Some of us have had jobs in the field but not for two years. Does this mean we are not fully-equipped social workers? Are we now simply ‘newbies’ who still do not know enough to get a real job?

How did we go from being prepped for employment, bursting to the brim with anticipation to suddenly not being ready? Some job applications do not return our expressions of interest, yet we hear a massive need for social workers. We suddenly feel inept despite being told we are professionals, and we suddenly feel there are no jobs for us despite being primed for employment.

We start to fear losing our skills and becoming rusty…we start to doubt our ability. We go from calling ourselves social workers to saying we have no experience because the jobs we search for require this. What do we do? Volunteer? But what about those of us who need to earn a living? Must we begin again on at the bottom of the rung when we have done the hard yards of study and placements?

Despite gaining a degree, we feel as though we are back in Kindergarten. So what are we to do? Ride it out? Keep applying? Go for other jobs that do not spell ‘social work’ and get our foot in the door that way? Endlessly advertise ourselves in the hope we will be in the right place at the right time? How do you manage the huge ball of anticipation you’ve been building for four years to sink your teeth into employment to have to sit and wait…wait…wait.

Again, at what point do we graduates become recognised as social work professionals?

Hiring and Potentially Unlawful Employment Practices

Twice in the last week I’ve been confronted by the issue of asking employment applicants whether they have any health or disability-related needs or requirements. First at a Human Resources Institute diversity event, and then on the application form for a part-time position I have applied for.

The practice seems quite prevalent among employers, who seem unaware that it is a potential breach of human rights. Based on the four years I spent working for the Human Rights Commission, let me explain what the problems, risks and solutions are.

Disability_symbols_16The Problem

Section 23 of the NZ Human Rights Act 1993 states:

Particulars of applicants for employment

It shall be unlawful for any person to use or circulate any form of application for employment or to make any inquiry of or about any applicant for employment which indicates, or could reasonably be understood as indicating, an intention to commit a breach of section 22.

Section 22 of the Act says that, if an applicant is qualified for the particular job, an employer cannot refuse or omit to employ the applicant; offer or afford the applicant or the employee less favourable terms of employment, terminate the employment of the employee, subject the employee to any detriment, or retire the employee, by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, of which disability/illness is one.

The employment application I filled in asked:

  • Do you have any health conditions that may affect your ability to effectively carry out the functions and responsibilities of the position you are applying for? If yes, please give brief details.
  • Please list any special requirements, on health or personal grounds, you may need us to consider if you are employed with us.

The Risk

By asking these questions, and by my answering them, the employer puts itself at risk. If I do not get an interview, I may reasonably suspect that I have not been shortlisted because of my answer. I could then complain to the Human Rights Commission that I was not offered an interview because the employer did not want to employ me because of my disability. The onus is on the employer to prove I was less qualified than the person they employed.

Even if I do get an interview but not the job, I may reasonably expect that I wasn’t chosen because of my disability. A further mistake employers make is to ask these questions at interview — again, it puts the employer under suspicion of disability discrimination and, if faced with a complaint, they must prove the person employed was more highly qualified than the disabled candidate.

The Solution

Mitigating the risk is quite simple.

For the candidate:

  • You are under no obligation to answer questions about your health or disability status on application forms, so don’t. I simply wrote, for both questions, “I will be willing to answer this question when and if an offer of employment is made (refer s23 Human Rights Act 1993-NZ).”
  • If you are asked similar question in an employment interview, say the same thing.
  • If you are offered the job, be willing to discuss your needs openly and honestly and, if need be, offer solutions to any problems that may impact on your ability to do the job.

For the employer:

  • Do not ask questions about health or disability status on application forms or in employment interviews.
  • When you come to offer to offer a candidate a position, this is the correct time to ask about health and disability status — for any candidate, as not all illnesses or impairments are visibly obvious.
  • An employer has a responsibility to offer reasonable accommodation of an illness or disability, but only if the accommodation does not cause undue hardship to the employer’s operation or other employees. Accommodations may be things like flexible hours, a slight change in duties or, in some cases, assistive equipment. (See more about being an accessible employer here.)
  • Working out whether an accommodation is reasonable or not can best done in a transparent conversation with the favoured candidate. Remember that, if they are your preferred choice, making changes will be balanced by having the best person for the job. Remember too that a qualified candidate will most likely have developed ways to manage the impact of their illness or disability. Take notes about the discussion, the suggested accommodations, whether or not you consider them reasonable and why.
  • If, after discussion with the candidate you feel there is no way to accommodate their needs without undue hardship, you may need to withdraw your offer of employment. The candidate may disagree and complain, but a clear record of the discussion will help you prove that you have been reasonable in considering the candidate’s needs.

A Call for Radical Aging

ageing

In the 60’s, we raised our voices to put an end to racism, sexism, and to end a war.  Now, we are in our 60’s and we need to dig down deep to raise those voices again to put an end to ageism.

If there is any certainty in this world, it is that we are all journeying in the same direction.  We are all going to age, we are all going to, hopefully, get old, and we are all going to die.  How we age and how we prepare for the last part of our life’s journey will be shaped in great part by the society we live in.

Do we want to take that journey in an ageist society?  As women, do we want to remain invisible, spending time and money trying to erase the signs of old age and wisdom from our faces and bodies while hoping someone will see us and/or hear us?  As men, do we want to cling to myths of virility and strength, trying to deny the inevitable? Or, do we want to be respected, even revered, for lives lived and the knowledge and experience that comes with actively living through the many challenges we’ve faced?

As boomers and seniors, we have an obligation, a duty, to make our voices heard, speaking up for and molding the kind of society that will not see us as the “other”.  Many of us raised our voices in the 60’s to help create the civil rights movement, the anti-(Viet Nam) war movement, and the women’s rights movement.  Now, we are in our 60’s, and we need to dig deep down to re-energize those voices today to create a Radical Aging movement.

Longevity is here.  It’s everywhere.  It permeates the media, in professional journals, memoirs, movies and theatre, you name it.  More of us are going to live to be older than ever before in history, and our children and grandchildren even older. The effects of longevity are tenfold, affecting our health care choices, our work environments, and our relationships within families.  You may have already bumped into the challenges of longevity as caregivers of your aging parents who are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. If you haven’t been there yet, it will, I can assure you, be one of the truly life-impacting eye openers that you experience on your life’s journey.  It is a front row seat view into a future that needs a movement to change it.

We are a generation that has lived through great societal changes, some good and some not-so-good.  Some of the positive changes still need refining, but there is no doubt that we made them happen.  Some I mentioned above; civil rights and women’s rights, and more recently, gay rights.  Our lives have been influenced and molded by constantly evolving technological innovations; we have new ways of communicating through social media.  We Skype or have facetime with our families who are more often separated by greater and greater distance.  We’ve moved from an insular world into a connected world.  Once only talked about, we can now see, often in real time, how what we do in our personal lives impacts other lives, not just in our own communities but on a world-wide level.  Medical research and the attending technology have contributed to the unprecedented length of life, and this is presenting challenges that are only first being addressed.  On every level and in every walk of society we are finding choices that were never available before.  We spend a lot of time trying to determine what is available to us and what we really want.

Yet, as we celebrate longevity, we stigmatize growing older.

It is time to change the accepted language of aging. All the descriptive aging stereotypes that pervade our culture and collective conscience need to become non-p.c.   We are so much more than boomers, seniors, senior citizens, aged, ancient, crones, oldsters, codgers, golden agers, geezers, old-timers, grannies…and here’s on I just came across…coffin dodgers.  Any of these sound like compliments?  We live in a culture of age and death deniers.  Putting old people “out to pasture” is no longer an acceptable metaphor.  Neither is putting them out to the golf course, shuffleboard, nor bingo.

As we age we become more and more diverse.  The longer we live, the more opportunity we have to be shaped by our life experiences which render us more dissimilar than alike.  One size does not fit all.  There is diversity in how we age biologically, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  We bring “value added” to society.  Yet, in a culture of ageism and denial, to be recognized for that “value added” is an uphill struggle, and it is time for us to take up the struggle.  We proved in the past that we can effect change, and we are just going to have to dust off those banners and slogans, put on our most comfortable walking shoes and get out there again.

I leave you with this anecdote from my own experience:  I’m 60 years old and sitting in a class on public policy for the aging.  Next to me is this very sweet 20-something young woman, arduously taking notes and following the instructor’s every word.  After hearing the statistics on senior health issues and senior poverty, she turns to me and says, “I’m never going to get old.”  My response is, “I really do hope that you will.

Successful Strategies to Help Students Prepare for Job Searching After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Tennessee Law Will Criminalize Pregnant Women

by Katherine Bisanz and Maggie Rosenblum
of Social Workers for Reproductive Justice

As we speak, the law in Tennessee is turning against women and families. The General Assembly has approved SB 1391, a bill that would turn pregnant women and new mothers into criminals.

SB 1391 takes a law that was intended to protect pregnant women from violence and instead turns them into assailants. The law would permit prosecutors to charge women with assault for losing pregnancies, or giving birth to babies with health problems at birth. The targets of the law are women who are in the most need of support: largely women who struggle with narcotic addiction during pregnancy.

Pregnant_woman2This is all happening under the guise of “finding a solution” for neonatal abstinence syndrome according to the State of Tennessee. They claim that the law is a way to use misdemeanor charges to get women into treatment. Anyone aware of the criminal justice system in our country knows that assault charges can heavily impact the course of a person’s life.

A prison or jail sentence could mean that women will be unable to be present to care for the families they already have or sustain the employment necessary to support a family and get through a treatment program. In a nutshell, Tennessee lawmakers seem to believe that they can “keep babies healthy” by punishing their mothers and don’t seem to grasp how terribly backwards and simply unrealistic this idea is.

It’s clear that no evidence-based information is backing this law being that research around the issue of child health have shown that babies are healthiest when pregnant women are treated with care, and when babies are kept close to their mothers after birth. Even women who struggle with addiction love their babies, and can have healthy pregnancies if they can form supportive relationships with their maternity care providers say Connecticut Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Groups like National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) have made clear in past cases that punitive measures are the wrong approach in dealing with the “decades-old” question of how to handle pregnant women who take drugs. As opposed to taking a punitive approach that scares women away from seeking help, the state should treat pregnant drug abusers as addicts with medical problems, NAPW states.

Given their role as gatekeepers and mandated reporters, this law could have serious implications for the roles of social workers in the lives of their substance abusing clients in Tennessee.  Social Workers we are trusted to protect clients self-determination and strive to work with clients to empower and better their lives and this bill could compromise our ability to fulfill this imperative and not to mention obligatory aspect of our work.  Despite Rep. Weaver’s (R-TN) comments to the contrary, it’s hard to believe that child abuse allegations akin to those that have popped up in years past won’t arise in some form and in turn question social workers role as mandatory reporters.

This law will also erode choice as it relates to pregnancy. This law may be used by those who wish to prevent a woman from having an abortion who can now just report their concerns that a pregnant woman is using illegal narcotics in order to have her arrested so she will not be able to access abortion care.

Furthermore, this law may pressure some women into having an abortion they do not want in order to avoid prosecution under SB 1391. One study reported that “two-thirds of the women [surveyed] who reported using Cocaine during their pregnancies … considered having an abortion… (Jeanne Flavin, Our Bodies, And Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America 112 NYU Press 2009.)

Additionally, while the bill appears race-neutral at first glance, prosecutors and judges will wield the law against Black women more so than white women, based on a long tradition and culture of deeply embedded racial stereotypes about Black motherhood and drug use. The law would likely lead to Black women being thrown in jail for up to 15 years for aggravated assault should they choose to carry a pregnancy to term while struggling with an addiction to illegal narcotics. Should social workers be mandated to take part in this, they would directly be violating the discrimination clause of the NASW code of ethics, which includes the responsibility to racial justice and gender justice.

The NASW Code of Ethics states that, “Social Workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people… (NASW 2008).” If SB 1391 is signed into law it will limit choice and opportunities for all Tennessee families. We strongly urge the National Association of Social Workers and its Tennessee chapter as well as individuals who identify as social workers across the nation to speak out against TN SB 1391.

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