Welfare: The Business of Misfortune

Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare
Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare

I’ve dreamed of one day moving home again to have my future children surrounded by their family, but I also fear living with those who constantly reject my deepest held values with the continued disinterest in my chosen career as a social worker.

The fact that many people receiving public assistance work harder in a day to keep their families safe than some work in a lifetime has been turned into a misleading truth equating most welfare recipients to lazy blacks or people who don’t pay into the system.

It’s not the abandonment of the sense of patriotism and responsibility towards our fellow Americans that has me up at night writing about these concerns. However, it might be the fact that most of our tax monies don’t even go toward welfare programs, yet this tends to be the only focus from conservative leaders to control federal spending.

“The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a “lazy welfare recipient” named Rhonda. Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.

White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White. This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well-entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White. The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stampsmakes no sense.” Read More

When I see anti-welfare and anti-government memes being shared by my loved ones, I wonder do they know what I do for a living and what I’ve committed my life to? Do they understand how I’ve sacrificed, at times, my own financial and mental well-being to be a social worker?

Social workers are consistently ranked among the lowest paid and most depressed professionals in our community. Do they care? Posted and re-posted on Facebook by my parents and others who love me, I think how disconnected it is from my reality.

When I was in school pursuing my MSW, it was made possible by welfare and a Stafford Loan which helped me obtain my bachelors degree. I often had professors who talked about working ourselves out of a job, and the idea that our goal as social workers is to cure the ails of society. No children abused, no family hungry, no woman raped, only then would our profession no longer be needed.

Until that time comes, there will be a collection of inspired hearts whose basic promise is to fight to the end for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. I guess you could say we’re in the business of misfortune. Sounds like a dirty job, but it’s not. I have no shame in saying that I make a career out of working for the lesser blessed.

As far as my family, I’d be honored if they tried to figure out why welfare jokes don’t make me laugh. Although I may not explain what I do at family dinners, my work as a social worker matters especially to the people you’d least expect walking into that clinic, hospital, advocacy agency, or human services office. We’re all grateful public services are there when it’s our time to ask for help. Anyone drawn any unemployment lately?

Until I come to terms with my family’s values, I live away with a supportive partner, sisters who try to understand, and supportive friends. Most importantly, I respect the communities that need our help whose needs give me purpose, whose resilience inspires me, and whose empowerment pays my salary.

Social Workers Respond to the LA County Social Workers Strike

LA Social Workers Strike
Social Workers Strike in front of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services

For social workers with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Friday marked their second day on the picket line with no progress being reported towards reaching an agreement with the County. Social Workers initiated the strike due to low pay and high caseloads which prevents them from properly investigating reports of abuse, neglect, and dependency as well as providing other emergency services. The strike is being led by Bob Schoonover, president, of the local Services Employees International Union (SEIU) 721 which represents approximately 3,500 social workers.

As a former child welfare investigator, I fully support the efforts of the L.A. social worker’s strike, and I hope it will help elevate the plight of public sector social workers from their current invisible status. As a result of the Great Recession and self-imposed austerity measures from all levels of government, public sector social workers have silently shouldered the burden of responding to the increased need for services despite having resources and manpower levels less than they were before the recession.

Public Sector social workers lack the national lobbying power of teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, and nurses which often leaves us out of any legislation protecting educators and first responders from cuts. Social Services agencies are also not required to maintain any accreditation standards like schools, hospitals, and police departments which means administrators and government officials are unregulated in their policy making. In this case, if the union is unsuccessful in negotiating reduced caseloads for the workers, there is no other body of government to seek redress.

The federal government only monitors outcomes and whether a social worker completes cases within the allotted time frames. It does not take into consideration how many cases the social worker has on his/her caseload. Every day, social workers are forced to maneuver a broken system while trying to restore hope to children and families in need of help, but what happens when the social worker’s hope is gone?

Social workers and other key stakeholders who have taken an interest in the LA social workers strike have been quite vocal in either their support or opposition. According to a post from a social work forum against the strike, Annette Mahoney-Cross an administrator with a New York Child Welfare agency stated,

“So I have to comment on the strike of public child welfare workers in LA. I finally had time to read articles from other media outlets and I cannot support this work action. I am an administrator at one of the largest public child welfare agencies in the country in a suburb of New York City. I am also a union leader who sits on the board of directors of my union.

In NY public employees are prohibited from striking as per the Taylor Law, with good valid reason. There appear to have been other options available to staff and in fact two union delegates stepped down because they felt intimidated by union officials, Yes it is abundantly clear they more staff need to be hired, but why has the union not directed a work action before a full on strike? Workers refuse new cases, get written up and then use the grievance process. Involve the Child Welfare League of America to discuss recommended caseloads? These are only a few options which could have been explored, but SEIU does seem to like to strike first to try to force management’s hand. Sadly the only ones to suffer will be the families.” via Facebook

In my opinion, I believe the above stated view is limited in its thought process while failing to take into consideration the larger picture. In this country, Red states have the highest poverty rates, reliance on social welfare programs, and the poorest outcomes for children living in America, and social workers in these states are barred from unionizing as a result of Right to Work legislation. By continuing with the strike, LA social workers are not only exposing systems failures preventing social workers from providing quality care to children and families, but they have the ability to become the voice for other social workers who have been silenced.

Despite outcries of opposition, support appears to be growing for the social workers’ strike and is evidenced by the comments on the SEIU Local 721 Facebook Fanpage. You can also stay up to date with SEIU 721 on Twitter @seiu721using the hashtag #721strike.

Photo Credit: SEIU 721 Facebook Page

Society of Social Work Research Responds to Petition Against Annual Conference

by Deona Hooper, MSW

san-antonio-texas-grand-hyattIn recent months, there has been an ongoing struggle between social workers and the Society of Social Work Researchers (SSWR) for its decision to hold the organization’s annual conference at the Hyatt Hotel in San Antonino, Texas. Currently, the host hotel is involved in labor disputes with Unite Here, a labor union for service workers, for its poor treatment and discriminatory practices against its workers. I have been in contact with both Jeanne Marsh, President of the Society of Social Work Researchers, and Shane Brady who organized an online petition opposing SSWR’s decision to not move the annual conference from the Hyatt Hotel.

After interviewing SSWR last month, the organization has added a page to their website with links to the letters addressing conference concerns to its members. In addition, a frequently asked questions section has been developed to assist potential attendees with getting answers to questions that will help them make an informed decision on whether to attend.

According to a letter to member by President Jeanne C. Marsh,

This year, in response to member concerns, SSWR has negotiated to expand the venue for many meeting sessions to two additional nearby locations, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Marriott Riverwalk hotel. Both venues are within close proximity of one another as well as of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, within a 15-20 minute walk. The specific location of registration, presentations, symposia, and lectures will be indicated on the conference schedule which will be published online November 11th. The SSWR Board is aware that adding additional venues comes with potential negative consequences. The additional space necessarily comes at a substantial monetary cost to SSWR. While careful financial analyses indicate we can manage these costs at this time, these expenditures will certainly constrain the new initiatives we can take on in the short term. The distribution of the conference events across three locations may affect networking opportunities that have been valuable to our members. We also are cognizant of the potential short-term consequence that our decision could have in reducing hours for Grant Hyatt San Antonio workers.

We recognize the labor dispute between the Hyatt Corporation and the union UNITEHERE presents serious, in many ways intractable, issues for SSWR presenters, members and others in the social work community. The SSWR Board seeks to make all decisions related to the conference mindful of concerns we all share about social justice for low wage workers as well as about our legal and fiduciary responsibility as a non-profit board. At the same time, we are completely respectful of the choices individual members and schools will make regarding the conference.

Shane Brady, the organizer of the petition, considers the policy shift by SSWR as a victory. He stated, “the Society of Social Work Research has heard our effort’s message. They have notified members that the conference registration, many of the panels, interviews, and other aspects of the conference will be held off site. ”  Shane also talked about the importance of ensuring the accountable of social work organizations to the code of ethics in the future.

Where do you stand? Is this a win or do you think more should be done? You can view a video of the service workers concerns below:


Living Longer With Palliative Care

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and it is estimated that 1.5 to 1.6 million patients in the United States received hospice or palliative care services in 2012. Anecdotal accounts indicate that many more who would benefit by this care did not have access to it or had to wait so long that services were provided only during their final few days of life.

Considering that 90 percent of American adults live with a chronic illness before they die, this is an important issue. While some manage well on their own with minimal assistance from healthcare professionals and/or friends and family, others may need more hands-on care and supervision, particularly as their disease burden becomes heavier. We cannot forget that as the population ages, more people with multiple illnesses or conditions will require more supportive care.

livinglongerDoctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and allied health professionals play a vital role in educating the public about palliative care and the fact that it is much more than just hospice.  Sharing the same philosophy and patient and family-centric approach, palliative care is the broader umbrella of care for those with a serious or chronic illness and goes hand-in-hand with curative treatment.  Palliative Care is care that may be given while someone is receiving treatment that they hope will either cure them of their illness or prolong their life. Hospice on the other hand is the intensive end-of-life care offered to patients who are projected to have less than 6 months to live and who have elected to discontinue curative treatment.

The other role that health professionals, in particular physicians and nurses, play is in referring patients to palliative care.  When we explore the reasons why health professionals are not referring their patients to palliative care, many reasons surface.  Some of these reasons include the fact that services are not available in their area or that they are afraid of “losing” their patient.  The first reason is valid; the second is not, as most palliative care is consultative.  But the reason that is hardest to understand is when providers do not refer because they believe that a palliative care referral means giving up on life.  In fact, the opposite is true.

As noted above, palliative care goes hand-in-hand with curative treatment.  Most importantly, as an article, published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in August 2010 highlighted, researchers have found what many had suspected for some time, that receiving palliative care actually helps patients to live longer.

The researchers evaluated the utility of early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. Newly diagnosed patients were randomly assigned to either early palliative care in addition to standard cancer care or cancer care alone. The results showed that not only did the patients who received palliative care have a better quality of life; they also lived longer, with a median survival of 11.6 months compared with 8.9 months in the group that did not receive palliative care.  Since this article was published, other smaller scale studies have duplicated these findings.

There are many benefits to the health care system of palliative care because it reduces readmissions, results in few admissions for futile care, and in general, reduces costs associated with serious illness and end of life care.  But, as important as reducing costs is, it pales besides the human imperative to enhance the quality of life of those we care about.  And, no one would disagree that enabling those we love and care for to live as long as possible with the highest quality of life possible is a higher order goal.

Palliative care is an approach that requires close teamwork from healthcare professionals, from nurses and physicians to social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, chaplains, counselors and many more.  Thanks to this teamwork, the needs of the patient and family can be assessed, understood and addressed.  And, thanks to this teamwork, palliative care professionals are helping patients with serious and chronic illnesses live longer and enjoy their lives more.

During National Hospice and Palliative Care month, isn’t it time that all of us who are health care professionals set aside our preconceptions and control issues, make the necessary referrals, acts as teams and focus on the best for patients and their families?

Hospice and Palliative Care: Where Are We?

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care month and palliative care is still in its infancy. We are still learning and growing, and in many ways, fine tuning who we are and what we do. As social workers and as leaders, we have work to do. It is critical that we continue to hold true to our core values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence, especially as we look at these numbers provided by the Administration on Aging (AoA):

  • PopulationThe older population (65+) numbered 41.4 million in 2011, an increase of 6.3 million or 18% since 2000

  • Older women outnumber older men at 23.4 million older women to 17.9 million older men

  • In 2011, 21.0% of persons 65+ were members of racial or ethnic minority populations

  • About 28% (11.8 million) of non-institutionalized older persons live alone (8.4 million women, 3.5 million men)

  • Almost half of older women (46%) age 75+ live alone

The statistics go on and on and we know that members of our older population will be requiring care of all kinds in ever increasing numbers. Enter…the critical role of the social worker. But, I hate to ask, is the role of the social worker really critical? Let’s take a look: Palliative care is defined in part by the following:

  • Holistic care, utilizing the biopsychosocial/spiritual model

  • Addresses the needs of the patient and her/his family system

  • Assists people to design and achieve their best possible experience

  • Guides, supports and empowers people through the process of understanding what is important to them in their lives

  • Utilizes highly skilled and well-coordinated interdisciplinary teams

  • Assures teams are guided by the patient/family centered plan with the goals they have given to us, and…

  • Aggressively addresses both pain AND suffering

Eric Cassell describes suffering as distress brought about by the actual or perceived impending threat to the integrity or continued existence of the whole person. He states that suffering can include physical pain but is by no means limited to it.¹

But it is not just “pain and suffering” on people’s minds as they live in the light of serious illness. In addition, people struggle with thoughts of letting go of life and as they look for ways to find meaning in their experience. Hospice and palliative care can never have a predominant focus on pain and symptom management with the rest of the team serving in a “by-the-way” capacity. That is not who we are and it is not what we promise. All members of the team are necessary for a person to have a true palliative care experience – and all need to be working in concert around a person-centered plan.

It is now critical for social workers to step up as leaders in palliative care, whether it is raising the bar for more efficient teamwork or at the mezzo level, influencing care nationally and internationally. The goal is to help assure a more consistent approach to care that includes our clinical skill development and best practice approaches.

With this in mind it is exciting to discover that educational opportunities for palliative care and hospice social workers abound. Everything from live intensives to all online programs are available to accommodate diverse learning preferences.  Online programs offer social workers the flexibility to obtain certificates without ever leaving home and completing modules/assignments while working part or full-time.

So here is my challenge for hospice and palliative care social workers this month:

  • Service – work on raising the bar for true inter/transdisciplinary practice

  • Social justice – make a special effort to identify the underserved individuals and populations in your community and reach out

  • Dignity and worth of the person – never forget that “the person” not “the patient” is who we seek to serve

  • Importance of human relationships – “problem focused care plans” are not who we are…nor is our approach “diagnose and treat”. This about assisting people to have THEIR best possible experience which includes “opportunities” they might not have identified on their own

  • Integrity – Our job is to do the best job we can, in every situation, with every person

  • Competence – it is our responsibility to never stop looking for better ways to serve – to never stop seeking ways to improve/complement our skills

In the book “Phantom”, author Ted Bell describes a conversation between a young naval cadet and his boxing instructor. The instructor said:

The ideal fighter has heart, skill, movement, intelligence, but also creativity. You can have everything, but if you can’t make it up while you are in the ring, you can’t be great. A lot of chaps have the mechanics and no heart; lots of guys have heart and no mechanics; the thing that puts it all together, it’s mysterious, it’s like making a work of art, you bring everything to it and you make it up while you are doing it.²

This sounds like social workers. We pack our bags full of skill (mechanics) and life experience (heart) and then…we make it up while we are doing it. During this special month, let’s remember to recognize the importance of all social workers in every area of practice. Stepping up as leaders is truly in our blood and at the heart of who we all are.

For more information on palliative care courses for social workers, visit www.csupalliativecare.org.


¹Cassell, Eric J. 2004. The Nature of Suffering, Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y.

²Bell, Ted (2012). Phantom. Harper Collins, New York, N.Y.

Boycott of Hyatt Hotels: Should a Social Work Organization Cross the Picket Line

by Deona Hooper, MSW

(From left) the Revs. Marti Scott, Chuck Dauhm, Michael Shanahan and C.J. Hawking line up (risking arrest) in support of Hyatt workers in Chicago. A web-only photo by Luis Juarez
(From left) the Revs. Marti Scott, Chuck Dauhm, Michael Shanahan and C.J. Hawking line up (risking arrest) in support of Hyatt workers in Chicago. A web-only photo by Luis Juarez

A controversy has been brewing within the social work community, and the Society for Social Work Researchers (SSWR) have found themselves at the center of it. In January 2014, SSWR will be having their 18th annual conference which will be held at Hyatt Hotels in San Antonio, Texas. Over the past few years, Hyatt Hotels have continued to be boycotted globally as result of worker’s rights violations and labor disputes involving their treatment of hotel service employees. On October 3rd 2014, a Change.org petition was created urging Jeanne Marsh, President of the Society for Social Work Researchers, and its board to reconsider having their annual conference with Hyatt Hotels.

In just a two week period, the petition received over 500 signatures from people all over the world while simultaneously creating a buzz on various social media outlets. After receiving emails from social workers expressing their concerns, I decided to reach out to the Society for Social Work Research, the labor union Unite Here, and Shane Brady the originator of the Change.org petition. The first person I interviewed was Dr. Jeanne C. Marsh who is the President of the Society for Social Work Research as well as Director of the Center for Health Administration Studies at the University of Chicago.


Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Society for Social Work Research has found itself in the middle of a boycott dispute. In 2000, the SSWR annual conference was being held in Charleston, South Carolina which was also under economic sanctions by the NAACP due to the State’s choice to fly the confederate flag over the Capitol Building. According to an article written by former SWWR President Allen Rubin, he reflected on the precisive measures taken by the organization in dealing with the circumstance before them which included:

1. We issued a press release on a resolution to the governor of South Carolina, unanimously passed by our board, which includes the following statement: “that the [Society] shall NOT hold any future meeting . . . in the state of South Carolina until such time that the Confederate Battle Flag is removed from positions of sovereignty in the state of South Carolina.”

2. We urged conference participants to sign a petition to the governor of South Carolina, which includes the following statement: “We, the undersigned non-residents of South Carolina, vow NOT to visit the state of South Carolina again for any purpose whatsoever—not for vacations, professional meetings or any other reason—until such time that the Confederate Battle Flag is removed from positions of sovereignty in the state of South Carolina.” After the conference ended, we submitted the petition to the governor.

3. We offered a free conference exhibit booth to the NAACP, and they accepted our offer.

4. The NAACP is developing a data bank of information on individuals who cancel vacations planned for South Carolina.We asked all conference participants who were planning such vacations to cancel them and let the NAACP know about the cancellations for their data bank.

5. A featured speaker at our conference banquet was the Reverend Joseph Darby, vice president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP and chairman of the South Carolina Coalition of Black Church Leaders. Reverend Darby delivered an informative and stirring talk about the issue of the Confederate battle flag and received a standing ovation. Read Full Article

However, the current policy makers with SSWR have decided not to use the model created by their predecessors. Instead, they have chosen to handle the current issue differently.

Interview with Dr. Jeanne C. Marsh

SWH: How long has the SSWR Board known about the  Hyatt Hotels Corporation and UNITE HERE?

Jeanne: The current SSWR Board learned about the situation when we were contacted by UNITE HERE around February/March 2013. Since that time, the Board has been actively involved in monitoring the evolving situation in San Antonio and communicating with SSWR members about it.  (See attached communications to SSWR members.)

SWH: What is the specific nature of the recent agreements reached between Hyatt Hotels Corporation and UNITE HERE?

Jeanne: On July 1, 2013 Hyatt Hotels Corporation and UNITE HERE issued a joint press release (see attached press release) which “announced a national agreement that resolves longstanding disputes between the two organizations.”  The agreement addresses the settlement and ratification of union contracts by Hyatt associates at specific hotels in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  Once approved, the contracts will provide retroactive wage increases and maintain quality health care and pension benefits.  The contracts would be retroactive from 2009 and be in effect into 2018.  Upon ratification of the union contracts, UNITE HERE will end its global boycott of Hyatt.

A part of the agreement is to establish a fair process, which includes a mechanism for employees at a number of Hyatt hotels currently without union contracts to vote on whether they wish to be represented by UNITE HERE. At this time the Grand Hyatt San Antonio is not unionized and there are no contract negotiations that we are aware of between Hyatt Hotels and UNITE HERE at this property.

SWH: What are implications of the agreement for labor/management relations at Grand Hyatt San Antonio?

Jeanne Many of the agreements reached are relevant to Hyatt properties that are currently unionized (in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago).  Since the Grand Hyatt San Antonio is not currently unionized the primary agreement reached relevant to that property define the rules for voting – if and when the workers decide they want to unionize.

Since the end to the global boycott of Hyatt, UNITE HERE in San Antonio has maintained a local boycott at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio and other non-unionized properties and continues to actively organize.

SWH: What are the implications for SSWR 2014 conference to be held at Grand Hyatt San Antonio?

Jeanne: The SSWR Board voted not to terminate the contract with the Grand Hyatt San Antonio based on the appraisal that financial penalties of $491,088 that would put SSWR out of existence. Please note that the contract with the Grand Hyatt San Antonio was signed in 2009 and is the final contract SSWR has with Hyatt Hotels.

SWH: How is SSWR responding to the labor/management relations at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio?

Jeanne: The SSWR Board is moving proactively in three directions:

(1)  Understanding that the situation with UniteHere and the Grand Hyatt San Antonio is evolving, the SSWR Board will continue to work hard to gather and communicate with members and non-members the most up-to-date information about the situation.

(2)  The Society books its hotels approximately four years in advance. We currently have contracts signed with the Marriott in New Orleans for 2015, the Marriott inWashington, DC for 2016 and the Marriott in San Francisco for 2017.  All hotel contracts are currently under review by the SSWR attorney to ensure terms are consistent with SSWR policy related to avoiding contracts with hotels engaged in current or pending labor disputes.

(3)  A special session is planned at the SSWR 2014 meeting for the SSWR Board to discuss with SSWR members the current status of the situation, the complexities of the issues, and to hear members’ concerns.

For more information, SSWR members have been encouraged to contact the UNITE HER representative , Rachel Melendes, at 210-2242-1520 and with Managing Director of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, Toom Netting at 210-451-6501.

A copy of the statement issued to SSWR members outlining the above can be viewed here. Also, I was provided with a joint press release by Hyatt Hotels and Unite Here announcing a tentative plan to end the boycott against Hyatt Hotels which can be viewed using this link.

As you can tell from the picture above, faith based organizations and community leaders have been very active in the boycott against Hyatt Hotels. They have complied a report outlining the working conditions at Hyatt Hotels which can be viewed below:

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/openthegatesofjustice_Hyatt_Hurts_Faith_Organizing-2.pdf”]

Email with Unite Here

I reached out to Unite Here and requested a status update regarding the boycott of the San Antonio Hyatt Hotel location. I received a response from Rachel Mendes of Unite Here stating,

The boycotts of the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency in San Antonio are continuing, and new boycotts may be called at additional Hyatt properties. Workers at these two properties are asking people to honor the boycott and not eat, sleep, or meet at these hotels, and move events to a venue not in a labor dispute.

This agreement has shown us that when workers and allies stand together, we can move forward and win justice and respect on the job. As an organization of social workers, SSWR needs to do the right thing for the San Antonio workers and community by honoring the boycott until workers here are treated with the justice and respect they deserve.

San Antonio Grand Hyatt Boycott Email
Interview with Dr. Shane Brady

After speaking with Dr. Marsh, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Shane Brady, the originator of the Change.org petition, who is also an adjunct professor with the social work department at the University of Michigan. Dr. Brady was an invited presenter at the 2014 annual conference, but he has chosen to decline as a result of these issues. He is also a first generation Phd graduate with roots as a community organizer focusing on social justice and LGBT issues.

In the petition, Dr. Brady acknowledges the contractual obligation SSWR has with Hyatt Hotels, but he raises some important additional concerns. He states,

The Society of Social Work Research Conference has a contractual obligation to hold the 2014 conference at Hyatt Hotels, despite the injustices experienced by workers of the San Antonio Grand Hyatt. It is the stance of UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers of the Grand Hyatt of San Antonio, and a group of us within social work and similarly allied professions that it is unethical to hold the SSWR conference as planned at the expense of perpetuating the injustices experienced by Hyatt workers by giving our business to Hyatt Hotels. Please sign this petition and send a message to SSWR leadership to cancel this year’s conference, change venues, or push the leadership of Hyatt Hotels in San Antonio harder to do the right thing by workers. In the words of Paulo Freire, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”  Sign the Petition

Dr. Brady stated that he has spoken with many of his colleagues who have expressed their empathy for the workers, but stated they did not want to get involved. What does this mean if social work professors and leaders within the social work community feel no obligation to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations? In doing my due diligence, I had some additional concerns that I needed to ask Dr. Marsh about.

Follow-Up Questions with Dr. Marsh

SWH: Being that the organization has dealt with a similar situation in the past, why not use the same strategy?

Jeanne: The SSWR Board recognizes that many social work (and other) organizations have encountered similar issues when planning conferences. In order to learn from these experiences and draw on the significant expertise in the social work field, the SSWR Board has developed a Leadership Panel for the SSWR 2014 conference with representatives from major social work organizations including the Council on Social Work Education, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work, the American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare.  The Chair is University of Washington Social Work Professor Nancy Hooyman who was SSWR President when the SSWR Conference was held in South Carolina** during the period the state was flying the Confederate flag.  The charge to the group in the short term is to provide the Board with their recommendations of actions we can take to address the situation.  In the long term, the group will reflect on strategies all social work organizations can consider in avoiding and addressing similar situations in the future.

SWH: Was there an attempt to negotiate with Hyatt to release SSWR from its contract?

Jeanne: Yes, the Board was able to re-negotiate the contract to eliminate the food and beverage cancellation fee but not the overall cancellation fee of $491,088.

SWH: The Chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corporation sits on the Board of Trustees for your University, is this a factor in preventing the organization from using the same plan of action when it encountered a similar situation in the past with the NAACP?

Jeanne: The University of Chicago has a strong tradition of academic freedom where faculty pursue their work without outside interference or influence including from Trustees of the University.  I am aware that Mr. Pritzker is a University of Chicago Trustee, but I have had no contact with him. It also is my understanding that the Pritzker family no longer owns Hyatt Hotels as a result of a breaking up Pritzker family holdings a couple of years ago.

Leave Your Comments

I tried my best to represent the point of view of each party involved. Now, I am interested in your point of view. Do you feel SSWR is properly handling this matter or do you feel more could be done? Please, leave you comment on this page, so others outside of the social work community can add to the conversation. Is having an internal conversation with other social work researchers at the annual conference enough?

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Dignity at Work and Hyatthurts.org

Leaving Room For Change: Beyond Evidence Based Practice

Those of us in the social work profession have spent at least 4 years at university studying the intricacies of human behaviours, and thousands of hours analysing a myriad of models and theories that claim to provide the “solution” to people problems. Every model taught has undergone rigorous testing by suitably qualified professionals in order to prove validity, and to claim its stake in the world of “best practice” or “evidence based practice”.

We exit university feeling well equipped with an abundance of knowledge and an ability to adapt what we have learnt to any given client situation. Ethically, we’re bound to continue our professional development and keep ourselves up to date on the latest findings that add to, question or replace the strategies we were taught, and have started to use with our client groups.

prescriptiveHeading into the “real world”, we soon realize that the organisation (or its funding body) will regulate which models we will use with our particular client group. This may feel “prescriptive” for a while, but soon we’ll either be convinced, or told, that this is the latest and most effective evidence based method of intervention for your particular client group.  We may sprinkle in a portion of our own personality, and if particularly brave, insert a couple of our own ideas throughout the intervention process.  How and when this sort of “insertion of the worker’s own interpretation” occurs does not appear to be of much (if any) concern in overall evaluations.

The assertive among us may even go so far as to suggest CHANGE to some of the old “tried and true” strategies. But we’ll soon realize that we need a team of researchers and multitudes of clients willing to be guinea pigs, to provide that much-needed “evidence”. Time consuming. Probably cost prohibitive.  We’re probably already overworked and underpaid.  Perhaps it’s best to just stick to the existing  prescription.  After all, the “experts” have stated that all the research points to evidence that this works. Furthermore, organisational managers who have a management perspective (as opposed to a client perspective) start to adapt these models as “evidence”  to show they are following procedures which have a “proven” methodology. Models have measurements to gauge outcomes, and outcomes justify organisational spending.

Here comes the irony. Interestingly, we encourage our clients to embrace change. As social workers, we are often called “change agents”.  How then, can we justify a profession that is becoming “prescriptive” by the very nature of insistence on “evidence based practice”?

Now before I am bombarded by those proponents of evidence based practice who only read part way through a document – I urge you to read on.

changeBy no means am I inferring we do away with tried and tested models of intervention. Nor would the removal of “evidence” of effective practice achieve anything bar chaos. What I am suggesting is that “prescription intervention” has an inherent risk of the helping professional becoming complacent in his/her  practice. Take that complacency to its limits and we may well end up with workers who  place expectations on client responses. After all, if there is a generic “correct” model of intervention, then there must a generic “correct” client response.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth – we all know that client responses are as diverse as client circumstances.

So wherein lies the balance? The balance lies in perspective. It’s about how we view a particular model. The key is this – models are not meant to be prescriptive, they are a guide.  We value individual differences, so leave room in your practice to adapt, to be innovative, to be flexible according to your particular client needs and circumstances. Look beyond the prescription. Best practice is about best outcomes for clients.

Most of all, focus less on the need to be rigidly mindful on a model and start to use creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation and adaptability to ensure that any model of intervention remains relevant to client needs.  And if you think perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of complacency, consider the need for some time out to regain that sense of wonder, intrigue and sense of justice you once had in your early practice years. Why? It is important for social workers to retain the ability to function effectively as a “change agent”.

Let’s just look at those words again – creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation, adaptability. A little outside your comfort zone? Not quite sure where these things fit into social work?   Let me remind you of Einstein’s quote “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  If you are not creative, flexible, innovative, authentic and adaptable in your own practice, then how can you empower your clients to make change?  If you adopt one particular “modus operandi” in your practice, relying solely on what has been presented to you as “evidence based practice”, then where will new ideas come from?  If you view one particular model as the generic answer to your client group’s issues, how will innovative new practices ever evolve?

It isn’t simply a case of sitting in the status quo of a current model and insisting on its merits because it has “proven results”, or because the company that pays your salary insists that you utilize a particular method. If you see a need for change, then speak out. Act on it. Find others in the helping professions and discuss their experiences.  After all, isn’t that what we encourage our clients to do?

Government Shutdown: Why Can’t the White House and Congress Get Along?

US Capitol

I have found that negotiation and mediation are advocacy tools that successful social workers use to bring about change within individual client systems as well as in policy making. Social workers sometime use creative advocacy techniques that may extend beyond traditional channels in order to protect their clients from harm while balancing organizational policies and procedures that often restrict their ability to do their jobs.  

The government shutdown over funding the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, reminds me that strong advocacy is often adversarial and can have negative consequences. What happened to using negotiation and mediation as advocacy tools?  While there are many benefits to Obamacare, few would dispute there is much opposition to the law and full implementation. Mediation is a viable and evidenced-based process for resolving disputes peacefully and collaboratively.  Why take the American people hostage?

Perhaps it’s time for each of us to become mediators. I would like to ask everyone who reads this column to become an armchair mediator with a fair and impartial in examining the government shutdown dispute. Before we can assume the role of armchair mediators, we must first put aside our political affiliations as well as our position on Obamacare to be objective in the matter.  We need to honestly ask each of the parties  “What if you are absolutely right, where do we go from here?”

A mediator would ensure all stakeholders, not just the loudest voices, at the table were heard. The politician, the everyman…Mediators ask difficult questions: for example, where is the opportunity for common ground and how do we respectfully acknowledge opposing points of view?  Read More

In my inaugural column for the Social Worker Helper, my hope is to share my expertise as a mediator  for over 30 years and highlight the use of mediation and negotiation as advocacy tools.  All opinions are valued.

Government Shutdown: Would You Get Fired For Shutting Down Your Job

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech on the continuing dilemma of the government shutdown which has been in effect since midnight October 1st, and he asked the question, ” What would happen if you decided to shut down your job while you develop a list of demands to be met”? Before, I give the President’s answer, lets look at the past to see if  any such occurrence have happened and what was the outcome.

In November 2012,  Hostess Brands announced that they were selling their company to the highest bidder as a result of a strike by union workers. Hostess fired 18,500 employees because less than 5,000 employees went on strike. According to CNN Money, the company stated:

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said CEO Gregory Rayburn in a statement.

Hostess will move to sell its assets to the highest bidder. That could mean new life for some of its most popular products, which could be scooped up at auction and attached to products from other companies.”

Teamsters and unionize workers were blamed for causing the shutdown of a company who products lives in the childhood memories of so many. What could their demands have possible been to cause a company shutdown? According to the president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Frank Hurt said:

BCTGM says the company has ceased making contractually obligated payments to the Hostess workers’ pensions since July 2011 and has pocketed approximately $160 million—money earned by and owed to its dedicated workforce.

Hostess Brands is in bankruptcy for the second time in eight years. Since the first bankruptcy in 2004, BCTGM members across the country have taken dramatic wage and benefit concessions and watched as 21 Hostess plants were shut down and thousands of jobs were lost. At the time of the first bankruptcy, Hostess workers were assured by management that money saved via concessions and plant closings would help make the company stronger, more vibrant and more competitive. Read more

The President’s short answer to the his question is “You will get Fired”!  Take a look at this three-minute video of President Obama’s assessment of the government shutdown by House Republicans:


Currently, House Republicans are on a network messaging frenzy about how the White House and Democrats are not compromising or willing to negotiate with them. Originally, the shutdown was over defunding or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act which went into the full implementation phase also on October 1st.

Republican talking points since 2009 when Affordable Care Act was still a bill made claims that Obamacare would cause death panels, increase insurance premiums, and health care cost.  A 2013 article from Forbes Magazine tells a different story of how the enactment of Obamacare has driven down cost the last four years in a row.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, noted that while much of the savings are the result of a loss of wealth due to the recession. But, for the first time, Elmendorf was willing to say that a ‘significant part’ of the savings are the result of structural change in how healthcare is now being delivered.

While the new data suggests that some of the changes in how providers are paid for delivering healthcare began—and were having a positive impact—prior to passage of Obamacare, the ACA codifies these changes in payment procedures for physicians and hospitals, taking what now appears to be programs that are slowing the growth in costs and applying them to all providers throughout the nation. Read Full Article

Now, House Republicans are stating the other side is not willing to sit down and negotiate even more cuts to entitlement programs and government spending in addition to cuts already put in place by sequestration. Republicans have successfully eliminated people from talking about the strain caused by sequestration cuts. Additionally, they have gotten Democrats to accept and willing to sign a continuing resolution with current sequestration cuts as part of the deal. The effects of sequestration cuts have not yet been fully realized which will have devastating effects of their own in the upcoming months without any additional cuts being made. According to the LATimes:

As we reported in August, sequestration will pare as much as 1.2% off gross domestic product — after inflation — through this year and next, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  It will cost as many as 1.6 million jobs over that time frame, the CBO says.

Just as the government shutdown leaves congressional pay and benefits intact, so does the sequester. The damage is all done at the opposite end of the economic scale. Thousands of low-income residents of public housing will be thrown out of their homes. Public housing authorities that managed to stave off evictions this year say they will be out of options next year, when the cuts go deeper.

Tens of thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds will be barred from Head Start, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and poor educational attainment faced by those families. Unemployment benefits will continue to be cut by an average of 15% nationwide. And of course job growth will be worse because of the sequester. That’s a great one-two punch Congress has landed on the jobless. Yet the best we can hope for is that the sequester continues, and doesn’t get worse.  Read Full Article

I have heard arguments that both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the government shutdown, and I completely disagree. You can’t negotiate with people who put their self-interest over the needs of the majority. The decisions and demands being made by House Republicans and their leadership is irresponsible. Not only will it cost economic hardship for many children and families, some people will lose their lives as a result.

Also on yesterday, two United States Capital Police were hurt protecting tourists who were visiting our Capital. They left their families and came to work on furlough not knowing whether they would eventually get paid or not. They have the same worries as everyone else like mortgages, food, student loans, and taking care of their children. According to sources, a woman suffering from postpartum depression went on a tear in our nation’s capital with her one year old child. To read more on this developing story, view this link.

What else do Republicans want in order to end this insanity?

Community Resilience: An Untapped Resource for Sustainable Development


Communities have inherent in their systems, means of survival and a tenacity that has seen them through very difficult times. There is a heart in communities that keeps pumping and keeping people alive even in the midst of poverty and adversity. Am I saying communities don’t need development interventions? Not at all, but the issue at hand is how development workers can harness these “in-built” community strengths. How can community resilience lead to sustainable development?

Resilience in Action

The process of continuous survival and coping even in the hardest of situations is called “resilience.” Masten (2009) defines it this way: “Coping may result in the individual ‘bouncing back’ to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects [from shocks].” In Sub-Sahara, especially in Swaziland, we have seen the principle of resilience in action in rural communities. Sub Sahara is in trouble, but there is a remnant that continues to survive and thrive in the face of all these challenges.

Irrespective of government or development practitioner intervention, the elderly in Swaziland tend to demonstrate a high level of resilience in the face of perpetual poverty and HIV. In Swaziland, because of the high HIV prevalence rate (26%) the country is faced with an orphan challenge, the burden of which falls on older relatives, often female. Modeling by the U.N. SPECTRUM indicates that by 2015 there will be about 110,000 children who will have been orphaned as a result of AIDS in Swaziland, a kingdom of just over 1 million people. In the absence of a state organized social security system, the burden of care is accepted because of emotional bonding, duty, guilt and/or the lack of other available services in the community. It has been acknowledged for some time that the traditional homestead has long ago ceased to offer the social safety net it once did, but to understand how these systems functioned in the past is key to building a brighter future.

Are typical development interventions at odds with resilience?

As development workers continue to design interventions on behalf of communities, the question I ask myself is, “How can development workers harness people’s resilience and use it for sustainable development?” Here I am not referring to a sustainability that just focuses on the workers trying to keep their jobs by getting more funding to replicate a program so that it can be called a best practice. Rather sustainability is largely to do with a program being able to continue generating benefits for the community even when donor funding has been finished. When communities are empowered to do more—that I call sustainability.

For development workers to facilitate sustainable development by using people’s personal strengths, there is need for a shift in their mindset, especially where their approach is concerned and how they integrate the views of the communities. At the end of the day, communities must be able to integrate bottom-up development programs into their daily routine.

What seems to matter to us as development practitioners is we want change the way we perceive it. From where I stand this push for change is usually service provider and/or donor driven, and less about the lived realities of the people we are serving. In effect, we forget who really matters. If we push the agenda of development from our perspective and forget that communities have survived and continue to survive in spite of our efforts, then we are bound to fail in any attempt to bring about sustainable development.

Meaningful consultation with communities must become a “must-have”

Sustainability is asking ourselves what is really the change that we want to see during and after an intervention, beyond outputs. And there is no way we can ask this question and get an answer without proper consultation with community members. Often the argument of practitioners against consultation is that the cost is too high. I have seen a few projects designed on behalf of communities that have done well. However, the cost of consultation versus the cost of a white elephant or an ineffective program means its long-term dividends cannot be overlooked.

To properly consult with communities is banking on the fact that communities are a resilient lot that will survive, even without interventions. Lessons learnt from my work is that inherent in community systems already is development—communities know what they need and what to do to come out of their poverty situation, but simply lack technical know-how and resources.

So as an outsider coming into their system, development workers need to develop a mentality that will appreciate who people are, rather than just disrupting the way they do things with a short-term intervention. Systems approaches allow development workers to understanding how things influence one another and see communities as a whole, i.e. the forest rather than the trees.

Households survive in hard times without technical expertise provided by the development community.  The act of care giving has continued to sustain families even in the face of perpetual suffering, disease, sickness, unemployment and high levels of poverty. Tapping into community individual, family, and community resilience is one of the ways countries like Swaziland can achieve sustainable development.

At the heart of resilience, there is an underlying ability for human beings to sustain themselves and push for development. It is internal strength that pushes rural communities to fight for survival and development workers need to find ways to better leverage these strengths.

Masten, A. S. (2009). “Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development”. Education Canada 49 (3): 28–32.
UNAIDS/UNICEF/USAID, (2004). Children on the Brink, A Joint Report of New Orphan Estimates and a Framework for Action.
UNDP (2012). Africa Human Development Report (2012) – “Towards a Food Secure Future”. United Nations Publications.
Vaddadi, K.S. (1997).  Burden of care in the home: issues for community management. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (1997), vol. 3, pp. 246-253
World Commission On Environment and Development (1987). The Brundtland Commission Report “Our Common Future”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1987)<

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”:


The Role of Social Workers: Impact in Numbers

By assisting the most disadvantaged members of their communities, the role of social workers are to act as change agents, revitalizing lives, and improving communities. These professionals serve in many different sectors of society, providing services and resources that empower people and promote self-healing.

Role of Social Worker ImageIn 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 636,017 individuals were homeless in the United States. While this number is staggering, it was a decrease from 2009 of approximately 7,000 individuals, due in large part to the services provided by federal, state and local programs. Social workers continue to strive to end homelessness by providing evidenced based and cost effective interventions such as assistance obtaining housing, education and employment.

Programs such as Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) assisted more than 700,000 people in 2010 alone. This program provided funding for resources offered by non-profit human service organizations in local communities, and those programs, in turn, provided assistance that reduced and prevented homelessness. While our society still has a long way to go if we hope to end the homeless epidemic, social workers continue to play a large part in finding the solution.

Another sector of society served by social workers is the immigrant population. Social workers assist both legal and illegal immigrants in many different ways, including advocating for improved working conditions, providing adults and youth with education, accessing resources to meet healthcare needs, meeting children’s needs when their caregivers are detained due to immigration status and assisting immigrants of all ages in learning the English language. According to the Census Bureau, immigrants in the United States account for one in eight residents. Of these immigrants, approximately one in three reside in the country illegally. When considering adult immigrants, approximately 31 percent have not achieved a high school diploma, 34 percent lack health insurance and 17 percent live at or below the poverty line.

It is believed that the high rates of poverty and increased need for welfare programs in this population is due in large part to their lack of education. Immigrants are often detained for non-violent offenses, separating them from their children and leaving those children without any emotional or financial support system. This is a growing problem in America, and more than 33,400 immigrant detention beds exist in the criminal justice system to date. The role of a social worker is crucial in these situations, as social workers are often the only individuals advocating for the parents and attempting to reunite the family if a release is negotiated. The National Association of Social Workers states that, while the very nature of these individuals being illegal means that few statistics exist showing the benefits of social worker’s actions when it comes to United States immigrants, there is no doubting these contributions are essential in improving lives and empowering individuals.

Social workers are able to make a drastic difference, sometimes life saving, for children in our society. This is particularly true when they provide services to young victims of abuse or neglect and their families. In the United States, approximately 6 million children suffer from abuse or neglect according to Childhelp. This is the worst record of any industrialized nation. More than five children die every day as a result of injury imposed by a caregiver or other adult. Approximately one third to two thirds of these reports are initiated or impacted by caregiver substance abuse. As a result, social workers take on many roles in preventing and resolving child abuse cases.

Case management professionals in Child Protective Services receive approximately 3.4 million referrals related to child abuse cases. Of these, 60.8 percent are screened in according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Screened in cases are assisted through interventions including case management, referrals to community resources and family counseling. Substance abuse counselors often work with abusers to resolve alcohol and drug abuse problems and improve parenting skills. Child abuse prevention programs are offered in schools, educating children on the importance of reporting abuse. Social workers also advocate on the state and federal level for new programs that protect children.

The services that social workers provide benefit many of the most disadvantages members of our communities. By providing necessary services to these individuals, lives are improved and crimes are prevented. As the needs of society increase, so will the need for qualified individuals ready to tackle the demands that social workers see every day.

1. The State of Homelessness In America 2012. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

2. Federal Aid Behind Homelessness Decreases. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

3. Immigration Issues. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

4. Camarota, Steven. Immigration In The United States 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

5. Bess, Amy. The Impact of Immigration Detention on Children and Families. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

6. National Child Abuse Statistics. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

7. Child Maltreatment 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

8. How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from

Ethical Concerns When Using Social Media


In the latest Iron Man, Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr., always has the best and newest technology gadgets out there. Even though Iron Man is a fictional movie, the use of technology and social media is revolutionizing how we communicate, process information, and problem solve local and global problems. However, many helping professions struggle to use the basic technology which require minimal skills in order to enhance our communications with each other. Until we master the basics, we will have difficulty intertwining advanced technologies into practice.

With the uber-trendy social networking sites’ (SNS) captivation of Internet users around the world, those in the helping profession are having a hard time keeping up with the latest and greatest in this season’s social media tools before they become outdated.

While many are quick to claim that this lag is due to an “old-school” mentality of avoiding 21st century technology, there are several factors that social workers, non-profits, and government agencies have to take into consideration before they can pick up the new toy on the playground. Private entities that are not working with vulnerable or at-risk populations have the perceived luxury of being more “lax” in their social media policies – forgoing concerns of confidentiality, cultural competency, or liability.

Public organizations are often times held to different legal and ethical policies that require much more detail and time spent towards considering where social media can help service provision and clinical work.

Social networking sites are intended to provide quick access and instant information dissemination to a specific group of people. So how do organizations working with vulnerable populations balance justified ethical concerns with the incredible potential of social media? While I may not have the magic answer, a well-developed social media policy is a good place to start.

To help anticipate all possible outcomes of social media use – both good and bad – social workers need to make sure that if they are planning (and able) to use these tools in their practice, they have a strong, carefully thought out social media policy to guide them. Especially considering that there are resources and examples out there of how caseworkers and clinicians can correctly use social media in their work, an effective social media policy can develop a “treatment plan” for using these tools while also developing a “safety plan” for when issues arise.

Whether you are in a government agency, a nonprofit, or a private practice, a social media strategy that outlines your specific goals of using the tool, your disclosure and participation policies, and how the tools will be used will help address ethical and legal considerations while also creating a foundation for keeping pace with evolving social media trends.

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The Biopsychosocial Perspective to Mental Health and Illness

As we go through life and the environment changes, our brain and it functions also changes. Likewise, a person’s genetic makeup and the environment they interact with will have a profound effect on their mental health, biological health and their brain functions. In order to truly understand someone’s mental health, we must take into account all of the factors affecting them both positively and negatively in order to get a better picture of their overall health and well-being.

According to Drs. George Engel and John Romano, the biopsychosocial perspective is more appropriate when analyzing the causes of mental illness. This model introduces the idea that there are biological, psychological, and social determinants to mental health. This idea links the outside world to someone’s biology and psyche.  It also involves our consciousness, sentiments, and behaviors.

One reason why the biopsychosocial perspective is so useful is because it explains how some people who are seemingly “healthy” can get mental illnesses and why some are more prone to mental illness than others. Those who are mentally healthy most likely exercise, have positive energy and strong social bonds does not exempt them from mental illness. The biopsychosocial perspective gives evidence that although someone can be mentally healthy at some point in their life, they can still experience mental illness if their biopsychosocial balance is disturbed.

  • According to the biopsychosocial model, interactions between people’s genetic makeup (biology), mental health and personality (psychology), and sociocultural environment (social world) contribute to their experience of health or illness.
  • The biological influences on mental health and mental illness are varied, and include genetics, infections, physical trauma, nutrition, hormones, and toxins.
  • The psychological component looks for potential psychological explanations for a health problem, such as lack of self-control, emotional turmoil, or negative thinking.
  • Social and cultural factors are conceptualized as a particular set of stressful events (being laid off, for example) that can differentially impact mental health depending on the individual and his or her social context.
  • The biopsychosocial theory posits that each one of these factors is not sufficient to create health or mental illness, but the interaction between them determines the course of one’s development.
  • Despite its usefulness, there are issues with the biopsychosocial model, including the degree of influence that each factor has, the degree of interaction between factors, and variation across individuals and life spans (Boundless)

This perspective can give clinical workers many benefits when treating a mentally ill patient. They are now able to apply every aspect of the patient’s life to their illness.  Those with mental illness can now gain a sense of self-awareness. Mental illness sufferers can understand their health as a whole entity with several parts that function together. It also broadens the way we view a mental illness by no longer looking at it as a black or white issue. The biopsychosocial perspective also challenges the stigma on mental illness by enabling people to realize that anyone can suffer from a mental illness because we all have biological, psychological, and social influencers in our lives.

Listen to Episode 3 of my podcast Anxious Ramblings!

This episode will cover my thoughts on avoidance and a little introduction to agoraphobia and exposure therapy. We will hear from Phillip about his struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia. This episode will conclude with me sharing how people’s perceptions can change after being exposed to mental illness.

Target Misses the Mark in Creating Hostile Work Environment for Latino Workers

by Amanda Huber MSW, LCSWA

0319p6-Target-East-Harlem-cr-BloombergTarget is in the hot seat for cultural incompetence this week after an internal memo sparked a California lawsuit. The memo was meant to be a multicultural awareness document, but it was ultimately very insensitive to Latino workers. Workers in the Target store in question, noticed several supervisors using racial slurs toward them and other Latino workers. Supervisors, all of whom were Caucasian, made comments  such as, “You got to be Mexican to work like this,” and “What the hell, I’m already sweating like a Mexican”.

Molly Snyder, a spokeswoman for Target, did not comment on the lawsuit but instead offered that  the retailer is “firmly committed” to diversity in the workplace.”That commitment includes respecting and valuing the diverse backgrounds of our more than 361,000 team members worldwide”.  HuffPost

This lawsuit comes at a time when the marketing department has been making major efforts to target the Hispanic population for their buying power. In a interview with MPR, Minnesota Public Radio, Chief Operating Officer Gregg Steinhafel stated, “We are going to source dominant presentations of Latino and Hispanic merchandise through the entire store.”

Target has launched a major initiative to target this demographic. Then, why are they facing a discrimination suit relating to their treatment of Latino workers? This is not the first time the Target corporation has been the subject of bad practices relating to workers. According to UFCW, United Food and Commercial Workers, Target was cited for intimidation and illegal work rules in May 2012 when they suppressed workers rights to organize in Long Island, New York.

According to the Court House News Services, the following is the content of the internal memo circulated in the Target Store:

Target provided its distribution warehouse managers a document titled, ‘Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips,'” the complaint states. “This document instructs managers to note differences among Hispanic employees, and states the following:
“a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;
“b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;
“c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;
“d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);
“e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and
“f. They may say ‘OK, OK’ and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.”
The plaintiffs claim that nearly all the management positions were held by Caucasians, who regularly used racial slurs while addressing Hispanic employees, such as “Only a ‘wetback’ can work this hard,” “You got to be Mexican to work like this,” and “What the hell, I’m already sweating like a Mexican,” the employees say in the complaint. Read More…

Immigration Bill Passes the Senate Vote, What’s Next?

by Amanda Huber MSW, LCSWA

Within days of each other, The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed, the Filibuster in Texas stopped an anti-abortion bill, and the Supreme Court refused to rule on Prop 8. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 endured a devastating blow with the Supreme Court striking down section 4 requiring states with historical discrimination practices to seek pre-clearance before modifying voting laws, and Senate Bill (S. 744) addressing immigration passed the Senate with a vote 68 to 32.

Infographic provided by Quartz
Infographic provided by QuartzWhat does S. 744 : The Immigration Bill Address:

What does S. 744 : The Immigration Bill Address:

Border Security: DHS (Department of Homeland Security) will tighten up on border security and it provides a budget of 6.5 Billion to increase resources and infrastructure, more tax dollars spent  on basic border surveillance.

Immigrant Visas: RPI (Registered Provisional Immigrant) is the status that will be given to immigrants who meet specific legal standards as addressed in S. 744.  The ability to apply for family members who are in the country without updated documentation or  illegal status will be granted a path to citizenship.  This is a costly matter and lower income families are less likely to meet the minimum standards.

Visa Updates: Changes regarding different documents including V(visiting )visas, U (undocumented) visas, RPI (Registered Provisional Immigrant) visas and LPR (Legal Permanent Resident) visas, and the qualifications an individual must face along their journey toward citizenship.

The Dreamers:  Dreamers are childhood arrivals who have advocated for their access to education, drivers licensing and to basic human rights. They are included in this bill and will be allowed a fast track to citizenship.

Access to Benefits: Dependent upon the type of visa received, governmental aid provided to many at-risk populations in programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Social Security may or may not be provided. For example, Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPI) are ineligible. However, RPI status immigrants will be allowed to operate in a the private market system for medical insurance benefits.

Employer Enforcement: E-Verify  and work authorization guidelines. This section of  S. 744 includes worker protections against exploitation. This section gives rights to temporary farm workers (those who hold H-2A visas) who hold  temporary agricultural visas.  In the past, this population has been exploited by large farms that do not want to inform their workers of the rights they have as employees in the United States.

The path to citizenship in some cases will take up to 13 years to accomplish. This comes at a time where Latino voices and Latino storytellers have been able to have a stronger presence in the immigration dialogue. The passage of S. 744 in the Senate was a step toward equality and justice, but it still needs House support in order to become law. The Republican majority House may prevent S. 744 from being voted on without a majority of House members consent. According to Speaker John Boehner, House Republicans have their own immigration bill.

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