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***Updated ***Where is the Social Workers Teachers’ Union? Twitter Debate Topic 9/10/2012

Looking to identify ways to bring together different fractions of the SW community and/or lobby NASW to expand beyond Clinical Social Work.




View archive of  this Twitter Chat at 

Looking to identify ways to bring together different fractions of the SW community and/or lobby NASW to expand beyond Clinical Social Work.

Over the course of the past year, I have been hearing from many fellow Social Workers about their frustration with the profession. The following was a reply I made to a group member on the LinkedIn discussion Group. She commented on the discussion “Why Aren’t All Social Workers Supported And Created Equal?,” stating that she was frustrated and felt stuck because even with a graduate degree and seven years post grad experience she was still working in an entry level case management position. Unfortunately her experience is not unique:

What I am picking up on is that MSWs are being relegated to doing line work with little encouragement or opportunity to grow professionally. If you want anything more than that your only hope is becoming licensed to do clinical work and starting your own practice. But if you have any desire to do macro or non-traditional social work you are facing numerous obstacles. I think there are a number of reasons for why this is happening.

For one thing the profession has an image problem. A social work degree is seen as being essay to obtain and there are many in other helping professions who believe that anyone can be a Social Worker. Then there is the notion that an MSW only prepares us to be mental health counselors. This makes it much harder for us to compete for non-counseling jobs. There are still too many people, people who run human service agencies, hospitals, and nonprofits; that do not fully understand the social work profession. They see us as psychologist-lite, not as trained professionals with our own perspectives and code of ethics.

The other thing, and I have been thinking about this a lot lately, is that there are not enough social workers doing research or publishing. I may be off on this point, but so much of the literature out there on mental health and public policy is coming from other professionals (psychologist, political scientist, etc.) and not from Social Workers. Or maybe other professions are just better at getting their research and books noticed. I don’t know, but this takes me to my next point about needing to get ourselves out there on the national stage.

We need more Social Workers participating on multidisciplinary panels on TV and at conferences. @swhelpercom is currently lobbying MSNBC on Twitter to add a social work professor to their panels. We also need more Social Workers running for public office at all levels of government. At one point in time Social Workers like Jane Addams (a Nobel Prize winner) and Mary Richardson were national figures. Francis Perkins, a trained Social Worker, helped craft the New Deal and was the first women appointed to the U.S. cabinet. Can you name for me a modern day equivalent?

And finally there is the issue of who is lobbying on behalf of the profession and how much power do they really have. I know there have been many discussions on LinkedIn about whether or not Social Workers need a union instead of an association, which led to many heated debates about how such a union could be organized.

We do have a problem, a very big problem. We need to start coming together, even if it is outside of the NASW, and start dealing with this problem.

Join us on Twitter to discuss this topic on September 10, 2012 at 8PM EST. Also view for more information on our Twitter Debates.  View Archive of Chat Below:

Looking to identify ways to bring together different fractions of the SW community and/or lobby NASW to expand beyond Clinical Social Work.

Rachel L. West is the Founder of the Political Social Worker, a blog dedicated to macro social work and politics. She holds a BA in History from SUNY Stony Brook and an MSW from Adelphi University. She is a community outreach and engagement specialist. Rachel resides in New York State, and she is available as a consultant and coach. You can find out more about Rachel at The Political Social Worker at (



What are you doing for Social Work Month: #SWHelper Live Twitter Chats Are Back



Social Work Month is a time of reflection when those in our profession intensify our efforts to positively influence change and policy shifts on the macro, mezzo and micro levels to improve outcomes for those we serve. We also reflect on how we can better create awareness and educate the public on the many facets of social work practice and education. Most importantly, it’s the time of year we become more connected together and supportive of each other for choosing a profession to serve the vulnerable, the poor, and marginalized. As a result, Social Work Helper has decided to reboot the #SWHelper Live Twitter Chats on Sundays at 3PM EST to help maintain that connectivity throughout the year.

swmlogotaglineWith any profession, we have our in fights of macro vs micro or whether licensing is better for professionalization. However, having these debates are healthy because they help to identify areas for improvement as well as identify areas working well for replication. Live Twitter Chats are just one way to help increase social work visibility in the virtual world. Whether its writing for Social Work Helper or another publication, any time a social worker weighs in on a current event or news related incident using a social work lens, it helps to add our profession to the national conversation.

The virtual world is providing social workers around the globe the opportunity to connect despite their geographically location. Live Twitter Chats allows us to remove those geographically boundaries like never before by extending the classroom, our ability to learn, and share information and resources. One of the barriers to live twitter chats is that people don’t understand twitter. Twitter seems vast with too much information and very few rules to follow.

However, these barriers are also what make Twitter the best social media platform for connection, advocacy, community organizing , and teaching. However, in order for us to extract the best uses of this social media platform, we must start with providing information to everyone on how to participate in Twitter Chats and Twitter basics.

#SWHelper Live Twitter Chats

To kick off Social Work Month, this Sunday on March 9th at 3PM EST using the hashtag #SWHelper, our first chat will cover how to use twitter, participation in chats, get feedback for topics in the weeks to come, and talk about how to increase social work’s visibility year-long. Social Work Helper has created a page on how to participate in a twitter chat.

How does a live twitter chat work? In order to participate, you must first have access to a twitter account. Then, you will need to go to your twitter search and type in #swhelper.  Depending on the number of participants, the tweet stream may flow quickly.

To contribute to the discussion, you will need #SWHelper  at the beginning or at the end of each tweet. To direct a question to and/or include the moderator in the post, your tweet will need to include @swhelpercom  and #SWHelper.  Also, Social Work Helper has a twitter chat channel in which I highly recommend because it will automatically add the #SWHelper hashtag into your tweet for you. View the Social Work Helper Twitter Channel located at To begin using twubs, simply create an account or login in with your existing twitter account. Read More

Twitter Basics has one of the easiest and most basic guides for New Twitter users.

If you’re still apprehensive whether the micro-blogging universe is really for you, perhaps you’re just experiencing stranger anxiety.

Twitter can be a pretty intimidating platform at first glance, what with all the jargon and quirky characters everyone uses (not to mention the pressure to have a throng of followers!). The anxiety is normal and most newbies find themselves stumped over what to do next after they create their Twitter account.

But, fear not! For a smooth start, you only need to get a handle of the basic principles of Twitter use — and, fortunately, it’s not rocket science.

Here are the 10 basic guidelines for Twitter Beginners. Read Full Article

Also, University of Alabama at Birmingham Social Work Professor, Laurel Hitchcock wrote an excellent post entitled How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter Parts I and II.

Collaborative Twitter Chat

Also, Social Work Helper has joined a collaborative effort Live Twitter Chat which will occur on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month at 9PM EST starting March 13th on the Rothman Report using the hashtag #macrosw. This collaboration includes the University of Buffalo, Network of Social Work Managers, Association of Community Organizers and Social Administration (ACOSA), University of Southern California, and Karen Zgoda.

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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”:


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CSWE Virtual Film Festival Series: Exploring Interracial Adoptions in “A Season for Dancing”



Welcoming Party for MeseretFamilies such as Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie has really thrusted interracial adoptions into the forefront of public discussion. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, interracial adoptions or another similar term transracial adoptions occurs when placing a child of one race or culture with the adoptive parents of another race or culture.

I had the opportunity to interview Moges Tafesse the film director of “A Season for Dancing” which documents a father’s journey in helping his adopted child connect with his heritage. “A Season for Dancing” has been nominated as one of the finalist in the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) Virtual Film Festival. Moges describes the film as journey “toward personal healing, the restoration of relationships with family and childhood friends, the redemption of his cultural identity, and his first steps toward achieving his dreams for the future.”

The debate over interracial adoptions has been a difficult one within our country’s history and within the social work profession. The major concerns relating to interracial adoptions have always been whether the adoptive parent would have the ability to be culturally sensitive to the perspective adoptee’s racial and cultural identity. In 1972, the National Association for Black Social Workers  raised concerns about African-American children being adopted into Caucasian homes based on circumstances where both Black and Indian children were being acquired as laborers for the home.

When I started working in child welfare, one of the first films I viewed was of Richard Cardinal who was an Indian child removed from his reservation and placed into foster care with 18 different Caucasian families. Unfortunately before his 18 birthday, Richard committed suicide, but he left behind a diary that gave valuable insights into a broken child welfare system. I believe that it is important for us to learn about Richard’s story to prevent making the same mistakes, but it is also important to look at successful models of interracial adoptions in order to learn how to educate and develop programs for perspective interracial adoptive parents.

Now, I want to share with you my Mogese Tafasse’s thoughts on “A Season for Dancing”.

SWH: Can you tell SWH Readers about your background, and your film making role?

I acquired both a MSW and PhD in Social Work and Social Development. As the director/writer of this film, I consider myself to be a socially responsible film maker in Ethiopia while running a small production firm engaged in the production of short films, documentaries, and TV programs.  Previously, I worked in a adoption organization that connects Ethiopian children with families in France, and I observed the plight of adoptees who were disconnected to their  family, culture and language. I observed children coming back to Ethiopia to see their family and culture, but they ended up desperate and aliens. During my MSW and PhD courses-Practice with Children and Families, and Action Research, I sensed the gravity of the issue of inter-country adoption and thinking  of an opportunity to make one short documentary film on adoption with the principles of action research as an approach for my documentary films-to bring a change while filming.

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?

MT: A professor of Emeritus, Nathan Linsk, from Jane Addams college of social work at University of Illinois, Chicago, advised me to submit my documentary for CSWE. He knows my interest in media and social work. On the issues I raised on the film, I believe the film can influence social work education and practice by putting the famous social work approach-person in environment in an Ethiopian context and making it more practical and tangible.  Following a person- in- environment approach as opposed to person in problem or pathogenic approach, the film show that the psycho-social, biological and spiritual aspects to be considered during social work intervention.

The lead character before returning to Ethiopia had a negative experience. When he come back to Ethiopia he confronts all those hidden part of his life and make meaning out of it and reconnected his background, then went to his place with a healed personality.  What is interesting to me in this documentary is also after we done the research we highly participate the lead character to the level of assistant director in a way the film story match with the findings of the study.  in a sense it is participatory video that we see a challenges and solution of an adopted child form his own perspective but that is related with a prominent social work model of intervention.

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?

MT: Currently I am running an independent production firm, Synergy Habesha Films and Communications ( As a social worker studied at PhD level I am bringing my social work knowledge with media as a tool.  I have great aspiration to produce more films on diverse issues on vulnerable part of Ethiopian community particularly women and children. I have also an aspiration to make feature documentary film. Currently I am writing a script about an Ethiopian women who was sold as a slave concubine for an Atomoan Arab, who was rescued by her mate after 15 years of search (The Concubine).  My advise for others who would like to make films is to do a research on the subject matter and the approach of the film to be used to frame the subject matter. During production valuing the participants to a level that they are story tellers and the film makers is a learner/listener is also a great way to find great stories from the character. Last but not least is determination and persistence and believing in once’s contribution is very important.

Join us for a Live Twitter Chat on August 8, 2013 at 8PM EST with Film Director Moges Talfese to discuss his film and thoughts on interracial adoptions. @swhelpercom will be moderating the chat using the hashtag #swunited.

View “A Season for Dancing” below:

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After the Final Moral Monday Where do We Go?



About three months ago, Moral Monday protests began in North Carolina in response to the Republican controlled legislature that was quickly enacting right wing laws rolling the state’s progress backwards.

North Carolina Republican LegislaturesMost recently, the General Assembly amended the state’s voting laws in a manner that will make it harder, particularly for minorities, to participate in elections. Voters must now show ID at the polls (the type of ID deemed valid in limited and many voters do not possess what is considered proper identification under the new law), eliminates same day voter registration, abolishes pre-registration for 16-17 year olds and much more (source).  Every policy they did away with was the type of policy that improves voter registration and engagement. It is exactly the type of action a governing body takes when attempting to suppress voting.

On Monday North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation that will severely limit a woman’s access to abortion services. Doctors working in abortion clinics must have admitting privileges at local hospitals and publicly funded health insurances will not be able to pay for abortions. This despite abortion being a legal medical procedure in the United States. Reproductive justice advocates fear that many clinics will not be able to meet the new standards.

The state legislature has made extreme cuts to unemployment benefits and to medicaid, and the state’s budget has been cut or plans to eliminate funding much needed programs. For example, the Republican led legislature plans to cut $2,000,000 from the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, this cut constitutes 70% of the nonprofits’ budget which means they must reorganize or close its doors.

The same article reports that Biofuels North Carolina, which lost the entirety of their state funding, will close. A more recent article states that Biofuel is attempting to stay afloat by cutting jobs. The center employs 78 workers.  They are asking older workers to voluntarily resign (source).

North Carolina’s schools have not been spared from the wrath of the General Assembly. The state’s budget moved to faze out tenure, eliminated bonuses for teaches that earn a Masters degree, and continue a freeze on teachers salaries which have already been in place for the past five years. They will also be cut funding for classroom aides as well as increasing the size of classrooms.

Recently, North Carolina became the first state to disqualify itself from federal unemployment benefits funding. Additionally, the legislature reduced the number of weeks out of work residents are eligible for unemployment benefits as well as reduced weekly payouts.

This week was the final Moral Monday as the General Assembly closed its session for the year. Since the protest started this spring, over 900 people have been voluntarily arrested for civil disobedience. Winn Bassett and Nick Pironio from The Atlantic wrote an excellent account about volunteering for arrest at a Moral Monday demonstration that you can read here.

Moral Monday was organized by Reverend William Barber, President of North Carolina’s NAACP, and you can listen to or read the transcript of an interview he did this week with NPR here.

On Thursday August 1st Social Work Chats by Social Work Helper will be be discussing moral Monday and where the movement goes next.

To participate you need a Twitter account.  Please include the hashtag #swunited in all your tweets. The chat will begin at 8:00 PM EST.  Deona Hooper will be moderating from the Social Work Helper Twitter account, @swhelpercom.  You can find out more about Social Work Chats by visiting Social Work Helper.

photo credit: gnuru via photopin cc

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Human Rights

Interview with Professor Crystal Hayes on Shaniya Davis: We Deserve to Be Safe



Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Social Work Professor Crystal Hayes about her disclosure of being sexual abused as a child in an op-ed she wrote in response to the rape and murder of five year old Shaniya Davis. In 2009, Shaniya Davis went missing and was later found dead in a ditch alongside an isolated country road outside of Sanford, North Carolina. The death of Shaniya Davis would later expose a variety of system failures that were suppose to help keep her safe.

On May 29, 2013, a Cumberland County jury in North Carolina sentenced Shaniya’s killer, Mario Andrette McNeil, to death on the grounds of first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, sexual offense of a child, indecent liberties with a child, and human trafficking and sexual servitude which led to her death. Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, is currently being held for selling her child to pay off a drug debt, and her trial is scheduled for later this year.

Shaniya DavisAccording to local ABC news affiliate and statements made by District Attorney Ed Grannis, Cumberland County Department of Social Services destroyed emails on their involvement with Shaynia Davis prior to her death.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Grannis said problems started the day Davis was reported missing when DSS left detectives waiting hours for assistance.

“It was critically important that DSS cooperate in every way to save the life of this child, it does not appear that occurred,” said Grannis.

Eventually, he said it took two court orders to force DSS to handover missing documents that were not included in an initial report to the DA’s office.

Grannis also expressed his disappointment with the State Bureau of Investigation who he said referred to DSS’s lack of cooperation as a misunderstanding – even after interviews with DSS staffers revealed high ranking supervisors told agents on the case to print emails and then delete them to prevent the media from accessing details in their investigation of the Davis Family.

“DSS staff was told to delete emails pertaining to this case, and to not email anymore information,” said Grannis.  Read Full Article

What happened to Shaniya Davis impacted Professor Hayes to the point where she felt compelled to disclose a secret she had been carrying around for over 30 years. Removing those barriers of silence has further empowered her to be a better advocate, teacher, and fighter for social justice. Professor Hayes goes more in detail about her decision to disclose her sexual abuse in the article she wrote for the Durham News which can be viewed here. Also, Professor Hayes penned an emotional letter to Shaniya Davis that she would like to share with Social Work Helper readers.  I hope you find this letter as compelling as I do which reads as follows:

Dear Beloved Shaniya:

We deserve to be safe. I am beyond grief stricken by your death and its loss to the world. The man accused of taking your very young precious life has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, but not the crime of sexual assault. It’s not the justice I wanted for you. I thought any justice would bring relief or closure, but nothing will remove the grief I feel about what happened to you. I grieve for you a lot. I grieve that this world will never know the amazing things your life had to offer. I grieve that you will never get to play or dance again and just be five.  I grieve that you will never get to enjoy another fun day in the park with family and friends. I grieve that you won’t grow up to fuss with your family about curfews or the other things important teens. There are moments when your face appears on my television screen with that beautiful smile and pretty white dress and I lose my breath as I listened to the latest news about your case. Each time, I am reminded that we’ve lost forever an amazing spirit. The man who stole you from us stole an entire future and legacy, but he’s not the only reason you’re gone. We all failed you. The world failed to keep you and women and girls safe. We deserve to be safe.

As a mother of a daughter and a survivor of sexual assault as a child, I am often overwhelmed and tortured by what you must have gone through. What happened to you is absolutely incomprehensible to me even though I know you’re far from alone. I am full of rage that we live in a world that can’t keep children safe and even if this never happened, you were born into a world not safe for girls and women. One in five American women will be the victims of some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.   The United Nations Gender Equity Initiative reminds us that up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.  In 2002 alone, roughly 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence.  Here, at home, in North Carolina our state is ranked top 8th for human trafficking in the United States according to the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  I worried everyday of my life for the past 21 years for the safety of my daughter. I continue to fear for her in a world where women between the ages of 12 and 34 are the most at risk for sexual assault in our culture. The Center for Disease Control has declared sexual violence a very serious public health crisis.  Beloved Shaniya, we have failed you and girls everywhere in the most basic ways possible and I am deeply sorry. We owe you so much more and all survivors of sexual violence.

As I write this letter to you, I am also reminded that this work isn’t easy. Everyday I fight for the integrity of my soul so that I do not become the very thing I oppose the most: inhumane. It’s difficult to remain human in the face of so much evil, but I know I must do it if I truly want to honor you, the little girl in me who was victimized, and all women and children who feel unsafe everyday. I can promise you that I will spend my life and career committed to justice for you and other victims. I am so sorry that it’s too late for you, but I am not going to give up the struggle to end violence against women and children. I promise to continue to interrupt rape culture wherever I find it no matter how uncomfortable. I will work to build strong allies with men all around the world. I will make sure that our media is held accountable for perpetuating rape culture whenever they sympathize with perpetrators. Most importantly, I will never again remain silent. Audre Lorde has taught me that, “silence will not protect us.” There’s power in telling our stories. It took me nearly 30 years to share with someone what happened to me as a child. I promise you, my own daughter, and women and girls everywhere that I will use my voice in whatever way that I can because we deserve to be safe.

In love and rage,


Join us for a live twitter chat on June 19th at 6:00PM EST using the hashtag #SWUnited to discuss violence against girls and women with Professor Crystal Hayes @MotherJustice and her social justice class #SW505. I will be moderating and giving a guest lecture with her class using my twitter handle @swhelpercom. Please, tweet any questions in advance or during the chat to the hashtag #swunited. Also include @swhelpercom if you would like your question to possible be featured during the live chat.

****Update View Archived Chat****

View the transcript of my guest lecture on sexabuse and sexual assault using the archived live twitter chat on storify:

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The Coffee Klatch: A Voice for Parents of Special Needs Children



By Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
Director of Community Development

On June 24th Marianne Russo, President at The Coffee Klatch Special Needs Radio, will be our guest for Social Work Chats by Social Work Helper. The Coffee Klatch is an excellent resource for parents and families of children with special needs.  Marianne generously took some time  out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions. 

SWH: How did The Coffee Klatch come about and what is the mission?

Marianne Russo: The Coffee Klatch started on a whim. I often speak and write about the isolation, stigma and confusion of

Marianne Russo

Marianne Russo

parents raising a special needs child. Many of those 
parents are on twitter to share information, seek support or find a friendly ear. Twitter is where it all began. It is where I met my incredible team of hosts and hundreds of thousands of special needs parents. It is where I first created a morning chat for parents both newly diagnosed and those who have navigated the muddy waters to meet and share. It became very apparent to me, very quickly, that many of these parents were getting misinformation about their child’s diagnosis or were not aware of accommodations and the importance of early interventions.  For many, comorbidity of related disorders and the presentations in the vast difference in these disorders was impeding progress. They were struggling, overwhelmed, isolated and feeling defeated. What these parents needed was evidence based, comprehensive, cutting edge information, they needed the best of the best, the needed The Coffee Klatch Talk Radio.

Our guests are the most respected and renowned experts in the world. Together with my incredible team of hosts, I work to bring parents what they need to find accurate diagnosis and effective treatements.

We take pride in providing interviews with the most respected and renowned experts on all aspects and types of neurobiological disorders, autism and child adolescent mental illnesses.  We feature experts and celebrity advocates on all children’s disabilities both physical and emotional and spotlight International children’s foundations to share their incredible dedication and bring parents support.   Our goal is to provide you, the parent, the educator, with crucial information to allow you to make the most informed educated decisions for a child.

My goal on The Coffee Klatch is not only to guide those dealing with children with mental illness, disabilities or autism, but to share an important message of fostering and embracing differences. Put aside labels and see the incredible kid behind the diagnosis. Find and marvel the wonder of “different” and always remember that these kids are not just special in their needs but in their brilliance as well.

I want to give parents what I so dearly needed and did not have when I started on my journey, the empowerment of confidence and hope.  It is my intent to bring my listeners the tools and information to not only accept and understand your child’s diagnosis, but to educate parents on special education law, digging out of the trenches and the true meaning of advocacy.

SWH: How many people are involved in running the Coffee Klatch and who are they (parents, specialist, volunteers, etc)?

MR: I personally do all the management, marketing and production of the network on a full time basis.  I also host two shows on the network, our main show The Coffee Klatch and my new show Inspire.  Mae Wilkinson is our treasurer and my trusted advisor on autism related interviews and corporate strategies.

The Coffee Klatch is where I seek to give parents what they so desperately need, empowerment. Through my interviews I brings parents cutting edge researchers, world renowned psychiatrists, specialized psychologists, internationally respected children’s foundations, special education law experts, celebrity advocates and the creative thinkers of our time. In addition to the cutting edge scientific and clinical information, what I truly aspires to give parents is hope. My guests run the gamut with interviews with the man called by the New York Times “The most powerful psychiatrist in the world” Dr Allen Frances, six interviews by Times Magazines Most Influential Person of the Year, Dr Temple Grandin and everything in between including Twilight actor Jackson Rathbone discussing his film Girlfriend featuring a lead actor with Down Syndrome.

On Inspire I feel the Chinese proverb explains it best – To Know The Road Ahead Ask Those Coming Back.  This statement has never been more true then when raising a special needs child or teen. To a special needs parent there is no better resource than one who has been there and can truly understand the emotions and experiences through living them. On Inspire I bring on those who have walked in your shoes with incredible stories of triumph and inspiration.  I aim to give parents the courage to stand up to conformity to get their child the education and the life they deserve.

I have amazing hosts who feature outstanding focused programming on The Special Needs Talk Radio Network:

SWH: Diane Kennedy and Rebecca Bank hosts of “Bright Not Broken 

MR: Diane and Rebecca are the authors of Bright Not Broken GIFTED KIDS, ADHD, AND AUTISM and The ADHD-Autism Connection with Dr Temple Grandin. Diane is the mother of three twice-exceptional sons who has spent over 18 years advocating for special needs children. Rebecca, a veteran educator who has spent nearly a decade teaching in inclusive classrooms, is the mother of two twice-exceptional children. Together, Diane and Rebecca will examine the issues around twice-exceptional children—that is, gifted kids with hidden disabilities such as ADHD, Asperger’s/autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, and related conditions. Their unique perspective and fresh approach will help parents, educators, and healthcare professionals understand who these kids are, why they’re stuck, and how to help them. In a time when the diagnostic system is in flux and education is under fire, this program will look unflinching at how proposed changes in these systems will affect twice-exceptional kids. The Bright Not Broken Radio Show will help listeners identify and maximize the talents of gifted kids with hidden disabilities.

SWH: Dr Richard Selznick hosts “School Struggles”

MR: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, adjunct graduate school professor, assistant professor of pediatrics and school consultant. The author of two books, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child and the recently published School Struggles: A Guide To Your Shut-Down Learner’s Success, he has presented to parents and educators internationally, as far as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and throughout the United States . A down-to-earth presenter who looks to discuss difficult topics in non-jargon terms, Dr. Selznick tries to present complex issues in down-to earth terms.

  • Stefanie Weis hosts “Ask Stefanie”

Stefanie is a Mental Health Consultant specializing in OCD, Anxiety, ADHD, PANDAS, and other related mental health disorders. She meets with the parents of children who have these disorders so that they can speak openly and honestly about their child. Based on an in- depth consultation and intake process, they collaborate on selecting a team of doctors that will be most appropriate for the child.  Stefanie brings us interviews with mental health experts on everyday issues parents with challenging kids encounter. 

  • Dr Russell Hyken hosts The Dr Hyken Show

Discussions about teens, young adults and the challenges they encounter.

Pre-adolescents, teenagers and college-age students all find Dr. Russell Hyken very approachable and so do parents and educators. Parenting an older teen or young adult has many challenges and transitioning into adulthood can be difficult especially for those with mental illness or challenging behaviors.

Russell Hyken specializes in education and psychotherapy for students ages 10 to 17 as well as young adults from 18 to 24. Essentially, he acts as a case manager for finding answers and developing a plan. Proper diagnosis of any issue – no matter what the stage of development – is the first step toward your son or daughter’s path to success. Dr. Hyken has invaluable information regarding the testing and evaluation expertise to find the correct diagnosis and it is that expertise he will be sharing with you.

  • Areva Martin is a guest host of The Areva Martin Show

Known to audiences across the country from her regular appearances on The Dr. Phil Show, as well as national stints on Fox News, CNN, NPR, and Court TV Radio Television, Areva Martin is one of television’s most in-demand legal experts/analysts. She is the founder of Special Needs Network and is the mother of a son with autism.

Areva is a quotable authority on workplace, disability rights, education, custody and women’s issues, this accomplished and multi-award winning lawyer, syndicated columnist, author and public speaker.

  • Respecting Autism w host Dr Gil Tippy – Premieres Summer 2013

Dr. Gil Tippy is the co-author of the book Respecting Autism with the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan.  Gil is considered one of the most respected in his field of Autism and related disorders. In the introduction to the book, Dr. Gill Tippy writes about his methodology in this way:

I want to be on the side of this debate that respects children. That treats children in the way that loving parents have treated children since man first walked upright. I want to be on the side of this debate that believes that children have feelings and thoughts, and that those feelings and thoughts are at least as valid as the feelings and thoughts of any adult. I want to be on the side of the debate that asks children what they want, that asks permission before we wipe a child’s nose, that does not rush.

We also have three outstanding special series: 

  •  The Child Mind Institute Series featuring their incredible team of psychiatrists join me for comprehensive interviews on all child and adolescent mental illnesses
  •  Columbia Psychiatry Child and Adolescent Series bring us mental illness interviews with cutting edge research and parenting guidance for teens with differences such as gay or lesbian or those at high risk for dangerous behaviors.
  •  The Maverick Mind Series with the woman who coined the phrase and wrote the book – literally – Dr Cheri Florance gives a five part series on understanding the highly visual thinker … the children with the maverick mind hosted by Ange Eaton an advocate for children with synesthesia and unique thinking styles.

 My sister network – Talking Special Needs offers five incredible highly focused programs

  • The Inclusive Class – Terri Mauro and Nicole Eredics – Inclusion in the classroom
  • Autism as they grow – Amalia Starr and Bobbi Sheahan – Autism from toddler to adulthood
  • Special Education Law and Rights with Jenn and Julie – Jenn Laviano and Julie Swanson 
  • Maximizing Your Childs Potential – Dr Gary Brannigan and Dr Howard Margolis – Dyslexia and Reading disabilities
  • Our Kids Can Thrive – Aviva Weiss and Ilana Danneman – Sensory solutions, Occupational Therapy, Gizmos and Gadgets.  From homework help to understanding sensory under responders and over responders.

SWH: What type of information do you provide?

MR: We provide information and empowerment to parents and educators in the special needs and mental health communities with interviews on all disabilities both physical and emotional with a strong focus on autism, neurobiological disorders and mental illness.  We cover topics from cutting edge research to practical parenting tips.  Our guests are literally the most influential and revered doctors in the world.  We also bring on internationally respected children’s foundations to offer support and direction.

Our website provides resources, support programs, special education and disability law pages and our social media network includes Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Itunes. All our shows are available to listen to any time in archive on Blog Talk Radio and are offered free to download on Itunes.

SWH: How do you find guest for the shows? Are they by invitation only?

MR: Yes, all our guests are hand picked by the hosts and are considered the most renowned in the world. We do invite parents, educators and professionals to submit their blog writings to be chosen bloggers on our website blog to share their information as well.  We must be doing something right as we have over a quarter of a million listeners!

SWH: What has been the most challenging aspect of starting and running this sort of project?

MR: Managing and producing ten or twelve radio shows is a full time job which was not something I had expected to take on when I started this as a simple Twitter tweetchat.   Ensuring that the information I provide is evidence based and accurate is a big responsibility which I take very seriously.  Funding the network is also an important part of my work because just as our guests are hand picked, so are our sponsors.  I truly feel that everyone involved in this venture need be as dedicated to these special children and the quality of the network.

SWH: What has been the most rewarding part of your work?

MR: There is no better feeling then when a parent writes or call and says ….. Thank you, your show changed my child’s life and gave me courage and hope ….. Who can ask for more than that?

 I would like to thank Marianne for taking the time to talk with us.  You can also find Marianne at her personal website  You can also find on Twitter @Marianne_Russo and The Coffee Klatch at @TheCoffeeKlatch. 

Our live Twitter chat, Giving Special Needs Children a Voice, with Marianne will start at 8PM EST on June 24th.  To participate use hashtag #SWUnited.   @poliSW will be moderating this discussion. 

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