by Deona Hooper, MSW
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Rachel West, MSW LMSW, Founder of the Political Social Worker from Long Island, New York. Rachel received her MSW from Adelphi University, and she focus her practice on community organizing and macro social work. Rachel also does consulting in advocacy and legislation for nonprofits and grass roots organization.
SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work?
Rachel: I did a lot of course work on topics like the civil rights movement, women’s history, and of course US government and policy. So, I always had an interest in social justice and policy. After graduation I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do for a career. For a while I toyed with going to law school but that didn’t seem right for me. I wanted a career with meaning, something that involved social justice and activism, where you could do things a little outside the box. I felt like there was a chance to do that with an MSW.
What really sealed the deal for me was that wonderful preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics. Plus it is a very broad degree, although that has its pluses and minuses. Still there are a lot of different things you can do with a social work education.
SWH: How do you define macro social work and its integration with politics?
Rachel: I think community practice is a better term. Too often the term macro is associated with being a manager and that’s about it. There have been a number of occasions where I’m having a discussion with other social workers, and when macro social work is being discussed they think of it only in terms of being a supervisor in a mental health setting, but it encompasses so much more than administration and management.
Probably the most succinct definition I have come across is that community practice encompasses community organizing, social planning, human service management, community development, policy analysis, policy advocacy, evaluation, mediation, electronic advocacy and other larger systems interventions.
SWH: How did the Political Social Worker Blog come about, and What types of issues do the Political Social Worker report on?
Rachel: I was discouraged by the lack of blogs and articles focusing on community practice issues. There are very few resources for a non-clinical social worker to turn to for career advice. It can be disheartening. There’s not much support at the academic level or from the NASW. Just trying to find continuing education classes is frustrating. This is a particularly bitter pill for a community practice social worker who is licensed in a state that has CEU requirements. They wind up having to spend a lot of money and time on courses that have little to no relevance on what they do.
In 2011 I was unemployed. I needed something to keep myself busy as well as maintain my skills and provide me with networking opportunities. So I thought ‘OK. There is a need for information about community practice social work, so I guess I’ll start a blog about that.’ I figured that it was something constructive and it would help me meet other like minded professionals.
The Political Social Worker Started on Tumblr in January 2012. Initially, it was focused on gathering a list of resources for other community practice social workers; things like articles and websites that they would find useful. I have to say there are a lot of young social workers, or social workers in the making, on there who are very interested in advocacy and politics. It told me that there really was a need for this within social work.
SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their political activities?
Rachel: They can email me at [email protected] This year my goal is to spotlight other political social workers and social justice organizations. I am particularly interested in interviewing other community practice social workers about their work. There is a need to share information about how a new social work graduate can get into this field of practice. There is a ton of info on how to become a clinical social worker or how to start a private practice, but there is very little on community practice.
SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?
Rachel: I would like to see more focus on community practice. The Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) recently released a report, The Rothman Report, on the state of macro social work and it is sobering. Basically it found that community practice is being pushed out of the way by social work schools that are instead focusing on micro practice. They also discovered that students interested in pursuing macro work were being discouraged by professors and administration from doing so.
As a profession, I think we have moved too far away from community organizing and public policy. I would like to see social work standing front and center when it comes to crafting and passing policies impacting the communities we work with. The social work voice is missing from the national conversation on key issues and that is more than unfortunate because we are on the frontlines delivering services and seeing how laws and social programs are affecting people.
In the future, I not only want to continue working and developing as an advocate, but I also want to encourage and support other social workers in pursuing community practice and politics. This was my thought process when the political social worker was born. I want to help get social work on to the national stage. I know you have taken this up on SWH, but how often do you watch the news or attend a panel discussion on politics and see a social worker joining in the discussion? There are political scientist, sociologist, even historians weighing in on these matters, but where are the social workers?
Delaware Legislature Sends Anti-“Conversion Therapy” Bill to Gov. Carney’s Desk
Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, hailed the Delaware General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill (SB) 65, legislation protecting LGBTQ youth in the state from the dangerous and discredited practice known as “conversion therapy.”
The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Harris McDowell and State Representative Debra Heffernan, and Governor John Carney is expected to sign it into law. Once signed, Delaware will join 13 other states and Washington, D.C. with laws or regulations protecting LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice.
“For young people across Delaware, this legislation provides vital and potentially lifesaving protections from the damaging, dangerous and discredited practice known as ‘conversion therapy,’” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride, a Delawarean. “While Delaware has made historic progress on LGBTQ equality, we can and must do more to protect LGBTQ youth from rejection, stigma, and harm. SB 65 is a critical and significant step in that direction. We thank the Delaware General Assembly for their support of this vital legislation and we look forward to Governor Carney signing it into law.”
“We thank those members of the General Assembly who voted to protect LGBTQ children against the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy, and especially prime sponsors Senator Harris McDowell and Representative Debra Heffernan and their legislative aides for their leadership,” said Equality Delaware’s Mark Purpura. “We look forward to Governor Carney signing the bill into law promptly. We are also thankful to have had the opportunity to work together again with the HumanRights Campaign on this important issue. We need to keep the momentum going across the country to end this despicable practice once and for all.”
There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. To the contrary, research has clearly shown that these practices pose devastating health risks for LGBTQ young people such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior. The harmful practice is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.
Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, and Hawaii all have laws or regulations protecting youth from this abusive practice. A growing number of municipalities have also enacted similar protections, including cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York, Arizona, and Wisconsin. In addition, lawmakers in New Hampshire recently passed similar legislation which currently awaits the governor’s signature.
According to a recent report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ minors in states without protections will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional if state lawmakers fail to act.
HRC has partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and state equality groups across the nation to pass state legislation ending conversion therapy. More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found here.
Little Difference Between Gun Owners, Non-Gun Owners on Key Gun Policies, Survey Finds
A new national public opinion survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds widespread agreement among gun owners and non-gun owners in their support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms.
The survey measured support for 24 different gun policies and found minimal gaps in support between gun owners and non-gun owners for 15, or 63 percent, of the policies. For 23 of the 24 policies examined, the majority of respondents supported gun restrictions or regulations, including requiring a background check on every gun sale (universal background check) and prohibiting a person subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun for the duration of the order.
The survey was fielded in January 2017 and is the third National Survey of Gun Policy conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Researchers used National Opinion Research Center’s AmeriSpeaks online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The study sample included 2,124 adults (602 gun owners, 1,522 non-gun owners) ages 18 years and older.
The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health at 4 P.M. EDT on May 17, 2018.
In 2016 in the U.S., firearms were responsible for more than 38,000 deaths and over 116,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds treated in hospitals. The U.S. continues to debate measures at both the state and federal levels that seek to address gun violence.
The policies with the highest overall public support and minimal support, by gun ownership status included: universal background checks (85.3 percent gun owners, 88.7 percent non-gun owners support), license suspension for gun dealers who cannot account for 20 or more guns in their inventory (82.1 percent gun owners , 85.7 percent non-gun owners support), higher safety training standards for concealed-carry permit holders (83 percent gun owners, 85.3 percent non-gun owners support), improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks (83.9 percent gun owners, 83.5 percent non-gun owners support), gun prohibitions for people subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders (76.9 percent of gun owners, 82.3 percent non-gun owners support), and gun violence restraining orders, which are commonly referred to as extreme risk protection orders or Red Flag laws (74.6 percent of gun owners and 80.3 percent non-gun owners support).
“Policies with high overall support among both gun owners and non-gun owners may be the most feasible to enact, and some have strong evidence to support their ability to reduce gun violence,” says lead author Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, Fred and Julie Soper Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Widespread claims that a chasm separates gun owners from non-gun owners in their support for gun safety policies distracts attention from many areas of genuine agreement—areas that can lead to policy solutions and result in the prevention of gun violence.”
The survey also found several points of disagreement between gun owners and non-gun owners. Nine of the 24 policies examined had greater than 10-point support-gaps. However, more than half of gun owners still favor several of these policies to restrict or regulate guns. These include: requiring that a person lock up guns in the home when not in use to prevent access by youth (58 percent of gun owners and 78.9 percent of non-gun owners support), allowing information about which particular gun dealers sell the most guns that are then used in crimes to be available to the police and public (62.9 percent of gun owners and 73.4 percent of non-gun owners support), requiring a person to obtain a license from local law enforcement before buying a gun (63.1 percent of gun owners and 81.3 percent of non-gun owners support), and allowing cities to sue gun dealers when there is evidence that the dealer’s practices allow criminals to obtain guns (66.7 percent of gun owners and 77.9 percent of non-gun owners support).
Two survey questions on concealed carry were new in the 2017 survey. Results show that 25.1 percent of respondents (42.6 percent of gun owners, 19.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe a person who can legally carry a gun should be allowed to bring that gun onto K-12 school grounds, and 84.7 percent of respondents (83 percent of gun owners, 85.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe that a person who can legally carry a concealed gun should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can safely handle the gun in common situations they may encounter.
“There is data supporting the efficacy of many of the policies with wide support among both gun owners and those who don’t own guns,” says study co-author Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “Relatively few states have these laws in place. This signals an opportunity for policy makers to enact policies which are both evidence-based and widely supported.”
“Public Support for Gun Violence Prevention Policies among Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners in 2017” was written by Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH, Elizabeth Stone, BMus, Cassandra K. Crifasi, PhD, MPH, Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH, and Emma E. McGinty, PhD, MS. All researchers with the exception of Elizabeth Stone are with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Ms. Stone is with the Division of General Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
100 Former Foster Youth Visit Members of Congress to Advocate for Child Welfare Reform
Each May, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduces a resolution to recognize May as National Foster Care Month. Last year the resolution was cosponsored by more than 130 Members of Congress. In addition to re-introducing this important resolution to call attention and raise awareness about this issue, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth will be hosting a range of events in May, including a panel on May 23rd to discuss kinship placement and navigator programs which will also be streamed on Facebook Live.
The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI, www.nfyi.org) is gearing up once again to bring over 100 current and former foster youth, selected from a nationwide pool of applicants to Washington D.C. for a week of leadership training sessions, workshops on activism, and legislative meetings, culminating in an opportunity to spend a day “shadowing” their individual Congress members. Shadow Day attendees, some as young as 18, have all spent time in the foster care system and will share their experiences, while advocating for reforms in the child welfare system, both in their district and nationwide.
NFYI creates the Shadow Day Program each year, in partnership with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, providing a forum for members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations which strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families. Co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brings together over 100 Members of Congress to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop bipartisan policy initiatives.
NFYI’s Shadow Day Program has trained a corps of foster youth alumni across the nation who have developed chapters in their home districts and partnered with local leaders and organizations to educate policymakers to addresses chronic problems within the national, state, and local child welfare systems.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA, 37th), during Shadow Day 2017, stated that government essentially becomes “the parents” when it puts children in foster care, and then “washes our hands of them” once they turn 18.
“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, then the government is really responsible because when we remove children from their parents, we — meaning the government — become the parents, we are responsible for them,” Bass said on the House floor. “So, we’re working on legislation to improve that.”
No one knows more about the pitfalls of our nation’s child welfare system than those who grew up in it. These young people are coming to D.C. to share their stories both – their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication, or homelessness – and their successes with mentorship, adoption, family reunification, community activism and independent living. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.
“National Foster Care Month is a month to honor the successes and challenges of the more than 400,000 foster youth across the country and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of those who work to improve outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Making sure that all children have a permanent and loving home is not a Democrat or Republican issue—it should be an American priority. This May, we come together to celebrate the experiences of the youth who are in, or have been in, the child welfare system and raise awareness about their needs.” – Bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth
Is The Fair Housing Act Failing?
Denied. It’s a word that some people hear more than others. Specifically, when it comes to housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was supposed to equalize the housing market for a variety of diverse populations, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability ().
Fifty years ago this month, the Fair Housing Act came into existence. So it’s only fair to ask, is it working? Is there less housing discrimination that when the Fair Housing Act was passed five decades ago?
As with most socio-political questions, the answer is not a simple yes or no. According to a , while more obvious forms of housing discrimination (such as refusal to show a unit to a person of a racial minority) have declined, more subtle forms of discrimination persist.
The study specifically identified that African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians were told about and shown fewer units than Whites. This is a difficult practice to catch. However, HUD and various fair housing groups have used secret shoppers and complaint hotlines, among other methods, to obtain evidence of housing discrimination of this kind with some success.
that came out this month identified that this trend is still occurring heavily when it comes to lending and homeownership data, with African Americans being denied home mortgages at a much steeper rate than White borrowers.
While banking institutions insist this disparity is due to neutral factors such as credit scores, fair housing researchers have shown the existing lending model relies heavily on the traditional credit score which has disparate and/or disproportional impact on racial minorities.
As the study by Reveal shows, traditional credit scores don’t take certain kinds of financial history, such as paying rent and utilities, into account. Therefore, someone could pay rent and utilities on time for 20 years and not have a sufficient credit score to receive a mortgage from a financial institution. The system is designed where one must first have assets in order to acquire the credit to get assets, a prime example of privilege.
These reports primarily focused on obtaining housing. What about discrimination when it comes to evictions from persons already housed? Much less research has been done on this aspect of fair housing. An article produced by discussed how previous studies have only gone so far as to prove correlations between higher rates of evictions and some fair housing protected classes.
Households with a higher percentage of children in the Milwaukie neighborhood being studied exhibited a higher eviction rate than households with fewer children. This could indicate fair housing violations occurring based on familial status and dynamics. However, more research is needed to determine the validity of this claim by examining the “eviction warranting behaviors” of landlords.
For example, are households with children are more likely to break aspects of a lease such as paying the rent on time? These questions require further research to truly understand if there is an underlying fair housing concern particularly in the instance of no-cause evictions which are much more difficult to evaluate.
One positive of the passage of the Fair Housing Act is that it created tools by which persons could advocate for themselves or others. It opened a form of recourse that those experiencing housing discrimination could take against housing providers that do not follow Fair Housing Law. Amidst all the work to be done to improve the impacts of the Fair Housing Act, there are some simple ways the general public can increase the prevalence of fair housing practices.
Know the federal Fair Housing Act and how it works, specifically in your state. Some states have additional protected classes above and beyond those listed in the Federal Fair Housing Law. You can start learning at the
Use this knowledge to advocate for the fair housing rights of yourself and others, especially if you work with vulnerable populations who are likely to experience housing discrimination. For example, fair housing law can demonstrate how to correctly use reasonable accommodations to achieve successful housing placement and retention for persons with disabling conditions who would otherwise be unable to access and enjoy housing.
Why Work Requirements Will Not Improve Medicaid
One out of every five low-income Americans depends on Medicaid, the national insurance program for the poor jointly run by federal and state governments. Medicaid provides insurance coverage for a broad array of health services from pregnancy care and childhood immunizations to emergency hospitalizations. As the practice of health care has developed, states have applied for waivers under Medicaid’s “Section 1115” program to test new ways of delivering prenatal care, coordinated care for children, and specialized medical treatment for cancer patients.
But in 2018 the Trump administration signaled a major shift in the Medicaid waiver policy. Section 1115 waivers are now being used allow states to require people applying for Medicaid to work or engage in unpaid “community engagement” as a condition of eligibility. Currently, such work requirements for Medicaid are under consideration in twenty states.
Are work requirements for Medicaid a good idea – comparable to the kinds of improvements states have tried under waivers in the past? Medical and social scientific research actually suggests that imposing work requirements is unlikely to improve health outcomes. Even more worrisome, for the three-fifths of Medicaid beneficiaries who are already employed, administrative work requirements are likely to impose barriers to accessing needed healthcare. Because the new work requirements do not further Medicaid’s goal of providing healthcare coverage, they may well violate established Medicaid law.
My research reinforces prior findings that Medicaid work requirements will not make anyone healthier. These rules will create confusing bureaucratic red tape and prevent low-income Americans from getting the care they need. Millions of low-income Americans will pay the price for this attempt by the Trump administration to misapply federal law.
The History of Medicaid
Established in 1965, Medicaid provides health insurance coverage to the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and low-income families. The law as written was meant “to furnish medical assistance” to individuals “whose income and resources are insufficient to meet the costs of necessary medical services.” People who benefit from Medicaid are far less likely than their peers to forego necessary medical care, and a growing body of research shows that Medicaid coverage is associated with lower rates of mortality and increases in access to care and self-reported improvements in health.
Over the years, many improvements in the Medicaid program started at the state level. Under Section 1115, the Secretary of Health and Human Services can allow states to waive certain requirements to experiment with policies that are “likely to assist in promoting the objectives” of the Medicaid Act.
Beginning in the 1990s, states like Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey used waivers to expand coverage to new populations of low-income Americans, control program costs, and improve the quality of care. Nevertheless, because Section 1115 waivers are supposed to promote the objectives of the original Medicaid law, federal officials prior to the Trump administration were reluctant to approve state modifications that would deny potential beneficiaries necessary access to medical care.
Work Requirements Mean More Bureaucracy and Less Health Care
Breaking with tradition, in 2018, the Trump administration advised states that it would approve Section 1115 waivers that required individuals to participate in “employment-related activities,” including paid employment or job training as well as unpaid volunteer work or community service. As of April, nearly 20 states are in the process of developing such waiver applications and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has already approved such waivers in Kentucky, Indiana, and Arkansas.
The results are likely to undercut Medicaid’s basic goals. Although three out of every five able-bodied Medicaid beneficiaries already work or participate in community engagement, new work requirements will create costly and confusing bureaucracy for millions of low-income Americans who will have to periodically recertify their work status with multiple state agencies. People suffering from intense poverty tend to struggle more than others with such burdens. Predictably, many will fail to meet the new paperwork requirements and fall out of the system, even though they still need health insurance. Not only will this outcome directly undermine the basic purpose of Medicaid, applying the new rules will consume time and resources administrators could devote to helping beneficiaries.
Busting the Myth that “Employment Leads to Better Health”
Policymakers and civic leaders should push back against false Trump administration claims that existing research bolsters the case for new Medicaid work requirements:
- Trump officials claim that a 2016 study showed that employment is associated with better health outcomes – but the researchers actually noted that unemployment rates “were not significantly associated with life expectancy… in the bottom income quartile.”
- Officials say that a 2014 study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine establishes a “protective effect of employment on depression and general mental health.” But those researchers said that they cannot establish a causal link because “positive health effects of employment can be affected by the fact that healthier people are more likely to get and stay in employment.”
Indeed, research supports the opposite of Trump administration claims. Instead of employment automatically improving health, better health actually improves people’s employment prospects. A research summary in Medical Care Research and Review finds that improved health would increase earnings by 15 to 20 percent. Some studies suggest that low-income jobs lead to higher rates of mortality and other bad health outcomes.
A recent Health Affairs report found that participants in a Florida welfare experiment whose benefits were conditioned on workforce participation had a 16 percent higher mortality rate than comparable recipients not subject to work stipulations.
Medicaid was designed as a program to improve the health of poor Americans – and available evidence suggests that it should continue to serve this core purpose – rather than being turned into a cudgel to deny care or force people into bad jobs.
Senate Bill Introduce to Improve Access to the Mental Health Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) applauds Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) for introducing the bipartisan Improving Access to Mental Health Act (S.2613), legislation that would increase public access to the vital mental health services that clinical social workers provide and offer clinical social workers more adequate Medicare reimbursement rates.
Their Senate bill is a companion to H.R. 1290, which was introduced in the House by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). Stabenow and Lee are social workers and Barrasso is a physician. “Mental illness is an issue that touches so many families in some way and seniors are no exception,” said Senator Stabenow.
“Michigan seniors should be able to get quality care from the provider of their choice and this bill ensures that clinical social workers are among those essential providers.”
“Our nation’s share of people who are aging is growing rapidly and older Americans are in dire need of improved mental health services so they can enjoy a better quality of life and live as independently as possible,” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “NASW congratulates Sen. Stabenow and Sen. Barrasso and Rep. Lee for using their combined expertise in social work, health care and legislative leadership to craft bipartisan legislation to address this issue.”
Clinical social workers are one of the nation’s largest groups of providers of mental health services. Currently, there are more than 300,000 social workers in the United States working in health care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The House and Senate versions of the “Improving Access to Mental Health Act” would increase access to mental health services for residents of skilled nursing facilities and provide access to the complete set of clinical services that help Medicare beneficiaries cope with medical conditions.
In addition, the bill would align Medicare payment for clinical social workers with that of other non-physician providers by increasing the reimbursement rate from 75 percent to 85 percent of the physician fee schedule.
There are already 14 co-sponsors for the House bill, which was released in March 2017. Sens. Stabenow and Barrasso introduced the Senate version of the bill on March 22.
“It is fitting that this legislation was introduced in March, which is Social Work Month,” McClain said. “There is no better way to recognize the contributions of the nation’s more than 650,000 social workers than to put forward a bill that would support the clients who social workers serve, improve our nation’s mental health delivery system, and give social workers the reimbursement they need to do their critically important work.”
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