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?
Civic Engagement Can Help Teens Thrive Later in Life
Want to help your teenagers become successful adults? Get them involved in civic activities – voting, volunteering and activism.
Although parents providing this bit of advice to teens will likely be met with groans and eye rolling, research does back it up.
In a study published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that teens who were engaged in civic activities were more likely than non-engaged peers to attain higher income and education levels as adults.
“We know from past research that taking part in civic activities can help people feel more connected to others and help build stronger communities, but we wanted to know if civic engagement in adolescence could enhance people’s health, education level and income as they become adults,” said Parissa J. Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study.
Ballard and her team used a nationally representative sample of 9,471 adolescents and young adults from an ongoing study called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants were between the ages of 18 to 27 when civic engagement was measured, and then six years later outcomes – health, education and income – were measured.
The research team used propensity score matching, a statistically rigorous methodology to examine how civic engagement related to later outcomes regardless of participants’ background characteristics, including levels of health and parental education. For example, adolescents who volunteered were matched to adolescents from similar backgrounds who did not volunteer to compare their health, education and income as adults.
“Relative to other common approaches used in this kind of research, this method lets us have greater confidence that civic engagement really is affecting later life health and education,” Ballard said.
The research team found that volunteering and voting also were favorably associated with subsequent mental health and health behaviors, such as a fewer symptoms of depression and lower risk for negative health behaviors including substance use.
For teens who were involved in activism the findings were more complex. Although they too had a much greater chance of obtaining a higher level of education and personal income, they also were involved in more risky behaviors six years later, Ballard said.
“In this study, we couldn’t determine why that was the case, but I think activism can be frustrating for teens and young adults because they are at a stage in life where they are more idealistic and impatient with the slow pace of social change,” Ballard said. “I would encourage parents to help their children remain passionate about their cause but also learn to manage expectations as to short- and long-term goals.”
This research was supported in part by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a cooperative agreement for the Adolescent and Young Adult Health Research Network.
Co-authors are: Lindsay Till Hoyt, Ph.D., of Fordham University and Mark C. Pachucki, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts.
New Research Shows Bail Reform is the Key Fix for Jail Overcrowding
Could bail reform be the answer to changing the trajectory of America’s current problem with mass incarceration?
That question is central to a new book published this month by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman and Cambridge University Press titled “The Bail Book: A Comprehensive Look at Bail in America’s Criminal Justice System.”
The book is the first comprehensive analysis on bail in the U.S. since 1970 and comes at a time when efforts to implement widespread bail reform across the country are gaining momentum. Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — have introduced a bill to overhaul the nation’s bail system in an attempt to prevent individuals from being taken advantage by bail bondsman who often charge high fees and prey on disadvantaged people after an arrest.
The bill, titled the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, is designed to address what the senators see as flaws in the system. Baughman’s book gives states concrete ideas on how to reform bail and save money, which would be even more feasible using reforms provided under the proposed bill. Other states have recently implemented their own bail reforms, including Colorado, New Jersey and Kentucky.
The time is ripe for sweeping changes, according to Baughman.
“Mass incarceration is one of the greatest social problems facing the United States today. America incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country and is one of only two countries that requires arrested individuals to pay bail to be released from jail while awaiting trial,” Baughman states.
In the book, Baughman traces the history of bail and demonstrates how it has become an oppressive tool of the courts that disadvantages minority and poor defendants.
She draws on constitutional rights and new empirical research to show how we can reform bail in America to alleviate mass incarceration. By implementing these reforms, she argues, the nation can restore constitutional rights and release more defendants while lowering crime rates.
Baughman is a former Fulbright scholar and national expert on bail and pretrial prediction and her current scholarship examines criminal justice policy, prosecutors, drugs, search and seizure, international terrorism, and race and violent crime. Her teaching and scholarship at the University of Utah focus on criminal law and procedure and her work is widely featured in media outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, and NPR.
She began researching bail issues early in her career after realizing that the most consequential decision in criminal justice besides arrest is the decision whether to detain or release someone before trial.
“It ends up impacting everything in a criminal case — from whether a person goes to jail and for how long, whether they are able to keep a job, home, and kids, and whether they will recidivate or be rearrested again. All of these impacts result from a two-minute decision of whether a judge allows someone to be released or not,” she said.
“And usually it is decided based on whether the person can afford to pay the bail. That’s, unfortunately, the biggest factor. Almost 90 percent of people who are arrested cannot get out of jail before trial just because they don’t have $200 or $500 to pay to a bail bondsman.”
Baughman’s research presents a customizable plan for instituting bail reforms, including use of pre-trial risk assessments and helping judges to use predictive methods to release the right people on bail without increasing crime rates.
Her research may provide a helpful framework as conversations about the future of bail in America continue.
“There’s a lot of momentum on bail,” said Baughman. “Conversations are happening in every state to decrease the number of people incarcerated. Most of the people in jail are not people convicted of any crime and we can change that.”
Bipartisan Task Force Hosts Discussion on Effects of the Opioid Epidemic on the Child Welfare System
The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force teamed up to host a dinner highlighting the effects that the opioid epidemic has had on the country’s child welfare system. This epidemic has impacted countless lives throughout the country and has already had a specifically insidious impact on children.
“The opioid crisis is devastating families and our already over-burdened child welfare system,” said Rep. Karen Bass, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “We have learned so much from the crack cocaine epidemic and how it affected those in the child welfare system. Now, we have to apply those lessons to the epidemic at hand. Last night’s bipartisan dinner was a step in that direction and I look forward to working with my colleagues in both caucuses that participated tonight on this incredibly important issue.”
More than 20 Members of Congress from the two caucuses came together Tuesday night to work with experts — individuals who grew up in the child welfare system and individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to children in the child welfare system — to identify tangible ways Congress could assist the overflowing child welfare system and also take meaningful action in bringing this epidemic to an end.
“I was pleased to join my colleagues last night at a bipartisan dinner that addressed our country’s opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Marino, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “This epidemic has affected countless children in the foster care system and it is up to Congress to come together to find a solution to end this horrible tragedy in our nation. I look forward to having more productive discussions on this issue and will continue to work tirelessly with Congress to ensure that our children are protected from this crisis.”
Ideas presented ranged from reforming law enforcement’s ability to respond to on-scene overdoses, to overhauling relapse protocol in court orders, to creating an entire cabinet position to address the issue of drug epidemics in our country. Experts and Members were quick to caution that there will be no one quick fix to this expansive issue, but agreed that conversations like the one held last night will bring us closer to a better future for these communities affected by this epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Congresswoman Kuster, the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. “That impact has been acutely felt by families and children who so often bear the brunt of substance use disorder. I’m pleased that the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth have come together for this constructive conversation about how we can better support children as we take on the opioid crisis.”
“The opioid epidemic continues to destroy communities and families across my home state of New Jersey and throughout our nation,” said Republican Chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, Congressman MacArthur. “More and more children are ending up in foster care because of this crisis and straining our already burdened child welfare system. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to combat the opioid crisis and help children impacted by it.”
The dinner featured three panelists, all of whom have been directly impacted by the child welfare system, addiction or both. Linda Watts serves as the Acting Commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and provided detailed analysis regarding her work at both an administrative level as well as in the field.
Angelique Salizan is a former foster youth who is currently serving as a legislative correspondent in United States Senator Sherrod Brown’s D.C. office and a part-time consultant for the Capacity Building Center for States, an initiative of the Children’s Bureau. China Krys Darrington has been a trainer for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program since 2010 and a provider of Recovery Support Services through XIX Recovery Support Services since 2007.
Lessons in the Current Puerto Rican Disaster
Those who have worked in disaster areas know that coordination and transport can be difficult, but with the USS Comfort leaving Puerto Rico after admitting less than 300 patients when there is unmet need isn’t a great sign of success. Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017. The Comfort, which is essentially a floating specialty hospital arrived in Puerto Rico on October 3rd. November 8th, the Comfort was restocked with supplies but then departed shortly thereafter for “no apparent reason” after providing outpatient services to somewhere around 1500 patients, according to the DOD.
…”I know that we have capacity. I know that we have the capability to help. What the situation on the ground is … that’s not in my lane to make a decision,” he said. “Every time that we’ve been tasked by (Puerto Rico’s) medical operation center to respond or bring a patient on, we have responded (Captain of the USS Comfort to CNN).”
The death count is still hazy, and there is difficulty in confirming how many died during- or as a result, of the disaster. One group is doing a funeral home count because information is difficult to obtain. CNN has found through a recent investigation that the death toll appears to be more than 9 times the official government report.
Coordination on a micro, mezzo and macro level must come from multidisciplinary sectors to problem solve. There are many good people working to rebuild Puerto Rico, but there is far too much apathy, throwing up of hands, and of course, corruption. Many of the Social Work Grand Challenges are highlighted in Puerto Rico alongside the UN Global Goals.
The Whitefish linemen are making $41-64 per hour to restore power to Puerto Rico’s Grid, but the US government is being billed for more than $319 per hour. Whitefish just called a strike because they have not been paid. This, of course, is having a terrible impact on those who are in the most need.
Where do you come in? We tend to think of trauma on a psychological level: family members and friends who are missing, grief, anxiety, and depression due to home and job loss as well as connecting with those close to you, each processing the trauma differently.
On the mezzo level, we are working with smaller groups and institutions, of which there are many in disaster or mass casualty events. Local churches, schools, nonprofits and local chapters of larger scale organizations attempt to unite in the local area to help speed services to those that need it most. Often this is where many of the challenges lie. Each organization has their own protocols which may not match up with larger scale efforts of the government or international organizations.
On a practical level, resources are often short on a disaster scene- there are not enough clinicians to meet with clients individually, at least not for more than a few minutes at a time. We revert to what the American Red Cross refers to as “Psychological First Aid”. Human networks through nodes (like shelters) provide a sense of community and belonging when all is lost, with individuals acting as brokers between networks that previously didn’t have ties.
Ground efforts can be supported by a drone equipped with a camera to see if there is a possibility of reaching a scheduled neighborhood by car, saving countless minutes that matter. The aerial shots from 3 days ago may no longer be relevant. The water may have receded but now a home has landed there, blocking road access.
The volunteers mapping from satellite images can instantly beam their work from anywhere (tracing homes, schools, possible military vehicle parking areas or temporary helipads) while teams on the ground stare at a water covered road, unsure of what is beneath. Life saving choices are made with options and all levels working together. This is how neighborhood Facebook groups saved lives- they were the eyes on the ground in their own neighborhood that identified who was in the most danger.
Facebook may no longer be the hippest new technology (we are nearing the decade and a half mark) but it is arguably the most ubiquitous and well supported (crashes rarely). Many survivors could make a post but were unable to call or text from the same device. An important component to the multi-level view is the understanding that macro tools like mapping serve micro and mezzo levels.
Being a survivor in an active disaster can quietly morph into anxiety, depression and survivor’s guilt. Being able to participate in practical support efforts can boost the well being of survivors as well. Friends of friends of friends and influencers in social networks have proven to be incredibly powerful. It’s what happens when “mixed networks” collide.
As we move to a macro level, there’s a realization that there is a great deal of organic movement in even the best planned days for rescue effort workers. Do you stop here where the need is great (and went unreported) even though it’s blocking you from reaching the mapped area that your team has already scheduled? This is where technology for good can make the difference. Depending on your training and background, you may make a different choice. Who is in charge of the government response, and how do we help change course if it is failing? How do we know if the efforts match our resources?
The simple answer is that we are there to communicate it with others, on all levels—including the virtual one. This may mean volunteering for rescue efforts, collecting tampons in your hometown, or using your own technology for good by mapping for workers on the ground that are not sure what lies beneath—you are helping to ensure their safety and mental well being. In turn, you get to pass that knowledge into your own networks.
Who Listens When You Lack Power and Privilege?
How do we differentiate who we are from what we are? Do titles really define who we are or what we think about people? Do we not care about who they are as a person; their morals, values, and stances?
We are asked as children what we want to be when we grow up, which is often answered by a title – a police officer, teacher, a professional athlete. We don’t get asked who we want to be, or what we want to be known for.
We often assign respect and obedience to certain titles without thinking the expectations we have of someone who holds it. Some may exceed expectations, and others may not be close to meeting them. But, what do we do when we learn who they are as a person and not the title they hold?
A professional football player kneeled during the national anthem because police officers were not meeting the expectations society has relayed on them. But rather than join his efforts in holding them accountable for their deadly actions, he lost his job for getting involved in something that isn’t part of his job description.
Collin Kaepernick’s job is to be a quarterback and not protest injustices which is what some of his critics say. He showed us who he is as a person, what he stands for, and what he believes in. In return, he is villainized and no longer is he considered a good football player, but has been rebranded as a troublemaker. Is that fair?
Power and privilege are two concepts that most people strive to obtain, but some may never achieve it. These two things are primarily held in the hands of white men in America. Minorities lack the social status to have powerful messages heard and understood by White America which often leads to relying on our white counterparts to understand our situation in order for something to get done.
Collin Kaepernick had a platform at his disposal which was the NFL. He used his stage in hopes of giving a voice to an issue troubling his community because this was something “white America” isn’t experiencing, nor could they understand the lived fear people of color have of the police.
Because this was something the majority did not understand, Kaepernick’s behavior was too radical for unaffected to be willing to listen and pay attention to the real issue, police brutality. Kneeling during the flag and national anthem was not about disrespecting the flag or national anthem. His kneeling was to bring attention to an epidemic faced by a particular group of Americans.
When we often hold positions of power, we expect others to listen to us and conform to our desires. When something is not presented how we like it, we are less likely to value that person and what they believe.
One of the core values of the social work profession is the dignity and worth of the person. Acknowledging the reality that not everyone will be affected the same. The willingness to listen to others when they’re trying to tell their story can go as far as saving someone’s life.
If the reasoning for Kaepernick’s kneeling had been met with empathy when he shared why he was kneeling, the issue of police brutality would have remained the center of the issue instead of NFL players being called “sons of bitches” by the President of the United States because he doesn’t like them kneeling.
If the people in power, the NFL stakeholders, the President of the United States, and other officials who can hold law enforcement accountable, cared as much about issues like police brutality as they did about football players kneeling, American lives could literally be saved.
Unfortunately, when minorities with no standing and power in America try to bring awareness to social issues where minorities are also the victims, no one seems willing to listen or do anything about it.
The Grand Challenge of Thoughts and Prayers
The snapping sound of my laptop closing echoed in the room as I stared up at the ceiling and shoved it aside along with the glaring screen and endless scroll of ‘thoughts and prayers‘. Realizing that I had a visceral reaction to seeing ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweeted out by well-meaning people for I’m not sure how many thousands of times now. I puzzled over why this time caused more reaction than other similar events. I won’t even bother to name the incident because it will be dated by the time I finish this article.
The endless snark of the social media blame game (this includes me at times, it’s a coping mechanism) and the seeming avoidance of meaningful action post “marking” events like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas in its level of horror was just too much today.
Maybe it’s the stark nothingness that has followed. In the subsequent, daily violence, the blame of outsiders, leadership, anyone but ourselves for taking action that will result in change, is what must change.
What’s my bias, you ask? The lack of action from anyone posting about guns, walls, terror, foreigners or travel bans outside of snide social media posts. I beg everyone to take meaningful action and then share that on your social media.
Let’s start with the pro-gun people.
Individuals who believe we need guns to protect ourselves from a corrupt government or to keep yourself safe from harm.
Your Action: Go take a class on how to be a hero to satisfy your John Wayne fantasies without getting anyone else or yourself, killed in the process.
I’m quite serious under the sarcastic tone. I think it’s 99% fantasy that you are going to contribute to stopping mass shooters, but at least you are doing something. Share about the awesome class you’ve taken, and how you’ve reduced your “freeze time” in reacting to a guy with a semi-automatic weapon pointed at you or family members while at school, church, the local Walmart or while watching the latest Disney movie at the theatre. Practice should certainly help you if you find yourself at a packed outdoor concert with thousands of people. Make sure to take the advanced class at aiming for shooters at 15 plus stories above (also without shooting bystanders or others in the building). Make sure to share with everyone the smoke signals you learned to share with the local law enforcement, who will surely appreciate your well -trained help in the next mass shooting incident.
NRA Defensive Pistol Course
The NRA Defensive Pistol course will focus on the techniques needed to develop a defensive mindset. The goal of the course will be to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to carry and use a concealed pistol ethically, responsibly and with confidence… This course is only conducted by NRA certified Advanced Pistol Instructors.
NRA FIRST Steps Rifle Orientation
Firearm Instruction, Responsibility, and Safety Training is the NRA’s response to the American public’s need for a firearm orientation program for new purchasers.
You can even check their ratings on Yelp.
Next, let’s talk with the travel ban people.
Your Action: Get a big paper map
Get yourself a world map- the type that covers your entire wall, old- school style with accessorized colored push- pins. I won’t tell you how to code your travel ban countries but you’ll need to, in 4th-grade style, create a key and chart about the history of mass shootings in the US and make sure we’re covering the right countries. Don’t let phrases like “extra super extreme vetting” confuse you.
Better yet, just list the countries that you believe pose a danger to America based on recent history (I’m trying to be reasonable- perhaps since 2007?). Then look at the travel ban list- how do they match up? If they don’t, there’s your short list of action items. Find out why the “terrorist countries” aren’t on the list then contact your local, state and federal representatives about it. Share that on your social media.
Here’s a link to the Department of State: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/news/important-announcement.html
For the “Build the Wall” people:
Do you want to build a wall to keep out people who fly here? Who are you trying to keep out? If it’s the Terrorist Catholics from Mexico you’ll need to make that case, but far too many responses to news and social media reports are reactionary to terrorists who flew here on an airplane or actually live here in the US.
Your Action: Check the country of origin for the latest mass shooting or terror attack on the map and compare it to the travel ban list to see if your noise on social media is adding to creating change or confusing the uneducated. If they can’t walk here, surely it’s the latter.
For gun safety or anti-gun people:
Know what “they” have for support and organizing versus what you do. There’s money all around, but being a paid member of a club like the National Rifle Association gives a base of actionable information sharing that those who lack organized structure do not. Gun safety advocates need to reach out to the community and invite them in, not just ask for donations about something they believe is obvious and based on moral outrage. Teach others how to organize- the NRA’s annual meeting has something like 80,000 members present every year. Professor Harie Han wrote about this in “How Organizations Develop Activists” which I stumbled upon while looking for others who think along similar lines.
Using terms like “gun violence prevention” is more useful and descriptive for most arguments (and reflective of almost all Americans) rather than “gun control”. An easy action item is to learn your local and state laws on gun violence prevention and join an already established group like Everytown that is making headway and has coffee meetups for new members. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Most of all, do rather than say– then share what you’re doing and why. Your focused time will reflect your passion for change and will be more likely to draw others in.
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