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Why the New ‘No Labels’ Think Tank Group Needs Social Work Students

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by Deona Hooper, MSW

Co-Founder No LablesI am always on the look out for solution focused ideas, and the new “No Labels” bipartisan think tank group appears promising especially in the midst of continued congressional grid lock. As an avid MSNBC watcher, I have to admit my ambivalent relationship with Morning Joe who often tends to lean center right in the ideological musings on the show.  This show, more than anything, makes me take to Twitter to spout my discontentment with their disillusioned guests’ insights on current economic and social policy.  When No Labels Co-Founder, Mark McKinnon, came on the show to discuss the vision and mission of  the bipartisan think tank group, I was thoroughly impressed with the forward thinking relayed in the interview. Mark McKinnon tends to be Republican in his views, so I thought its nice to hear someone in the GOP not talking crazy.

Then last week, I was looking at the Rachel Maddow Show when I heard Cory Booker talking about the work he is doing with No Labels. This really got my attention because now No Labels is providing the visual of a true bipartisan effort. Recently, The Washington Post published an article by opinion blogger, Jennifer Rubin, entitled “No labels, No Relevance“.  This “opinion blogger” inferred that No Labels would be less of a  joke if it had not listed Jon Huntsman as one of its 24 Problem Solvers dedicated to finding bipartisan solutions. Fortunately for most Americans and President Obama, the GOP no longer embrace compassionate conservatism. If they did, Jon Huntsman or Chris Christie would probably be president. Most Americans want to see bipartisan efforts and collaborations which are rarely seen in our current political climate.

Then, I starting thinking  how can I help support No Labels, and how can the social work profession support the No Labels agenda. The social work profession has helped shape every piece of historic legislation that weaves together the social safety net for our most vulnerable populations. Social Welfare reform is going to happen, but it should not occur without input from the social workers who implement and experience the challenges in these programs as a result of  inefficient delivery of services. There are approximately 760 Schools of Social Work in the United States who are steeped in the tradition and education of improving outcomes for those who are the most vulnerable while using evidence based practices. Cuts to entitlement reforms can be done to help reduce the budget without eliminating needed programs. It would be a benefit to No Labels to reach out to social work students, leaders, and organizations to join this bipartisan movement in its effort to keep moving forward. For more information on No Labels, you can visit their website here. Also, I have attached below the video by the co-founder explaining the mission of the organization, and a joint interview with Jon Huntsman and Cory Booker.

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Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Why the United States Needs a Woman in the Presidency

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Even had Hillary Clinton prevailed in the 2016 presidential contest, the United States would still have arrived late to the promotion of a woman to the highest executive office. And since Clinton lost, the United States has yet to enter this game. In 1960, Sri Lanka became the first country to be governed by a woman, but this was hardly a sea change because women did not enjoy more widespread success until the 1990s.

More than three-quarters of all female presidents and prime ministers have arrived in office in the last two decades, and the female ranks have grown faster since 2010. Nevertheless, the numbers have contracted in recent years. Currently, only six percent of all executives in power around the world are women; and a remarkable 61 percent of the world’s countries, including the United States, have never been governed by a woman.

Why has the U.S. failed to elect a woman to the presidency? In my research, I engage this question by examining global patterns of women’s executive office holding. In addition, I assess what happens when women are prevented from taking the helm, why it matters, and how this shortfall can be changed.

Why Female Executive Leadership Matters

The dominance of the American Presidency and the masculine traits often associated with and assumed necessary for office holders in American executive institutions pose significant challenges for women. What is more, many issues, like military and foreign affairs, are seen as masculine issues and often associated with the Presidency. Add to this the short supply of women legislators, governors, and presidential candidates (usually no more than one woman competes for a major party nomination) and it becomes difficult to imagine the executive glass ceiling cracking anytime soon.

What difference does it make that the United States has yet to elect its first woman president? Most basically, it matters because the election or appointment of a female executive facilitates women’s political empowerment. Overall, women executives create important opportunities for all women in society. Specifically, women leaders can propose and implement policies that promote gender equality and empower many more women.

Although we must take into account important factors in addition to gender – such as partisanship, party dynamics in the legislature, and the executive’s institutional authority to propose and advance legislation – women executives can in one way or another facilitate policies favorable to women’s advancement. And they can advance other women to power in cabinet positions, judgeships and the like.

Finally, when women hold presidencies or prime ministerships, they influence the public’s attitudes by providing important symbols of female political empowerment. The reality of women in power challenges prior presumptions about politics as a “man’s world” – and this change in the sense of what is appropriate and possible in itself helps create a more equitable society.

Ways Forward

How can the United States and other lagging countries finally have a female leader?   The following steps could help.

  • To expand the pipeline, create more programs that prepare a diverse array of women to run for office at all levels of government.
  • Increase the active recruitment of female candidates for offices at all levels by politicians, civic groups, and other leaders.
  • Change institutional structures that constrict the political pipeline – for example, by instituting new party rules that require women’s representation on nominating ballots, at political conventions, and in appointive government offices.
  • Build institutions that facilitate collaborative governance and women’s political inclusion, such as multi-party parliamentary systems where slates of officeholders can be designated without each having to win the popular vote directly.
  • Heighten awareness of the sexist attitudes and stereotypes women still face in politics and create programs to combat such discrimination.
  • Organize and advocate around issues especially relevant to women – including sexual harassment and violence, pay equity, reproductive rights, paid family leave, and women’s political incorporation. Place such concerns squarely on the policy agenda and make sure they are advanced, not just issues disproportionately relevant to men.
  • Support organizations that mobilize rising numbers of unmarried, millennial, and minority voters, who often back more progressive women candidates and issues.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost to an unqualified and deeply flawed Donald Trump, despite the advantages she had in fundraising, family ties to power, name recognition, party support, and vast political qualifications. Had Clinton won, her path to the White House would not have been especially revolutionary, given her standing as the wife of a former president. Still, a win for her would have allowed the United States to join the company of the 74 countries that have had at least one woman in their executive.

In the future, given the high visibility of the U.S. presidency on the world stage, a woman serving in this office could signal to the world that females belong at the center of the democratic political sphere and might also stimulate enhanced levels of public engagement in politics worldwide.

Achieving full political empowerment for women takes more than electing a female president, but the difficulties women have faced in achieving presidential power in the United States reveal that women the world over still have a way to go to overcome their political marginalization.

The time for a woman in the highest U.S. office will surely come all the same. Although the highest glass ceiling remains unbroken in the world’s most powerful nation, it is not impenetrable – just as it is not unbreakable in other countries around the globe.

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#NoMoreShootings: Why We Need a Comprehensive Approach to Protect Our Kids

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March for Our Lives – March on Washington D.C Against Gun Violence

The latest school shooting and tragedy in Florida on Valentine’s Day took the lives of 17 innocent people and threatened the emotional safety of community members is a reminder of how flawed our systems are and how much work we have ahead to ensure safety.

No parent should ever have to worry and wonder whether their kid is coming back home from school. No student should ever have to feel afraid to go to school. No teacher should ever have to worry that their life may be in danger or fear having to kill one of their students. No community member should have to live in fear of future attacks or random gun violence on the streets.

When situations as inexplicable as this one occur, many questions arise.

Some of the initial questions that emerged after shooting included: the (shooter) posting pictures on social media of guns and weapons. How come no one reported this? How did he gain access to a gun? How come no one saw the potential mental health signs?

These are important questions that reinforce the significance of improving our systems and raising community awareness. As we grapple with emotions related to this unfortunate tragedy, let’s push together for a change in our systems.

Our systems are flawed and we need to continue to elevate this and work towards solutions.

Even when reports are made to authorities regarding someone with a gun or someone suspicious on past behavior, action may not occur. As a social worker, I am also a mandated reporter which means I am required to disclose when an individual express intent to harm self, a third party or when someone discloses a story of a child or elderly person in which there is suspected abuse happening. I need to report these concerns to the proper authorities.

Sometimes individuals may not have a plan to harm themselves and others but they disclose owning weapons. In occasions where I have reported concerns to local authorities, some of the answers have been: we can’t do anything yet until something happens or we talked to the client’s mom and she denied this rather than going to the household to investigate.

Yes, to my dismay, these have been some of the answers I received in trying to discharge my duties as a mandated reporter. If calls from mandated reporters are being turned away, imagine when someone who a concerned citizen calls in a suspicion. We have a system of reactivity rather than proactivity.

We need to increase awareness and education on how to recognize mental health signs.

The issue about mental health always comes up around shootings or other violent attacks. It is important to note that most people with mental health challenges are not violent. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, people with mental health challenges account for 3% of violent crime. While mental health is not a direct cause of violence in the majority of the cases, all of us can play a part in improving community wellness.

It is my job, your job and our job to foster community health because as we have seen what impacts one person, can impact us all. There are outstanding organizations like Mental Health First Aid undertaking this endeavor through their Mental Health First Aid training where participants learn to recognize mental health signs and obtain ideas on what to do once signs are recognized. Mental Health First Aid proposes that courses like this are taught just like CPR courses are taught. And with 1 of 5 people in the United States being impacted by a mental health challenge, I couldn’t agree more.

Increase training in schools, community centers, clinics, hospitals and simply where people frequent most and conversations at home.

After this tragedy, people have asked: why didn’t they do something? It is not common knowledge on what to do when we perceive an individual to be a potential danger to others. This is not necessarily something our kids are learning at school or is at conversation at the dinner table. There are so many opportunities for engagement and raising awareness.

What could a mental health class look like at school as part of the educational curriculum? What does a mental health workshop while you wait for your doctor in the waiting room looks like? How about at church? What does a dinner conversation about safety looks like? What will safety training in schools or other settings look like?

Organizations life Safe Surroundings are equipping staff members at nonprofits, schools, clinics, and other settings where community members frequent to take safety precautions to minimize crises and dangerous situations. It is unfortunate that we need to learn lessons out of tragedies but let’s think creatively and strategically to ensure that no other life is lost due to shooting or a tragedy like this.

Increase mental health services at places community members frequent and school health-based programs.

There is a growing movement to incorporate wellness programs in schools and other settings where community members go to. But when something needs to be chopped away from a budget, these types of services are the first ones to go. Health and mental health is a human right and there is still a large segment of our population that does not have access. Let’s prioritize wellness.

We need gun control NOW. 

It is an understatement to say that we need gun control, yet our politicians have sat and watched tragedy after tragedy without taking much action. It is astonishing that people are able to access guns easier and faster than accessing mental health services. We need to pay attention and become familiar with our politicians’ platforms and who they are receiving funding from and VOTE; VOTE pro issues we care about; RUN for office, BECOME involved.

We need to mobilize.

The courage of Parkland students who are speaking out and rallying is inspiring. While they are grieving, they are finding the strength to advocate for their lives. Children’s jobs are to go to school, learn, have fun, and grow into healthy adults. Yet, these children are having to fight for their survival and their friends. Why?

They shouldn’t have to. It is our job as adults to protect our kids. Let’s join together as a community and not fail our children anymore.

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Civic Engagement Can Help Teens Thrive Later in Life

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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.

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Justice

New Research Shows Bail Reform is the Key Fix for Jail Overcrowding

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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.

University of Utah Law Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman

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 TimesWall Street JournalEconomist, 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.”

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Child Welfare

Bipartisan Task Force Hosts Discussion on Effects of the Opioid Epidemic on the Child Welfare System

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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.

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Emergency Management

Lessons in the Current Puerto Rican Disaster

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A man tries to repair a generator in the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

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.

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