What is Social Justice, and why is it needed? Social justice is a term used by advocates and practitioners who seek equality and solidarity for the purpose of creating a just society. In today’s current economical and political climate, many people will argue that more injustices permeate throughout society more than ever. With for profit prisons, cuts to education, income disparity, marriage inequality, more people are needed to bring awareness on these issues. I had the pleasure to do a Q&A interview with Relando Thompkins, MSW who is a dedicated blogger and activist on social justice issue.
SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work?
Relando Thompkins: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Personal life experiences with the intersections of racism and classism are what initially sparked my interest to explore the systems of oppression, and feeling marginalized for a variety of reasons as a poor young man of color gave me a sensitivity to noticing the marginalization of other people in groups different from my own.
I attended Oakland University for undergraduate school, and found an attraction to the social science courses because my experiences there gave me a deeper understanding of some of the social injustices of which I was already very familiar with through my lived experiences, as well as some that I was not as familiar with. When I sat in my indignation at many of the social ills that existed, I figured to myself that I could either use all of that energy in a negative way, or channel it into something constructive that could be helpful to myself and others.
For me, Social Work was a natural fit because its code of ethics really resonated with me, and not only did I see the profession as a means to study the systems that contribute to oppression on a variety of levels, but I also saw Social Work as a platform where I could use what I already know and have learned to take actions to actively work against oppression and marginalization in a variety of ways. By the end of undergrad I was hooked, and went on to obtain my MSW at the University of Michigan. Social Work is a way of life, and I’ve been on the journey ever since.
SWH: How did N.A.H. come about, and What types of issues do you focus your writing?
Relando Thompkins: I had experiences in college that helped me to further understand not only the parts of my identity that leave me vulnerable to oppression, but parts of myself that are privileged and can be used to be oppressive to others. I came to an understanding that I’ve learned a lot of misinformation about people who aren’t like myself, and decided to commit to an ongoing journey of unlearning the misinformation, and learning new information. As I’ve explained in another interview, I consider myself to be an Aspiring Humanitarian in the sense that I am continually searching for ways to be more humane to those around me; to unlearn information that is harmful so that I can make room for information that is helpful to, and inclusive of myself and others.
I explore a variety of issues through Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, many of which deal with our social identities such as race, sex, class, religion & spirituality, gender identity & expression, sexual orientation, age, ability status and others, and how certain beliefs about people in these different groups can create privilege in the lives of some, and oppression and discrimination in the lives of others.
SWH: How do you define Notes from the Aspiring Humanitarian and its mission?
Relando Thompkins: For myself, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a collection of quotes, personal accounts and reflections, news stories, or other artifacts that I feel have an impact on my development as I work to become more humane to others. Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian also serves as a platform for some of my writings about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice.
In addition, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a valuable resource for social workers, helping professionals, community members, or anyone else interested in social justice, as readers are also able to find any tips or resources I have, as well as any lessons I’ve learned that I feel could be helpful to others who wish to take up the task of working with others toward more equitable and inclusive communities.
By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action, while encouraging others to do so in their own ways. One hope being, that if we can all see ways in which we contribute to the chaos, we can change the way we operate and work toward more equitable and inclusive solutions.
SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their activities?
Relando Thompkins: Anyone interested in reporting their organization can contact me via email at [email protected] or by using the contact form on my website. You can also email me with questions, suggestions for future topics you’d like to hear about, share news stories, and comments. I love responding to questions from my readers, and you can read a few examples of my responses to readers in the past here, here, and here. So please, contact me. I love hearing from you.
I also feature a special segment of Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian entitled “The People Who Inspire Series” in which I highlight individuals and organizations that seek to improve the lives of others in a positive way. Many of the individuals in this series have been nominated by others, so if you know of anyone who inspires that you’d like to see featured in the series, feel free to email me or use my contact form with details. To learn about the work of the individuals who’ve been featured so far, browse The People Who Inspire Series’ Showcase.
SWH: I know you were considering do a podcast on social justice issues….how is the planning process coming?
Relando Thompkins: My planning for this is still ongoing, but I’m enjoying the process. I’ve been playing around with different software, and even recorded a few mock segments on garage band, just to get a feel for how I might present myself. For anyone out there who might be reading this who might have any advice, or resources to offer, send them to me.
SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?
Relando Thompkins: I’ve noticed that I inhabit two spaces in my work: the academe and the community. So often on this path, I encounter “either or” comparisons asserting that one area of focus is inherently better than the other.
Even while I was pursuing my MSW, I noticed that there were at least two “camps” among us in terms of the directions that we each wanted to go in. I’m sure many people may have a preference that they lean towards more than another, as do I. However, I can see a “both and” reality in my practice in which elements of academics and community practice have an interdependent relationship with each other, enabling me to be an even better practitioner.
Long term, I hope to continue to be able to work in areas where I am able to work towards building more equitable and inclusive communities, and have time in the classroom that I can dedicate specifically to engaging social work students, practicing social workers, and other helping professionals in experiences that increase awareness of ourselves and our experiences in relation to others, and how those experiences can impact our lives and relationships personally and professionally.
There’s a quote I love that says “Because oppression is seen as systemic, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame, but unless someone chooses to identify themselves with institutions and systems, the act of honest confession will never take place.” It’s easy to work against the ills of others, but I think what is even more important and necessary is to look at ourselves to see how we contribute to the chaos, so we can changes for the better. Engaging myself, other helping professionals, and community members in the important “personal work” required to build relationships that can allow us to create a better society will be a lifelong challenge that I’m proud to dedicate myself to.
In terms of what areas I’d like the profession to direct more attention to, I have a few thoughts: I think that in many ways, people are still unsure of what Social Work is, and what it does, so I would like to see more concentrated efforts to increase the visibility of Social Workers on the national stage. I do what I can with N.A.H., socialworkhelper.com does a great job of highlighting the work of Social Workers, and I know that there are many others who are working toward increasing the visibility of Social Workers as well. I think this needs to continue.
One of the things that really resonated with me about socialworkhelper.com is that it seeks to connect helping professionals internationally. I think it builds unity and collaboration, and linking up with other colleagues around the world for a dedicated purpose is very necessary and I think SWH deserves a lot of attention from the profession.
Lastly, I value title protection for anyone who has gone through and completed the education and field experience to be a Social Worker. I can see the merit of ensuring that someone with say, a degree in mathematics who does not possess another degree in Social Work is not able to identify themselves as a Social Worker, but I see Title Protection as it is currently enforced as excluding a lot of our colleagues who have earned the right by getting the degree, particularly those in community practice who see themselves being able to serve best in the community and not by taking the clinical route. In fact, some states only recognize the clinical license, leaving community practice behind. My colleague Rachel L. West wrote about an example of this at her blog the Political Social Worker. This is definitely an issue that I think deserves further exploration do determine if the way it’s being implemented is in service of all Social Workers.
Rep. Bass Introduces Legislation To Ensure Former Foster Youth Can Keep Health Insurance In Other States
Recently, Rep, Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act, a bill that addresses a misinterpretation of the health care law by providing foster youth with the same health insurance benefits as their peers.
The current health insurance system is one of the many disproportionate challenges that our nation’s foster youth face. With the Affordable Care Act, foster youth who are in care by their 18th birthday and previously enrolled in Medicaid are able to receive healthcare until the age of 26, much like their peers who can remain on their parents’ insurance plans until that age. However, after several years of requested clarification, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services misinterpreted the provision and restricted foster youth from receiving health insurance if they move out of their state.
“Foster youth face incredible adversities throughout their lives, many of which begin after they turn 18 and grow out of the child welfare system,” Rep. Bass said. “I’m proud of this body’s resolve to address this issue and fix this incredibly harmful misinterpretation. Especially as we address the opioid epidemic, we must consider the importance of coverage for this vulnerable population.”
The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is particularly important to ensure that foster youth maintain uninterrupted access to health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 35 and 60 percent of youth who enter foster care have at least one chronic or acute health condition such as asthma, cognitive differences, visual and auditory challenges, dental decay, and malnutrition that require long-term treatment, and 50 to 75 percent of foster youth exhibit behavioral or social competency issues that may require mental health treatment. In 2013, nearly 50,000 youth between the ages of 16-20 exited the foster care system.
The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is a bicameral bill that will provide health insurance to foster youth in any state until age 26, as is the law for their peers that did not grow up in the child welfare system.
Turnkey: A Co-Housing Experience in an Italian Public Service for Addiction
Turnkey is a term used in the economic field, but it also fits well in a social rehab project. The idea comes from the need to give some answers to the problem of those patients that experienced a long term therapy in an addiction rehab center for 3 or 4 years.
In the Italian welfare system, the outpatient service team -work (doctor, psychologist, educator, nurse and social worker), operating in the addiction recovery can schedule long term treatment in the residential rehab centers. In some cases, this long time permanence is something obliged, because of the serious addiction and also for the lack of different life perspectives after the recovery.
These kinds of patients need more therapeutic help in order to return to civil society in order to find meaningful social membership. Usually, these clients have no meaningful familiar connections, no job, and no significant friendship.
In the last years, our social services system has become more careful about the use of public money. They noticed social workers more equipped to provide therapeutic interventions using a holistic approach in order to spare economic resources. Social workers are more capable to assist patients in reaching a better life condition by using their abilities toward social integration.
Five years ago, the program’s director asked for the professional team to think about a solution for the rehabilitation of the” long term patients”.
I started wondering about the meaning of poverty which is not only economics but it also the satisfaction of primary needs. It’s the lack of healthy relational bonds which weakness a lot the patients coming out of the drug addiction recovery programs.
I also noticed that this relational deficiency is a modern human condition; in the weakest social situations the loneliness is something that “destroys the mind “.
So I got an idea: I proposed to my director to start thinking about a possible apartment for a temporary co-housing for at least two patients.
He liked the project and submitted the plan to the municipalities which have the competence in the social side of rehabilitation. The municipalities agreed to the project and financed it.
For the patients in long term recovery, the rent was paid through the financing with the municipalities (an average of 6.000 Euro a year for 4 years, renewable), whereas the utilities and the others cost of the house has been in charge to the occupants.
The management of activities like the admission of the patients, the guaranteed respect of the therapeutic contract, the check of daily life and the help in the money administration, are some of my specific competences as a social worker.
In my job role, I had a significant part into find fitting persons for the project who were able to live together. I also contributed to choosing the people eligible to live in that specific therapeutic situation.
I helped the patients to organize their new life and to establish minimum rules of mutual life in the apartment. The project is strictly tied to the learning of the skills required to come back to live a regular life.
– living together is an opportunity for the patients to learn mutual respect
-cleaning the home and paying the utilities is a way to come back to daily responsibility and autonomy.
– having a good neighborhood relationship is a way to learn again to have good relationships without drug addiction to interfered an apartment, next to the main social and sanitary services of the town.
Since 2011, we housed 11 clients in the apartment with an average of one year placement. We should consider that one year in a residential rehab center cost 30.000 euro each person.
Eight of them returned was able to manage a regular social life, their addiction, a job, maintain social relationships which helped them to achieve a dignified lifestyle.
Two persons are still in the co-housing situation, one of them has a regular job, and he is searching for an own house. Only one person abandoned the treatment.
This intervention is a daily challenge for our team; it gave us good results in the recovery outcomes like independence, citizenship, struggle against the stigma and improvement of personal resources.
We also have spared a significant amount of public money while offering to our clients a higher quality of life.
The creativity and the professional skills mixed together with the help of other colleagues in the multidisciplinary teamwork made this project an effective strategy to help patients overcome their circumstances.
So, I can call myself a responsible social worker, because I help to improve the personal resources in my client’s life. I was mostly inspired from the basic professional principle “start from where the client is”.
Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom
General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account.
One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.
One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this, we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction.
Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.
Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways.
This means that not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.
Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics.
The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so maybe their interests.
This is where building relationships with students become essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.
Networking – The Best Way to Keep Learning on the Job
Like most comms professionals, I have a curiosity about learning. Be it about the latest craze on social media, or the newest news platform that I could try and get my organisation into.
I have been fairly diligent about keeping my skills set up-to-date. Regularly attending industry training courses, as well as embarking on a post-grad a few years back while juggling the demands of a busy role.
What’s struck me, however, is that the most profound learning comes from something far less slick than formal qualifications and training sessions, and that’s networking with our peers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked across a number of sectors having moved from the arts, to education, to health, back to education, and then back to health – you get the theme – and now into the children’s sector now into the children’s sector where I work as Communications Manager at CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland).
With each move, I’ve managed to make connections with my counterparts at other organisations. By regularly keeping in touch with them, occasionally meeting up for a coffee, you can gain so much knowledge from each other by comparing notes, woes, and inspirations all in a oner. It really is cathartic. I would urge anyone to get to know their equivalent elsewhere, you never know when you might need them.
In the earlier stages of my career, I established a useful working relationship with a colleague at another institution. Given the supposed ‘rivalry’ between the institutions we worked for (I’m not naming names!) we had to use judgment and discretion when it came to information sharing. There was a real value to us being able to use each other as a sounding board for managing difficult media requests. On one funny occasion, we both spoke to each other mobile to mobile from our respective toilets!
Peer-to-peer learning comes in many forms and guises. An occasional and irregular meeting to talk shop, can lead to bigger plans for shared learning.
From Networking to Communities of Practice
I moved into a job promoting a brand new museum and gallery in central London some years back. Having attended a meeting on Southbank of arts PRs, I was vocal about the need to develop something a little more formal for us to keep abreast of what was happening in our tiny sector of comms professionals. What emerged from this was a working group of budding volunteers, and the establishment of a national conference where like-minded colleagues from throughout the country got together to learn from each other, and hear insights from those at the top of our industry.
What we didn’t realise at the time of its formation was that we really were a Community of Practice in the making (NB ‘Community of Practice’ is the slightly more academic/formal term for networking with peers.
New Year’s Resolution
One of my new year’s resolutions for 2018 is to help keep a network of comms professionals going in the children’s sector in Scotland. We are a varied bunch – from third sector organisations and campaign groups, to academic centres, NGOs and colleagues working in government – but we have much in common: our values as organisations; keeping our comms relevant to our intended audiences; and the need to embrace new and emerging technology.
Anyone wanting to know more, do be in touch.
Changing the Lens on Poverty Research
Using an innovative technique to measure poverty, a Georgia Institute of Technology economics professor has found that more older Americans live in deprivation than official statistics suggest.
Shatakshee Dhongde, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, found that 12.27 percent of senior citizens were deprived in two or more crucial areas, including multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.
Dhongde said the research illustrates a shortcoming in the official measure of poverty in the United States, which focuses solely on income. The federal government reported that 9.5 percent of older Americans were living in poverty in 2013. That is below the 12.3 percent rate found in Dhondge’s multidimensional poverty index.
Research Reveals Deprivation beyond Official Poverty Count
According to Dhongde’s research, nearly four in ten older U.S. residents reported being deprived in at least one of the four categories: multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.
Moreover, many of those living with multiple deprivations were not income poor. For instance, 3.6 percent of seniors experienced both multiple disabilities and severe housing burden, but would not appear in official poverty statistics because their income was above poverty line threshold.
Race plays a role, as well. Dhongde found that white senior citizens were less likely to be deprived, while Asian, African-American, and Hispanic seniors were more likely to be deprived. In fact, Dhongde found that 30 percent of Hispanic seniors were deprived in two or more dimensions.
Study Relies on Census Data
The study draws on the 2013 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which includes detailed data on economic, housing, educational, and healthcare circumstances of people living in the United States.
Dhongde, a faculty member in the School of Economics within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is in the vanguard of economic researchers examining multidimensional deprivation in the United States. Thinking of deprivation in a multidimensional manner is a way of looking beyond income while measuring poverty.
“The main idea is that you change the lens and look at overlapping deprivations,” she said. “So I’m not separately looking at what percent of the elderly population was deprived in X and what percent was deprived in Y and so on. Instead, I choose one individual and then analyze how many deprivations he or she is facing simultaneously.”
By examining multiple areas that can affect a person’s quality of life, Dhongde says the multidimensional poverty index can provide better insight into the population’s broader economic condition. It can also give policymakers tools to gauge where best to focus limited resources.
Assessments Often Miss Mental Health Issues for Youth on Probation
An assessment tool used by many jurisdictions within the juvenile justice system that is intended to help recognize the effects of adversity and trauma in children’s lives is not the best means of evaluating mental health problems faced by at-risk youth, according to new study by a University at Buffalo social work researcher.
The groundbreaking research, which lead author Patricia Logan-Greene believes is among the first studies to connect the adverse childhood experience (ACE) assessment for juveniles on probation to mental health problems, could help improve the justice system’s responses to court-involved youth, especially those who have experienced maltreatment and trauma.
“The United States continues to have a massive juvenile justice system that does not, generally speaking, serve youth well,” says Logan-Greene, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work. “We suspect that the way mental health is often assessed in the juvenile justice system is missing many mental health problems – in particular with disadvantaged youth.”
The number of youth on probation is a far larger group than those who are incarcerated or in treatment facilities. Yet most of the research literature is on that smaller population.
“We may have identified a gap,” says Logan-Greene. “The court assessment asks whether youth have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. That question makes a lot of big assumptions like equal access to health care and equal desire to access mental health care, which has a lot to do with stigma.
“A better assessment tool would address symptomology,” she says.
The problems faced by youth on probation are widespread, according to Logan-Greene. The vast majority have histories of child abuse, family dysfunction and social disadvantage.
“Only 25 percent have no history of abuse,” she says. “One of my elevator speeches argues against punitive responses for youth with histories of trauma.”
Although most jurisdictions do assess mental health, these are not necessarily good assessments – and some jurisdictions aren’t assessing for this at all. A single question to capture all aspects of mental health simply isn’t sufficient.
“While the adverse childhood experience tool has done wonderful things to help us recognize the importance of adversity and trauma in children’s lives, there is still room for improvement,” she says. “For instance, there is nothing in the ACE tool about childhood poverty, and we know from previous research that childhood poverty is deeply damaging.”
In the current study, Logan-Greene and her co-authors Robert L. Tennyson and Paula S. Nurius, both from the University of Washington, and Sharon Borja, University of Houston, divided their assessment of childhood adversity into childhood maltreatment, family dysfunction including substance abuse, family history of mental illness, physical health problems with the family, and social disadvantage, using a diverse sample of more than 5,300 youth on probation.
The findings suggest a clear connection between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems. Although there did not appear to be a relationship between social disadvantage and mental health problems, there was a connection between mental health and the symptoms of social disadvantage such as coping problems, social isolation and what the authors call aspirations or the measure of hope for the future.
“Because social disadvantage did have a negative effect on those indicators we suspect the court assessments are not picking up what are probably undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems among disadvantaged youth,” Logan-Greene says.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Study Suggests Why Food Assistance for Homeless Young Adults is Inadequate
Though young homeless adults make use of available food programs, these support structures still often fail to provide reliable and...
Rep. Bass Introduces Legislation To Ensure Former Foster Youth Can Keep Health Insurance In Other States
Recently, Rep, Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act, a bill that...
Ending Gender-Based Violence in Conflict
On this International Women’s Day, let’s applaud the advances made in the fight against gender-based violence this year, but also...
Is Counseling For You
Have you been in counseling or therapy? If not, have you ever hesitated in seeing a counselor, or wondered why you...
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...