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Social Work

Social Workers for Social Justice: Interview with Relando Thompkins

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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 wanted to document some of my experiences on this journey, and take others along with me. Thus, relandothompkins.com, my very first Blog post, and Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian was created.

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 herehere, 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.

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.

2 Comments
Susan Copple says:

Thanks for valuing Title Protection. Let’s see what happens with AB 252 here in California.

Education

Non-traditional Students Require Non-traditional Policies for Field Placements

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I am only six weeks away from completing my BSW degree; a degree that has taken nearly twenty years to complete.  As I am nearing the end of my current educational journey and in the final hours of my field placement, I have found myself becoming quite reflective about my educational experience.

Now, I am not your traditional BSW student, and as such, my experience is dramatically different from many individuals who enter a BSW straight out of high school.  I have never sat in a physical class or classroom; I have never met any of my classmates and my professors or instructors face-to-face.  I am thirty-six years old with two children, and I work full-time in a field where I have spent the last sixteen years in.  No, I am not your traditional BSW student; I am a new breed of student, an older nontraditional online student.

Advances in technology have flung wide the doors of innovation in higher education. Online programs, developed in the last ten years and refined in the last five, have drastically changed the face of higher education for non-traditional students like me, who would have had no other opportunity to complete a degree.

Due to their ability to offer flexibility to students, online programs have become a permeant feature on the higher education landscape, and their popularity and student population are growing at an exponential rate. The academic training of future social workers has not been exempted from the advancements in technology and education. My soon-to-be alma mater and one of the leading online social work programs in the nation have reported a 34% increase in the number of students enrolled in the online BSW program this year alone.

While there have been major leaps forward in distance learning and online education, there has been little to no innovation regarding CSWE accreditation policies concerning this new breed of students, especially as it pertains to their field placement.

As it stands, all CSWE accredited schools, including non-traditional online programs function under the same blanket policy regarding field placement. Students enrolled in BSW programs are required to perform a minimum of four hundred unpaid hours of field placement at a social service agency. The policy also requires that field placement hours be served in conjunction with educational direction.

The CSWE considers field placement the “signature pedagogy” of social work education as it offers future practitioners the opportunity to apply theories learned in the classroom by exposing them to all sorts of problems and situations.  There is no debate concerning the importance of the field placement experience.  Incongruence occurs, however, due to a lack of nuance in policy when it comes to the unique needs and strengths of non-traditional learners.

Many non-traditional students, like me, who find an educational home in online BSW programs, are typically older adults either seeking to complete a bachelors degree they forsook earlier in life, seeking to further their current career, or shift their career entirely into a new filed.  While the reasons non-traditional students have for returning to school through an online program vary, one thing is common for us all.  Each student brings many years of life experience and employment history to the program.

Personally, when I started my online BSW program, I had over sixteen years of social services experience; working for years in a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers on the verge of incarceration, pastoral ministry, and serving as the Executive Director of a large non-profit social services organization.  I am not alone in bringing this level of experience in my current distance learning program.

In an informal survey conducted by current and former students of my school’s online BSW program, sixty percent of students reported that their resumes reflect positions comparable to that of social workers with fifty percent of responders stating they were employed by a social services agency while also performing their field placements. Students reported they have or are serving in capacities such as SUD Therapist, Program Coordinator, Outreach Specialist, Case Manager, Addiction Recovery Specialist, Youth Career Specialist, and Parent Mentor.

It is safe to assume that students from other online programs would report the same data. As such, it is important for the current CSWE and school policies concerning field placement for online programs be reviewed and discussed to create the most effective learning environment for these unique students. If the current policies are followed, older non-traditional students will not have the desired experience as CSWE and accredited schools for BSW students.

If there is no change in how these students are viewed and the policies surrounding their placement, the CSWE and institutions of higher learning run the risk of non-traditional students viewing their service hours as a mere assignment that must be completed to graduate.

To be honest, this has been my thinking on more than one occasion during my field placement. While I have learned a substantial amount about the agency I have worked in and it has been truly informative, I have also found myself questioning whether this experience was truly fulfilling the mission and vision the CSWE and my school had in mind when policy was crafted concerning BSW field placement making it the signature pedagogy.

Often times in my placement, I found that due to my life and employment experience, I was more qualified to perform the duties and tasks than those I was shadowing and being supervised by. I do not relay this out of a sense of arrogance, but sheer professional experience.

Due to the nature and requirements of my field placement setting, I have spent a majority of my time shadowing new social workers or others who do not have a BSW at all. There is much to be gleaned by working with these individuals in an agency setting and hearing about their roles and responsibilities.

There is also great value in navigating through interpersonal issues that arise in a field placement setting. This aspect of placement has been invaluable to me.  What has become cumbersome, however, is trying to relate to my agency, my placement, and my future practice of social work as if my life experience and employment history were non-existent and as if the position I may potentially secure after placement will be my first professional job.

The current framework concerning BSW field placement is to provide students with experience in generalist practice with the hope that after field placement and graduation, students will secure jobs in social services agencies as entry-level generalist social work practitioners. This is a fine and noble objective to have, but the reality is a majority of older non-traditional students will not seek entry-level positions.

As their resumes reflect extensive knowledge and experience, the addition of a BSW degree will only elevate them to higher levels of employment.  To use a professional metaphor, these older non-traditional students will most likely not be starting at the “bottom of the ladder.” With that being the case, it would be prudent and wise for these students to be placed in advanced practice settings with more intensive supervision, settings that will mirror the level they will be entering the profession of social work in.

While this may not be true for everyone enrolled in online programs, it is true for many; and those individuals deserve to have a field placement setting and experience that will rightly prepare them for the work they have before them in the professional field.

I am by no means suggesting for a cessation of field placement for older non-traditional students. Field placement is imperative and a means by which students safely test theories and gain invaluable experience.  I desire to open a dialogue concerning the needs and strengths of the non-traditional students and how to best serve them during this crucial time of learning.

However, a new examination of the CSWE requirements, policies, and procedures of institutions of higher education with a manner of nuance should be given to this growing student population. It will ensure these older non-traditional students who are finishing their degree and entering the practice of social work receive a placement that meets their educational and professional needs rather than being an exercise in futility to complete a requirement.

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News

Opening Paths for Europe’s Children: Best Practices and Transitions from Introversion to Extroversion

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Photo Credit: LamiaReport.gr

The Social Welfare Center in the Central of Greece Region at the Ministry of Labor, Social Insurance & Social Solidarity is one of the leading regional social structures taking the initiative to re-open conversation on the investment and need of alternative children protection based on the promotion of foster care, adoption, and deinstitutionalization in child welfare.

On November 20, 2017, a coalition of specialized and distinguished professionals from the European Region, such as Jane Snaith, CEO Family for Each Child (Igale Lapsele Pere) from Estonia, Marina Hoblaj and Alisa Fistrek, Forum for Quality Raising of foster children (Forum za kvalitetno udomiteljstvo djece – udomitelji za djecu) from Croatia, Mary Theodoropoulou and Tatiana Gorney, “Roots” Research Center (NGO) from Greece, “Eurochild” participated in the “Opening doors for Europe’s children” campaign. This brain trust of professionals and specialists shared their lived experience and knowledge in this crucial field in order to engage and stimulate public concern for alternative child protection.

Additionally, they discussed some of the best practices being used abroad to encourage other professionals, social workers, social care workers, etc. to adopt them and incorporate into their practice in order to start shaping a different approach, mentality and organizational culture for those making and implementing policies on the day to day life of children. On the grounds of the current and abundantly quite rigid national legal framework, reformation is needed to define the comprehensive disadvantages of the foster care and adoption process in addition to addressing the shortage of multidimensional help that has plagued the profession for all these years.

In the context of exchanging views on the necessity of a more extroverted social perception establishment in the Greek territory, a special workshop was held for all those interested in better vocational training. Professionals working with children need support in their professional lives in order to fulfill their day to day work to secure, defend, and emphasize on fundamental children and youth rights.

Not only had they already implemented to intensify already fruitful and constructive endeavors towards deinstitutionalization and family care under the current circumstances, they still keep to facilitate and invite public concern to establish rapport on a crucial issue in question akin to a modern and fair pretention.

Social Welfare Center of Central Greece Region is a public legal entity akin to the managerial mechanism of three social structures which encompasses the Department of Child Protection of Fthiotida, Department of People with Disabilities of Fthiotida, Department of People with Disabilities of Evoia. This social welfare entity is the state’s main bracket in the above-mentioned territory.

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Child Welfare

How to Support Foster Children

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When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.

Listen

Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.

Celebrate

Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.

Playdates

Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,

Getaway

Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

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