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Interview with Social Workers for Reproductive Justice Maggie Rosenbloom

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Maggie Rosenbloom, LGSW founder of Social Workers for Reproductive Justice. SWRJ is a budding organization working to uphold the National Association of Social Works Code of Ethics by advocating for reproductive justice. Maggie will also be our guest for Social Work Chats on Monday March 25th.

Can you tell us about Social Workers for Reproductive Justice?

It’s still in its development stages but we want to be an organization that fosters knowledge of reproductive health issues for social workers. Our mission statement is: Educating social workers to advocate for reproductive justice and promote client self-determination in reproductive health care options. We use the term reproductive justice as it has been described by groups like Sister Song to mean the right to have children, to not have children and to parent the children we do have in a safe environment.

Although other professional reproductive justice groups exist for physicians, lawyers and nurses, no such organization for social workers has been established to date. While the National Association of Social Workers has policies that support reproductive health services that include abortion, it has done little to educate social workers on the importance of full-spectrum family planning or to advocate for increased abortion access in the United States. I hope that SWRJ can fill that gap.

How did SWRJ get started?

It was an idea I had for an assignment in my Resource Development class during my last semester of the MSW program. It was to do strategic planning either for an existing agency or to come up with an idea for an agency of our own. My first field education internship for my Master of Social Work program was at a low-barrier emergency homeless shelter for women that was run by a faith-based agency. The agencies policies stated that employees and interns of the agency were prohibited to discuss contraception and abortion with the shelter residents, and were actively discouraged from referring clients who may have asked for such resources to outside agencies. SWRJ came out of that conflict I saw between social work practice at some agencies and the NASW Code of Ethics; particularly, the section on client self-determination. I had been involved with reproductive justice movement and had worked for the National Abortion Federation hotline, was aware of DC Abortion Fund and knew of groups like Med Students for Choice and saw that there was not a relative group for social workers. After completing the assignment and receiving my MSW I continued to work on the development of this organization.

What are your goals for SWRJ?

The goals are twofold 1. To educate social workers about reproductive health including abortion access and 2. To motivate social workers to advocate for reproductive justice and social equality. I want to develop a Standards of Care in Reproductive and Sexual Health for Social Workers that NASW can endorse. I also want SWRJ to develop continuing education workshops on reproductive health and family planning for continuing education units for social workers and work to develop curriculum for Schools of Social Work so they can include family planning information in classes and create a forum for social workers to discuss any legal or ethical issues that arise in their practice related to reproductive health. I hope that SWRJ can work with NASW, and other relevant organizations, to hold accredited social work schools responsible for the omission of such courses and work toward a uniform expectation that social workers will be responsible to allow their clients freedom in the full range of reproductive health options available.

What has the response been from social workers and social work organizations?

Very encouraging and supportive. There are already social workers and students focusing on reproductive justice and doing research. And I’ve spoken with a lot of social workers and students who have had similar questions about working at agencies that they felt had policies that went against the NASW ethical imperative for client self-determination.

I have been working with a dedicated group of 20 social workers, including students and faculty, from DC to Hawaii who have been volunteering their time to assist in the development of this organization. Many of them are well known in the reproductive justice field, and all are passionate individuals willing to donate their time and resources to establishing a national organization and state chapters and school chapters for students.

What is social works role in the reproductive justice movement? How does this fit into the code of ethics?

For me the issue has always come down to self-determination. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2008) states that social workers are ethically obligated to respect their clients’ right to self-determination in decision-making. However, some social workers refuse to provide evidenced-based information to their clients for family planning and abortion services to their clients based on their personal beliefs. Additionally, the Council on Social Work Education, the body responsible for accrediting schools of social work, regularly accredits schools that teach biased and nonscientific policies on reproductive health and family planning. To my knowledge, there is no campaign to only accredit schools of social work that adhere to the NASW code of ethics for issues of sexual and reproductive health.

Omitting such important issues as reproductive health and justice from social work curriculum harms the mission of the profession. SWRJ will improve social work’s commitment to social justice by seeking to make reproductive health a mandatory aspect of social work curricula with the goal of producing social workers who are knowledgeable about the breadth of reproductive health issues that affect their clients.

Is SWRJ working on any projects or campaigns that you can discuss here?

Right now we are just in our start-up phase, but hope to be registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in the coming year.

How can social workers get involved?

They can find our contact information on our website www.swrj.org  and follow us on twitter at @socialworkersrj. They can also make sure to raise the issue of reproductive justice with their colleagues and in their classrooms!

Update: Below is the link to the transcript from Social Work Chats with SWRJ.

[View the story “Social Workers For Reproductive Justice” on Storify]

Rachel L. West is the Founder of the Political Social Worker, a blog dedicated to macro social work and politics. She holds a BA in History from SUNY Stony Brook and an MSW from Adelphi University. She is a community outreach and engagement specialist. Rachel resides in New York State, and she is available as a consultant and coach. You can find out more about Rachel at The Political Social Worker at (politicalsocialworker.org).

15 Comments

Part of our job is to allow them self determination and to talk with them about different possible outcomes and to educate. They only way someone can make a truly informed decision is to know what us actually happening both to the mother and the living human inside of her.

I agree with the idea of this and knowledge is very important. Including the knowledge of how abortions are done and what really happens. One of the reasons I am becoming a social worker is because I’m for equal rights for all, born and unborn. I do not believe that one life is more important than the other. We as social workers are suppose to value all humans.

RT @poliSW: This is an interview Maggie did with SWH last week http://t.co/MVH9pPSZTQ #swunited

RT @poliSW: This is an interview Maggie did with SWH last week http://t.co/MVH9pPSZTQ #swunited

Rachel West says:

This is an interview Maggie did with SWH last week http://t.co/MVH9pPSZTQ #swunited

Podsocs says:

SW and reproductive justice http://t.co/3mUgAqrOP5

Rachel West says:

RT @SocialWorkersRJ: check out this awesome interview @SocialWorkersRJ Founder, Maggie Rosenbloom, LGSW, did with @swhelpercom #SWRJ… http://t.co/b2iVFRG7xC

RT @SocialWorkersRJ: check out this awesome interview @SocialWorkersRJ Founder, Maggie Rosenbloom, LGSW, did with @swhelpercom #SWRJ… http://t.co/b2iVFRG7xC

check out this awesome interview @SocialWorkersRJ Founder, Maggie Rosenbloom, LGSW, did with @swhelpercom #SWRJ… http://t.co/b2iVFRG7xC

Daniel Roberts says:

I agree that self determination is important and sw’ers need to allow clients to make their own choices. However, we also have an obligation and a legal mandate to report abuse or any threats to harm another. Protecting those who are unable to defend themselves is an important part of social work ethics. Promoting abortion as a viable option is denying life to those that least can defend themselves. Science has shown that an unborn fetus is indeed living. Courts have charged people with manslaughter and murder of unborn babies. How can social workers ethically support abortion which is the killing of a baby? As mandated reporters of abuse supporting abortion goes against NASW ethics.

RT @poliSW: Thank you @SocialWorkersRJ – Interview with Social Workers for Reproductive Justice… http://t.co/7Xp8wGT1tl #socialwork

RT @SocialWorkersRJ: Check out our interview with @poliSW in @swhelpercom – Interview with SWRJ http://t.co/s5R47m7J4S

Annie says:

RT @SocialWorkersRJ: Check out our interview with @poliSW in @swhelpercom – Interview with SWRJ http://t.co/s5R47m7J4S

Check out our interview with @poliSW in @swhelpercom – Interview with SWRJ http://t.co/s5R47m7J4S

Rachel West says:

Thank you @SocialWorkersRJ – Interview with Social Workers for Reproductive Justice… http://t.co/7Xp8wGT1tl #socialwork

Health

Self Help Tips and Advice For Social Workers

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There is no denying the positive impact social workers have on hundreds of families and individuals throughout their career. They will tell you about the rewarding experiences they have helping others in need. Unfortunately, for every success, there is at least one case in which they could not help. Social workers see the best and the worst of society every day, and even the strongest among us can crack under the pressure. That is why self-care is so important. Being mindfully aware of your needs as well as the needs of those around you can keep you healthy and able to be there when you’re needed.

What is Self Care and How Can You Do It Every day?

Self-care is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. Understand and commit to the idea that it is not something you do once, it is something you do every day. The key is to be mindful and aware.

It is important to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing as you go about your day. Whether you are in a meeting or at the grocery store, notice how you are feeling in the moment. This can range from listening to your body and noticing your state of health to recognizing an emotional situation in your life.

Become aware of your breathing. When we are feeling stressed, emotional, or run down, we forget how to breathe. Our breath can become fast and shallow which deprives our bodies of the oxygen it needs. Pay attention to your breathing and focus on slowing it down. Allow the air to fill your abdomen, not just your lungs. You will find that mindful breathing exercises calms your thoughts, allows for greater clarity, and lessens your anxiety.

Now That You Are Aware, How Do You Improve?

It’s one thing to be mindful and aware of how you are feeling, but doing something about it is another matter. Improving your physical and emotional state requires some life changes as well.

Many social workers have the stress relieving habit of smoking or grabbing an unhealthy snack from the vending machine. It makes us feel like we’re taking a moment for ourselves. Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a bag of chips, try an e-cigarette starter kit or grab a granola bar. This gives you a moment away while making healthier choices through controlling the nicotine and sugar you intake. The idea is not to deprive yourself but to make small changes that will make you feel better over time.

Changing the way you approach daily tasks is another life change that will give you some added peace of mind. For decades we have been taught to multitask but all we’ve learned is how to start tasks but not finish them in a timely manner. By focusing on one task at a time you’ll allow yourself to finish a job before moving onto something else. This creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence at the job you are doing.

Maintaining Your New Found Awareness

Creating a support system is important when attempting to care for yourself. By relying on your friends and family you are willingly accepting love and nurturing that you simply cannot give to yourself. When meditating on an issue in your life doesn’t result in answers, one of the best things we can do is turn to our support system for help. It’s not necessary to face every challenge alone and often times, they can see from a perspective that you cannot. You may also find that the more willing you are to receive care from others, the easier it becomes for you to provide care for the people you’re working to help.

Self-care is difficult for those who spend their lives taking care of others. By allowing yourself the care you need you will find that it not only feeds your soul but it will improve your ability to care for the people around you.

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Food

SNAP Benefits Aren’t Enough to Afford a Healthy Diet

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A new study from North Carolina State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet. The study highlights the challenges lower-income households face in trying to eat a healthy diet.

“The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of a paper on the study and an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State.

This can be a tricky question to answer, as federal dietary guidelines vary based on age and gender. SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and the number of adults and children living in the household. For the purposes of this study, the researchers used average monthly SNAP benefits for 2015.

To address their research question, the researchers looked at the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They calculated costs under a variety of scenarios. For example, what would it cost to comply with dietary guidelines if one only ate produce that was fresh, not frozen? What if one only consumed fruits and vegetables that were frozen? What if a household followed a vegetarian diet? The researchers also included labor costs associated with shopping and preparing meals, based on 2010 estimates produced by other economics researchers.

“We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes-Maslow says. “For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet.”

To place this in context, consider a four-person household that has one adult male, one adult female, one child aged 8-11 and one child aged 12-17 – all of whom qualify for SNAP benefits. They would need to spend $626.95 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits if they ate only fresh produce as part of their diet. That same household would need to spend $487.39, in addition, to SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet.

“Many low-income households simply don’t have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget,” Haynes-Maslow says.

The researchers did find that SNAP is sufficient to meet the healthy dietary needs of two groups: children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51. However, SNAP was insufficient to meet the needs of older children, younger women, or men of any age.

“Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food – it’s meant to be a supplemental food program – this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes Maslow says. “Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines.”

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Health

12 Years After Fleeing Katrina, Family Displaced by Harvey Seeks New Life in Dallas

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Ashley Aples, left, speaks with his 8-year-old son Zion at an evacuee shelter at Kay Baily Hutchison Convention Center. Mr. Aples fled to Dallas with his family as flood waters from Hurricane Harvey rose around their apartment in Houston.

Flooded homes. People stranded on roofs. Rescue boats patrolling neighborhoods.

Ashley Aples saw the chaos and panic engulf Houston in just a few days, and he knew from experience it was time to flee. He did so 12 years ago when Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown of New Orleans and forced him to rebuild his life in Texas.

Now he and his family are rebuilding their lives again – this time in Dallas, with no plans to return to an area facing years of painful recovery from Hurricane Harvey’s historic wrath.

“We’ve seen it before; we know what this means,” Mr. Aples said from the Dallas Mega-Shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where UT Southwestern faculty are coordinating and providing medical care to Harvey evacuees.

By Friday, the medical unit there had treated nearly 200 people like the Aples family, while still awaiting a potential influx of evacuees struggling to escape the floods.

The 35-year-old forklift operator sat on a green cot next to his wife and 8-year-old son, who along with other relatives packed into two cars as floodwaters began to rise around their apartment. They headed north, not sure what they would find.

“My family got what they needed,” Mr. Aples said with a smile, looking across the multitude of volunteer groups spread across the sprawling shelter.

“Some of the worst times bring out the best in us and show us who we really are,” Mr. Aples said of the physicians and volunteers helping at the shelter. “We have individuals here of different faiths and races, all helping their fellow man.”

The Aples family was among the first of a few thousand evacuees expected to seek refuge at the shelter this week after torrential rains from Harvey left much of the Texas Gulf Coast submerged, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than three dozen people.

Inside the medical unit

UT Southwestern faculty, fellows, residents, and students from UT Southwestern Medical School who are spearheading the medical response at the shelter include a wide range of specialties from Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry. Caregivers are checking on blood-pressure levels, helping control potential issues such as diabetes, and ensuring evacuees are able to acquire the medications they may have left behind.

Dr. Raymond Fowler, who is directing the medical response at the convention center, said the team has plenty of experience dealing with such situations. He has overseen several similar medical responses to major disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, though he notes this operation is twice as large.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at this,” said Dr. Fowler, Division Chief for Emergency Medical Services at UT Southwestern, who holds the James M. Atkins, M.D. Professorship in Emergency Medical Services. “As soon as we can get them here, we’re ready for our friends in the South.”

The shelter has about 5,000 beds available if needed, and the initial evacuees seeking shelter in Dallas provided an opportunity to test the processes and ready the medical unit, said Dr. Raymond Swienton, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Chief of the Emergency and Disaster Global Health Program at UT Southwestern, and long-standing senior adviser to the state of Texas.

“We are now gaining access to large numbers of people who have been stranded for days in this unprecedented disaster impacting our entire Texas coastal area,” Dr. Swienton said. “We stand ready to provide shelter and medical care to our fellow Texans who arrive in Dallas.”

The medical wing has been bustling this week with volunteers and emergency response crews unpacking food and going over final plans. A pediatrics section decorated with walls of colorful birds and clouds was stocked with formula, diapers, and a box of stuffed animals. One mother sat on a cot in a corner, bouncing a laughing toddler on her knee.

UT Southwestern Pediatrics faculty physicians are staffing and providing support to the pediatric clinic daily to help treat the evacuated children.

“We will provide services as long as they are needed,” said Dr. Maeve Sheehan, Associate Professor of Pediatrics who is overseeing the shelter’s pediatric care with Dr. Halim Hennes, Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine. “We will also be providing telehealth services throughout the night in conjunction with Children’s Health.”

UT Southwestern pediatric neonatologists aided with the evacuation of neonatal patients as the flooding began, and UT Southwestern pediatric nephrologists are providing dialysis to several displaced children.

Next steps

Outside the medical wing, Mr. Aples sat with his wife and son, listing his next steps: getting a job, finding a home, enrolling his son in school.

“Kids don’t have the same coping mechanisms as adults,” he said, noting one reason why he won’t bring his son back to Houston for anything beyond gathering belongings from their apartment.

“Every time we went back to New Orleans, we saw places from our childhood destroyed. Your mind is fighting itself, looking at the devastation. You have to fight your way out of that box, because that box will put you in a depression.”

Mr. Aples said he has explained the situation to his son but is trying to keep the mood lighthearted.

Mental health experts at UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute say that’s generally a good approach to take with children dealing with such traumatic events.

In addition, they recommend showing a calm demeanor around the children. Parents should offer but not force them to talk about the incident. They should also filter some of the news updates children may receive from television or social media.

“This can be overwhelming and scary for kids,” said Dr. James Norcross, Professor of Psychiatry. “But the good news is that kids are remarkably resilient. If you can reassure them, keep them in a routine as much as possible, they will be able to overcome and manage this.”

Mr. Aples is keeping his family’s thoughts positive. He is hoping to get a job as soon as he can and perhaps have the family out of the center in the next few days.

Until then, he wants to spread his message of hope to anyone who needs it.

“I want everyone to really, really just love on their families and be optimistic about the change,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at his son. “We’re going to figure out what we have to do, and the whole family will come together.”

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