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Social Work

Tell Your Story or Someone Else Will: Child Welfare’s PR Problem

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Ones’ opinion regarding the field of child welfare is largely influenced by what they have read or viewed in the media. Less often, it is influenced by their interactions or experiences with ‘the system’.  In either case, it is generally the testimony of the more vocal dissatisfied observer that draws attention. In child welfare, case workers are often perceived as child-snatchers or uncaring public employees whose inexcusable failures result in child injuries or deaths. Foster parents are often accused of ‘being in it for the money’. Administrators may be characterized as over-paid paper shufflers who rarely do any ‘real’ work, and advocates are perceived as whiners who want more money to fund this dysfunctional system. This is not far off from the general impression one gets from reading news reports about child welfare.

This was the advice of a marketing professional during a chat on Twitter: tell your story or someone else will. So who is telling the child welfare story and what story are they telling? Using the key words ‘child welfare’ and ‘foster care’, a search of Google News yielded the following stories:storybook

Former Foster Kids Protest RI Funding Cuts

Cases Highlight What Many Consider a Broken Child Welfare System

Arizona CPS’ struggles mount as abuse, neglect reports rise

Minnesota’s child-protection system is inconsistent and underfunded

Oregon’s $40 million child welfare computer upgrade has glitches, some serious

Now, Russians protest against Norway’s child services

Death of Dominic James led to changes in foster-care system

These are just a few of the thousands of suggested pages. They were all in the top 15 matches.  What I did not find were stories about successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. I’m sure that if I had worked my way through pages of links using my search words, I would have found some. I know they exist. I follow several incredible foster and adoptive parents on Twitter who are living proof that they exist. And I have been fortunate to have worked with hundreds of dedicated foster and adoptive parents as well as committed, hard-working case workers, administrators, and advocates over the years. So why do their stories not show up on the first pages of an Google search?

I believe it is because child welfare, as a field, has been content to let other people tell their story. There are many reasons for doing so, including what is probably at the top of the list: confidentiality.  Yes, there are laws and restrictions regarding making public information about children and families involved in the child welfare system. However, there are ways to address this issue. Obtaining releases of information, de-identifying information, redacting or ‘sanitizing’ reports, or changing minor details to protect the confidentiality of individuals or families are possible solutions. These are all approaches that have been used when the press covers a story that includes sensitive information. They are used by the health profession in conducting medical research and in dozens of other fields dealing with sensitive issues. So why is it that the field of child welfare does not employ these strategies more often?

I suspect that the second reason or excuse is time and/or resources. People who work in this field generally are overworked, underpaid, and their programs under-resourced.  This usually is not a line-item in child welfare budgets. Maybe it should be. Maybe there should be a concerted effort to improve the image of the field in the media. Other fields have figured this out when addressing anything from environmental issues to employee satisfaction. If one thinks about various professions, it is easy to find good and not-so-good examples.

The railroad industry has successfully improved public perception through advertisements highlighting their essential role in the economy and energy-efficient transportation of valuable resources. At the other end of the spectrum, we all are familiar with the expression ‘going postal’ which describes a public perception that working for the postal service somehow is associated with unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviors. However, many people believe this statement holds some validity, and it pains me to even repeat these sentiments.

The child welfare stories we should be sharing are successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. We should be sharing outcomes for children forming attachments when it was thought impossible. What about sharing the success of newly created families with siblings, loyal friends and protectors, or youth finding the guidance needed to prepare for adulthood through college or a career? Should we not help share the stories of adult children who overcome child abuse and neglect with the support and love from their foster parents? Until we make it a priority to tell these stories, the press about Child Welfare will continue to be dominated by stories told by someone else using their lens.

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Connie Hayek is a walking repository of data and information about child welfare. She is passionate about data, especially data regarding children, youth, and families. Experienced in child welfare, early childhood, education, trauma-informed care, and workforce challenges, she is particularly interested in promoting cross-systems collaboration and innovation to improve outcomes for children and families.

          
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Social Work

Hospice Teaches Me Transitions Are Life

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Transitions happen every day and are a normal part of our lives. Every person must learn to manage transitions, as a natural part of being a human being. Transitions include not just events that we would normally think of as grief-provoking, like losing a job, losing a pet, experiencing houselessness or personal tragedy, or even a serious illness, injury or the end of life.

Transitions also include any movement in one’s life from one situation to another, some of which bring great joy, like the birth of a child, a new marriage, buying a home, adopting a pet, meeting a friend. However, transitions can lead to emotional or psychological distress, even when the event is anticipated, wanted, and planned.

As a hospice social worker, transitions often come in the form of preparation for death, the end of life, and grief/loss of the patient whose life is ending, as well as those loved ones left behind. Each day I get to work with those facing these life transitions. How we cope with these changes determines the ultimate key to our happiness and our ability to acclimate and adapt to a changing life and being in touch with “the inner self.”

It can be tempting to dive into a new job without laying the groundwork for what the new job entails. It can also be tempting to dive under the covers after a hard day at work or an emotional evening with a spouse. It can feel exciting to rearrange your furniture to change things up or to accommodate new needs in your space.

Without appropriate forethought, however, even these transitions, which seem small and unimportant in the grand scheme of life, can leave us floating and losing tune with our inner need for structure. Having spent over sixteen years working in hospice, you might think I have this down. I don’t! Every transition needs to be thought-out, especially when I am the first line of defense to help patients and their families come to terms with a patients’ mortality; the ultimate reality. Often, we think about these major life transitions.

“Why am I doing this?” “Why is this happening?” Many people go about their day with little thought to the smaller transitions. I have found that these changes can have huge anxiety-provoking and stressful impacts on our lives. So what can we do? Prepare for transitions we can anticipate and take our time adjusting to the sudden abruptions of daily life. It’s easier to say than to practice, but it is far better to practice than to be taken unaware and be stymied by life’s little curveballs. I’ve spoken about my grandmother before and she would say, “Practice.” Even the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”

Hospice has taught me to go with the flow, not to fight against the stream of nature, and to be myself. The cliché,’ “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” has a great deal of merit. Allowing yourself to feel your innermost thoughts and feelings can be hard but it is vital to have a successful relationship with change. Transitions, while often difficult, cannot be avoided or denied. Resistance is futile. Transitions are life; becoming a new you. Being a hospice social worker has taught me this.

The poet, Nikki Giovanni says, “A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.”

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Human Services

Why There Are Better Alternatives Than Punitive Policies Targeting Homeless People

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Homelessness is a pressing problem in many U.S. cities. In response, many local governments have enacted controversial measures such as restrictions on public health services or prohibitions on eating, sleeping, sitting or storing property in public spaces. Sometimes called “nuisance” or “quality of life” measures, such steps seem designed to reduce the visibility of unsheltered individuals and families; and they can be used to forcibly remove unsheltered people from parks, sidewalks, and streets.

Unfortunately, such policies do not offer meaningful solutions to homelessness, and they can actually make the problem worse – by exacerbating instabilities for those without permanent shelter. They also cause distress, stigmatize the homeless, and risk violating civil rights. Consequently, federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Interagency Council on Homelessness have criticized laws that criminalize “acts of living.”

How City Ordinances Targeting the Homeless Prove Counterproductive

City ordinances targeting the homeless are counterproductive in several ways:

  • By increasing financial insecurity. Economic need is a well-recognized cause of homelessness, and official citations or fines can exacerbate financial instability among those without permanent housing. What is more, when city officials enforce anti-homeless ordinances by confiscating property, already struggling households must expend scarce resources to replace food, clothing, medicines, work supplies or household goods.

  • By limiting access to jobs, services, and social support. Citations may lead to warrants or create criminal records, prompting cycles of criminalization. Moreover, studies have documented that these citations and fines can hinder access to employment and social services. Restrictions on activity in public spaces, especially in downtown areas, can prevent access to services, employment or educational opportunities. And when anti-homeless policies involve forced relocations, they can disrupt social support networks.

  • By promoting stigmatization and threatening civil liberties. Quality of life laws are often motivated by negative stereotypes and have been found to promote public stigmatization of unsheltered families. They can also heighten mistrust of public officials and service providers by people in need of their support. And in some of these laws have been found to violate constitutionally protected rights – which can lead to costly legal fees and court settlements for municipalities and their taxpayers.

The Example of Anti-Homeless Ordinances in Honolulu

The crisis of homelessness and the damaging impacts of punitive ordinances have been especially visible in Honolulu. In 2015, the state of Hawaii had the highest rate of homelessness in the United States, and Honolulu had one of the highest numbers of homeless people among in small cities. Honolulu has also become notorious for criminalizing actions including legal bans against sitting or lying on sidewalks in several districts and restrictions on storing property in spaces or living in parks. Enforcement of these city ordinances has resulted in “sweeps” or “raids” of homeless encampments in Honolulu.

Officials, business owners and members of the public are understandably concerned about ways in which visible homeless encampments could harm the city’s image, undercutting tourism, real-estate, and other commercial enterprises. But many people are unaware of the public and private costs inflicted by anti-homeless ordinances. A recent study found that the enforcement of Honolulu’s sidewalk property and nuisance ordinances, as well as sit-lie bans, has caused stress, and trauma. Respondents impacted by city ordinances and raids reported feeling violated, hurt, and ashamed — and “less than human.”

Homeless households also reported the loss of medicines, food, work supplies, children’s school materials, and official identification documents like state IDs or licenses. Such losses can create obstacles to accessing services, health care, nutritional assistance, work or income support, and employment. In Honolulu, homeless individuals have often lost their possessions or were forced either to pay up to $250 to retrieve property from a distant location or to go through a difficult and often logistically impossible waiver process.

City enforcement actions have required households to move, relocate, or lose the belongings they depend upon for basic survival. Relocation is especially burdensome for parents with children, persons with physical or mental disabilities, the sick and the elderly. Seizure of property can be traumatic, which is concerning since past experience with physical or domestic abuse is one risk factor for homelessness.

Better Solutions

Research finds that Housing First policies provide an effective solution to chronic homelessness. Such strategies couple intensive support services and outreach to homeless people with the provision of stable housing. Honolulu has made wise investments in Housing First, with positive results. However, Honolulu’s raids and sweeps on homeless households or encampments work in opposition to its positive housing initiatives, because punitive measures can create a climate of fear, mistrust, and chaos that undermines engaged public outreach to help the homeless.

In Honolulu, approximately $700,000 per year has been spent on managing and disposing of property and enforcing anti- homeless ordinances. A recent court settlement found that the city of Honolulu violated constitutional rights against seizure of property without due process, making the city and county liable for legal fees and compensation for a class of plaintiffs.

Instead of spending resources on punishment and legal cases, Honolulu and other localities could devote resources to more permanent solutions – by expanding Housing First programs and supplementing them with additional steps such as rapid-rehousing, emergency rental relief to prevent eviction, and investments to increase the availability of low-income rental housing. Honolulu, like many high cost-of-living locales, should seek to maximize investments in public housing maintenance as well as in inclusionary zoning and rental assistance and tax credit programs to encourage more construction of low-income rentals.

Read more in Jennifer Darrah-Okike, Sarah Soakai, Susan Nakaoka, Tai Dunson-Strane, and Karen Umemoto. “‘It Was Like I Lost Everything’: The Harmful Impacts of Homeless-Targeted Policies.” Housing Policy Debate, (2018).

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Culture

The History of Stereotyping Homelessness in Australia

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The history of homelessness in Australia stems back to our nation’s colonization by our British counterparts which moved Indigenous Australians out of their physical living structures. As Australia became more industrialized nearing the 1970’s, the contrast between homelessness and the rest of society become starker as the mainstream society had higher living expectations and standards which solidified what the disadvantage looked like.

Homelessness is an unspoken epidemic in Australia. It is not reported in the media and if you didn’t work in the welfare space, you would be blind to the number of people living in these conditions.

  • 116,427 people were counted as homeless in the most recent census (2016);
  • NSW has the highest representation of homelessness than any other state;
  • The 25-34yrs age bracket is the highest portion of homelessness and
  • These people sleep in a combination of improvised dwellings, supported accommodation, couch surfing, boarding houses, and severely overcrowded dwellings.

Homelessness was initially justified by ‘men being down and out of luck,’ however, as our societies ideas developed and matured, it became connected to more tangible and measurable practices. They were now associated with alcoholism, the plight of the individual, transience, and criminality. The common theme was that homelessness was a result of a failure which was only the birth of the stigma related to disadvantage in Australia which has influenced generations and engrained stereotyping of these groups as an acceptable practice.

These preconceived ideas can be understood with a sociological perspective, specifically examining the notions of status in society and what indicators determine that. Historically, status was inherited and determined prior to an individual’s birth (if we are observing the ancient civilisations, ie., the Caste system). Every ancient civilisation had a system to determine hierarchy, generally determined by education, political ideology, capital ownership, occupation, and material possessions.

However, it is always contextual in that the status is determined by how the individual is respected in the group/community they are a part of, ie., discriminating the status of a government minister amongst other government officials in comparison to commoners would result in a different level of respect. Determining status can be perceived as an adverse aspect of society, especially with a leftist view, however, it does maintain chaos and provide a vision which the lower classes can aspire too – it can be viewed as an indirect way to ‘tame’ societies and provide inspiration for growth – when used (and viewed) with this approach.

However, if we are looking at hierarchy in the context of homelessness, it only exacerbates the stigma. Modern society has far more progressed ideas then the ancient worlds and more recent historical periods mentioned above, yet, stigmatizing still exists and only hinders the level of equality which social workers advocate for.

Stigmatization links to capitalisation greatly, in that, society focusses on the individual as the curator of their fate, leaving the social structures which they exist in, blameless. What is left unaccounted for in the way homeless people are depicted in the media is the maldistribution of resources (such as employment, housing, nutrition, and health) in our resource dense nations with the premium lifestyle and experiences exhausted by the top tier classes of societies. It is also important to note that some people view homelessness as acceptable, we have become accustomed to accept that every society has an underclass and we ignore those groups which we find difficult and threatening.

The term ‘homeless’ carries a less-then-human quality; their conventional caricature embodies foreign qualities such as isolation and rootless of family and friends and human nature tends to reject those who disrupt the status quo.

A study undertaken by Chris Chamberlain outlines the traditional pathways which leads to homelessness. He theorises that either a housing crises, family breakdown, substance abuse, mental health or a difficult transition from youth to adult, are common circumstances for a state of homelessness to arise. Within these widely varying contexts, Australia has a multitude of service providers to support these people, so why are left un-accessed?

The answer to this comes down to the stigma which we associate with homeless people, which results in a complete separation from knowledge and access to these resources leading to a drop in self-worth/motivation. In western nations, the cultural priority and importance (and status) which comes with home ownership.

Academic research often appears to be neo-liberal in nature and commonly equates homeless to some sort of deviance or mental illness by disqualifying the societal issues which cause these situations. It’s almost as if we have justified homelessness – we do not see it as a short fall of society but more as the individual not fitting into the society we have built.

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Human Services

A Closer Look at Homelessness

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Young woman giving money to homeless beggar man sitting in city.

In the early morning hours on a cold January night, city officials in a small college town took to the streets with a clear purpose. Their mission: to take an accurate count of the number of homeless citizens living in the city. As they checked under bridges and highway overpasses, the count escalated. Then they found it; a city within a city filled with disheveled people, tattered tents, and worn cardboard boxes. The inhabitants bore the looks of individuals who encountered an arduous life on the streets. As the morning dawned, the count increased and the evidence of marginalization was hard to deny.

Citizens, who had been relegated to the outskirts of the municipality, were being brought back into the fold, if only for a brief period of time to be counted. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, on a single night in 2017, over 553,000 people were homeless, and in 2016, over 1.4 million people who are homeless sought services from emergency shelters and transitional living programs. To fully understand the diverse needs of these citizens, we must look deeper into the lives of those who experience chronic and short-term homelessness

Too often, misguided outsiders mischaracterize these citizens. Attitudes range from contempt and blame to empathy and compassion, often with little understanding of individual circumstances. This article profiles four homeless individuals and highlights their unique challenges.  As competent professionals, social workers must consider the importance of empathy and collaborative support to move them to a better place in life. Beebe, Dan, Mary, and San shared their stories of how life challenges led them to homelessness. All resided in a mid-sized, college town in the Southeast laying bare their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, their stories shed light on the individual and collective needs of homeless citizens.

Beebe

Beebe, a 30-something year-old African-American mother of two, left her home in a major metropolitan area to move to a town for a fresh start. Having no family in the new location, she was referred to a local non-profit organization for assistance in finding a home. Beebe came to this town in search of a different lifestyle for herself and her two children. Having lived in a large city for years, she made a decision to leave her familiar surroundings in search of quality health care and career advancement opportunities. She entered a housing assistance program with a focused intent to find a home. Upon entering the program, Beebe encountered issues that strengthened her resolve to provide for her family. Finding employment was not her initial focus, because she lives with rheumatoid arthritis, and her teenage son lives with Autism.

Putting her educational pursuits on hold, she pushed forward. Beebe’s desire to live in a detached, single-family home was based on her prior experiences in public housing, where she faced distractions that were particularly troubling for her son. Her decision to enter homelessness, for a short-term, was done with a bigger plan in mind. Along the journey to find a more suitable location for herself and her family, Beebe found shelter and support from the staff at the small non-profit organization; their assistance and support helped her navigate the bureaucracy of the local housing authority system.  

Dan

A 40-something year old African-American mother, Dan temporarily resided in her church’s fellowship hall. Unemployed and receiving public assistance, Dan was in desperate search of a permanent means to care for herself and her teenage son, who also shared the living space.  Dan moved from a rural farming community in search of employment in her field and a home for her family. In her previous work life, Dan experienced the benefits of having a steady clientele as a licensed professional cosmetologist in a booming economy.

A dramatic shift in the local economy brought about a change, and Dan observed a rapid decline in business. This resulted in a loss of income, and she was not able to continue paying salon rental fees where she worked. The income loss immediately seeped into her personal life, rendering her unable to maintain her home and provide basic needs for herself and her son. Within two years, Dan became homeless and unemployed.

When Dan arrived in her new location, she sought help to find housing from a local non-profit, in an effort to regain stability and control of her life and to transition out of homelessness. Realizing the value of education, Dan enrolled in school for training as a medical assistant. However, the stress of being homeless and unemployed weighed heavily on her causing overwhelming stress and resulted in her suffering a stroke.

With her dreams of entering a new profession hampered by health challenges, Dan found herself in greater need of even more financial assistance, in the wake of her health crisis. At the time of her interview, Dan was awaiting a decision on her disability case.  Her church fellowship hall was a temporary place of shelter to call home, but Dan sought permanency and gainful employment outside of the confines of homelessness.

Mary Blue

Mary is a middle-aged African-American mother, who resided at an emergency shelter.  Prior to entering homelessness, she relocated from Florida to the mid-sized college town after leaving an abusive relationship. When she arrived, she found employment in the food services industry, housekeeping and as a seasonal employee for a security company. As a single mother, she worked diligently to provide for herself and her son, all while she struggled to help her son overcome behavioral challenges. Eventually, she sought help from a local mental health program and staff from family services. Over time, she lost employment, because of her inability to manage her personal situation. Due to her inability to properly care for her child, he was placed in foster care. With mounting obstacles, most notably a lack of financial resources, Mary became homeless.

Initially, she resided with acquaintances for a time, but soon found herself without shelter and facing chronic homelessness.  Mary entered the Salvation Army emergency shelter twice in one year because she had no other resources. During her last stay at the shelter, Mary established a goal of going to college for training as an occupational therapist. Unable to secure funding, Mary’s time in school was short-lived. During the same time, Mary juggled the responsibilities of following her family case plan and meeting the requirements for residing at the emergency shelter. 

Mary Blue’s desire to change the course of her life and to reunite with her son created challenges that were overwhelmingly burdensome. Even as she worked to improve her life through educational channels, certain challenges made it difficult to reach her goals.  The compounding issues that overshadowed her life were ever-present.

San

An African-American man in his mid-40’s, San resided at an emergency shelter. Having obtained his GED, San was a self-proclaimed, over-achiever in the world of work.  San had dreams of exiting homelessness and helping others do the same. Traversing the eastern portion of the United States in search of work, he believed that the local community, while filled with opportunities, offered very few avenues for employment for him. San laments that he completed and submitted over 150 employment applications in hopes of securing a job.  

Recalling the reasons that led to homelessness, San spoke solemnly of the circumstances that contributed to his current living arrangements. He suffered through a home foreclosure, and he sought recourse to save his home but was unable to do so. With no employment and having no children to care for, he assumed the role of a migratory worker, believing that one must be willing to follow where the work leads. While his work history mainly consisted of being a construction laborer, he boasted of gaining new skills as a kitchen worker in the restaurant industry.

We have a responsibility to understand the causes of homelessness and to identify public and private non-profit organizations designed to raise awareness and offer services to help people exit homelessness; several resources are provided below:

  • Family Promise-a national movement to end family homelessness;  go to www.familypromise.org
  • The Salvation Army-a national organization with local affiliates providing emergency shelter for individual and families; go to www.salvationarmyusa.org
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness-provides research and education to support public policies to end homelessness; go to www.endhomelessness.org

The citizens profiled in this article are regular people who came upon hard times, which resulted in their entry into homelessness.  Social workers have the knowledge and skills to aid clients who are homeless by helping them navigate a number of systems, as they work to find permanency.  Most importantly, collaborative partnerships are key in identifying and creating positive change for homeless citizens.

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News

Simmons University Professor Gary Bailey Elevated to Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Social Justice

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Simmons University School of Social Work Professor of Practice Gary Bailey, DHL, MSW, ACSW, has been promoted to Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Social Justice in the College of Social Science, Public Policy, and Practice. He started his new role on July 1, 2019.

Bailey has taught in the Simmons School of Social Work since 1999 and has immersed himself in the on- and off-campus community ever since. Among his many on-campus activities, Bailey directs the Urban Leadership Certificate in Clinical Social Work and coordinated the Dynamics of Racism and Oppression sequence.

Professor Gary Bailey

He chaired the Simmons University Black Administrators, Faculty, and Staff Council and the School of Social Work Awards Committee; was a member of the Simmons Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council; co-chaired the Simmons College Initiative on Human Rights and Social Justice; and was a member of the Simmons Faculty Senate.

In 2018, Bailey was named to the GK100 list of Greater Boston’s Most Influential People of Color. In 2017, he was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to the Massachusetts LGBT-Q Youth Commission, and in 2009 he was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to the board of the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA). He was reappointed in 2013 for a term ending in 2019. At MEFA, he chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Executive Committee.

In 2010, Bailey was elected President of the International Federation of Social Workers, representing more than 90 countries and 746,000 social workers globally, becoming the first person of color to hold this post.

Bailey was named Social Worker of the Year by both the national and Massachusetts National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 1998. He was named an NASW Social Work Pioneer in 2005, the youngest person to have received the distinction, and served as NASW’s national president from 2003-2005.

“Gary’s extensive experience in the community reflects his unquestioned leadership in the area of race and justice,” said Dean of the College of Social Science, Public Policy, and Practice Stephanie Berzin. “Through his work and his intellect, he consistently engages students, faculty, and community members towards collaboration to solve today’s most challenging problems. He is uniquely qualified for this key role in furthering the mission of Simmons.”

About Simmons University

Located in Boston, one of America’s most dynamic cities, Simmons University (www.simmons.edu) is a nationally recognized private university that draws on many of the region’s cultural, historical, economic, scientific, and educational resources to offer an unparalleled student experience. Founded in 1899, Simmons has a cherished history of visionary thinking and social responsibility, and a strong mission for over a century: to provide transformative learning that links passion with lifelong purpose. Simmons offers undergraduate programs for women in education in the arts, sciences, and several professional fields; and graduate programs online and campus-based open to all at the master’s and doctoral levels.

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Human Rights

Abortion Laws, Feminism, Politics, and Neoliberal Societies in Developed Nations

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Re-conceptualizing restrictive abortion laws with a sex equality framework allow us to identify the limitations of women living in developed nations to act in a free manner with their physical bodies as men do. On many occasions, rules, regulations, and laws are enforced to reduce chaos/harm, but the same is similarly used to limit the freedoms of the individual which can also be oppressive in itself.

Historically, anti-abortive attitudes were prominent and common due to societies ignorance of scientific knowledge surrounding an embryo. Often when a pregnancy was declared, the fetus had already grown to a more formed stage which made abortion seem more of inhumane act. Early feminists radically opposed abortion claiming it was “child murder” that exploited both women and children. The core of the radical feminist’s argument was to ‘protect women at the embryonic stage’, hence leading to the anti-pro choice view.

Today, the attitudes of radical feminists have progressed to campaigning to eliminate the ‘root causes’ which drives women to abortion such as providing access to free childcare, financial support and enabling access to practical resources. Modern feminism has not adopted the ‘extreme’ stances of the past which have led to tensions within feminist communities. Depending on the feminist spectrum, some radical feminists believe motherhood is an obligation of womanhood while others may renounce the obligation of motherhood despite being financially and resource able to do so.

Modern feminism is defined in a variety of ways which is then filtered through our many lived experiences. One of the most basic and foundational definitions of feminism is the “advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of sexes”. The origins of the feminism began in the 1950s as a movement in the USA inspired by Betty Friendan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, which inspired women to pursue goals of freedom and autonomy.

The feminist anti-abortion arguments come with a variety of justifications for its campaigns – religious (when does life begin?); scientific (damaging a females body?); conservative (securing the future of mankind); power (forcing restrictive laws on women to exert power and control, potentially for political grounds).

Let us contextualize some of the laws in developed nations where women are forced to abide by policies informed by these anti-abortion justifications:

El Salvador – Illegal under every circumstance (rape, ill physical and mental health. Women can be jailed for up to a decade for performing the procedure. It is noted that low-income women who have miscarriages and stillbirths may be prosecuted due to being wrongly accused of abortion or homicide (White-Lebhar, 2018).

Alabama, United States of America – Illegal under every circumstance. What is concerning about this case though, is that it was only just voted in (last month), meaning that the senator they have in office today, have these views.

Northern Ireland – Illegal under every circumstance (including a result of rape). Medical professionals are afraid to provide their candid opinions about the health of the pregnant female and/or the fetus due to repercussions.

Under further examination, these laws celebrate a lack of individualization and are enforced by these powerful societal structures. Women are forced to adhere to laws derived from cultural and/or religious values in which they may not believe or practice. As Social Workers, our ethical practices use a person-centered approach with a systematic theoretical underpinning of self-determination for those we serve.

This approach applauds the unique and individual dynamic in one’s life and that these dynamics are even more special when they interact with their environment (person-in-context). No one person’s issue is perceived or dealt with in the same manner – social work theory acknowledges these humanistic values yet, we are forced to operate in neoliberal societies where under resourced service providers do not have the capacity and flexibility to approach each client uniquely.

Our role working within the abortion context means we can advocate change on multiple levels – through therapeutic supporting (counselling); by advocating for policy changes by sparking dynamic public discourse (policy); educating generations of women on abortion in an impartial manner (education) and much more. Our perspectives on the matter, and with feminism itself, comes from the top down – our attitudes are shaped by the leaders we have, whether they conflict or reflect our beliefs.

Relieving restrictions surrounding abortion isn’t only about the freedom of choice for women, it’s also an opportunity to examine and identify where first world nations fall short in imploring the sense of freedom we so frequently advertise to eastern societies and third world nations. Developed nations are allowing powerful politics driven by strong single-sided opinions often funded by the wealthiest ten percent of the world decide about life, death, family, and women health decisions.

There are no solidified answers on what restrictive abortion laws mean for women and feminism – whether regressive or progressive for the feminist movement. Whether we identify with feminism and all that it embodies or not, we are ultimately shaped by the societal constructs we were influenced by in our youth and our family values. However, context changes through life experience and transcultural immersions. Therefore, we must evolve individually and collectively.

Our society is ever changing in this way and essentially to be progressive on these fronts, decision making regarding policy should evolve towards being free of judgment, opinions, religion, and power – thinking about individual lives at the core is crucial. Some may view this perspective as idealistic, especially in countries where government structures have the funds to create change, but government money is alternatively utilized to support the community as a whole with supports mainstreamed, directly conflicting with the individualistic nature of social work approaches.

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