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Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing

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Airing live on CSPAN, Dr. Steve Perry gave a searing speech on the “The Role of A Social Worker” at the Clark Atlanta University Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and principal of a Connecticut school which only accepts first generation, low-income, and minority students.

Dr. Perry received his Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has since become a leading expert in education, a motivational speaker, accomplished author, and a reality tv host.

Dr. Perry was adamant that social workers are the key to solving societal problems because we are the first responders for social issues.

However, he also pointed out that social workers are not unionized, tend to be politically inactive, and do not engage in social conversations in the public sphere.

Dr. Perry asserts that our jobs are the first to be cut because we are silent, and taxpayer dollars are being diverted to education budgets for programs social workers should be implementing.

I have listened to Dr. Perry’s speech twice already, and there were many pearls of wisdom that he dropped on the ears of those in attendance and viewing the broadcast. For the most part, I agreed with 95 percent of what Dr. Perry said which is a very high percentage for me.

Now, I am going to share with you my top 5 reasons why I believe social work is failing:

1. Title Protection

First, it made me beam with joy when Dr. Perry referred to himself as a social worker despite his celebrity status. Most individuals with social work degrees who work in social work settings often refer to themselves as researchers, professors, therapists, or psychoanalysts. The people most vocal about title protection and licensure don’t actually call themselves social workers as if the title is relegated only to frontline staff.

I feel that over time title protection has been convoluted to mean licensed social worker and not a worker with a social work degree. I go in more detail on my thoughts regarding licensure in a prior article entitled, “Licensed Social Workers Don’t Mean More Qualified“. In my opinion, current policies and advocacy by professional associations and social work organizations have fractured the social work community into its current state.

We hail Jane Addams as the founder and pioneer of social work when in fact a story like Jane Addams’ would not be possible today. Jane Addams did not have a social work degree nor did she need a license to advocate, help people organize, or connect them with community resources. As a matter of fact, in today’s society Jane Addams would probably major in gender studies, political science, public policy, business or law.

Social work degree programs have begun dissociating themselves with “casework” connecting community members to resources, and they actually steer students away from these types of jobs. If we are going to pursue title protection, we also need to create second degree and accelerated programs to pull experienced professionals and other degree holders into the social work profession instead of excluding them.

2. Macro vs Micro

For the past couple of decades, social work has slowly moved towards and is now currently skewed toward being a clinical degree while marketing itself as a mental health profession. Over time, the profession has done a poor job in recruiting and connecting with individuals who are interested in working with the poor, politics, grassroots organizing, and other social justice issues.

Individuals who once flocked to social work to do community and social justice work are now seeking out other disciplines instead. Many social workers who want to be politically active and social justice focused are forced to do so under the banner of a women’s organization or other social justice nonprofit due to lack of our own. Students who decided to seek a macro social work degree often feel alienated and unsupported both in school and later with lack of employment opportunities.

3. Professionals Associations Represent Themselves and Not Us

Social Work organizations and associations have been pushing licensing for the past couple of decades which happens to also correlate with the same time frame they tripled the amount of unpaid internship hours required to complete your social work degree.

Recently, the Australian Association of Social Workers conducted a study which found university social work students were skipping meals and could not pay for basic necessities in order to pay for educational materials. American social work students who receive no stipends or any type of assistance are being forced to quit paying jobs in order to work unpaid internships, and they have no one fighting for them. In fact, most social work leaders argue that if you can’t shoulder the hardship this is not the profession for you. Many social workers struggle with supporting the fight for $15 dollars per hour for minimum wage jobs because they have master’s degrees making less than $15 dollars per hour.

You can’t talk to a social worker about anything without hearing the word “licensing”. From the time you start orientation, licensing is being forced feed to you as the solution that will solve all of social work’s problems. You are told licensing is going lead to better pay, better professionalism, better outcomes for clients, and better recognition to name a few. Minimum education and training standards are important, but requiring a medical model for all areas of practice in social work is not the answer. Social Work Licensing advocates often compare social work licensing with that of nurses, doctor, or lawyers.

In my opinion, social work licensing gives social workers all the liability and responsibilities without any of the rights. In states where licensing is required, social work licensing advocates did not advocate for employers to assume the cost of the additional training. The cost of continuing education credits have been passed on to the employee who is already in a low paying job, and the employer may opt to pay for them if they choose.

Here are a few things that licensing actually does:

  • Who can pass the licensure exam without having to pay for test prep materials or a workshop in which your professional association happens to sell to you at a “discount” if you are a member.
  • People are taking the licensure exam sometimes at $500 each time for four to five times. Where is this money going?
  • Once you pass the licensure exam, you are going to need liability insurance in which they also happen to sell.
  • To keep your social work license, you will have to maintain a certain amount of continuing education unit (CEU) hours yearly. They just happen to own and provide the majority of these CEU online companies and workshops for you as well.
  • Then, you have to pay renewal fees yearly and fines to your state board of licensure which goes to sustain their jobs.

Licensing is currently in all 50 states and US territories, and it seems to benefit the people who created the policies more than it does the social worker and the communities we serve. Licensure makes money, and social justice issues just aren’t income generators. For social workers who are already struggling, how does all the above fees and costs affect their career mobility in one of the lowest paid professions with one of the highest student loan income/debt ratios? Without a union for social workers, who will advocate on our behalf and for our clients to get the resources we need to serve them?

4. Lack of Diversity in Social Work Leadership and Academia 

Through Social Work Helper, I have had the opportunity to be a part of conversations with various factions of social work leadership over the past couple of years. Often times, I was the only person a part of the conversation that didn’t have a doctorate or at least in the process of earning one.  Additionally, I noticed that very few were minority voices if any other than me who were a part of these conversations. At first, I was intimidated because they had more education and  higher positions than me.

However, the more I listened and paid attention, I realized they are not better than me rather they had access to more opportunities than me. The ignorance and insensitivity displayed towards communities of color and the plight of social workers who are struggling in this profession was unbelievable.

Diversity in leadership brings different perspectives and point of views to be added to the conversation. Why didn’t more social work organizations and schools of social work support last night’s speech by Dr. Perry hosted at a Historically Black College? How often is the topic of social work front and center in a televised public forum?

According Social Work Synergy,

“At times this will mean sharing power and leadership in deeper ways, and taking proactive steps to undo oppression and racism. The use of community organizing principles and skills are essential” (p.19) to this effort. Read Full Article

5. Lack of Support and Silence

Social work organizations and associations are forever holding conferences that the majority of social workers can’t afford to attend. Many social workers don’t have the luxury of having their university foot the bill for them to attend every social work conference each year. This very dynamic adds to the failures listed in 1 thru 4. In addition, it highlights another point made by Dr. Perry when he stated, “Social Workers will talk to each other, but they won’t engage in the public sphere”.

I have contacted both the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Worker (NASW) asking them to waive certain expenses, so I can cover their conferences in order to engage social workers via social media who can’t afford to attend. I can get press access to a White House event, but not to a social work conference. It’s like a country club that you can’t be apart of unless you can afford it.

*Update: Fast forward to November 2017, I applied for press credentials to the World Social Work Conference in Ireland 2018 in which travel would be at my cost. Despite the size of Social Work Helper’s readership and social media following, they wanted me to pay them $750.00 in order to give them free publicity. Additionally, I was told they had a media contract with another publication and that I could not attend as press. I was told to buy a ticket if I wanted to cover the conference from my seat with no access to do interviews or take pictures. Basically, it was code for “we don’t want you here”. Nothing has changed. Social Work Helper is the only minority-owned social work publication. I can’t even get in much less bid for the media contract to cover the conference, but this is the profession of social justice.

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

          
65 Comments
Gail Sellu Gail Sellu says:

Social Work is not what it used to be, point, blank, period! Licensure changed the focus from helping the poor help themselves to helping NASW, and others help themselves. They’re getting richer while students are suffering to get an education. I am one, I had a fellowship which included a stipend. Barely enough to support me, but I had a small child at the time. Told I could not work or I would lose my fellowship. Could not get food stamps, because of stipend. Told if I worked 20 hours a week I could qualify. I had to quit school to provide for self and son! Where is the justice in this?

Amanda Cole Amanda Cole says:

All I know is that social workers are not properly trained to deal with trauma, or hearing and witnessing really tough situations. Self care is not a class that is taught.

Is doing a critical analysis of existing problems dissing? Dissenting voices and minority voices should not be ignored nor dismissed. If professional licenses, organizations, and conferences where listening to the people they exclude, no one would be reading a word I say.

Jim Kreimer Jim Kreimer says:

Interesting, but it seems counterproductive to dis professional licenses, professional organizations, conferences; and somehow expect to get professional recognition, opportunities, respect, political results, and Macro results.

Applause for this article…

yeah, I mean all this talk about licensure is ridiculous and competency for a social worker comes down to the workplace.

Tom Lewis Tom Lewis says:

By the way, it is not failing, it simply has exceeded its capacity and needs assistance.

Tom Lewis Tom Lewis says:

This is just another educational PhD failing to understand his profession or is actively a supporter of their views! It is a motivated people responsible for effective social work which translates to money, education, legislation, judicial, mental, behavioral and physical health providers supporting social works most fundamental need. The need is to effectively advocate for the client, one at a time, insuring opportunity to perform at their optimum.

The CSWE also needs to revamp their education requirements to reflect needed knowledge to secure a job in today’s world…

kenny martin kenny martin says:

What, kids can’t read or write #Cursive? I thought cursiving was bad! #WTF?

I would Like to know all of the possible jobs that you could get with an LCSW.

Hope Diaz Hope Diaz says:

Great article and great food for thought. I went into SW as a political activist. My masters concentrations were communities and social systems and community organizing. I wanted no part of clinical work. Upon exiting school and applying for jobs (I am 10 years in the field now), I realized the organizing jobs paid about $30k per year and was able to get a clinical job which paid more. From there on out Ive been doing clinical jobs…therapy and now i work at a large medical center. So yes i agree…hard to make a living doing activist work. Licensing is expensive but so well worth it. I make an awesome salary and finally worked my way into a position as health educator which i really like. Also…i did case management too and started to get burnt out.

Yes…companion piece real soon please Social Work Helper.

Can’t wait for the companion piece. We need solutions.

Here in CT in order to be a school social worker a certification is required such as a MSW and the special education class (something I do not mind), But, it is required to take the Praxis 1 exam. The exam does not have anything to do with Social Work: it’s content is reading, science & math. And the un avoided exam fee & certification fee.

Great post. In regards to licensure, I agree with your statements. In MN, there are 3 levels of Masters level licensure, each requiring a large application fee, a large testing fee, renewal fees every 2 years, 42 CEUs every 2 years and a large amount of supervision hours (400+) that often have to be paid for though an outside source due to many employers either being unable or unwilling to provide any support; this is after paying graduate school tuition to obtain the degree and jumping through all of the hoops as a licensed bachelor level social worker. Unfortunately, in order to work in higher paying jobs, this is generally the path you need to take. Just the costs alone deter so many outstanding workers from obtaining advanced degrees and/or licensure and better paying positions…it is simply disappointing. There is a lot more to say about this, but ultimately it is time for change before we become extinct.

This is depressing, but I do have a companion piece coming with possible solutions.

well this is depressing! what are we going to do about this?!

Change I and You into We. That’ll change the world.

It would be great if more people outside of CPS identified themselves as social workers like the professors, therapists etc. People only associate social workers with CPS, and I think that is our fault.

Agree with #1 to an extent. In some settings, I CANT identify as a social worker (working with kids) because most people equate “Social Worker” with “Child Snatcher”. Our son even lost a friend once because his friends mother was going through a contentious divorce, and she found out my wife and I were social workers. She was worried we would report her for something and cause her to lose custody!

As far as #6, I agree. I was shocked at the cost and location of this years NASW convention, and when I look at the guest speakers and agendas I always thing “Who the hell is the target audience, and what GOOD is going to come out of this?!” Seems like a colossal waste to me.

Bob Littmann Bob Littmann says:

Food for heavy thought and action-by colleges NASW and all social workers. When I chaired Ohio NASW PACE I reminded social workers that failure to engage in advocacy is unethical.

Exactly, I am in no way trying to undermine or demean the work that we do. But, by not addressing macro issues, we are hurting ourselves and not getting the resources we need for clients and ourselves.

I agree with SWH but that does not dismiss the good work that is done by SWs like you with meeting clients where they are at & making a difference where you can. The criticism I have is not in the good work that we do but in the necessary work that we cannot or will not do.

Judith Lee Judith Lee says:

Amen, and if you have a disability? Forget it

Thanks SWH. Will do!

Hello everyone, I just graduated with my BSW From TWU. I want more experience before going to a graduate program. Do you have any advice for a young person entering the profession?

I think you are right. Schools of SW need to be active and a part of the communities in which they are located. It starts there! Let me know what you guys are up to, and I will be happy to promote your activism.

what do you mean with more staff! if there are not equal opportunities in this field.

Loved the article. As a final year MSW student I have often wondered why social workers are not in the public sphere more often and why, when social justice issues arise, am I not seeing people front and center who can declare they are social workers? I think it can start from our time in school! I joined our social work graduate student association because I was tired of never seeing the social work department as a whole organized and involved in issues affecting students on campus and persons in our surrounding communities. This year it will be different and I am hoping the rest of our university community see us social work students as leaders in social justice instead of silent bystanders. I also hope this will push students to get involved in policy and advocacy real-time that will become a part of their social worker identity post-grad as well and carried off into our communities.

My husband is student nurse and in his internship the female staff told him “we like men, they make our pay go up”. Quite like the point you made, Karen. sigh.

The sad part is that if there were more men in the profession we might get paid a little better. I quite like my male colleagues but should not be able to figure out who my next boss is anytime I meet one. SWH, the lust could be extensive couldn’t it.

If you haven’t watched the video, I would give it a look. One client at time, provides services, but it does not solve systematic issues and injustices. For one client you serve, there are many more who are being denied access. They need us too. You have given the homeless 20 years of services, is it getting better?

You proved my list should be a Top 6. It started out as a 10 top, but it was getting a little long. But, recruitment of men was on the list. Maybe a separate article on how to recruit men into the profession?

Bijoy Bijoy Bijoy Bijoy says:

coming soon Lord sri Krishna

Yeme Konjo Yeme Konjo says:

As a social worker for over 20 years on the micro level serving the chronically homeless persons with disability, everyday I get to see the fruits of my labor one client at a time. Although I agree with most of the points, social work is not FAILING. We are still the pulse of every community.

Great article. Don’t forget to include men in with the glaring overrepresentation of caucasians in academic & Social Work management positions. It is astounding in a largely female dominated profession how many white male supervisors we have.

We need more staff and tenure professors of color instead of creating diversity through adjuncts.

Awesome article! I continue to work in academia in an attempt to impact #4.

Good article and so true !

Absolutely on point!!!!

Mika Nici Mika Nici says:

Jalonta Jackson

“: Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing – http://t.co/iMjsiR86wX #socialwork #msnbc http://t.co/VmlSHz5tFJ”

thank you for sharing, very powerful and RIGHT ON!

Education

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

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It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

What happens during a fire drill?

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

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Education

Tough Conversations: A Tool for Parents, Part I

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The “Courageous Conversations Compass,” a tool for ensuring that conversations around race and culture are productive in the workplace, was designed and shared by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton to promote courageous yet respectful dialogue.

Public school personnel, especially Montgomery County Public School teachers, are probably familiar with both Courageous Conversations and Singleton and Linton’s compass. I personally have encountered instruction or reference to the compass on several instances during professional development classes and trainings, staff meetings, and parent conferences.

What began as a tool for the education realm has evolved into a helpful resource for several different types of conversations requiring courage, honesty, and perspective-taking. For struggling parents, an understanding of the compass and the philosophy behind its methods could certainly help facilitate communication with their teens.

What is the compass?

The compass, pictured below, is a visual, symbolic reference point that participants use to assist in communicating when conversations and viewpoints are not only difficult, but divergent. The four points of the compass, which help to identify from which perspective a participant is entering the conversation, are moral, intellectual, emotional, and relational. When we speak to others, especially about controversial or deeply personal topics, we typically go into the conversation with a certain mindset. The axis from which we enter a conversation depends on our experiences, values, beliefs, and opinions.

Additionally, we may enter a conversation from a combination of two or more points on the compass; it all depends on our thought processes pertaining to the specific topic of discussion. For example, on the very relevant topic of violence in schools, the discussion can quickly morph into a debate, which can then digress into an all-out argument. The reason that a controversial conversation like this would escalate quickly is because participants are entering the conversation from several different points on the compass.

For instance, a family member of a victim of gun violence would likely enter the conversation from an emotional standpoint—the topic resonates with their feelings because of their personal experiences. These feelings will conflict with or push back against a person who enters the conversation on the intellectual axis because it is hard to separate logic and emotion objectively. Therefore, the person who enters from an intellectual standpoint may try to use statistics, data, or trends to argue that guns do more to protect or defend people than to hurt them. However, this is a futile attempt for the intellectual if trying to persuade or counter a person’s emotional viewpoint. Likewise, people entering from the emotional axis will tune out the statistics—a statistic does not account for their lost loved one.

While this is just one example of how we enter the compass, the true value of the conversation strategy is that it allows us to recognize and reflect on why we may converse, debate, or argue the way that we do. It also allows us to gauge how and why another person would express themselves in such a vastly different way. The compass allows us to see, not only where we are coming from, but where the “other side” is coming from. At the root of this method is a deeply reflective practice in perspective-taking.

The compass shows us that neither opinion is incorrect or invaluable; instead, it highlights why we disagree when it comes to such contentious topics. So how can we utilize this tool when speaking with our teens? Read ahead to learn how to implement methods for productive conversations using the compass.

 

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Education

NASW Highlights the Growing Need for School Social Workers to Prevent School Violence

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – School social workers play a critical role in schools. They serve as the liaison between school, home, and the community. The underlying premise of school social work services is based in strengthening students’ academic progress by removing barriers to learning including meeting their basic physical and emotional needs.

Any form of school violence, including the mass shootings at schools around the country such as the recent incidents Florida and Maryland, prohibit students’ sense of safety and their learning. School social workers work to prevent mass killing in schools as well as guide schools in recovery after a crisis has occurred. Today more than ever, there is a growing need for school social workers to help prevent school violence and to support students in moments of crisis.

Unfortunately, school social work positions across the country have been eliminated or replaced by other professions. Due to extensive financial deficits and constraints, as well as competing priorities, local education agencies are often unable to hire enough school social workers to adequately meet the needs of the student population. In many instances, school social work services are eliminated altogether.

School social workers work in preventing school violence. They are trained to understand risk factors and warning signs of violent behaviors. They are knowledgeable in classroom management and behavior intervention and can assist teachers and school personnel in identifying concerning behaviors of students and developing supportive intervention plans. They are experts in research-based school discipline policy development that can increase school connectedness and decrease incidents of school violence.

School social workers work to provide support after a crisis. They are extensively trained to manage and deal with crisis and are equipped to assist school administrators and teachers.  School social workers are experienced in delivering difficult and sensitive information and can assist in developing messages that are age-appropriate and culturally sensitive.  In addition, they can lead the development of strategic plans that prepare other school personnel to respond adequately during the times of chaos and crisis.

School social workers can link students and their families to community resources. They are well-informed regarding relevant resources in the community and online and can aid in connecting students and families to the appropriate resources during times of crisis.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) advocates for ratios in its latest revision of the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services that reflect the need for an increase in social work positions across the nation in all schools:

School social work services should be provided at a ratio of one school social worker to each school building serving up to 250 general education students, or a ratio of 1:250 students. When a social worker is providing services to students with intensive needs, a lower ratio, such as 1:50, is suggested (NASW, 2012).   

Violence in schools has increased dramatically over the past decades and is seen by many as a public health issue. School social workers aid in the prevention of school violence and provide much needed services and support after a crisis has occurred. NASW strongly urges the funding for an increase of school social workers in schools across the country to adequately meet the needs of students and decrease school violence.

NASW is in partnerships with coalitions that are working to support school social work positions. We urge our members and the larger social work community to contact their elected officials to advocate for school social work positions in schools. For more information contact NASW Senior Practice Associate Sharon Dietsche, LCSW-C, LICSW, at sdietsche.nasw@socialworkers.org

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Diversity

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

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A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.

It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.

Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”

Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.

Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.

Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.

For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

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Diversity

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

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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.

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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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