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Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Puerto Rican Social Worker living in New York City whose heart remains in La Isla Bonita.

          
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Governor Northam Appoints Social Worker Dr. Angela Henderson to the Board of Conversation and Recreation

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (L)

On October 19, 2018, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Angela S. Henderson, PhD of Glen Allen, as his appointment to the Board of Conversation and Recreation. Dr. Henderson is an Assistant Professor and Research Assessment Coordinator for the Department of Social Work at Virginia State University.

She specializes in human behavior, the social environment and social welfare policy. Dr. Henderson received a B.S.W. from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2003 and an M.S.W from Howard University in 2004. She earned her Ph.D. in social work from Howard University in May 2013.

Dr. Angela Henderson

Dr. Henderson has been recognized in the social work community as a “social justice warrior” and has dedicated her life as an advocate for social, environmental, and education justice. In addition, Dr. Henderson is committed in protecting the human rights of individuals, children, and families.

While she attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as an undergrad she and her mentor, Professor Ernest Morant, Sr., established “The Princeville North Carolina Project” in 1999 with the support of the Department of Social Work and Sociology for Hurricane Floyd relief efforts. The department adopted the town’s elementary school to support the educational achievement and health care of the students.

Dr. Henderson is branded as the “Fixer” and she is known for her ability to accomplish complex tasks under high-pressure conditions.

She served as the Assessment Task Force Lead for Virginia State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Accreditation process. In addition, Dr. Henderson is the Principal Investigator for the Police Minority Recruitment Project funded by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

In 2012, Dr. Henderson created Congressional Research Institute for Social Work (CRISP) on behalf of Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. and Former Congressman Edolphus Towns. The purpose of CRISP was to recognize the importance of the Congressional Social Work Caucus and expand the participation of social workers in federal legislative and policy processes. Dr. Henderson served as the Chief Operating Officer and her tasks included: establishing and managing the daily operations, regulatory compliances, accounting, and legal processes. In addition, she served as the social media marketing strategist.

Dr. Henderson participated in a call to action discussion with the Obama Administration and the United States Department of Health and Human Services regarding the leadership of the Social Work Community in preserving the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Henderson will join Patricia A. (“Patti”) Jackson* of Hanover, American Heart Association and Clayton L. Spruill of Chesapeake on the Board of Conversation and Recreation.

*denotes reappointment

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News

Is Offering Help to Your Co-Workers a Good Thing

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If you thought that proactively offering help to your co-workers was a good thing, think again. New workplace research from Michigan State University found that when it comes to offering your expertise, it’s better to keep to yourself or wait until you’re asked.

Building upon previous findings that showed how helping colleagues slows one’s success, management professor Russell Johnson looked more closely at the different kinds of help in which people engage at work – and how that help was received. The research findings, published in Journal of Applied Psychology, quantified the term, “it’s best to stay in your own swim lane.”

“Right now, there’s a lot of stress on productivity in the workplace, and to be a real go-getter and help everyone around you,” Johnson said. “But, it’s not necessarily the best thing when you go out looking for problems and spending time trying to fix them.”

In looking at the ways people help one another in the workplace, Johnson explained that there are two basic kinds of help one can offer – proactive and reactive help – which are differentiated by whether or not assistance was requested.

If you are the go-getter and actively offering to help others, you’re proactively helping. If a co-worker approaches you and asks for assistance that you then give, you’re reactively helping, Johnson explained.

“What we found was that on the helper side, when people engage in proactive help, they often don’t have a clear understanding of recipients’ problems and issues, thus they receive less gratitude for it,” Johnson said. “On the recipient side, if people are constantly coming up to me at work and asking if I want their help, it could have an impact on my esteem and become frustrating. I’m not going to feel inclined to thank the person who tried to help me because I didn’t ask for it.”

Johnson surveyed 54 employees between the ages of 21 and 60 who worked full-time jobs across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, government, health care and education. He collected data over 10 days for a collective 232 daily observations to assess daily helping, receipt of gratitude, perceived positive social impact and work engagement.

With less gratitude for the helper and lower esteem for the person receiving help, Johnson explained that the respondents’ answers proved that proactive help has negative bearings on both sides – but for different reasons.

“Being proactive can have toxic effects, especially on the helper. They walk away receiving less gratitude from the person that they’re helping, causing them to feel less motivated at work the next day. More often than not, help recipients won’t express gratitude immediately, which makes it meaningless as it relates to the helper’s actual act,” Johnson said. “As for the person receiving the unrequested help, they begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy.”

In some ways, Johnson said that his research suggests workers mind their own business and not go looking for problems to solve. Ultimately, he said, help is good – but just wait to be asked for it.

“As someone who wants to help, just sit back and do your own work. That’s when you’ll get the most bang for your buck,” he said. “As the person receiving help, you should at a minimum express gratitude – and the sooner the better. If you wait a few days, it won’t have a positive impact on the helper.”.

Johnson’s next research will examine the ramifications of receiving help from recipients’ point of view, and how their reactions and feelings can shape the social climate at work.

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Mental Health

Study Highlights Racism, Sexual Assault as Contributors to College Mental Health Challenges

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A text mining analysis of academic and news articles related to mental health issues in higher education finds that racism, violence and sexual assault are key contributors to mental health challenges for students. The research also highlights the need for mental health services, and outlines some ways that mobile technologies may be able to help address these needs.

“We had found in our previous work that students are concerned about mental health issues, and we wanted to better define the scope of mental health challenges for students and what factors contribute to those challenges,” says Fay Cobb Payton, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.

To address these questions, the researchers used text mining techniques to analyze 165 articles published between 2010 and 2015. The researchers drew on both peer-reviewed research literature and articles published in higher-education news outlets.

“We included news outlets because that allowed us to capture timely information that reflected conditions across campuses nationally,” Payton says.

The most common theme that cropped up in the articles was an increased need for student mental health services, an idea that appeared in 68 percent of the analyzed material. Among factors that contribute to mental health concerns, the most common was racism and bias against ethnic groups, found in 18 percent of the articles. The researchers also pointed to violence and sexual assault – mentioned in 5 percent of the articles – as a significant contributing factor.

The researchers note that colleges and universities are taking steps to both provide mental health services and offer targeted outreach to students of color. But, the researchers say, many students are simply not taking advantage of the services that are available.

“More needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help in the aftermath of violence or sexual assault, and more needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health challenges,” says Lynette Kvasny Yarger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University.

“Students who are facing the trauma of sexual assault are dealing with the dual stigma of seeking help for both the assault and the ensuing mental health challenges,” Payton says.

The researchers also note that mobile technologies may help to meet some of these mental health needs.

“Mobile apps may be valuable for sharing information and resources with students, as well as providing students with improved access to treatment or to connect with communities that could offer peer support,” Payton says. “Apps could also be used to create opportunities for peer training or for storytelling that could address issues related to stigma.”

However, the researchers note, such mobile app interventions should be driven by evidence-based approaches – and the field of mobile interventions is still in its relatively early stages.

“Our study highlights salient mental health issues for researchers seeking to develop impactful mobile interventions,” Payton says. “Additional evidence-based research is needed in this domain.”

The paper, “Text Mining Mental Health Reports for Issues Impacting Today’s College Students: Qualitative Study,” is published in the journal JMIR Mental Health. The paper was co-authored by Anthony Pinter of the University of Colorado Boulder.

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News

#WhenWeAllVote Wants You to Vote and Check Your Registration Status

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The upcoming midterm election may be one of the most consequential elections ever for women and minorities. Record numbers of women, LGBTQ, and people of color are running for office in this election cycle.

According to the website blackwomeninpolitics.com, a record 397 black women are running for office in 2018. In places like Harris County, Texas the number of Latino candidates has gone up by more than 40% since the 2014 midterms. There is such an increase in LGBTQ candidates that it has been labeled the “Rainbow Wave.” While the diversity of candidates has gone up, there still remain many obstacles to voting.

In Florida, it’s estimated that “since the 2000 election, thousands of truly eligible voters have been removed from the state’s voter rolls, and many didn’t find out until election day,” according to Deborah Cupples a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of an Ohio law purging voter rolls. 

In places like New York and Alabama, there is no early voting, absentee voters must provide an explanation as to why they couldn’t vote in person, and there isn’t automatic voter registration. Further, it’s been documented that in places which require photo ID, like Alabama and Texas, it discourages minorities from voting.

When We All Vote is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization with the aim of registering voters and getting them to the poles in the face of such obstacles. The organization seeks to bring together “citizens, institutions, and organizations to spark a conversation about our rights and responsibilities in shaping our democracy.”

The organization’s co-chairs are a diverse collection of celebrities including, most prominently, Michelle Obama. She wants us to understand the importance of the upcoming midterms.

Other co-chairs include Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Faith Hill recently hosted a When We All Vote Event in Nashville.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “This is a high-stakes mission. You’ll be asked to do big things between now and November. We’ll arm you with the information you need — like candidate scorecards, registration deadlines, your polling locations, as well as ways to take action — so that you’re heard and counted. But you won’t be alone — millions of people across our country will line up side-by-side with us to take back our democracy and vote like our rights depend on it. Together is the only way we’ll win.”

Don’t let the proliferation of fake news create apathy and cynicism. It is possible to make a difference. So don’t sit this one out. Democracy only works When We All Vote.

Contact your local Supervisor of Elections to check your registration status and for poll locations.

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Child Welfare

Reps. Bass, Marino Introduce Legislation To Develop And Enhance Kinship Navigator Programs

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Earlier this week, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Congressman Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced legislation to provide grants to states, tribes (including tribal consortia), territories or community-based organizations to develop, enhance, and evaluate Kinship Navigator programs. Kinship Navigator programs support family caregivers through complex legal and administrative systems, help avert crises, prevent multiple child placements, and avoid the need for more costly services.

“With the rise of substance abuse highlighted by the opioid epidemic, more and more kinship caregivers are stepping up to raise children in need of temporary care or permanent homes,” said Rep. Bass. “This is happening in every state and every county in the United States. While we work to address this immediate epidemic, our child welfare systems are being overwhelmed. Kinship caregivers need support and this bill will help provide the assistance necessary to creating a stable home and environment for the child. I hope Congress can come together on this bipartisan issue to stand up for our kinship caregivers and our nation’s most vulnerable youth.”

“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, safe, and loving home,” said Congressman Marino. “We know that when children grow up in stable households, they are much more likely to succeed as adults. This legislation will help ensure that every foster child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, start great careers, and raise loving families of their own.”

The bill will allow community-based organizations to apply directly to the Department of Health and Human Services for funding and also require program evaluations that include community perspectives. You can read the full bill here.

Why Kinship Care Matters:

Research demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to experience numerous different placements with different families. Kinship care results in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care because they are more likely to remain in their same neighborhood, in the same educational setting, be placed with siblings, and have consistent contact with their birth parents than other children in foster care. This is one critical piece in improving outcomes for the children in the child welfare system.

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Education

Students and Alumni Call for Social Work Dean’s Dismissal

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Photo Credit: CUA Student Press Release

Sexual assault and fitness of character allegations have been raised against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his bid to become the next lifetime appointee on the nation’s highest court. As a result,  conversations about due process, victim trauma, lack of reporting of rape and sexual assault allegations, binge drinking, and rape culture are happening in our schools, coffee shops, workplaces, and homes.

Professionals who are educated and trained in these areas have a responsibility to engage in thoughtful dialogue and help provide evidence-based data and information in order to prevent myths from cementing in the public sphere.

However, School of Social Work Dean William Rainford of Catholic University of America decided to exercise his power and influence by using a social media account representing the School of Social Service to provide his assessment of Julie Swetnek’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.

This tweet among many others has earned Dean Rainford a suspension by the University. According to CUA student Tony Hain, Rainford issued a letter of apology “only after 45 graduate students walked out of classes Thursday in protest and after Rainford spent 24 hours defending and rationalizing his tweets on his @NCSSSDean Twitter account and dismissing faculty who raised direct concerns with him.”

SWHelper was provided with a letter from President Garvey who says he eventually plans to reinstate Rainford.  However, Hain asserts, “students, alumni and faculty have used appropriate channels to register concerns and complaints about him for years. Rainford continues to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding for the field of social work that he is supposed to lead. He is out of touch with his students, alumni and professional practitioners in the field of social work.  The tweets were the final straw. He must resign or be dismissed immediately.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Dean Rainford has made negative headlines and angered students. In 2013, he unilaterally ended the University’s partnership with the National Association of Social Work (NASW) over their advocacy for women’s reproductive justice rights.

“In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.” For more information read full article.

Currently, 188 alumni of National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) have called for Rainford’s removal, which includes Social Work Helper contributor Cheryl Aguliar, LICSW, LCSW-C, Class of 2014.

Sarah Sorvalis, CUA Masters of Social Work Student Class of 2019, stated: “Dean Rainford is completely out of step with the NCSSS program. His comments violated every single one of the values that define the social work profession. This has unfortunately created an irreparable level of mistrust among students in my cohort.”

Sorvalis continues on a more positive note by stating, “There is a silver lining. Because of the stellar faculty and education we continue to receive, despite the Dean’s inability to be an effective and trusted leader, students have been taught how to organize and stand up to systemic injustices. In fact, these skills proved exceptionally helpful when coordinating our walk-out last week, as well as the student led protest on October 1st where we demanded Dean Rainford’s resignation.”

Although Dean Rainford has angered many students and alumni with his comments, he is not without supporters coming to his defense.

There is no doubt the country is divided into conservative and liberal camps. However, Dean Rainford’s tweets and past actions appear to be in service to his religious and conservative beliefs and not in service to students learning how to interact with the vulnerable populations our profession is tasked to serve. Social Work and social services are tasked with helping people in crisis and those affected by trauma.

We are mandated to remove our personal beliefs whether it be religious, political or any other kind from our interactions. We are tasked to provide information and assist people from all faiths, all nationalities and all backgrounds based on their needs, barriers, and challenges. If we can not set aside our personal beliefs to provide services, then we are mandated to refer them to someone who can assist them.

As a Dean of Social Work at a premier Catholic University, what message will this send to other victims who may find the strength to come forward in their Adulthood?

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