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Social Work Students Give Up Spring Break To Advocate for Policies in D.C.

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UA Social Work Students on Advocacy Day 2016

There won’t be a post-spring break re-acclimation for a small group of social work students at The University of Alabama.

Instead, they’ll sit before members of Congress on Capitol Hill to advocate for three bills related to social work during the first University of Alabama (UA) School of Social Work Policy and Advocacy Washington, D.C., Fly-In on March 21-22 in Washington, D.C.

The program will provide UA BSW and MSW students with the opportunity to analyze and advocate for one of three bills: S 3434: Violence Against Women Veterans Act; HR 1290: Improving Access to Mental Health; and HR 253: Family First Prevention Services. Ohio State University asked UA to join the event, and 50 students were selected to participate.

The Fly-In will mirror one of the components of UA’s long-running D.C. MSW internship program, which provides field education, policy practice and advocacy opportunities. UA’s School of Social Work added a BSW D.C. program in 2014.

“The Council on Social Work Education put forth an initiative to incorporate more policy and advocacy experiences in our curriculum, so we decided it would make sense to work with what our school has done in D.C. for the last 38 years,” said Carroll Phelps, field coordinator for the Washington, D.C., internship programs. “We wanted to give students an experience of policy and advocacy in Washington for those who couldn’t participate in our BSW and MSW DC internship programs.”

The DC Fly-In is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two prominent schools of social work, said Dr. Vikki Vandiver, dean of the UA School of Social Work.

“Led by each institution’s field education program, this event will provide students a rare opportunity to mix and mingle in a close-up and personal way with key politicians and national leaders in the social work profession — doing so in the very heart of government,” Vandiver said. “I have no doubt this experience will be transformative for our students not only now but for their future.” 

Students will have a full slate of events with speakers from policy and advocacy agencies, training at the National Association of Social Workers, tours, a panel discussion on social work careers led by MSW DC alumni, receptions with members of Congress and policy practice training, particularly in the points of emphasis and how to communicate effectively.

“They’ll all be involved in advocacy at some point, whether it’s for an individual client to get services or for a group of clients to be able to have access to resources,” Phelps said. “Teaching them on this national level, where they go before members of Congress, will prepare them to do that on any level.”

Alexi Bolton, a sophomore BSW and business student from Madison, was assigned to HR 253: Family First Prevention Services, which would restructure the funding requirements for family interventions. Current law provides more available funding when a child is removed from a home and placed in foster care than funding for preventive measures, Bolton said. Bolton said she is looking forward to working with the current students in D.C. to craft a strategy for presenting this policy.

Bolton hopes to have a career in nonprofit administration and already has experience implementing service projects, both through an art camp in her hometown of Madison and through 57 Miles, a UA Honors College development program in Perry County. Her previous experiences in those projects have shaped her interest in policy analysis.

“Someone once said to me that the problem with policy is not that it’s poorly written, it’s that policy makers don’t understand the field,” Bolton said. “So doing the service work and giving back allows me an avenue to see what this policy is directly affecting.”

Jonathan Harrell, a MSW student from Birmingham, participated in the undergraduate Washington internship program. He, like Bolton, is interested in how policy changes as it moves from the ground level to the House floor.

“In reading and understanding laws, things jump off the page, and you begin to apply them to real-life situations at the ground-level to determine how effective it can be,” Harrell said. “Do people have a realistic chance to get the resources? Reading it is one thing — but what are the true outcomes? I’m interested in becoming a health policy analyst, so this is a great opportunity for me.”

Social Work Helper is a news, information, resources, and entertainment website related to social good, social work, and social justice. To submit news and press releases email [email protected]

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Environmental Justice

Can We Talk About Climate Change For A Moment?

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Three Hurricanes Looming off the East Coast of the United States

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to deny the effects that human activity has had on the earth. Decades of research and technological advances have given humans the opportunity to develop more viable alternatives as transitioned from an agrarian society to a more industrious one. Industrialization has allowed us to streamline and improve manufacturing processes thereby improving productivity and growing the economy. But this hasn’t always been to the advantage of the planet and its volatile atmosphere.

One of the major downsides of industrialization is the resulting pollution that negatively impacts the earth’s atmosphere which has been linked to climate change. Today’s environment has been tortured and assaulted by humankind to put it lightly and measures protecting the planet, current and future generations is critical for ecological sustainability. Environmental issues resulting from industrialization include contaminated water, like the lead found in Flint, Michigan, damaged soil, and diminished air quality.

Over the last few years, there have been multiple bipartisan efforts to improve legislation and protections that speak to the ongoing research and scientific evidence backing climate change. And for a while, despite those dedicated critics of climate change, it appeared that Congress had struck the same chord as the evidence of global warming and climate change was undeniable. The previous administration undoubtedly made both climate change and environmental protection a top priority as it took steps to improve efforts to address the global impact and effects of climate change by joining the Paris Climate Agreement.

Climate change has always been one of those highly contested topics of contention. Either you believe or deny that climate change is real or that it is some strategic ploy by liberals to overstate the effects of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions in the environment in order to divert focus their real agenda. As crazy as the latter may sound, and it is quite far-fetched, there are many who believe that climate change is a fictitious liberal scheme.

Unfortunately, one of those believers of the latter currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and has rolled back both legislation and conservation efforts influenced by years of scientific predictions aimed at improving the environment and preventing the extinction of various species. The current administration’s dismissal of the scientific evidence and research supporting climate change as if it were a collection of alternative facts is reprehensible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see and feel the change in the earth’s climate.

Despite the surmounting evidence and bipartisan efforts to address climate change, President Trump still persists and continues to ignore the severity of climate change. He recently issued an executive order revoking an Obama-Era Order requiring federally funded projects meet standard requirements for flood risks as a precaution to future risks or damage.

This one act seems to have emitted a direct response from Mother Earth herself. As if she was personally insulted, Mother Earth has taken it upon herself to show us just how extreme climate change can be. Harvey. Irma. Jose. Katia.  All four of the category four and five hurricanes have been or will potentially be the cause of great harm and the unfortunate loss of life in the regions affected.  Parts of the west coast are on fire and Mexico just had its biggest earthquake to hit in over 100 years. Who says climate change is real?

Politically, there are plenty of reasons cited from both sides of the aisle as to whether or not claims of climate change or true or false, but perhaps Congress should take a moment to listen to Mother Earth herself to find the answer, because she seems to be speaking loud and clear.

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NBC Nightly News Headline on the American Red Cross is Deeply Misleading

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Photo Credit: @Redcross Twitter

Recently, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt headlined a story entitled “American Red Cross Fails to Pay Funds Promised to Many Harvey Victims”. The report discusses the failure of the American Red Cross to disburse funding to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As a volunteer with Red Cross, this report raised my concerns for several reasons, and I immediately contacted them in order gain some insight into the causes preventing the Red Cross from distributing emergency funding.

According to the American Red Cross website, it states the primary function of the charity is “providing relief to victims of disaster, blood to hospital patients, health, and safety training to the public, or emergency social services to U.S. military families.” For more information on how the American Red Cross spends its donations, you can visit their website.

Website Crashed

The website crashed from the 1 million displaced people trying to access it (plus repeat tries). Not only is the Red Cross responsible for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey, they are also handling an equally major crisis in Florida due to Hurricane Irma. Both Hurricanes have left a destabilized communications infrastructure with limited wifi and cell phone access in which to process aid. We are also fighting the shaky access the embattled infrastructure had available. Many residents are showing up at HQ in hopes of gaining connectivity through the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the office has been experiencing the same connectivity issues.

Headlines about “High Overhead” feed into Confusion for Donors

When donors don’t understand that upgrading systems and IT staff, hiring volunteer coordinators and trainers, and other administrative staff duties are necessary to make it possible to handle 1 million plus displaced victims in multiple disasters at the same time. The American Red Cross is not a governmental agency, but it is responsible for the bulk of relief efforts when a disaster happens. With Congress continuous cuts to FEMA, the American Red Cross will not be able to continue mass scale relief if they are denied donor support. This is a dangerous way to share information about life-saving charities. Without the American Red Cross, who else is equipped to handle natural disasters on this scale?

Emergency Funding

The $400 funds allocation from the Red Cross is an attempt to fill the gap that insurance and governmental delays create for desperate families. However, the reality is that it is dangerous to have volunteers standing on street corners handing out cash. Funds are being distributed to local centers like Wal-Mart for a more orderly disbursement. However, each disbursement center in affected areas is also still dealing with their own infrastructure issues.

At the end of the day, the American Red Cross is an organization run by 90% plus volunteers working at least 15 hours per day in harsh conditions because they want to help others. More paid employees also create higher overhead which donors don’t want. You can’t have it both ways.

With all of the disaster pile-ons we are experiencing with even more looming in the distance, we need to take a good look at our charities and how we expect them to function like a governmental agency or corporation while relying on donor support. How do we get great talent to run operations that cover a million people in a single disaster without the funding to attract and hire talented people?

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Change Never Ages

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As the second-oldest state in the nation, West Virginia is in dire need for professionals who can work with its aging population.

To meet this need, the School of Social Work at West Virginia University has launched a new undergraduate gerontology minor.

The minor is an interdisciplinary program geared toward understanding the biological, social and spiritual aspects associated with the aging process.

“The biggest thing the minor will do for students is set them apart from other applicants in their job search, making them more marketable and helping them receive higher consideration for jobs,” said Kristina Hash, professor and director of the gerontology certificate program and minor.

There are several courses in the diverse program, including online options and a General Education Foundation course that can count toward a student’s major or another minor.

Kristin Hash

“Usually people come to gerontology from a personal place,” Hash said. “Students might take a course or complete an entire minor just to learn about their aging loved ones. “We have something for everyone, regardless of career goal or major.”

As the baby boomer generation comes of age in the United States, it brings with it the “Floridization” phenomenon. By 2020, the population distribution of the United States will be comparable to that of the state of Florida.

Because of the shifting population, there is a shortage of trained professionals working with older adults. The shortage includes not only physicians and nurses, but the entire helping health profession.

“It’s a crisis at both the national and state levels, and it’s only going to get worse,” Hash said. “That’s where the jobs are going to be.”

This cohort of older adults is different than previous generations because they are healthier and seek more opportunities for recreation and learning. As a result, nursing homes and senior centers are beginning to change by adding new features like coffee bars and Wi-Fi to meet the evolving needs of the cohort. This is opening more employment opportunities than ever before in new markets, such as insurance, marketing, and tourism.

“This particular cohort are people who march for equal rights, who stand up for their beliefs, who question—they are not going to be passive. The baby boomers are pushing the envelope,” Hash said. “In response, many other fields are also changing to prepare for the aging population, leaving a lot of entry points into the sensation that is aging adults. It’s not just social workers and nurses and physicians and pharmacists—it’s economists, marketers, interior designers and urban planners, too.”

The gerontology minor is available now. Students interested in studying gerontology or working with older adults are encouraged to contact their academic adviser to learn more or visit http://eberly.wvu.edu/students/majors/gerontology.

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