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Justice

Wading into Action at the Intersections, The Case for Bresha Meadows

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Photo Credit: Verso Books

On July 18th, 2016, 14 year old Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her abusive father in the head, and she is currently awaiting trial for aggravated murder.

Bresha Meadows continues to plead “not true” (the juvenile court’s version of “not guilty”) to the charge of aggravated murder. Although, it is a plea attached to an outcome too unsettling to consider, she remains a hopeful black girl, who acknowledges the small freedoms of wearing her own clothes, being able to go outside and having additional visiting privileges. These “freedoms”, additional supports financed by her family, parallel her previous placement in juvenile detention.

At a pre trial release hearing on January 20th, a judge ordered that Bresha be sent to a residential treatment facility in her home state of Ohio. Initially, Bresha faced a life sentence for aggravated murder of her father, whom she allegedly shot and killed. It is reported that Bresha’s father brutally beat her mother and terrorized her family for years. Although her father’s family is insisting he is innocent, Bresha and her family members contend that she was born into a nightmare and was afraid of him.

An August 2016 article reported that Bresha’s mother took necessary precautions such as filing an order of protection and contacting child services. It is unclear at this juncture, whether any of those precautions were effective.

Stories like Bresha’s rarely receive recognition on a mainstream level but when they do, they tend to focus on the criminalization of black girls and the education system. Broadening the conversation on the criminalization of black girls to include child abuse and neglect, witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, trauma and a complacent child services system are imperative.

Bresha is at the intersection of witnessing domestic violence, experiencing child abuse and unsuccessful supportive resources. She has suffered the effects of shooting her father and ultimately becoming the protector of her family. Bresha’s mother, Brandi reported that she was not strong enough to leave the abusive relationship but Bresha helped so they could all have a better life.  Bresha is at risk, as demonstrated by studies that suggest that children who are exposed to domestic violence and/or child abuse are more likely to experience a wide range of adverse psychosocial and behavioral outcomes.

Bresha Meadows

Bresha’s final pre-trial hearing is set for April 17, 2017. Here are 12 ideas for action you can take, developed by the #freebresha campaign, some of which include organizing a #freebresha teach in, and creating art inspired by Bresha, to name a few.

This case is important because of the clinical work that I have done as a licensed social worker with black families in Illinois and Indiana. While my experience has spanned settings, specifically within child welfare and juvenile justice, black families are routinely marginalized throughout the experience.

Limited or no resources, lack of access to services and discriminatory practices are a few ways families are marginalized through the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

In addition to my concern for her family as a unit, my concern is for Bresha.

Now she languishes in a system that has failed her over and over again. The screams of so many victims of violence, racism and patriarchy bounce off the sterile walls that surround her, only to be swallowed whole by our silence. read more

As a former therapist at a juvenile residential treatment center and juvenile detention center, my group and individual sessions were often tailored from a holistic perspective. Topics ranging from trauma, grief, familial, community and (what I now understand to be coined) state violence were often processed and addressed during treatment.

The longer that Bresha is locked in a juvenile facility, away from her support system, the higher her risk is for attachment and mental health issues. A representative from an organization in Ohio that advocates for youth mentioned, “Children who spend time in juvenile detention are more likely to abuse substances as adults, and less likely to have good educational outcomes and form stable families of their own.” Bresha’s case progression, home environment and psychosocial risk factors such as exposure to violence are elements that contribute to her overall mental health and well being.

Lastly, her case is important to me because she is a black girl and so am I. In solidarity, this is my fight for Bresha.

Black girlhood, violence and child abuse in the black family and the criminalization of black girls are complex topics, especially within the black community. These issues are complex due to the intersections of race, gender and the culture of abuse, all of which have a foundation rooted in racism and patriarchy.

Professor and Author Dr. Stacey Patton states, in How Black Feminists Have Become Complicit in the Abuse of Black Children, “the one form of violence within black communities that does not seem to be recognized as incurred by white racism is violence against children.” Many of these stories include our experiences with domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, community violence & state violence, along with a litany of other socio-cultural issues that impacts black families and communities. These stories are worthy of examination and amplification.

We must reflect on our present moment…who we truly are when it comes to the identity of our profession as one committed to social justice in our culture, particularly on issues where Black cis and trans women and girls are being killed and victimized while their suffering is marginalized, erased, and rendered invisible to us. Read More

Juvenile Detainment and the “Child – Support Model” The Case for Social Justice

In “Do Black Women’s Lives Matter in Social Work: A Gender Analysis of Racialized State- Sanctioned Police Violence” Crystal M. Hayes states, “As a social worker, I am calling specifically on us to do better as a profession when it comes to our commitments to promoting social justice and anti-racism in the world and culture seeped in persistent anti-Black racism, heterosexism, patriarchal violence and misogyny, and anti-queer antagonism and violence.”

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “Social workers apply social-justice principles to structural problems, use knowledge of existing legal principles and organizational structure to suggest changes to protect their clients, who are often powerless and underserved”. Related to the social worker’s role is identifying and advocating for social justice.

Bresha’s mother is tasked with financing her daughter’s care.

A billing practice, rooted in capitalistic and oppressive ideologies. Deemed by detention center administrators and proponents of the social policy, as “child support”, the financial expectations and repercussions which are placed on families is challenging.

A recent investigation conducted by the Marshall Project highlights the aftermath of this system through stories of garnished wages and the impact of detainment on the child’s behavior. Rooted in the belief that parents did not want the obligation of caring for a delinquent child, “parental billing practices” were implemented. It was subsumed that this policy would serve as a deterrent and attach billing for families that utilize detention centers as babysitters for their wayward children.

Today, mothers and fathers are billed for their children’s incarceration — in jails, detention centers, court-ordered treatment facilities, training schools or disciplinary camps — by 19 state juvenile-justice agencies, while in at least 28 other states, individual counties can legally do the same, a survey by the Marshall Project shows.

Parental billing practices should be abolished given that they are archaic and heavily intertwined with oppressive and racist roots. Roots built on the premise that collecting fees from a parent would somehow encourage them to have a different stake in their child’s life, a financial stake. This would in turn, impact their parenting involvement, engagement– too ensure the child will not put the family in such a (financial) position again.

Parental billing practices do not impact parent – child dynamics to the magnitude of decreasing first time and recidivistic interactions with the system. Given my experience as a clinician, I know this issue is more complex and nuanced than mandated billing practices. Interaction and involvement with these systems is stressful, and more often than not, traumatic. Let’s add the financial expectations associated with billing practices. A writer from the Washington Post references:

“Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating ‘as a regressive tax,’ ” Reinhardt wrote, “but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing ‘a tax upon distress.’”

A clear example that the “personal is political”, the Meadows family is at the intersection of these social systems.

While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project (MWJCP) which works to free women prisoners who were convicted of murder but who acted in self-defense against abusers and did not receive due process or fair trials.

Unfortunately, Bresha’s case progression echoes many of the stories of the women who receive assistance from MWJCP. Just like many of the women prisoners, Bresha and her family attempted to access the appropriate channels for assistance. Given their limited resources, “domestic issues” are generally addressed through the justice and child welfare systems. It appears those systems have failed.

One of the things that I admire about social workers is our ability to advocate for others and ask all the right, even tough questions. There are a lot of questions to ask concerning this case as Professor David Leonard inquires, “The question is, will we listen—this time? Or, if we pretend that we can’t hear them in our communities and our schools and our homes, bleeding beneath the fists of men who claim to love them, will they, like a tree falling in a forest, even make a sound?”

We can not lose sight. Bresha is a child: a survivor of abuse and a witness to violence in her own home, at the hands of her father,

Professor Sequoya Hayes has 6 years of experience as an Adjunct Professor in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Sequoya is a licensed social worker in Illinois and Indiana. Her work as a feminist activist has centered on domestic violence awareness, intergenerational trauma, raising the visibility of issues that affect women and girls of color, self - identity and leadership skills in girls of color.

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Human Rights

Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims

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Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. – Founder of Children of the Night Photo Credit: CalState

Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3 a.m.; she even did so while pregnant with her son.

Dr. Lee was looking for victims of sex trafficking and those who exploited them.

Walking miles along Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards, the then-24-year-old would hand out business cards with her hotline number, encouraging victims to call and letting them know what kind of help they’d find.

“These are girls, boys and transgender children that would fall between the cracks of the system,” remembers Lee. “They had nowhere to go — no one was providing a bed or a school or offering to take care of these kids.”

So, she created that place.

From 1979 to 1981, Lee housed more than 250 sex trafficking victims in her own home, all while building the Children of the Night outreach program; the privately funded nonprofit organization would become unlike any other in existence at the time, or even today, rescuing children from child prostitution and providing housing, education and treatment.

But perhaps most important, Lee gave them hope.

An Unimaginable Life

Lee was raised in Los Angeles, the eldest child in a family of three girls. It was a childhood she describes as healthy, safe and sheltered.

So when, as a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, her faculty mentor Jeanne Curran, PhD., then a professor of sociology, introduced her to the underworld of sex trafficking, it was a wake-up call.

“I wanted to make everything better because I just couldn’t imagine someone living in these types of conditions,” explains Lee, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1973 and a master’s in sociology in 1977.

It was at CSUDH that she developed the skills she’d later use to address child sex trafficking. Lee also taught courses at the campus’s Social Systems Research Center, then led by Dr. Curran. The center has since been renamed the Urban Community Research Center.

“Jeanne became a mentor for me, both on- and off-campus. She influenced my life and academic choices so much,” says Lee, a first-generation college student.

“She and CSU Dominguez Hills empowered me.”

Victims, Not Criminals

Late one night in 1977, Lee received a call from a woman who operated an escort service. A 17-year-old she worked with had not returned and she was unable to contact her.

Afraid, she had called Lee for guidance. Lee went to the police, who dismissed the call and refused to help. The next morning, the girl’s body was found; she had become one of the Hillside Stranglers’victims.

Frustrated by the lack of resources that were available to these girls, Lee appeared on an L.A. news broadcast, giving out her personal phone number and encouraging prostitutes with knowledge of the case to reach out to her directly. She promised confidentiality.

“I coordinated everything just as I had learned from Jeanne at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee recalls. “And that was really the beginning of my work.”

Lee would go on to play a critical role in the Hillside Strangler trial, testifying in the case and coordinating witnesses for the prosecution.

At just 27, Lee garnered attention when she sued the Los Angeles Police Department for prosecuting underage prostitutes while letting their customers go free.

She won the case and has gone on to file a number of other lawsuits.

“I taught vice detectives nationwide that there were children prostituting and they needed to be treated differently,” says the President’s Volunteer Action Award recipient. She strongly advocated – and still does – to have the children referred to and treated as victims, not criminals.

Education: The Key to Success

To date, Children of the Night’s president and founder is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.

The organization’s shelter, located in Van Nuys, California, offers no-cost housing for as many as 12 children ages 11 to 17. They attend classes at the on-site school, receive individualized treatment, and participate in fun outings. A nationwide toll-free hotline is also staffed 24/7.

Lee sees education as the most fundamental of the services they offer, and attendance is mandatory for all residents.

“What’s really important about the development of any society is to educate the people,” she explains. “Through education, I was able to learn about the world. Education empowers.”

While children are offered treatment to manage trauma, their past experiences are not the focus, Lee stresses. “I don’t feel sorry for the children with whom I work,” she says. “[That] incapacitates their ability to become strong and independent. I want the world for my kids. I have very high expectations of them.”

Which is not to say she isn’t deeply empathetic to what they’ve faced.

“There is no way that I can make what happened to them go away, but I can … put distance between their old lifestyle and their life now.”

Still Fighting

Today, Lee is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in rescuing child sex trafficking victims, raising awareness on a topic that previously wasn’t talked about. In 1981, the General Accounting Office estimated there were 600,000 children under the age of 16 working as prostitutes in the United States. Today, that number is estimated to be 100,000.

In January 2017, Children of the Night announced a new global initiative to rescue 10,000 more children worldwide from sex trafficking.

Lee is also passionate about giving back to the campus that helped turn her dream into an advocacy mission that has no doubt saved thousands of lives.

“So much of what I have done and have been able to do in my life is because of my time at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee says. “The faculty raised me and nourished me. They liked to take risks and they challenged traditional thinking processes. “Dominguez Hills taught me how to break down barriers.”

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Entertainment

Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec

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Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the firing of Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after years of accusations.

Actor Terry Crews

Did you hear the Expendables star say last year?

How is it the criminal justice system doesn’t seem to be able to touch these folks?

Power and privilege keep a lot of people silent.

He just validated a whole lot of women who deal with this on the regular. It’s not easy to come forward.

There is strength in numbers and knowing you are not alone.

Both men and women are affected by sexual assault and rape culture, and it will take more men becoming advocates as well as coming forward to tell their stories because they have stories too.

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Environmental Justice

Environmental Social Work: A Call to Action

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Photo Credit: United Church of Christ

What is environmental justice? Dr. Robert Bullard, often called the father of the environmental justice movement, in an interview with the Union of Concerned Scientists described it as environmental justice centers on fairness, equity, and particularly racial justice. For decades, the movement has worked to make sure that all communities—especially communities of color and low-income communities—are given equal protection. We have environmental laws on the books in the United States, but they’re often not applied and enforced equally.

It isn’t difficult to believe that the poorest get the worst – that the most vulnerable populations are exploited. But it is not as easy to identify ways that social workers can advance environmental justice and I have been asked several times how specifically social work can play a role in the environmental movement. This article attempts to clarify social work roles in addressing environmental injustice.

In 2011, I published a piece on Environmentalism & Social Work and the importance of social work adopting environmental priorities has only become clearer since that time. Many students have expressed an interest infusing environmental concerns into their work. Instead of viewing a person in the environment, they find it equally important to view the environment in the person.  Environmental social work sometimes referred to as ecosocial work is different from ‘regular’ social work in that it takes an ‘ecocentric’ instead of a people-centric view. The ecosystem is at the core of practice rather than the person.

The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare proposed 12 Grand Challenges for our profession. All of these challenges will become worse if we don’t give priority to this one:  “Create social responses to a changing environment”

The Academy goes on to illuminate this challenge: The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.

Historically, the profession of Social Work has been slow to embrace remediating environmental injustice as in the scope of our practice. Fortunately, there has been a burgeoning social work literature on the subject. A 2017 content analysis of the literature published in the British Journal of Social Work identified three themes for social workers to explore in ecosocial work:

Creatively apply existing skills to environmental concepts and openness to different values and ways of being or doing

Shift practice, theory and values to incorporate the natural environment: This shift implies a move to ecocentrism with the core value being that all beings have equal access to safe and clean environments. This aspect suggests using social work skills such as empowerment, team-building, community development, management, anti-oppressive practice, holistic interventions, and advocacy to address and mitigate environmental destruction. As first responders, social workers often respond to the community aftermath of natural disasters, but ecosocial work calls for us to be more proactive and preventative in our actions to prevent environmental deterioration and disaster.

Learn from spirituality and indigenous cultures: Appreciating cultural diversity is a given principle in social work practice and in ecocentric social work valuing and using the wisdom of native and tribal cultures is prioritized. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of all life is paramount. How can people live in harmony with the environment?  How can social workers ensure sustainable environments for the physical and emotional well-being of inhabitants? Concepts of transpersonal theory would be helpful in individual and group interventions.

Incorporate the natural environment in social work education: The increasing literature suggests that social workers have a base from which to study the subject. Some schools of social work have adopted concentrations in community sustainability and environmental justice.

Appreciate the instrumental and innate value of non-human life: The concept of biosphere and biofilia are emphasized in ecosocial work. Looking to the natural environment for restorative and transcendent experiences are emphasized.  The premise of adventure-based programs and animal-assisted therapy are certainly reflective of this concept.

Adopt a renewed stance to a change orientation

Change society: Social workers are charged with being “change agents” yet the change required to ensure environmental safety is too often neglected. Valuing environmental and ecological justice should be the driver for change. Advocacy and legislative initiatives that aim for ameliorating environmental injustice are necessary. For example, supporting fair districting and elimination of gerrymandering enables marginalized populations to have a vote that counts.

Critique hegemony: Challenging the social construction of dominance by a particular class calls for radical thinking and action. Anti-oppressive practice demands we examine the political architecture that maintains power and control over people and environment instead of protecting people and environment.  In the previous administration, the EPA asked for social work input on pending regulations. The current administration calls for less regulation and elimination of the agency that is charged with protecting the environment. Challenging the political structure to further progressive environmental causes is necessary.  The foundational core of the Green Party, popular in Europe, and increasingly so in the US, is environmental justice.

Work across boundaries and in multiples spaces

Expanding our usual scope of practice to educate, mobilize, and support community activism is at the core of this theme. Developing partnerships and coalitions demonstrates work across boundaries. Coalitions with public health organizations address toxic environments. Dual degrees such as the MSW/MPH exemplify such a coalition. The American Public Health Association has earmarked 2017 the Year of Climate Change and Health. Workshops have been hosted monthly to illustrate how public health professionals can help build resilience for the traumas and toxic stresses of climate change.

Social Work needs to have a presence at such workshops and establish similar priorities. An example occurred when members of the International Federation of Social Workers organized a workshop at the UN Headquarters in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations. This workshop aimed to highlight social work’s role for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals on the local, subnational, national and international level.

Work with communities: This type of work is our profession’s biggest opportunity in the ecosocial work movement. Think Flint, Michigan where social workers were involved in going door to door, helping to mobilize groups to demand safe water. Social workers can identify food deserts and participate in, or organize food co-operatives, community supported agriculture and community gardens. The plight of migrant workers remains dire, particularly if undocumented. Studies have shown a significantly shorter lifespan among migrant workers due to pesticide exposure.

Family intervention, support groups, managing an environmental non-profit, providing education at the agency and community level are all ways in which social workers can use their skills. Rural communities affected by fracking or mountain-topping and the resultant loss of jobs, land, and health consequences beg for social work intervention. With the recent hurricanes and evacuation orders came reports of immigrants identified with DACA who resisted going to shelters for fear of being deported. Social work advocacy was needed to provide safety for such vulnerable populations.

Work with individuals: Most social workers provide service at this level. Borrowing from the afore-mentioned suggestions, micro interventions need to assess the environment in the person. How does the environment influence the presenting problem? Are there developmental residuals, is access to healthy nutrition an issue? What environmental barriers exist?  Is there a healthcare inequity?  Does the natural environment provide an opportunity for restorative or spiritual or transcendent experiences? Does it hinder or enhance our quality of life?

Identify the contextual environmental influences that your client may be experiencing. We are all aware of barriers to access, like lack of transportation that clients experience. But do we assess the pollution-laden community in which the client lives?

Of the three levels of social work intervention, micro, mezzo, and macro, several ways in which social workers can make an impact on environmental injustice have been identified.  It is imperative that social workers meet the grand challenge to create a social response to a changing environment. As global citizens, we have no choice.

For more information and resources please refer to my website:  https://sites.temple.edu/dewane/.

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