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Social Work

Innovation, Strategic Networks, and Social Media: Why I’m Here

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I suspect that most of my academic colleagues think I’m crazy. They don’t understand social networking, especially not Twitter. And they really don’t understand what I am doing here.

I could explain why I’m here in many different ways and there are certainly many things I get out of social media (including relationships with some wonderful people). But honestly, one of the main reasons I’m here simply comes down to this: ideas, ideas that drive innovation and allow me to forecast trends.

Innovation and Networks

One of the most valuable papers I wrote in graduate school was a paper on innovation for a course on social work administration. I discovered then that if you want to innovate, then read outside of your field. A Harvard Business Review blog post on the Three Networks You Need confirmed the importance of noting trends outside of your familiar domains.

The authors, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, write that managers/leaders need three kinds of social networks: operational, the people you need in order to do your work; developmental, the people who have helped you grow as a manager and leader, and to whom you turn for advice; and strategic, the people who will help you prepare for tomorrow. In other words, strategic networks are key to anticipating changes: “You need a strategic network because the forces that drive change in your field will probably come from outside your current world.

Strategic Networks, Weak Ties, and Social Media

Hill and Lineback state that strategic networks can often come from “weak ties,” that is, people we don’t know well but connect with infrequently (e.g., 1-2 times a year). However, it’s important to note that the research on which the concept of “weak ties” was based was done in 1970 (see The Strength of Weak Ties by Marc S. Granovetter), which raises the question for me about how social media might influence this concept.

I think that social media can feed strategic networks, even when we don’t have a mutual relationship with the people we are learning from. For example, I follow some people on Twitter that I really don’t interact with, but who post awesome content that covers a wide range of topics. These people are important sources of information about key issues outside of my discipline (social work).

When people tell me they don’t know how I stay abreast of all the information that I know, I confess that I don’t spend a lot of time looking for it. Instead, I look for people “in the know” who I can learn from. I take advantage of the outstanding work that they do discover and curating key content and then just check in with them periodically.

I may develop mutual relationships with some of them. But in some cases, it might simply be that I am learning from what they are sharing. Either way, this content keeps me abreast of trends outside my profession, so I am usually able to anticipate trends well before they “arrive” in my world. I think of them as my virtual key informants.

My biggest struggle with social media is that I want to gravitate toward following the people who are similar to me. For example, over the past year, I have grown to connect with an awesome international network of social workers on Twitter. I have learned a great deal from these colleagues, and I appreciate each and every one of them. So naturally, I want to spend more time interacting with them.

At the same time, I am mindful of how important it is for me to stay connected to my virtual key informants, even though they may not be similar to me or even know that I exist. Because this is often where the inspiration for something totally new originates. I think of these virtual key informants as part of my network of “weak ties”–part of my strategic network– even though, strictly speaking, I don’t have a relationship with most of them.

I would love to hear how others relate (or not) to some of these concepts. Can you connect to the idea of a strategic network? How does social media relate to this idea for you?

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Nancy J. Smyth, PhD, MSW, LCSW is professor and at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, as well as a licensed clinical social worker. She has over 30 years experience in social work, primarily in the areas of trauma and addictions. She's an occasional blogger interested in the human connections made in digital environments. technology and social work, and the impact of technology on our identities, families and society.

          
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Child Welfare

Why Involving Entire Families in Child Protection Cases Can Improve the Lives of Endangered Children

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By: Susan Meyers Chandler and Laurie Arial Tochiki

Annually, about 435,000 children across the United States are taken away from their custodial parents following a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect. In 2015, approximately two million cases of abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation by child protection services agencies in the fifty U.S. states. Although other family members currently care for such children in informal arrangements, the vast majority of children in protective cases are placed with non-biological foster families (now called resource families) until the parent’s home is considered safe.

Outcomes in the child welfare system are relatively poor – with such children at high-risk for school dropout, homelessness, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and future joblessness. According to available research, kinship and foster placements protect children and eventually reunite them with their biological parents about equally, yet kin placements are less disruptive. In practice, however, many child protective services agencies do not encourage kin to get involved in decisions until after a case of abuse or neglect has been confirmed.

Challenges in the Child Welfare System

Children and families who enter the child welfare system often have multiple challenges including behavioral health issues, special educational needs, substance abuse challenges, and delinquency. Often the families are poor, struggle with food and housing insecurity, and may have poor parenting skills or mental health challenges.

Various public agencies are charged with meeting these multiple needs, but child protective services agencies, by legal mandate, are the sole state system charged with ensuring children’s safety and well-being – and these agencies are bound by firm administrative rules and practices that often exclude family members and other relatives from involvement in decisions about the child. Due to confidentiality requirements, other child-serving agencies may not be involved, either. Nevertheless, research shows that children needing protection do better when their families are involved; and collaboration among various service agencies also improves outcomes for children and their families.

What Can Be Done?

Although family inclusion does not consistently happen, it is stressed by most child protective services agencies and a cornerstone of federal and state policy. The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 now requires that, within 30 days, child protective services notify adult relatives and grandparents that a child has been removed from parental custody. Family members are required by law to be included in case planning and decision-making meetings. In addition, financial assistance for guardianships is now provided when children are placed with relatives.

The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization requires agencies to document their capacity to ensure meaningful involvement of family members in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of child protective decisions. For all states, a Child and Family Services Review evaluates conformance with federal requirements. This review measures family engagement and agency practices that reach out to extended family members. Restorative practices are encouraged – such as agency efforts to promote healing in family relationships and involvement in family conferences. Newer models of family engagement include creating family “circles” that acknowledge the harm done, further child safety and parental confidence, and provide ongoing family support services.

Lessons from Innovations in Hawai’i

The state of Hawai‘i has a state-wide system of family conferencing that is offered to all families entering the child welfare system. Family Group Decision Making is based on an indigenous process developed in New Zealand. In Hawaiʻi, the ʻOhana Conferencing model draws upon western mediation and social work practice, as well as the indigenous Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The system has involved more than 17,000 families in the decisions involving children in the child welfare system, by assuring that families are:

  • Included in the decision-making process as true, respected and active partners in the decisions that affect them;
  • Listened to and heard, with their input valued;
  • Encouraged to find appropriate strategies to solve their own problems;
  • Actively engaged in collaborative problem-solving;
  • Equipped with the knowledge that there are partners in the community to help support the child and the family;

Using ʻOhana Conferencing has allowed Hawaiʻi to enjoy one of the highest percentages of kinship care in the child welfare system. The state is in the top three for kinship care, and more than two-fifths of children in protective care have been placed with kin since 2008.

ʻOhana Conferencing is strengthened by Hawaii’s strong process for strong commitment to finding kin and including all appropriate family members in the decisions about protection and foster care placements. This Family Finding process has reduced the number of children living in foster care and improved outcomes for the state’s endangered children.

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Entertainment

Deadpool, Gaymers and Girlfriends at London ComicCon

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10 Video Games for Gay Gamers

Being gay and being a geek are, you might think, quite different things. But sometimes these two aspects of identity collide, creating a wonderful spectrum of possibilities. London ComicCon 2018 raised the rainbow flag and became a sparkling example of one such space for the  LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.

Glittery linguistic stereotypes aside, London Gaymers presented a funny, intimate and hopeful panel about LGBT gamers and the video gaming community at large.

They started with startling offline statistics from the LGBT charity Stonewall which found over 60% of university graduates return to the ‘closet’ and over a quarter are not ‘out’ at work. Conversely, the panel was comprised of Charley Hodson, Ashely Spindler, Izzy Jagan, and Nathan Costello all work in the gaming industry and all are ‘out’ in their workplaces.

So, how can we continue the good practice, and ensure that more geek workplaces are queer-friendly?  “We need people leading organisations to be supportive, to be open, to be kind most of all – from the top to the very bottom”.

Working in small firms, where one is known and appreciated as a person, was seen as a Good Thing with regard to sexuality representation. At some points, the positive storytelling had an almost bashful edge – perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that this is counter to the dominant narrative of hardships.

That is: It is much more effective if someone from a dominant (or privileged) position espouses the values and principles of equality. In addition to the usual impact of management/leadership positions, a privileged individual is not subject to a fallacy of vested interest when they promote equality. Allies have “access to cultural capital, and cultural power to change the world” (well said, Ashley!).

Doesn’t that sound just like a superhero power?

Of course, some gamers in online communities may need help to adjust their belief in the ‘post-homophobic era’. That era, sadly, is currently as much of a fantasy as a crocodile shooting out bananas from its Kart in order to trip up a pink-clad princess (ten points for getting the reference). It may seem as though LGBT persons have ‘enough rights’, but the sobering statistics say otherwise.

Whilst the London Gaymers panel was in agreement that true equality is on its way, it is still in its infancy. It needs nurturing, and time, and effort… and, yes, the occasional time-out. Ashley was candid regarding the online abuse aimed at her, purely for being trans, leading to necessary banning. Likewise for times that people need to shut their comments sections or step away from the gaming community’s occasional toxicity.

A soft hug of an idea to address this comes from Overwatch. The popular first-person shooter game translates unsavoury phrases into, for example, “It’s past bedtime. Please don’t tell my Mommy” and “I feel very, very small… Please hold me”.  A nudge into nonviolent communication – with humour.

Indeed, the voice actors who play Genji, Mercy and Zarya noted in their panels that the popularity of the game it partly its inclusivity and diversity – not just within the game but within its community – “There is something for everybody”.

London Gaymers suggested the Overwatch model “holds people accountable” without necessarily stepping into the shaming, combative dance which can so often play out. Banning users from chats can ‘work’ in the short term – in order to remove hate or bigotry from online spaces – however, in the longer term, change will be created by supportive re-education.

Well, that, and visibility: the old adage we’re here, we’re queer still has its place. The fact of the matter is that gay people game. “We support the industry, and the industry needs to support us too…. We deserve this respect – if we’re not getting it, demand it.”

There are, of course, different kinds of representation. It is not all about mere presence. There is the bells-and-whistles flounce of a queer archetype, whose one discerning feature is their sexuality. However, there is also the happens-to-be-gay character, whose queerness is part of ordinary – or extraordinary! – human richness.

We have seen this in television with shows such as The Wire, The Walking Dead, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are already games which allow same-sex romantic interactions, such Dragon Age, The Sims and more recently The Last of Us and (author favourite) Life is Strange.

The number of Gaymers who explored their gender and sexuality through The Sims (Nathan helpfully chimed in, “I’m gay, so I could make lesbians!” compared to actual lesbian Izzy, who unfortunately couldn’t) was cute to the extent of heart-warming. True sandbox play.

In short, as Nathan stated: “You can put gay characters in the game, and if the game is good, people will want it”. If an audience is interested in the story, the game will be popular.

However we must be careful about how we cater to online spaces: “It’s not a bonus if someone isn’t homophobic, transphobic, racist”. We must expect better from our online communities. Most importantly, “Sharing the positivity, enthusiasm, passion, and love we have, speaking up against injustice and misrepresentation, pulling people up to our level rather than going down to theirs” are all ways that the Gaymers think we can make a difference.

Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool) (R)

Indeed, it isn’t just video games that are changing to represent audiences. Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool and the more recent Deadpool 2) noted that she was respectfully asked by bigwigs (or biggish wigs) in the industry whether she wanted to keep quiet about her own sexuality, given the presumed response from audiences.

Brianna did not want to ‘keep quiet’ although she didn’t want to shout either. Her sexuality emerged in the public eye quite casually in a tweet which has been covered extensively elsewhere (not to be sensationalised as a ‘reveal’, mind). Responses have been supportive, and Brianna said that ComicCon 2018 had provided a platform for queer kids to talk to her about the importance of herself and her character in representing queerness in geek pop culture.

And it didn’t stop there. Not only is Brianna officially gay, but so is her character Negasonic, who was ‘outed’ in the same lowkey style. Ryan Reynolds – the characteristically ‘sweet guy’, the eponymous anti-hero, and co-writer of Deadpool 2–asked Brianna, “Hey, would you mind if we gave Negasonic a girlfriend?”.

(It is important, of course, to ask first).

Brianna claimed, with a wry smile, that she responded, “Mind?! I’m ecstatic!”.

And so, love of a feminine and lilac-becostumed variety struck the teenage warhead. Brianna discussed how they thought it would be more impactful  if Negasonic’s love interest was mentioned, but ‘not a thing’. (This, by the way, has been considered by some theorists as the mark of ‘true diversity’; a celebration that neither erases nor exotifies difference).

When asked how Deadpool 2 covers such tender and sensitive issues amidst its swearing, sexuality and gratuitous violence, Brianna and Stefan Kapičić (who plays the well-mannered, gentle giant Colossus) said it’s because of the “Magic of Deadpool”. It’s the use of humour, the fact that these issues are treated as if they’re “Not a big deal”.

And it is magic. It’s the magic of fun, and fantasy, and play. It’s the fun about engaging in media that represents you – or gives you empathy to understand someone who is different to yourself.

It’s putting equality as a casual thread, not as a snazzy sideshow, the same way that the many queer vendors at ComicCon’s Comic Village market were just.. there. Not in a special LGBT section, but integrated with all the other talented artists. (Pride comics, and Joe Glass in particular, I have to give you a mention because you expertly encompassed the superhero realm with the adage, I didn’t see anything like me, so I created it. Allow me to share your creation.)

It short, pop culture is evolving, and much like an Eevee (ugh, too dated?) it comes with a range of elements. It is okay in the modern era to get your geek on. It is becoming steadily (or sporadically) more acceptable to get your gay on. And of course, at ComicCon, you can even get your gay geek on.

Call for the change you want to see – and if you can’t see it, be it. Rainbows for the win.

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News

To Stop Fake News, Social Media Firms Need Our Help

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Misinformation is as old as communication itself. In television’s glory days, self-styled psychic Uri Geller fooled viewers for years before being outed as a fraud. Centuries earlier, in the adolescence of print media, British con artist William Chaloner circulated pamphlets attacking the national mint.

But never has misinformation spread so widely, readily, and willfully as it has in the age of social media. And never have so many different actors been culpable in creating that reality.

Take the dreadful Parkland, Florida, school shooting earlier this year. While Twitter and Facebook afforded students and their families access to potentially life-saving information sooner than other media, their algorithms also amplified right-wing conspiracy theories claiming student survivors were “crisis actors.” Although multiple print and digital media outlets quickly debunked the theory, the damage had already been done.

Often unwittingly, everyday Americans are caught in the crossfire of politically charged misinformation. Understandably, they’ve come to rely on social media to stay in touch. How else could a 50-something dad circle back with an elementary school friend who moved away decades prior? But they’ve also been shepherded into echo chambers by algorithms that prioritize clicks over truth — echo chambers that the majority of Americans, according to Pew Research, expect to get worse over the coming decade.

Certainly, it would be easy to point the finger at social media companies alone. But these platforms are neither the first nor the only perpetrators. Tribalism, a vacuum of government policy, and, yes, the very business model of social media firms have all played a part in this problem.

Inside the Social Media Machine

Compared to its media ancestors, social media is the perfect vector for spreading misinformation. The first of its three problematic attributes is its decentralized architecture, punctuated by highly influential nodes. Each nodular individual or company attracts like-minded media consumers, magnifying its influence on a given topic, regardless of the node’s expertise or truthfulness.

Although decentralization delivers media that’s maximally applicable to the user and prevents a single authority from controlling the narrative, it’s also dangerous. Misinformation spreads like wildfire in such a forum, where competence and truth matter less than the emotional payload of what’s being discussed.

Furthermore, social media makes it easy to link or break ties with connections, enabling users to self-select informational inputs. Over time, users can and do shut out information they dislike or don’t believe, distorting their own reality according to what’s “true” within their information bubbles. Because they’ve insulated themselves from uncomfortable ideas, the shock value of those ideas increases and drives users to respond with vitriol rather than reason.

The final systemic flaw of social media? Just follow the money — and, more specifically, the clicks. Clicks are literal currency for social media companies. Information that provides immediate gratification is good for business, and outrage-triggering content offers it like nothing else. Until that incentive structure shifts, social media’s echo chambers are likely here to stay.

Does that mean society is doomed to a truthless future? Not necessarily. But to rectify the situation, social media users, government entities, and social media platforms themselves must all be willing to alter their behaviors.

A 3-Pronged Defense Against Misinformation

For better or worse, social media users must be the first line of defense against the spread of half-truths and outright falsehoods. In short, they must be responsible informational bartenders. If a bartender serves an intoxicated person who later kills someone with her car on the way home, the bartender is at least morally culpable for fueling the tragedy.

Each time a social media user takes an action, such as retweeting a 280-character rant, he serves that information up to someone else. If he doesn’t critically consider content before sharing it, he’s putting someone else at risk — this time, with added social proof behind it, a cue to trust the information.

Fortunately, critical consumption of media is something everyone is capable of. Reading content entirely before sharing it, asking whether the content is coming from a reputable source, and searching for corroborating evidence from another source are easy and powerful guardrails against misinformation.

Couldn’t government entities also act as guardrails, playing the referee of truth? They certainly could try, but appointing a singular authority to separate fact from fiction invites an opportunity to propagandize. Facts are rarely black-and-white, and government officials are often all too happy to dole out “alternative facts” that advance their own narratives.

Instead, the role of governments (if any) must be to set policies that encourage all media companies, traditional and social, to build models that encourage deliberative engagement over clicks. About six in 10 American media consumers scan only the headline of news content before moving on. Something as simple as having share buttons placed in or at the bottom of content rather than directly on social platforms would at least force readers to open the source content before sharing it with others.

And what would social media companies think of such a policy? Obviously, they’re beholden to shareholders and market realities, just like other companies. Under their present model, they’re going to fight tooth and nail against any regulation that could cut into clicks and shares.

But there are certainly other business models that they could adopt. For example, switching to a subscription-based forum would weed out bots and give users more ownership over the media community they’re paying to be a part of. Such a system would also provide a revenue buffer to experiment with less emotionally charged, higher-quality content.

Incentivizing longer engagement with media through gamification, such as a system of points or social rewards, could be an effective compromise. Medium is exploring this path with a reader-assessed content quality metric called “claps.” Whether Medium’s approach becomes a viable long-term revenue model or not remains to be seen, however.

In today’s hyperpoliticized media environment, it can be difficult to remember social media’s original purpose: to inform and bring people together. Although social media has connected friends and families in some contexts, it’s driven wedges between others, sometimes to the point of job termination, social isolation, and even suicide.

If social media is ever to achieve its stated goal, we must start by fighting misinformation. And winning the war on misinformation will require all of us — people, companies, and governments and liberals, conservatives, and independents — to choose truth over comfort both on social media and off.

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Action

Social Work and Helping Professions Must Take Action to End Child Separations at Border

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Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led more than 190 House Democrats in introducing the Keep Families Together Act, H.R. 6135, legislation to end family separation at the U.S. border.

On June 8th, 2018, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congresswoman Susan Davis (CA-53), Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), and Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37) released a joint statement on the Trump Administrations zero tolerance policy which is separating children from their parents as an immigration deterrent strategy.

“The Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents is terrifying and frankly, abhorrent. Reports indicate that very young children– who are already fleeing dangerous conditions at home including domestic violence – are being taken from their parents. Families are often separated by hundreds of miles, and children are being housed in inadequate facilities. As social workers, we understand the profound impact that family separation has on a child’s developmental growth and on our society. These heartless policies instill a sense of helplessness and despair in children and could result in long-term trauma and health repercussions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the separation of children from parents, and detention in DHS facilities that do not meet the basic standard of care for children, pose a significant threat to their long-term health and well-being. Their findings have led them to recommend that children in the custody of their parents should never be detained or separated from a parent unless a competent family court makes that determination.

Every passing day of separation has grave consequences for these children’s well-being. These are innocent children who have done nothing wrong. Forcing them to suffer at the hands of the US government is inhumane and un-American. We are taking all actions possible to end this brutal policy and reunite children with their families”, says social work members of Congress.

A release issued by the National Association of Social Workers also stated the “zero tolerance immigration policy that would prosecute families who attempt to cross the border and forcibly separate children from parents is malicious and unconscionable”.

In an effort to end child separations at the border, the Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center, Young Center for Immigrant Rights and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Key Elements of the Bill

  • Keep Families Together:  The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.  It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present. It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
  • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry.  This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General.  The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers.  It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis. Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.   Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with a weekly report containing information about a child, and weekly phone communication.
  • Establish Other Required Measures:  In order to inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding of the use of family separation, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.

In addition to Senator Feinstein, the bill is also cosponsored by 31 senators, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

We must urge Congress to allow a vote on this important piece of legislation to help minimize trauma being inflicted on children and families. Sign the petition to support the Keep Families Together Act here.

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Immigration

Inhumane Immigration Policies: Separating Children from Parents

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United States Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

As of May 6th, 2018, new harsher immigration policies have been implemented with the sole intention of instilling terror to act as a deterrent to other immigrants attempting to enter the United States, regardless of the reason.  This comes as a result of “zero tolerance” policies enacted under Jeff Sessions.

Sadly the most vulnerable, the children, are impacted the greatest by this policy when they are now being routinely separated from their parents at the border while the parents of these children are being portrayed as criminals and being called animals by the President of the United States.

Kirstjen Nielsen has equated their attempt to enter the United States as the same as an individual that breaks into your home and has their child taken away as a result. The reality is far different. While a large number of individuals come because of economic push factors many of the individuals entering, particularly those with children, are fleeing violence and are legally seeking asylum in the United States for themselves and their children.

One woman from Honduras described the heart-wrenching experience of giving her 18 month old son to immigration authorities, and even strapping him in his car seat for them, despite following the proper protocol in presenting herself to immigration authorities to seek asylum. More than 600 children have already been separated from their parents in the first few weeks since the new policies were enacted.

Even before these new policies were officially implemented, there was another case several months ago involving a woman from Congo and her child who were separated at the border for four months, despite passing a credible fear test, and were later reunited as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

These immigration policies are meant to maximize suffering of those entering the country in order to act as a deterrent to future immigrants. This is in stark contrast to our values as a country, as well as our legal responsibilities.

The American Bar Association has condemned this new policy, citing increased inefficiency in the immigration court system as well as the psychological trauma of separating children from their parents. Sadly, many of the policies surrounding immigration have been archaic and draconian even before these new changes, including toddlers representing themselves in immigration court unless they have the ability to pay for a lawyer.

As social workers, we know the impact of early childhood adversity, and the NASW has spoken out against this new zero tolerance policy. Many of these children have faced great adversity prior to coming to the United States including witnessing or experiencing physical and sexual violence, living under threat due to violence in their communities, or being targeted specifically because of who they are—aside from the possible trauma experienced on their journey to the United States.

Research demonstrates the incredible resiliency of children in being able to bounce back from adversity, and one crucial component to that is in having one stable adult in their lives. This current immigration policy seeks to traumatize the families and potentially takes away the one resiliency factor the children have.

What can we do to help? There are several agencies that are working to help this population that you can connect to. It is crucial to apply pressure on elected representatives and vote in upcoming elections.

Most importantly, we must fight against the notion that it is ok to dehumanize immigrants.

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Disability

Let People Who are Non-Verbal Communicate in their Own Way: A Social Work Challenge

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While working at a disability group home agency, I came to know“ Jane,” a person with Rett Syndrome. Jane was non-verbal and was unable to walk independently. She used a specialized walker to move around. In addition, she developed her own sign language in order to communicate. During the day, Jane would attend a day program which gave all nonverbal clients computers that had the “Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)” system on it.

Jane was required to use it at the day program and was also encouraged to continue using it at the group home. Yet, when Jane would take home the computer, she would leave it in her bedroom. Jane did this because she didn’t like it and was comfortable with her own form of communication. The day program became insistent on Jane using the computer at home, so the director insisted Jane use the form of communication provided to her. Jane refused to use the computer and threw it across the room because she was so upset about being asked to do so. The day program still required Jane to use the computer while at the day program, however, once she was in her home she didn’t use it and the staff did not force her to do so.

As a social worker, I would first ask whether Jane wanted to use the PECS system. When disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare was discussing the social model of disability which infers society is disabling versus the person who is disabled. He argued the idea of this practice is to make society adapt to people with disabilities which would include allowing for people’s own communication choice to be honored or it could include providing accommodations like the PECS system for non-verbal clients. One of the barriers of the social model of disability is trying to make accommodations for people with disabilities without choice.

The PECS system might work well for one client who is non-verbal, but it did not suit Jane and she did not want to use it. Shakespeare described limitations with the social model-informed practice as assuming there could be a “utopia” for people with disabilities as there would be no barriers. People with disabilities do not all function or adapt the same way so it is unrealistic to be able to accommodate everyone and it is insulting to force accommodations on people with disabilities if they do not want to utilize that specific accommodation.

If Jane was given the option to use or not use the PECS system, it would be realizing the social model-informed practice because society is making the change and not expecting her to change. By forcing the PECS system on Jane, it is reverting back to the medical model practice because the program is making Jane adjust instead of learning Jane’s sign language.

Jane also used a specialized walker. I would engage in medical model-informed practice (where the focus is on the impairment that leads to disability) by acknowledging it was Jane’s body part that was impaired, and therefore disabled her. This is another limitation of the social model-informed practice.

As social model-informed practice is so focused on society being the barrier that it does not always acknowledge that a person’s body can also be the barrier. The medical model-informed practice is what helped Jane receive the specialized walker because Jane’s body was the barrier and she wanted to walk as independently as she could. The social model-informed practice can also be used by ensuring there are ramps for Jane so she can have easy accessibility.

From the macro level of social work, I believe we are on the right track with the social-model informed practice. However, this model is not complex enough to include everyone. Intersectionality does not seem to be taken into consideration with this model, which is a complicating and limiting factor.

A strong model needs to be developed to acknowledge the complexities of people and their disabilities. A person’s environment, gender, race and other social identities need to be considered when developing models which was not the case since the group of activists who rallied for this model were white heterosexual men.

The first step to be taken by every social worker should be to ask the person with the disability “what can be done to support you?” or “what do you believe needs to be changed so you do not continue to feel oppressed or feel like your voice is not being heard?”

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