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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?

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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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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NASW Delegate Assembly Approves Revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics

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Photo Credit: @nasw

The Delegate Assembly of the National Association of  Social Workers (NASW) on August 4, 2017 approved the most substantive revision to the NASW Code of Ethics since 1996. After careful and charged deliberation, the Delegate Assembly voted to accept proposed revisions to the Code that focused largely on the use of technology and the implications for ethical practice.

The NASW Code of Ethics continues to be the most accepted standard for social work ethical practice worldwide. With emergent technological advances over the last two decades, the profession could not ignore the necessity for more clarity around the complex implications of new forms of communication and relationship building through technology. As such, in September 2015 an NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW president and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.

A special thank-you to Task Force chair: Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)

Task Force members:

  • David Barry, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
  • Luis Machuca, MSW
  • Frederic Reamer, PhD
  • Kim Strom-Gottfried, PhD
  • Bo Walker, MSW, LCSW, National Ethics Committee
  • Dawn Hobdy, MSW, LICSW, director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review

And NASW staff contributors

  • Anne Camper, JD, NASW general counsel
  • Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, senior ethics associate
  • Carolyn Polowy, JD, former NASW general counsel

The Task Force was charged with examining the current Code of Ethics through the lens of specific ethical considerations when using various forms of technology. In September 2015, they embarked on a year-long process that involved studying emerging standards in other professions and examining relevant professional literature, such as the Association of Social Work Boards’ (2015) Model Regulatory Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice.

In addition, Task Force members considered the technology practice standards that were concurrently being developed by a national task force commissioned by NASW, Council on Social Work EducationClinical Social Work Association, and Association of Social Work Boards. A year later the proposed amendments were presented to the NASW membership for review, and many member comments were incorporated prior to finalization.

2017 Approved Changes to the NASW Code of Ethics 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When does the new NASW Code of Ethics go into effect? 

A: The new NASW Code of Ethics goes into effect on January 1, 2018.

Q: Where can I get a copy of the revised NASW Code of Ethics?

A: Copies of the revised NASW Code of Ethics will be available by November 1, 2017. You can preorder a copy by calling NASW Press at 1-800-227-3590.

Q: Which sections of the NASW Code of Ethics were updated?

Commemorative 55th Anniversary Edition of the NASW Code of Ethics. The first edition of the Code of Ethics was released in 1960.

A: The sections of the NASW Code of Ethics that were revised include:

The Purpose of the Code 
1.03 Informed Consent 
1.04 Competence 
1.05 Cultural Competence and Social 
Diversity 
1.06 Conflicts of Interest 
1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality 
1.08 Access to Records 
1.09 Sexual Relationships 
1.11 Sexual Harassment 
1.15 Interruption of Services 
1.16 Referral for Services 
2.01 Respect 
2.06 Sexual Relationships 
2.07 Sexual Harassment 
2.10 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues 
3.01 Supervision and Consultation 
3.02 Education and Training 
3.04 Client Records 
5.02 Evaluation and Research 
6.04 Social and Political Action

Q: What educational resources are available to explain the latest revisions to the NASW Code 
of Ethics?

A: Several resources will be available, including an online training, an NASW chat, a blog,                        code revision consults, and a posting of the changes with the explanations on the NASW Web site.

Q: Which social workers are accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics?

A: Most social workers are held accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics, including NASW members, licensed social workers, employed social workers, and students.

Q: Do these changes affect social workers who aren’t members of NASW?

A: Yes. The NASW Code of Ethics sets forth the values, principles, and standards that guide the profession as a whole, not just NASW members.

Q: Who was responsible for revising the NASW Code of Ethics?

A: An NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW President and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.

Q: How am I held accountable if I do not implement these changes by the effective date?

A: If you are a member of NASW, you may be held accountable through the NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review process, if someone files an ethics complaint against you. You may also be held accountable by a state licensing board if a licensing board complaint is filed against you. Furthermore, you may be held accountable by your employer or your university, which may take disciplinary actions for not implementing the changes. Finally, you may be held accountable through a court of law that looks to the NASW Code of Ethics to establish the standard for professional ethical social work practice.

Q: Have social work schools, employers, agencies, etc., been made aware of the changes?

A: NASW is working diligently to notify the social work profession and stakeholders using various communication channels, including print, social media, and Web-based notices.

Q: Who do I contact if I have additional questions?

A: If you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Ethics and Professional Review at 800-638-8799 ext. 231 or [email protected] 

The approved Code of Ethics revisions reflect a collaborative and inclusive effort that drew from a diverse cross-section of the profession. The August 4 approval by the Delegate Assembly marks significant progress in the profession’s ability to respond to our ever-changing practice environment.

The new version of the NASW Code of Ethics comes into effect January 1, 2018. In the meantime, training and technical assistance opportunities will be made available through the Office of Ethics and Professional Review and the NASW website.

Our sincere appreciation again to the task force, NASW staff, and committed members across the globe who contributed to this momentous accomplishment.

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Critical Analysis of the System Changes Needed in the Child Welfare System

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The child welfare system coupled with the juvenile and criminal justice systems have ultimately created and perpetuated the systemic constraints and social underpinnings that keep Black families court involved and monitored.

Data reveals that pluralism across systems yields, “much earlier contact with child protection, committing the first offense at least two years earlier than the general population; had been identified with mental health concerns but not referred to treatment; and had complex trauma histories.” This leaves Black women and girls vulnerable to navigate complex, bureaucratic systems that pathologize Black life and culture. Faced with challenges at the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, support across the economic spectrum is what families need in order to meet their needs and goals.

The US Department of Justice report, in 2015, Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls, highlights “the impact of criminalization policies on African American women and girls who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including the impact of arrest, detention, incarceration, and mandatory minimums.” The challenges and plural systems that undermine a family’s ability to meet those needs and goals were also discussed.

While the report centers the discussion on key points and recommendations for policymakers, child welfare, and the juvenile justice systems, it also facilitates the conversation on the “unintended and undesired consequences” affecting black women and girls. This includes the hyper regulation, monitoring, and criminalization of black girls. In order to address some of the gaps identified in the report, it is imperative that a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach is developed, implemented, and evaluated. The paradox comes in when we consider the challenges of pluralism across systems.

“Criminalization includes state policies and practices that involve the stigmatization, surveillance, and regulation of the poor; that assume a latent criminality among the poor; and that reflect the creep of criminal law and the logics of crime control into other areas of law, including the welfare, systems” – Gustafason

Challenges faced by pluralism across systems

Within these systems, service users’ satisfaction, evidence based practice outcomes and effectiveness, recidivism to programs, etc. are programs which need evaluation and monitoring in order to measure effectiveness and program improvement. Across the board, within human and social services, allocation of funds for monitoring and evaluation of services is an afterthought. Child welfare programming, “specifically child protection services need funding and efforts for comprehensive oversight and evaluation.” Impacting families directly, but specifically, Black girls, program effectiveness and monitoring data analysis are a key foundation for discussions on program development, process improvement, and policy review.

Access to comprehensive training that encompasses the multilayered challenges of Black girls is imperative. These opportunities will provide a space to better equip and broaden understanding of the systemic underpinnings that impede and exacerbate their unique needs. They need professionals at all levels, who will advocate when systemic and bureaucratic injustices attempt to push them to the margins.

While standard operating protocol and procedures are readily available quality, innovation, relevance to demographics of the clientele is varied and unknown for the professionals within these systems, patriarchal, racial and capitalist ideologies are ever present. These ideologies present themselves through variance in child protective case classifications, options for in and out of home placements, length of court involvement, services referred, recommendation for child removal, etc. only to name a few.

Black girls need programming that mirrors the intersectional, co-occurring and multilayered aspects of their lives. Acknowledging and understanding how trauma, “manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma,” assists in considering the harm in pluralism across systems.

This includes programming that acknowledges the many roles, barriers and systemic challenges that Black girls face in their families and communities. Data analysis and cross system communication and collaboration to identify “repeat families in the child protection system with whom traditional responses do not work” is a step towards programming that supports the Black family as a unit.

Speaking on the social work profession, Iris Carlton-Laney stated,“the profession maintains a discomforting silence when viewing inequalities and social conditions that affect African American families. Where this is true, the social work profession is helping to sustain societal oppression and facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.” Specifically, “social workers have a responsibility to intensively examine the ways that gender intersects and shapes” our lived experiences.

Working within child welfare and the juvenile justice system in six, I know that “girls who are in physical confrontations with a parent or guardian or other adult residing in the home are often responding to a failure to be protected from physical, sexual, or emotional harm.” The discomforting silence extends to Black girls and makes you question whether Black girls lives matters to social work.

Special attention should be given to a review of child protection policies, program existence and effectiveness, and referral to culturally relevant, trauma-informed services in an effort to increase outcomes for children and families. Recidivism factors, training resources for juvenile and family court judges, CASA’s involvement and county and statewide data should be continuously monitored and evaluated to increase the effectiveness in the child protection involvement for children of color especially black girls.

In order for collaboration, comprehensive services, and critical policy reform to occur, professionals from child welfare, juvenile justice, in addition to co-occurring (mental health, substance abuse) specialists, need to be at the policy-making table.

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