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Britain: We Need to Talk About the Benefits System

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Whether we want to admit it or not, the benefits system is hurting people. It’s killing people, and something has to be done.

Examples of how the benefits system can kill include incidences of people starving to death in their own homes to the 600 benefits-related suicides that have been reported so far (and this is a conservative estimate). The suicides and other deaths related to benefits have been reported again and again.  Reportedly, over 200,000 have been physically attacked as a result of claiming benefits, and, although it is not easy to unpick the reasons for this, approaching two and a half thousand people have died after being deemed ‘fit to work’.

A 2016 conference, Psychologists and the Benefits System: Time to Get Off the Fence was dedicated to just this topic. The British Psychological Society is also one of five official therapy/mental health organisations which have signed a statement opposing welfare sanctions due to the lack of evidence that they work, and the potential for harm.

After all, mental health has always been a social and political endeavor. If mental health professionals stay silent about our deadly benefits system, so deadly that the UK has been investigated by the United Nations for grave and systematic violations of human rights, are they not siding with the status quo?

A report from Cradle2Grave, a campaign against the abuse of human rights of people who rely on the state for financial help, highlight the shocking number of suicides which have been linked to welfare cuts.

In more than one case, it was the coroner themselves who suggested that the main cause of death was worry about benefits. A 2015 report from mental health charity MIND found that, as a result of the benefits system, job centre, and “help to work schemes”, around eight out of ten people:

  • Felt less able to work (76%)
  • Required more support from mental health services/GP as a result (86%)
  • Had worse self-esteem (83%)
  • Had worse confidence (82%)

And nearly a quarter of people were hospitalised or sectioned (i.e. legally detained) for mental health crises whilst on such schemes.

If this is the case, why is the rhetoric (and indeed, “commonsense”) view of people on benefits so at odds with reality?

One theory suggests that ordinary, compassionate people are able to stigmatise others because they feel that stigmatisation is justified (Crandall, 2003). British media has long been complicit in creating a culture whereby it is easy to stigmatise people on benefits, which creates fertile soil for this kind of thinking.

Stigmatising other people can be justified in two main ways. The first way is through the acceptance of a natural social hierarchy. The idea of a natural hierarchy is based on evolutionary theories, and is known as Social Darwinism – some people are intrinsically ‘workshy’, maybe worklessness runs in families (spoiler: it doesn’t), and so on. This image of the ‘benefits brood’ is designed to create a culture where an anti-welfare stance is the commonsense, rational way of seeing the world.

Secondly, stigma can be justified by suggesting someone is to blame for their own circumstances. This can include believing that the world is fundamentally just (i.e. people get what they deserve), and victim-blaming (poor people are lazy, make bad decisions and can’t plan properly, have too many children, spend frivolously, and are a burden on society). All of these stereotypes play out in empirical research into the matter.

Societal stigma can also lead to people who are on benefits repeating the same debunked myths about benefits, in order to distance themselves from the stereotype (i.e. “I’m a real/good/proper claimant”). This means that from all angles, this dangerous welfare narrative is being played out.

Better information and awareness may be one way to dispel these harmful stereotypes (necessary, perhaps, but unlikely to be sufficient). For example, people usually that ‘benefits’ means out-of-work, disability or child benefits. Newspaper stories reinforce this image. So do TV programmes such as On Benefits, Benefits Street, Benefits: The Millionaire Shoplifter, Skint, Dogs on the Dole, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, Undercover Benefits Cheat, Myleene Klass: Single Mums on Benefits and Benefits: Too Fat to Work  (yes, they are all real programmes). As such, government welfare figures can be easily misconstrued and used to political advantage.

Contrary to the popular image, benefits as an umbrella term include fuel payments, cold weather payments, carer’s allowances, bereavement benefits, over-75 TV licenses, Income Support and more. Notably, the bulk of Income Support being towards lone parents and carers, and less than 10% of Income Support is made up of incapacity benefits. Benefits are mostly spent on pensions (approaching half of the welfare budget, at 42%), whereas unemployment benefits account for 1% of welfare expenditure.

There is an entrenched public understanding that the benefits system is riddled with fraud. The public believes that 24% of benefits claiming is done so fraudulently. Interestingly, ‘benefit fraud’ is only used as a term for people claiming benefits. When companies assessing fitness to work make fraudulent claims that someone is fit to work in one in five assessments, or three out of four assessments for people with mental health problems (these are researched facts), we do not call this ‘benefit fraud’.

So, given ‘fraud’ as a term applied solely to the individual claimant, data suggests that there is no widespread issue with fraud in the benefits system. According to the government’s own statistics, benefit fraud by claimants is 0.7% of total benefits expenditure (£1.2bn). The public belief that around a quarter of benefits claims are fraudulent is, therefore, a 3329% overestimation. Benefits-related administrative errors, to give some perspective, take up double the amount of money spent on claimant fraud. The figures for tax evasion and avoidance can also be used for comparison here: the cost of the ‘tax gap’ in the UK reaches £122bn per year (over 10,000% the cost of fraudulent benefits claims).

Another myth is that benefits are ‘too generous’. In 2013, a study from the University of Edinburgh found that there is no link between the wellbeing of people without paid employment and the amount of money they get in benefits. Additionally, it is not the first study to reach this finding (see Veenhoven, 2000). In fact, cultural factors such as perceptions of people on benefits (i.e. stigma) have a much bigger impact.

Rather than being ‘too generous’, for years now multiple organisations have been stating that benefits cuts are causing material harm, especially to the most vulnerable of society. This includes housing charity Shelter, disability charity SCOPE, domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, child abuse charity NSPCC, a whole host of mental health organisations, and anti-austerity organisations such as UK Uncut, Sisters Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle, and Psychologists Against Austerity (now Psychologists for Social Change) to name but a few.

These ideas – the poor are deserving, benefits claimants are fraudulent and the whole system is a drain on society, the benefits system is too kind and generous, most of our welfare system is spent on people too lazy to work, have to to be quashed. People’s health and mental health is suffering. People’s lives are being destroyed. People are dying. People are killing themselves.

Is this the kind of world we can live in, with good conscience?

We do not have to accept things the way that they are. We can join or support the organisations mentioned above. We can join in talks, discussions, marches, and events (or publicise these events when we can’t go to them ourselves).

We can write to our MP’s, sign petitions, talk to our friends and family, support films such as the recent I, Daniel Blake, avoid reality TV demonising people on benefits, call out the false narratives when we hear them. We can be aware of the facts (and ideally, share the facts!) to reduce stigma. We can offer a helping hand, we can be aware of the impact of losing benefits and try to offer a listening ear to someone who feels like a drain on society. We can look after each other.

Perhaps is it is not just psychologists who need to ‘get off the fence’. We all do, for humanity’s sake.

References

Crandall, C. S. (2003). Ideology and lay theories of stigma: The justification of stigmatization. In Heatherton,T. F., Kleck, R. E., Hebl, M. R. & Hull, J. G. (eds.) The social psychology of stigma (pp. 126-150). New York,NY: Guildford Press.

 

Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

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Global

Turnkey: A Co-Housing Experience in an Italian Public Service for Addiction

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Turnkey is a term used in the economic field, but it also fits well in a social rehab project. The idea comes from the need to give some answers to the problem of those patients that experienced a long term therapy in an addiction rehab center for 3 or 4 years.

In the Italian welfare system, the outpatient service team -work (doctor, psychologist, educator, nurse and social worker), operating in the addiction recovery can schedule long term treatment in the residential rehab centers. In some cases, this long time permanence is something obliged, because of the serious addiction and also for the lack of different life perspectives after the recovery.

These kinds of patients need more therapeutic help in order to return to civil society in order to find  meaningful social membership. Usually, these clients have no meaningful familiar connections, no job, and no significant friendship.

In the last years, our social services system has become more careful about the use of public money. They noticed social workers more equipped to provide therapeutic interventions using a holistic approach in order to spare economic resources. Social workers are more capable to assist patients in reaching a better life condition by using their abilities toward social integration.

The Project

Five years ago, the program’s director asked for the professional team to think about a solution for the rehabilitation of the” long term patients”.

I started wondering about the meaning of poverty which is not only economics but it also the satisfaction of primary needs. It’s the lack of healthy relational bonds which weakness a lot the patients coming out of the drug addiction recovery programs.

I also noticed that this relational deficiency is a modern human condition; in the weakest social situations the loneliness is something that “destroys the mind “.

So I got an idea: I proposed to my director to start thinking about a possible apartment for a temporary co-housing for at least two patients.

He liked the project and submitted the plan to the municipalities which have the competence in the social side of rehabilitation. The municipalities agreed to the project and financed it.

For the patients in long term recovery, the rent was paid through the financing with the municipalities (an average of 6.000 Euro a year for 4 years, renewable), whereas the utilities and the others cost of the house has been in charge to the occupants.

The management of activities like the admission of the patients, the guaranteed respect of the therapeutic contract, the check of daily life and the help in the money administration, are some of my specific competences as a social worker.

In my job role, I had a significant part into find fitting persons for the project who were able to live together. I also contributed to choosing the people eligible to live in that specific therapeutic situation.

I helped the patients to organize their new life and to establish minimum rules of mutual life in the apartment. The project is strictly tied to the learning of the skills required to come back to live a regular life.

For example:

– living together is an opportunity for the patients to learn mutual respect

-cleaning the home and paying the utilities is a way to come back to daily responsibility and autonomy.

– having a good neighborhood relationship is a way to learn again to have good relationships without drug addiction to interfered an apartment, next to the main social and sanitary services of the town.

The results

Since 2011, we housed 11 clients in the apartment with an average of one year placement. We should consider that one year in a residential rehab center cost 30.000 euro each person.

Eight of them returned was able to manage a regular social life, their addiction, a job, maintain social relationships which helped them to achieve a dignified lifestyle.

Two persons are still in the co-housing situation, one of them has a regular job, and he is searching for an own house. Only one person abandoned the treatment.

This intervention is a daily challenge for our team; it gave us good results in the recovery outcomes like independence, citizenship, struggle against the stigma and improvement of personal resources.

We also have spared a significant amount of public money while offering to our clients a higher quality of life.

The creativity and the professional skills mixed together with the help of other colleagues in the multidisciplinary teamwork made this project an effective strategy to help patients overcome their circumstances.

So, I can call myself a responsible social worker, because I help to improve the personal resources in my client’s life. I was mostly inspired from the basic professional principle “start from where the client is”.

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Child Welfare

Getting Care Right for All Children – Free Online Course

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Join over 5,000 learners from across 172 countries who now understand just how important the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children are when caring and protecting vulnerable children.

Now is your chance to register to be part of this FREE global online course. Starting on 19 February, it is open to everyone who is interested in or responsible for children’s care and protection.

It only takes a maximum of 4 hours a week to take part in this six-week truly interactive course. Allowing you to learn wherever and whenever it suits you.

By the end of it, you’ll better understand the key principals, pillars and implications of the UN Guidelines. You’ll also connect and learn from people throughout the world.

What to expect?

During this course, you’ll have access to a mixture of learning materials including:

  • A film following a family moving through the care system.
  • Filmed lectures, articles and reports from world leading experts.
  • Online discussions to debate, ask questions and share opinions.
  • Quizzes.

Commissioned by leading international agencies, the course is run by CELCIS and delivered through FutureLearn, the digital education platform.

Course materials delivered in English, with some course materials available in French and Spanish. Don’t miss your chance to take part!

This course is designed for practitioners and policymakers from both state and non-state bodies (such as NGOs, CBOs and private service providers) and anyone working in providing services around children’s care.

This might include social workers, para-social workers, community support workers, lawyers, psychologists, child protection professionals, teachers, medical workers and care workers, including those in family-based and residential settings.

The course will also be accessible for people not working directly in this field and others with an interest or responsibility in the field of child protection and child care.

The course will be conducted in English with some course materials (including text and videos) also accessible in Spanish and French, reflecting the truly global nature of this issue.

What previous participants said:

‘I really enjoyed this course and gained a lot from what has been shared in articles, videos and other learners’ posts. This has already impacted my work.’ – Participant from Togo

‘I have learned so much about what happens in other countries around the world. I will continue to reflect on my current practice.’ – Participant from Swaziland

To get access to this free resources, sign up here.

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Employment

Networking – The Best Way to Keep Learning on the Job

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Like most comms professionals, I have a curiosity about learning. Be it about the latest craze on social media, or the newest news platform that I could try and get my organisation into.

I have been fairly diligent about keeping my skills set up-to-date. Regularly attending industry training courses, as well as embarking on a post-grad a few years back while juggling the demands of a busy role.

What’s struck me, however, is that the most profound learning comes from something far less slick than formal qualifications and training sessions, and that’s networking with our peers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked across a number of sectors having moved from the arts, to education, to health, back to education, and then back to health – you get the theme – and now into the children’s sector now into the children’s sector where I work as Communications Manager at CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland).

With each move, I’ve managed to make connections with my counterparts at other organisations. By regularly keeping in touch with them, occasionally meeting up for a coffee, you can gain so much knowledge from each other by comparing notes, woes, and inspirations all in a oner. It really is cathartic. I would urge anyone to get to know their equivalent elsewhere, you never know when you might need them.

In the earlier stages of my career, I established a useful working relationship with a colleague at another institution. Given the supposed ‘rivalry’ between the institutions we worked for (I’m not naming names!) we had to use judgment and discretion when it came to information sharing. There was a real value to us being able to use each other as a sounding board for managing difficult media requests. On one funny occasion, we both spoke to each other mobile to mobile from our respective toilets!

Peer-to-peer learning comes in many forms and guises. An occasional and irregular meeting to talk shop, can lead to bigger plans for shared learning.

From Networking to Communities of Practice

I moved into a job promoting a brand new museum and gallery in central London some years back. Having attended a meeting on Southbank of arts PRs, I was vocal about the need to develop something a little more formal for us to keep abreast of what was happening in our tiny sector of comms professionals. What emerged from this was a working group of budding volunteers, and the establishment of a national conference where like-minded colleagues from throughout the country got together to learn from each other, and hear insights from those at the top of our industry.

What we didn’t realise at the time of its formation was that we really were a Community of Practice in the making (NB ‘Community of Practice’ is the slightly more academic/formal term for networking with peers.

New Year’s Resolution

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2018 is to help keep a network of comms professionals going in the children’s sector in Scotland. We are a varied bunch – from third sector organisations and campaign groups, to academic centres, NGOs and colleagues working in government – but we have much in common: our values as organisations; keeping our comms relevant to our intended audiences; and the need to embrace new and emerging technology.

Anyone wanting to know more, do be in touch.

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Disability

Scottish Journal For Residential Care: Final Call for Views and Experiences of Disability

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The Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care (SJRCC) is inviting submissions for a special themed issue on disability to be published in December 2018.

We are seeking ideas for papers now on any aspect of disability and residential child care – or indeed any aspect of care, or leaving care. We’d like to hear from academics, from people involved in caregiving, and from young people reflecting on their own experience of care and disability.

Although published here in Scotland, the Journal has an international outlook. And this makes sense because concerns about the welfare of children in care is a global one, and international comparison provides us all with an opportunity to develop research, policy, and practice.

We’re always looking for contributors from across the globe to share their wide and varied experience – from practitioners, managers, researchers, and policy folk, to young people with experience of the care system.

Papers from countries other than Scotland are particularly welcome.

Submit now

If you would like to be considered, please email our Guest Editors by Wednesday 31 January: [email protected] You will need to provide:

  • a paragraph with your ideas
  • five keywords
  • your brief biograph (maximum 70 words).

Brief for contributors

We welcome:

  • Academic papers of up to 6000 words in length
  • Practice accounts of up to 2000 words in length
  • Using everyday life activities with individuals with disabilities
  • ‘Breakthrough’ moments when someone showed surprising potential
  • Reflections on situations which helped a fuller understanding of someone’s needs
  • Creating positive environments
  • Changing approaches – working therapeutically.

Open call: submit your ideas and work to the journal

We welcome and publish a real variety of articles and papers on all topics related to residential child care.

  • Peer-reviewed academic papers
  • Short reflections or commentaries on research, policy or practice
  • Methodological papers from doctoral studies
  • Accounts of relevant conferences
  • Book reviews
  • Obituaries

For more details, download our submission pack.

The Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care is a peer-reviewed, open access e-journal which aims to provide a rich forum for debate and dissemination about the topical issues in residential child care research, policy and practice.

The topics covered are wide-ranging and relate to all aspects of residential childcare, including the interface between residential care and other contexts, such as health, education and other care settings, as well as topics relating to children’s wellbeing in public care.

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Global

The Call of the Rohingyas: A 21st Century Holocaust

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Photo: AFP

The brutal killings of Rohingyas have been confirmed by the international diaspora as being – The Worlds most persecuted minority”. Rohingya progeny is found in Myanmar with the consistent brutal violence and forced fleeing which has become their daily existence.

A very minute spec of Humanity (The Rohingya`s) in the 21st century is in crisis and a strength of belonging to one`s land is transformed into a reality of statelessness. It’s a well directed ethnic cleansing, the level of hatred was and continues to such an extreme that Rohingyas hurriedly left their lands using the quickest available means of transport, mostly using water transportation, out of the fear of being persecuted in hopes of seeking shelter on whichever shore they reach. Despite being denied entry in many countries, they continue to float, as though living dead bodies would have done.

The very act of stamping down masses or crushing them is not limited to ethnic cleansing only, it`s a negative transformation injecting a lifelong fear, or memories of fear, hatred, and rejection from other nations, a destruction including emotional, physical and sociological. It`s a small term to call the Rohingya`s ethnic cleansing as genocide, it`s beyond the wordy jargons, something which humanity is witnessing in the 21st century – The Holocaust! The Renaissance of Killings!

“A Tale to be talked out or a Tale to be dusted in the coming years.”

The world needs to ponder, what are the paths that lead to the extremity of injected ethnic cleansing which violates almost all laws of human rights whether national or international, do question the level of insecurity any minority or small groups of tribes/masses undergo? What is the credibility that these lives will survive with dignity? The damage is done, though hope has not to be lost, human values are slowly dying a natural death, wonder the uncaptured inhuman phases the Rohingya`s are forced to live with?

There are innumerable talks on United Nations protocol, Laws which are ratified and not by Nations who want to help but find reasons to rejection or acceptance of its non-ratifications, security threats yes or no, but there is no one talking about, where do these group of neglected people go?  Who will repatriate them while guaranteeing security and safety and thereby normalising towards rehabilitation?

What does it mean to be a Rohingya?

Just one day to be a Rohingya can cost you to stand just nowhere, belonging to no one, with nothing at all to exist except a body which is better living then dead if escapes to any other land or for that matter even surviving for days in the sea ….and curse oneself to be born, living in highly impoverished conditions with  no health care access, and a life of  full of crippled mobility.

The case of Rohingyas is being dealt in a manner where a strategic displacement in shifting the identity from National identity to individual minority group with a stateless status, and it is this very depreciating transformation has been played well enough to plan a systematic exodus of the ethnic group and flush them out of the Nation just as the slag of any process.

“ Myanmar is going through self inflictment, injuring its own people, it is not that easy, it kills the reputation of a Nation globally, affects its economic growth and this ethnic cleansing has witnessed a history, a history which is not supposed to be repeated but to be repealed!!”

What can or can`t the Nations do, is not the struggling or comparative question, the responsibility is more on how can this mass exodus of Rohingyas be addressed by the neighbouring Nations and not stopped.  The reason of not stopping this exodus is clearly understood, since the history of Rohingya cleansing in Myanmar, dates back in 1970s, which is a proof of foment, displaying ethnic rifts and polarisation by using genocide as a tool to clean the cultural and religious species of Rohingyas.

 “  Is Myanmar carrying  a Heritage of Horror for its next generation”

They are subjected to a systematic marginalisation and wherever they have migrated, they are living in sheer abysmal conditions after escaping the fear of persecution. Not that migration has given them any promising hopes for rehabilitation but the least it could benefit them is saving life and continuing the survival struggle. An exhumation of the Rohingya history will bring out how this ethnic group has been time and again subjected to violence, hatred, rejection, forced labour, imposed a legal stateless status, restricted freedom of movement and to be précises a 21st century Holocaust!

 “Is it a fight of religion or a fight to displace people who are of no good (as considered by their own nation), for the Nations economy and residing at that terrain which is explorable for tapping rich natural resources?”

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Child Welfare

How to Support Foster Children

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When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.

Listen

Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.

Celebrate

Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.

Playdates

Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,

Getaway

Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

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