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A Student Perspective: Social Work and First Responders

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It may be rare for a social work student to reflect on an assignment as something inspirational rather than a stressful experience with a deadline, but at the end of  3rd year of my social work degree, one assignment was a challenge filled with hope. The assignment allowed me to contribute to a program that will give insight to other helping professionals about the mental health of first responders: police, firefighters, paramedics and others who respond to emergencies on the frontline.

The University of Newcastle has a particularly effective way of integrating workplace experience based learning with academic learning throughout the degree. The program options offered in third year which allow students to develop a program for a real agency was the most useful for me. To know your work might form a foundation for a real program in the community was a great honour and challenge to work on.

In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from the program development project. I was apprehensive about working with a professional capacity with a real agency, but I was excited also to learn more and try something new. There were diverse programs offered- from gardening programs to developing group projects designed for children and developing a program for professionals working with first responders.

The university gave us a chance to preference our interests and I was fortunate enough, with some other amazing women to be selected for the first responders team. The aim of our project was to put together a draft training package for helping professionals to enhance understanding of first responder mental health.

This topic drew my interest as it was beyond my scope of knowledge and I have a keen interest in mental health, so it was intriguing to me on both a personal and professional level. On starting, I very quickly became aware that I had actually put very little thought into the work first responders do in our communities to keep us all safer.

I learned just how complex the actual work of first responders can be, I learned the challenges that first responders face as a consequence of their work, the most traumatic of which is often invisible to the communities that they protect. I learned how repetitive exposure to trauma can complicate all aspects of first responder’s lives if they don’t or can’t seek or obtain support. I learned how much awareness is lacking within the multiple levels of the community, which is needed to enact change for first responders and their families.

Also, I learned the difficulties that can be faced by first responders and their families when attempting to access help. Whilst organisational supports are in place for some of the services, the stigma, shame and potential for the loss of their profession is very real. I heard stories about those medically discharged dealing with the grief and loss of their profession and identity.

My part in the group was to examine the supports already in place for first responders. I was concerned at the limited avenues for assistance and the extent of the difficulties for first responders to seek help. Besides limited services, stigma and organisational culture are barriers to effective help seeking. I found attempting to identify potential services to be frustrating, especially when looking for options within communities rather than those which are employer organisation based. My mind quickly went to how this frustration might feel for someone who was attempting the same whilst being unwell.

Gaining insight and recognition into the role first responders play, the impacts on their mental health, their relationships and all aspects of their lives and the flow on effect to their wider social ecology,  I  realised just how large the scale of first responder post-traumatic stress and other mental health consequences have on our community overall.

The hardest part of this learning experience was seeing the end of the project. The topic is so significant, it is hard to not to explore the topic further.  To me, this feels like a core social work and social justice issue, yet one which is invisible much of the time. My learning from this project has given me a totally new perspective. I have a renewed respect and a much deeper understanding of the issues faced by police, firefighters, paramedics and all others who work on the frontline in emergencies.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the knowledge it takes to work with first responders and enact positive change in their lives. I hope more research is completed and potentially more opportunities for training and professional development come up for social workers, whether it be integrated into core teaching within university programs or externally in workplaces.

Rebecca is about to graduate with a bachelor of Social work (Hons) from the University of Newcastle. She also has a Diploma in community Services Work (achieved with distinction) and a Certificate 4 in Community Services Work (achieved with competent distinction). Her interests lie in grief and loss, domestic violence, mental health and trauma. Rebecca’s experience has had experience working with diverse clients in a children’s charity and diverse student placements including working with victims of crime, supporting families through coronial processes and with young people with mental health challenges trying to engage in education.

          
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Global

How a Maori Model of Improving Care Experience Has Been Transformative for a Family in Glasgow

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Most of us have been there – you look in your diary, see that you have a review case conference for a particular family in a few days and your heart sinks. Two boys who have been on the child protection register for two years. Neglect is the primary risk indicator. Mum came along to each core group and conference for the first year. She would nod her head and promise that things would change. But they didn’t, and the social workers became more worried about the boys.

For a while after that, mum still came to meetings but disagreed with most of what was being said. She would become distressed and angry, and verbally abuse workers before storming out whilst the workers continued to worry. Then mum stopped coming along altogether.

The mood in the conference was flat. Deflated. The core group team had been working really hard to help mum provide better quality care. But the rent arrears continued to accumulate and eviction was imminent. The boys weren’t at school as often as they should be and, when they were there, weren’t ready to learn. The older boy had withdrawn into himself and had taken to seeking refuge in a cupboard. The younger boy had a chronic cough and toothache, which went untreated. They often looked grubby and unkempt.

The discussion amongst the workers was full and frank. They expressed genuine concern and care for the family. Each member was fully committed and driven to affect change, despite the hostility and resistance they were encountering.

The group worked really well together. Simple things like using group e-mail to communicate so that everyone was updated and arranging meetings at the end of the day to enable the boys’ teachers to attend made a difference. This united team supported each other, and their frustration at the lack of progress was understandable.

Family Group Decision Making

It was agreed that, given the harm already caused and the continuing high risk of further harm, it was likely that we would have to seek to remove the boys from their mother’s care. The involvement and protective ability of the extended family was unclear, as mum blocked attempts to engage them. It was therefore agreed that a referral would be made to our Family Group Decision Making service (FGDM).

FGDM was brand new to Glasgow at that time. Evidence from elsewhere had suggested that using this model can really turn things around for family relationships, so we decided to put this into practice. It’s a model that originates from New Zealand, where Maori children were over-represented in the care system with little consultation with or involvement of their extended families. In Scotland, it was pioneered by Children 1st in 1998 and set up in Edinburgh initially. The aim is to enable the family to develop their own support plan which meets the children’s needs and keeps them safe.

The model had been chosen by Glasgow as it fits with the priorities of empowering families and communities, reducing the number of children being removed from their families, and identifying family contacts and placements for children already in local authority care. It was being piloted in North-East Glasgow, with considerable support from the well-established service in Edinburgh, and included an extended family network search function, using the Registrars of birth, marriages, and deaths at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow records to explore fully the family tree.

Each family is assigned a Family Group Co-ordinator, who manages the process and facilitates the family conference. She contacted and prepared the boys, mum and extended family. During this period, mum and the boys were evicted and went to live with the maternal grandmother which forced a closeness that had been missing for some time. The Family Group Co-ordinator organised the family meeting.

The family was given the parameters of what their support plan needed to cover. They were then given private time to produce their plan, which included concrete activities such as the boys getting to school/medical appointments, being available physically and emotionally for the boys, and organising social activities. One of the crucial events here was mum revealing previous trauma to her mother, sisters and workers, which no-one had known, and the subsequent rebuilding of the relationships between mum and her mother and siblings.

No sinking heart and transformative change

Fast forward four months. I looked in my diary and I saw the next review case conference for the family. No sinking heart this time. Instead, a feeling of optimism and hope, tempered with some skepticism about how the reported progress would hold up under the scrutiny of a case conference. The boys chose not to come but had their views represented by their workers. Mum was there, supported by several family members.

Her presentation was transformed – she was smiling and joking, she participated fully in the conference (even the hard bits), was honest, and nearly brought a tear to everyone’s eyes. The family members made valuable contributions and reassured me the situation would never be the same again. I had no hesitation in removing the boys’ names from the register. Five months later, a children’s panel felt able to terminate the supervision orders.

On that day, mum gave the social worker a hug and a plant to say ‘thank you’. I like to contrast that image with the previous one I had, where she chased him out the house and down the street.

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Business

Women Have Fundamentally Different Journeys to Financial Wellness, Merrill Lynch Study Reveals

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A new Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” celebrates the progress made by women while examining the financial challenges women still face throughout their lives, and offers potential solutions. The study finds that 70 percent of women believe that men and women have a fundamentally different life journey, reinforcing the need to better understand women’s financial concerns and opportunities. The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,707 respondents, including 2,638 women and 1,069 men.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers.”

“Women have come a long way both personally and professionally, but when it comes to their finances, there is still a trail left to blaze,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “As women are at a tipping point to achieve greater financial empowerment and independence, it is even more essential that we support women in helping them pursue financial security for life. This includes encouraging women to invest more of their assets, save earlier for retirement, and pursue financial solutions that closely align to their personal values and life paths.”

Findings include:

Women look beyond the bottom line
While they definitely care about the performance of investments, women view money as a way to finance the lives they want. Seventy-seven percent say they see money in terms of what it can do for themselves and their families. Eighty-four percent say that understanding their finances is key to greater career flexibility. When it comes to investing, about two-thirds of women look to invest in causes that matter to them.1

Superior longevity
Longevity needs to be a factor in everyone’s financial strategy, but more so for women, who on average, live five years longer than men. Eighty-one percent of centenarians are women.2 While 64 percent of women say they would like to live to 100, few feel financially prepared, with 44 percent of women stating they worry they will run out of money by age 80.

Confidence in all but investing
The study finds that women are confident in most financial tasks, such as paying bills (90 percent) and budgeting (84 percent). However, when it comes to managing investments, their confidence drops significantly; only 52 percent of women say they are confident in managing investments, versus 68 percent of men. Millennial women were the least confident at 46 percent. Of women who do invest, their financial confidence soars; 77 percent of women who invest feel they will be able to accumulate enough money to support themselves for life.

A trail left to blaze
The study also finds how important understanding the gender wealth gap (as opposed to the wage gap) and wealth escalators are to women’s financial wellness. Women experience a gender wealth gap – the difference between men’s and women’s financial resources across their lifetimes, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets. This wealth gap can translate to a woman at retirement age having accumulated as much as $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts.3Contributing factors include:

  • Temporary interruption, permanent impact: Many women experience lasting effects when they take time away from the workforce to provide care, including for aging parents, their own spouses, and their own children. One in three mothers who returned to the workforce after caring for children says she took on less demanding work, which resulted in lower pay. Twenty-one percent say they were paid less for the same work they did previously.
  • Greater lifetime health and care costs: The average woman is likely to have higher health costs than the average man in retirement – paying an additional $195,000 on average4 – due to living longer and having to rely on formal long-term care in later years.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers,” said Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave. “We have more opportunities and choices when it comes to family, education and careers, but we’re so busy taking care of other people and other priorities, we often don’t take the time to invest in ourselves and our future financial wellness. If more women can actively take control of their financial future all along the way, it would not only benefit them, but also their families and our society overall.”

Doing more to promote financial wellness
Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management business serves affluent and wealthy clients through two leading brands in wealth management: Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. Advisors specialize in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management.

“In a period of remarkable advances for women in society, a remaining frontier is financial well-being,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It’s a basic component in the quality of life. This report lays out a blueprint for helping to achieve it – and we at Merrill Lynch relish the opportunity to provide women everywhere with advice and support that can make a meaningful difference at every stage of their lives.”

Through its advisors, educational offerings and other resources, Bank of America is positioned to help clients overcome the common challenges presented in the study by:

  • Addressing women’s top financial regret: not investing more. Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.
  • Focusing on disparities in wealth, not just income. Women’s financial security is about more than closing today’s pay gap. It’s about accumulating assets or wealth at all income levels, and increasing women’s access to wealth escalators (e.g., employee benefits such as paid time off and pretax savings opportunities).
  • Breaking the silence about money. Sixty-one percent of women say they would rather discuss details about their own death than talk about their money. Forty-five percent of women report they don’t have a financial role model.

To learn more about women’s financial wellness, read “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line.”

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Global

Ending Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

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On this International Women’s Day, let’s applaud the advances made in the fight against gender-based violence this year, but also look to the work that still needs to be done.

The #metoo movement saw powerful men held accountable for a range of predatory behavior against women and girls. US states have been finally addressing the issue of child marriage. The Women’s March saw people from around the world gathering once again to advocate for women’s issues. Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also spoke out and said #metoo.

There is no denying the strides that have been made.

Yet, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that 35% of women will face physical abuse during their lifetime. Furthermore, gender-based violence continues to be a common tool used to terrorize populations during conflict.

A poignant example of this is of the pervasive use of gender-based violence against the Rohingya women fleeing Burma. Rape has been used systematically by the Burmese military against these women, including children and older women. In addition to facing this violence, these women lack basic post-rape medical care after arriving in camps in Bangladesh.

Another recent example of gender-based violence in conflict is that of the Yazidi women who were kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery by ISIS. One brave survivor, Nadia Murad, has spoken throughout the world to raise awareness of the genocide committed against the Yazidi people and to ask for justice.

Even in refugee camps, where women flee to in search of safety, there is exploitation of women. Syrian women have reportedly been forced to trade sex for food aid. The problem has gotten so bad that the women will no longer go to get food. Sadly, sexual exploitation of refugees in conflict zones by aid officials has happened in other crises as well including a vast human trafficking network during the conflict in Bosnia.

Perpetrators of gender-based violence during wartime are not only those in power but often include civilians, as has been documented in the Democratic Republic of Congo—pointing to the pervasiveness of the problem.

With the call for accountability for crimes against women, let this be the “Time’s Up” on gender-based violence committed during war. Ms. Murad and her lawyer Amal Clooney are advocating for evidence to be collected and brought to the International Criminal Court in the case against ISIS–one step toward holding perpetrators accountable.

Murad states, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine”. Let us channel the fire that brought about these movements to fight back against exploitation of women, especially the women facing the unimaginable difficulties of war.

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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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