The latest school shooting and tragedy in Florida on Valentine’s Day took the lives of 17 innocent people and threatened the emotional safety of community members is a reminder of how flawed our systems are and how much work we have ahead to ensure safety.
No parent should ever have to worry and wonder whether their kid is coming back home from school. No student should ever have to feel afraid to go to school. No teacher should ever have to worry that their life may be in danger or fear having to kill one of their students. No community member should have to live in fear of future attacks or random gun violence on the streets.
When situations as inexplicable as this one occur, many questions arise.
Some of the initial questions that emerged after shooting included: the (shooter) posting pictures on social media of guns and weapons. How come no one reported this? How did he gain access to a gun? How come no one saw the potential mental health signs?
These are important questions that reinforce the significance of improving our systems and raising community awareness. As we grapple with emotions related to this unfortunate tragedy, let’s push together for a change in our systems.
Our systems are flawed and we need to continue to elevate this and work towards solutions.
Even when reports are made to authorities regarding someone with a gun or someone suspicious on past behavior, action may not occur. As a social worker, I am also a mandated reporter which means I am required to disclose when an individual express intent to harm self, a third party or when someone discloses a story of a child or elderly person in which there is suspected abuse happening. I need to report these concerns to the proper authorities.
Sometimes individuals may not have a plan to harm themselves and others but they disclose owning weapons. In occasions where I have reported concerns to local authorities, some of the answers have been: we can’t do anything yet until something happens or we talked to the client’s mom and she denied this rather than going to the household to investigate.
Yes, to my dismay, these have been some of the answers I received in trying to discharge my duties as a mandated reporter. If calls from mandated reporters are being turned away, imagine when someone who a concerned citizen calls in a suspicion. We have a system of reactivity rather than proactivity.
We need to increase awareness and education on how to recognize mental health signs.
The issue about mental health always comes up around shootings or other violent attacks. It is important to note that most people with mental health challenges are not violent. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, people with mental health challenges account for 3% of violent crime. While mental health is not a direct cause of violence in the majority of the cases, all of us can play a part in improving community wellness.
It is my job, your job and our job to foster community health because as we have seen what impacts one person, can impact us all. There are outstanding organizations like Mental Health First Aid undertaking this endeavor through their Mental Health First Aid training where participants learn to recognize mental health signs and obtain ideas on what to do once signs are recognized. Mental Health First Aid proposes that courses like this are taught just like CPR courses are taught. And with 1 of 5 people in the United States being impacted by a mental health challenge, I couldn’t agree more.
Increase training in schools, community centers, clinics, hospitals and simply where people frequent most and conversations at home.
After this tragedy, people have asked: why didn’t they do something? It is not common knowledge on what to do when we perceive an individual to be a potential danger to others. This is not necessarily something our kids are learning at school or is at conversation at the dinner table. There are so many opportunities for engagement and raising awareness.
What could a mental health class look like at school as part of the educational curriculum? What does a mental health workshop while you wait for your doctor in the waiting room looks like? How about at church? What does a dinner conversation about safety looks like? What will safety training in schools or other settings look like?
Organizations life Safe Surroundings are equipping staff members at nonprofits, schools, clinics, and other settings where community members frequent to take safety precautions to minimize crises and dangerous situations. It is unfortunate that we need to learn lessons out of tragedies but let’s think creatively and strategically to ensure that no other life is lost due to shooting or a tragedy like this.
Increase mental health services at places community members frequent and school health-based programs.
There is a growing movement to incorporate wellness programs in schools and other settings where community members go to. But when something needs to be chopped away from a budget, these types of services are the first ones to go. Health and mental health is a human right and there is still a large segment of our population that does not have access. Let’s prioritize wellness.
We need gun control NOW.
It is an understatement to say that we need gun control, yet our politicians have sat and watched tragedy after tragedy without taking much action. It is astonishing that people are able to access guns easier and faster than accessing mental health services. We need to pay attention and become familiar with our politicians’ platforms and who they are receiving funding from and VOTE; VOTE pro issues we care about; RUN for office, BECOME involved.
We need to mobilize.
The courage of Parkland students who are speaking out and rallying is inspiring. While they are grieving, they are finding the strength to advocate for their lives. Children’s jobs are to go to school, learn, have fun, and grow into healthy adults. Yet, these children are having to fight for their survival and their friends. Why?
They shouldn’t have to. It is our job as adults to protect our kids. Let’s join together as a community and not fail our children anymore.
Paradise Lost – or Have We Forgotten?
For over a year now the UK has been wracked with a host of political scandals which rival the most intricate episodes of Yes, Prime Minister.
Yes, Britain is apparently leaving the European Union (a matter knife-edge enough). Yes, there are questions about the tenability of the Prime Minister’s position, and who will usurp her. Yes, the Paradise Papers have long ago told us what we already knew: the rich aren’t paying tax. Yes, our government is regularly implementing and justifying racist policies. But the hottest of the hot topics was, at least for a time, this:
Our government has been dealing with everything from rape to groping and sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual or inappropriate comments. Women set up a WhatsApp group specifically to share information about whom to be cautious of.
The Secretary of State For Defence (that’s right, the person responsible for defending the United Kingdom against attacks) resigned on November 1st, 2017 before the full range of allegations was even made public.
The media has, of course, sought answers, ranging from It was the culture to Women need to toughen up to a disappointingly modest mainstream smattering of power, privilege and toxic masculinity.
Some outlets have linked this (to some, unsurprising) spurt of public revelations to the infamous Harvey Weinstein allegations. This is a man whom, for decades, sexually harassed and abused (mostly) women in Hollywood. His behaviour was known-yet-unknown, referenced in public but never revealed.
Given this, Hollywood responded with the full spectrum of shock, anger, feeling ‘sad’ and ‘bad for’ Weinstein, expressing renewed curiosity about women’s dress codes and naïveté of ‘the culture we live in’. This British Bank Holiday, on the 25th May 2018, he was finally charged, with rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct pertaining to two women. Two.
However, we now know about comedian Louis CK, actor Steven Segal, and the once-beloved Kevin Spacey. Morgan Freeman is on the list of those accused. Heartbreakingly, there will be others to come.
To what extent can we continue to suggest it’s women’s responsibility and women’s fault – when it’s happening to a whole spectrum of people? Let’s be clear: every single accused person is a man. And we are all – no matter our personal gender – at risk of the violence of male power.
As Judith Hermann writes in her seminal work Trauma and Recovery, “It is now apparent that the traumas of one are the traumas of the other. The hysteria of woman and the combat neurosis of men are one. Recognising the commonality of affliction may even make it possible at times to transcend the immense gulf that separates the public sphere of war and politics – the world of men – and the sphere of private domestic life – of women” (p. 32).
It should be noted here that Hermann’s usage of ‘hysteria’ was of hysteria a debunked and oppressive conceptualisation of women. She discusses how a range of traumas, apparently so different, are linked by the political – they are characterised by fear and threat, power and violence.
Her words ring true, except now the traumatic event is the same for both men and women. The personal world of child sexual abuse – largely perpetrated by men – has become political. And, unfortunately, that is meant both metaphorically and literally.
For Britain, however, this does not follow the Hollywood accusations as some have suggested. Its cultural foundations more likely rest on the ‘watershed moment’ of the British Jimmy Savile story.
Between 2011-2013 Jimmy Savile – an English radio, TV, and media personality who was an avid charity fundraiser – was posthumously exposed as having perpetrated prolific sexual abuse.
Some of the abuse happened live on air, with cameras rolling. Some was with unconscious and disabled children. He was buried as Sir Jimmy Saville, just two months before the truth of his abuse was unearthed to the public.
This case was unprecedented; ghastly, shocking, unspeakable and yet the country could speak of little else. The grim reality of the tale started to unravel with one small thread: a ‘handful of cases’ in the 1960s.
At first, people couldn’t believe it.
Then, eventually, nobody could question it.
His final victim count – following a snowball effect of increased confidence in reporting, public attention, support and helplines – was around 500. At least, that we know of.
It is to the shame of Britain this happened. It is to the shame of Britain nobody listened until it was too late.
Consider now the current political mess. Consider the heated discussions about everything from consensual flirting to discomfort to harassment to rape. At once point, these discussions consumed the media as much as the media is consumed by its audience. Now, the attention has cooled in light of the scandal-machine that is our current government.
However, the sexual consent movement has been built upon the backs of those who were brave enough to stand up and say: this happened. It was real. It is also built upon the humiliation and isolation we heaped upon so many hundreds of thousands of others, by not believing them in the first place.
Arguably, such open discussions about child sexual abuse could not have happened before. They repeat an age-old story, except this time people are compelled and able to hear it.
The personal is political and the political is personal. The social and cultural context for victims, survivors and survivor-victims to finally unburdening their stories is ripe. And abuse is rife.
What does this tell us? It tells us we have a problem with how we teach our men. And it tells us we have a problem with power.
Judith Hermann predicts every few decades, society can acknowledge traumas and set the stage for action and reparation. However, the unspeakable nature of trauma begs that we push it back into our collective unconscious.
And we can’t. We simply can’t let that happen. Not in my country.
The original meaning of ‘watershed’ is an area of land which separates rivers which flow in two different directions. Politically, culturally, socially, morally, we need to make sure things flow in the right direction.
Crucially, we can’t let this stop with perpetrators who are famous, who have pockets of accusers sharing their stories together for their own safety. We need to support ordinary people (ordinary women, particularly), to share their stories outside of the limelight where the public’s support is less tangible. We need to support the poor, the less ‘credible’, the young, those of ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, those already in sex work, those with ‘bad reputations’.
Let’s continue to bring those in power to task.
Let’s support and donate to groups like Refuge and Broken Rainbow, the NSPCC, and other local charities in your area. Let’s protest the closure of women’s shelters. Let’s give our gratitude to groups like Sisters Uncut. And for goodness’ sake, for all that is healthy in this world…
Stop blaming women. Stop blaming victims. Start listening. Don’t let us forget what it felt like when these allegations and stories were fresh. Let’s turn the political back personal again.
Is It More Than Just A Shooting?
Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at racists, PTSD, and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.
Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors. When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.
So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues. Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.
In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.
It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own. Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.
So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases. Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.
How Should Social Work Respond To The United States Leaving The Paris Agreement?
“Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – Dr. Spock (Star Trek)
This quote is at the heart of a complex political debate; Dr. Spock doesn’t think it’s that complex. Social justice is one of the tenants of social work practice. This often places social work on the wrong side of Dr. Spocks quote.
Frequently, social workers are providing for or advocating for the needs of the few. Dr. Spock had some help in posing this quote. The question originates from the philosophy of Utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill argued that society is a collection of individuals and that what was good for individuals would make society happy.
You can see this gets messy… and quick. This philosophy was recently put to the test with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. A 195 country agreement to reduce carbon emissions and offer assistance to developing nations to do so as well. Mr. Trump makes a case for economic justice that our involvement in the Paris Accord forces us to over-regulate businesses. He also argues it places an unfair burden on The United States contribution to developing nations. Trump asserts both factors create undue pressure on some of the most economically vulnerable areas in the country. Taking a strict stance stating he “Does not represent Paris…I represent Pittsburgh”. He believes the needs of local Americans outweigh the need to cost-share climate change with the globe.
Should the United States share in the cost of global warming at the cost of our local economies? The economic impact is up for significant debate. The best analysis of this complex issue is provided by FactCheck.org. I’ll let you read it but the economic rationale for leaving the Paris Accord seems questionable. The report he cited on the economic impact ignores many factors including the growth in the renewable sector.
From the social work perspective, this creates an interesting dilemma. The virtues of Globalism versus the “America First” Populism will remain a challenge. How do the local needs of the “Rust Belt” and “coal country” interact with the global energy economy impacted the Paris Accords?
The issue of Global Warming challenges social work to think about where our “systems thinking” begins and ends. Is our profession concerned for the global good or just the area’s they serve? In a recent speech, the UN Secretary-General argued the poor and vulnerable will be hit by climate change first.
Also, what is not in question is the economic impact in the Rust Belt and Coal Country of the United States. This also depends on where you are placing “The needs of the many”. The loss of manufacturing and energy jobs has had a significant impact on services in these areas. These voters were activated by a hope of a potential change in their economic future. These parts of the country who rely on manufacturing and energy have been economically depressed. There is fear further government regulation and lack of money in these areas will make this worse.
Even if the move out of the Paris Climate Accords does fix local economies, it creates another complex systemic problem. Again thinking about where does our “systems” thinking end? I touched on this in my post about Facebook’s global vision for the world. The debate on globalism is a complex one, but The United States leadership on climate change is not. Have we put ourselves at disadvantage by not being a leader willing to partner in climate change?
Are countries going to want to “make a deal” with us about innovation and technology in the energy sector? How will the impact on the global economy affect our local economy? Seems like this blog post has more questions than answers.
To attempt to answer this, I again consult the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. Section 6.04 in social action says…
(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.
No easy answers when thinking about dedicating United States funds which may help globally but detract from the local action. This also brings about thoughts of our core value of competence. That whatever we do to help the most vulnerable citizens in the Rust Belt, I hope it based on sound evidence.
Those policies are based on science and evidence-based practices to try to help these local economies. Whatever we do globally it places the people we serve in the healthiest and most prosperous situation. It’s not just social workers who are thinking about the impact but physicians are weighing in as well …
National AIDS Awareness Month
Even though the overall number of people with HIV and AIDS has fallen, it is still a disease which predominately affects gay males. An estimated 67% of new HIV cases are transmitted via male-to-male sexual contact, with heterosexual contact accounting for 24%, and 6% due to drug use. Young people are also more likely to be infected. Young people ages 13-24 account for 21% of new AIDS cases. The most at risk individuals are young gay and bisexual men which “accounted for 81% of all new HIV diagnoses in people aged 13 to 24 in 2016, and young African American gay and bisexual men are even more severely affected,” according to the CDC.
Since 1987, the first year Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was listed on death certificates, over 500,000 people have died in the United States from HIV/AIDS. That’s more than the number of people who have died in the Syrian War. Currently, in the United States, AIDS is the 9th leading cause of death in people 25-44 years old.
The AIDS epidemic reached its peak in 1992, with an estimated 78,000 cases diagnosed annually. Since then, AIDS diagnosis began to steadily decline until stabilizing in the late 1990s at approximately 40,000 cases diagnosed annually. The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show between 2010 and 2015 the estimated number of annual infections declined 8% from 41,800 to 38,500.
Victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) are also at a greater risk for contracting HIV. People who report a history of being a victim of IPV are more likely to engage in risky behaviors – intravenous drug use, prostitution, unprotected anal sex – increasing their risk of contracting HIV. HIV-positive women also report higher rates of IPV than the general population.
The opioid epidemic is responsible for the first uptick of HIV diagnosis attributed to intravenous drug use in two decades. In 2015, opioid use led to 181 individuals being diagnosed with HIV in Scott County, Indiana. Lowell, Massachusetts has also seen a recent spike in HIV cases attributed to opioid use.
One of the biggest obstacles faced by HIV/AIDS patients is a healthcare system which is less than perfect. A recent Times article stated, “no class of medicines is more scandalously expensive than for H.I.V.” In the U.S., HIV medication can cost $39,000 a year, while countries in Africa the same medication costs $75 a year.
The U.S. healthcare system may not be perfect, but HIV treatments are getting better. Experts think it’s possible HIV transmission can be stopped in the United States within 3-7 years. The most current and powerful antiretroviral drugs on the market can lower the amount HIV in a person’s system to a level so low it cannot be transmitted.
Governor Northam Appoints Social Worker Dr. Angela Henderson to the Board of Conversation and Recreation
On October 19, 2018, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Angela S. Henderson, PhD of Glen Allen, as his appointment to the Board of Conversation and Recreation. Dr. Henderson is an Assistant Professor and Research Assessment Coordinator for the Department of Social Work at Virginia State University.
She specializes in human behavior, the social environment and social welfare policy. Dr. Henderson received a B.S.W. from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2003 and an M.S.W from Howard University in 2004. She earned her Ph.D. in social work from Howard University in May 2013.
Dr. Henderson has been recognized in the social work community as a “social justice warrior” and has dedicated her life as an advocate for social, environmental, and education justice. In addition, Dr. Henderson is committed in protecting the human rights of individuals, children, and families.
While she attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as an undergrad she and her mentor, Professor Ernest Morant, Sr., established “The Princeville North Carolina Project” in 1999 with the support of the Department of Social Work and Sociology for Hurricane Floyd relief efforts. The department adopted the town’s elementary school to support the educational achievement and health care of the students.
Dr. Henderson is branded as the “Fixer” and she is known for her ability to accomplish complex tasks under high-pressure conditions.
She served as the Assessment Task Force Lead for Virginia State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Accreditation process. In addition, Dr. Henderson is the Principal Investigator for the Police Minority Recruitment Project funded by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.
In 2012, Dr. Henderson created Congressional Research Institute for Social Work (CRISP) on behalf of Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. and Former Congressman Edolphus Towns. The purpose of CRISP was to recognize the importance of the Congressional Social Work Caucus and expand the participation of social workers in federal legislative and policy processes. Dr. Henderson served as the Chief Operating Officer and her tasks included: establishing and managing the daily operations, regulatory compliances, accounting, and legal processes. In addition, she served as the social media marketing strategist.
Dr. Henderson participated in a call to action discussion with the Obama Administration and the United States Department of Health and Human Services regarding the leadership of the Social Work Community in preserving the Affordable Care Act.
Dr. Henderson will join Patricia A. (“Patti”) Jackson* of Hanover, American Heart Association and Clayton L. Spruill of Chesapeake on the Board of Conversation and Recreation.
Is Offering Help to Your Co-Workers a Good Thing
If you thought that proactively offering help to your co-workers was a good thing, think again. New workplace research from Michigan State University found that when it comes to offering your expertise, it’s better to keep to yourself or wait until you’re asked.
Building upon previous findings that showed how helping colleagues slows one’s success, management professor Russell Johnson looked more closely at the different kinds of help in which people engage at work – and how that help was received. The research findings, published in Journal of Applied Psychology, quantified the term, “it’s best to stay in your own swim lane.”
“Right now, there’s a lot of stress on productivity in the workplace, and to be a real go-getter and help everyone around you,” Johnson said. “But, it’s not necessarily the best thing when you go out looking for problems and spending time trying to fix them.”
In looking at the ways people help one another in the workplace, Johnson explained that there are two basic kinds of help one can offer – proactive and reactive help – which are differentiated by whether or not assistance was requested.
If you are the go-getter and actively offering to help others, you’re proactively helping. If a co-worker approaches you and asks for assistance that you then give, you’re reactively helping, Johnson explained.
“What we found was that on the helper side, when people engage in proactive help, they often don’t have a clear understanding of recipients’ problems and issues, thus they receive less gratitude for it,” Johnson said. “On the recipient side, if people are constantly coming up to me at work and asking if I want their help, it could have an impact on my esteem and become frustrating. I’m not going to feel inclined to thank the person who tried to help me because I didn’t ask for it.”
Johnson surveyed 54 employees between the ages of 21 and 60 who worked full-time jobs across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, government, health care and education. He collected data over 10 days for a collective 232 daily observations to assess daily helping, receipt of gratitude, perceived positive social impact and work engagement.
With less gratitude for the helper and lower esteem for the person receiving help, Johnson explained that the respondents’ answers proved that proactive help has negative bearings on both sides – but for different reasons.
“Being proactive can have toxic effects, especially on the helper. They walk away receiving less gratitude from the person that they’re helping, causing them to feel less motivated at work the next day. More often than not, help recipients won’t express gratitude immediately, which makes it meaningless as it relates to the helper’s actual act,” Johnson said. “As for the person receiving the unrequested help, they begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy.”
In some ways, Johnson said that his research suggests workers mind their own business and not go looking for problems to solve. Ultimately, he said, help is good – but just wait to be asked for it.
“As someone who wants to help, just sit back and do your own work. That’s when you’ll get the most bang for your buck,” he said. “As the person receiving help, you should at a minimum express gratitude – and the sooner the better. If you wait a few days, it won’t have a positive impact on the helper.”.
Johnson’s next research will examine the ramifications of receiving help from recipients’ point of view, and how their reactions and feelings can shape the social climate at work.
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