As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:
Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).
Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).
It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).
It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).
Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).
Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.
Students and Alumni Call for Social Work Dean’s Dismissal
Sexual assault and fitness of character allegations have been raised against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his bid to become the next lifetime appointee on the nation’s highest court. As a result, conversations about due process, victim trauma, lack of reporting of rape and sexual assault allegations, binge drinking, and rape culture are happening in our schools, coffee shops, workplaces, and homes.
Professionals who are educated and trained in these areas have a responsibility to engage in thoughtful dialogue and help provide evidence-based data and information in order to prevent myths from cementing in the public sphere.
However, School of Social Work Dean William Rainford of Catholic University of America decided to exercise his power and influence by using a social media account representing the School of Social Service to provide his assessment of Julie Swetnek’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
Attitudes like that of Dean William Rainford of @catholicUniv school of social work are what continue to keep survivors from reporting. This is unacceptable victim blaming and cannot be allowed. #WhyDidntIReport #IBelieveSurvivors pic.twitter.com/B8qsIng2NQ
— Lisette Pylant (@LisettePylant) September 27, 2018
This tweet among many others has earned Dean Rainford a suspension by the University. According to CUA student Tony Hain, Rainford issued a letter of apology “only after 45 graduate students walked out of classes Thursday in protest and after Rainford spent 24 hours defending and rationalizing his tweets on his @NCSSSDean Twitter account and dismissing faculty who raised direct concerns with him.”
SWHelper was provided with a letter from President Garvey who says he eventually plans to reinstate Rainford. However, Hain asserts, “students, alumni and faculty have used appropriate channels to register concerns and complaints about him for years. Rainford continues to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding for the field of social work that he is supposed to lead. He is out of touch with his students, alumni and professional practitioners in the field of social work. The tweets were the final straw. He must resign or be dismissed immediately.”
Dean Will Rainford of NCSSS @CatholicUniv issued an apology to his school community for tweeting that Julie Swetnick was not a victim of sexual assault. "I offer no excuse. It was impulsive and thoughtless and I apologize." Read apology here: https://t.co/TyOg2pctYd
— Catholic University (@CatholicUniv) September 27, 2018
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Dean Rainford has made negative headlines and angered students. In 2013, he unilaterally ended the University’s partnership with the National Association of Social Work (NASW) over their advocacy for women’s reproductive justice rights.
“In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.” For more information read full article.
Currently, 188 alumni of National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) have called for Rainford’s removal, which includes Social Work Helper contributor Cheryl Aguliar, LICSW, LCSW-C, Class of 2014.
Sarah Sorvalis, CUA Masters of Social Work Student Class of 2019, stated: “Dean Rainford is completely out of step with the NCSSS program. His comments violated every single one of the values that define the social work profession. This has unfortunately created an irreparable level of mistrust among students in my cohort.”
Sorvalis continues on a more positive note by stating, “There is a silver lining. Because of the stellar faculty and education we continue to receive, despite the Dean’s inability to be an effective and trusted leader, students have been taught how to organize and stand up to systemic injustices. In fact, these skills proved exceptionally helpful when coordinating our walk-out last week, as well as the student led protest on October 1st where we demanded Dean Rainford’s resignation.”
Although Dean Rainford has angered many students and alumni with his comments, he is not without supporters coming to his defense.
@CatholicUniv As a catholic & American I am appalled by the rhetoric of your president. In this country, people are to be presumed innocent not guilty. To shut down free speech for Dean Rainford is disturbing. By lying, Dr. Ford has set back the cause for all real abused women.
— Amelia Maurizio (@admdred) October 4, 2018
Dean Will Rainford suspended for his insensitive opinion yet @cchristinefair egregious/violent opinion is glorified? Pretty scary stuff… Now I don't know whether to suspend people for opinions or not but the hypocrisy is unnerving.
— Danny Acosta (@YngWaynEastwood) October 3, 2018
There is no doubt the country is divided into conservative and liberal camps. However, Dean Rainford’s tweets and past actions appear to be in service to his religious and conservative beliefs and not in service to students learning how to interact with the vulnerable populations our profession is tasked to serve. Social Work and social services are tasked with helping people in crisis and those affected by trauma.
We are mandated to remove our personal beliefs whether it be religious, political or any other kind from our interactions. We are tasked to provide information and assist people from all faiths, all nationalities and all backgrounds based on their needs, barriers, and challenges. If we can not set aside our personal beliefs to provide services, then we are mandated to refer them to someone who can assist them.
As a Dean of Social Work at a premier Catholic University, what message will this send to other victims who may find the strength to come forward in their Adulthood?
Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II
In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.
Self-advocacy is all about speaking up.
Listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention.
Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.
As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.
Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school.
Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.
Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know.
Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.
For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however, children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.
Using Non-Traditional Field Placements to Meet Student Needs
As a master level social work student, I had the opportunity to visit the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota through an Immersion Program offered by the University of Southern California.
While the field of social work provides students avenues to explore different concentrations and interests, there still is a major lack of representation in academia for our Indigenous populations in North America. Colonialism and the lack of representation of the Indigenous population have led the public to believe Indigenous populations have “vanished”.
Our nation was built on Colonialism, assimilation, cultural genocide, and inevitably the widespread decimation of our Indigenous populations, yet this assumption allows society to turn a blind eye to the current socio-cultural-political environment of Indigenous populations.
Coming from the field of religious studies, I truly had to augment myself personally, professionally, and academically. The clash between my academic background and professional experience left me wondering if I was even in the “right” field. I struggled with the concept of intervening, implementing Western interventions, and just feeling forced to interact with people.
Eventually, my struggle was not with the concept of being a social worker, but rather with the fact I was being pigeonholed into a traditional social work environment with my current field placement. The trip gave me a taste of freedom within the field of social work and the interactions I had with the population left me wanting more. I knew moving forward that I had to return to the Reservation in South Dakota because I have been sitting on my hands throughout my entire MSW program.
I previously viewed my religious studies background and social work experience as autonomous and dualistic, but it never occurred to me that I could merge these two personalities together. The turning point in my academic and professional career monumentally shifted was when I went to South Dakota with USC. The experience was both personally and professionally transformative for me as a social worker because I struggled with imposter syndrome throughout the entire duration of the MSW program.
The interactions and moments that I shared with folks on the Reservation fully defined the concept of a social worker to me. For the first 7 months of my field placement, I was working with adolescents and young adults. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing because I came from a completely different field and I was in the Children, Youth, and Families Department.
Also, I quickly started to feel burnt out because the subjects that I was learning in my classes didn’t align with the clients that I was assigned to. Since I never had the opportunity to work with children in my placement, I started to believe that maybe I didn’t want to work with children after all. This narrow-minded view of what I could do in the field of social work significantly changed after I met a child named C (renamed for article) on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
The funniest thing about children is that they choose you. From the minute C laid eyes on me, she chose me- even when I was unsure about my own ability to be a social worker. C and I proceeded to spend the afternoon creating lanyards and friendship bracelets. C was loving, abrasive, and unapologetic in her efforts to communicate and interact with the students on the trip. C’s mannerisms and stature significantly changed when we were approached by another student on the trip. The student was non-native and male. C immediately had an emotional reaction and felt the need to “protect me” from the male student. C’s affect and demeanor immediately changed from loving to protective.
The most shocking aspect of it all was that she was not acting out to defend herself, but rather to protect me. C believed with her entire heart that no men were to be trusted whatsoever and most needed to suffer the same fate as her father because of the violence he had inflicted on her mother in the past. C’s response toward the presence of another male in her immediate environment is simply a reflection of how America has forgotten and silenced Indigenous folks on Reservations.
The immersion experience with USC opened my eyes to the wide array of possibilities in the field of social work. As a white-appearing individual and outsider, I was welcomed and embraced by the Lakota. The members within the community shared their experiences, stories, and tears with me. After returning to Los Angeles, I felt like I left a piece of my soul behind on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
Upon my return, I was able to coordinate with my professors and the University to finish my last semester on the Cheyenne River Reservation. The next thing I knew, I was packing up my life in Los Angeles and I drove over 24 hours to return to South Dakota. This past summer, I was the first social worker to provide services at Camp Marrowbone in Eagle Butte, South Dakota.
The opportunity to live and work with the Lakota population would not have been possible without the integration of Indigenous Studies and Social Work. It is our responsibility as social workers to hold our academic institutions accountable in order to advocate for marginalized and silenced populations.
Building Abroad: Local Teen’s Passion Impacts Young Minds in Jamaica
Thirteen-year-old Rafe Cochran of Palm Beach, Fla., returned to school this week as an eighth-grader at Palm Beach Day Academy after opening his second school built in Jamaica through Food For The Poor.
The new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann has six classrooms, an office for staff, and bathrooms with sanitation to provide more than 400 students a secure building as they returned to school this week. Dozens of parents, teachers, students, and community leaders gathered to meet and thank the young man who made their dream of a new school building a reality during the Aug. 31 ceremony.
“To give the gift of a second school in Jamaica is an honor and truly feels rewarding,” Rafe said. “The gift of education is so important to me because I feel education empowers one’s life. I also feel proud to have the doors of the Runaway Bay All-Age School of Determination open. It is a wonderful feeling knowing I have been a part of enriching other children’s lives.”
Runaway Bay was made possible by the Third Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic. Dozens of local golfers teed up for the charity tournament in April at the Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. Rafe began golfing at the age of 6, at age 9 he became one of Food For The Poor’s youngest donors, and at age 11 he hosted his first golf tournament using his talents to raise money to build homes in Haiti and schools in Jamaica.
“How many people can say that they have built 10 homes and two schools in two different countries by time they were 13 years old?” Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood said. “Rafe’s philanthropic efforts are astounding and Food For The Poor is deeply appreciative of his generosity. Ten Haitian families now have safe and secure homes, and schoolchildren for generations to come will benefit from the two schools in Jamaica. We also want to salute Rafe’s parents for instilling these priceless values in their young son and for their support.”
The school’s principal, Lambert Pearson, and staff also expressed tremendous gratitude to Rafe, his parents and to Food For The Poor for coming to their aid after they had waited more than a decade for a new school, which will accommodate kindergarten to sixth grade. Pearson opened up his speech at the inauguration by singing.
“Thank you, thank you for all you have done… today my wait is over,” Pearson sang.
While in Jamaica, Rafe and his parents, Jay and Diahann Cochran, visited the first school. The family was happy to see Chester Primary and Infant School, also located in St. Ann, is well- maintained, the students are excelling, and that the school population has grown. The Cochrans helped to paint the exterior walls of Runaway Bay a cheery yellow, along with a calming blue and a bold red.
“Rafe has impressed his whole family and shown us all the deep compassion he has for others,” Jay Cochran said. “We believe that Rafe’s ability to look beyond himself and to help the less fortunate will undoubtedly influence the younger generations. Rafe is a remarkable young man –we can’t wait to see what he will accomplish in the future and the people he will touch with his generosity and compassion.”
In addition to donating hundreds of backpacks and school supplies for staff and students, the Cochrans wanted the new school to have a system in place to capture rainwater.
Rafe also did something that he hopes will motivate current and future students of Runaway Bay All-Age School.
“I gave each classroom in the new school a special name that really represents traits that one should aspire to have,” Rafe said. “I chose the Room of Motivation, the Room of Integrity, the Room of Compassion, the Room of Kindness, the Room of Endurance, the Room of Confidence, and the Room of Respect. I feel each word gives a person character and to have good character means you have traits that make you honest and admirable.”
As Rafe embraces the start of the new school year, he’s already entertaining the thought of future projects and the possibility of another school.
“I will continue helping one person, one family, and one school at a time in order to make a difference,” said Rafe. “I always say, you’re never too young to take action and make a difference!”
To learn more about Rafe’s Food For The Poor projects visit: www.FoodForThePoor.org/rafe
Link Between Divorce and Graduate Education a Concern as More Jobs Require Advanced Degree
Children of divorce are less likely to earn a four-year or graduate degree, according to new research from Iowa State University.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, is one of the first to look specifically at divorce and graduate education. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says it is important to understand this relationship as more jobs require a graduate or professional degree.
Stewart and co-authors Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies; and Camron Devor, lead author and Iowa State alumna, found 27 percent of children with divorced parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 50 percent of those with married parents. The split was 12 percent versus 20 percent for those who had or were working toward a graduate or professional degree.
The researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The survey followed thousands of youth as they transition from school to work in young adulthood. The last round of data used for this study was collected when youth were 26 to 32 years old.
The data allowed researchers to look at the influence of human (parental education and income) and social (parental social and emotional investment in children) capital. They found married parents were more educated than divorced parents, and there was a significant difference in income. Nearly half of the children with married parents were in the high income category (greater than $246,500/year) compared to 29 percent of children of divorced parents.
“After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does,” Stewart said. “You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”
Time for change?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow by nearly 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. This includes careers ranging from mental health counselors to librarians to elementary and secondary school administrators. Devor, who earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2014, says she wouldn’t have her job as a finance coordinator had she not gone to graduate school.
However, the findings were somewhat surprising to Devor based on her experience at Iowa State. She says several of her classmates in graduate school were children of divorce. Recognizing that this is not always the norm, Devor would like to see the research signal a change.
“This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college,” Devor said. “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”
Child’s age matters, to a degree
Children who were still at home or under age 18 when their parents divorced did not fare as well as children who were 18 and older. The research found the odds of those younger children earning a bachelor’s degree were 35 percent lower. However, there was no relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the likelihood of getting a graduate or professional degree.
The researchers also found parents had similar educational expectations for their children, regardless of whether they were divorced or married. Parental expectations were positively associated with children earning a master’s degree. Dorius says children of divorce may feel less entitled to a college degree, so it should help them to know their parents have high educational aspirations for them. However, that encouragement is not enough to offset the relationship between divorce and graduate education.
“This suggests that parental divorce continues to have an effect on children’s graduate school success even after accounting for the encouragement parents give to their children,” Dorius said. “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”
What Schools Can Do To Reduce Risky Behaviors and Suicides Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth
A high school English teacher in New Mexico told me about one of his students who had difficulty focusing in class. When the teacher showed concern, the student confided in him that her parents had kicked her sister out of the house after they found out she was dating a girl. The teacher tried his best to console the student and referred her to the school counselors for help.
The next year, the same girl sought his support when her parents took similar punitive measures against her because she, too, came out as a lesbian. This time he spoke openly with her, explaining that she had to keep her spirits up; that no matter what happened, she had to be true to herself. In concluding the story for me, the teacher explained that he knows the school needs to be a safe place in a community that may not accept his student. But even though he strives to create a safe environment, he does not think all staff people or students at the school are equally accepting.
At another high school, I heard something quite different. When asked about the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, an administrator responded – simply and implausibly – “We don’t have any of those kids at this school.”
Such accounts from teachers, administrators, nurses, and counselors illustrate the importance of schools and school staff for students struggling with their sexual orientation in a world that does not always support or even acknowledge their existence. Paradoxically, schools are often the only places lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth may find marginally more accepting than the surrounding community – and of course schools may not be more accepting. The everyday traumas experienced by these youth, especially when they find themselves in schools that ignore their needs, can put lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at increased risk for depression, substance misuse, and suicide.
Research Links Suicide to Sexuality
According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-fifths of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have seriously contemplated suicide. These young people are three times more likely to think about taking their own lives than their straight peers and four times more likely to actually plan and attempt suicide.
In addition to risk of suicide, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be bullied or threatened with a weapon on campus and three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. Risk behaviors that could result in negative health outcomes are also prevalent at a higher rate among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. For example, such young people have higher rates of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, misusing prescription medicines, and using dangerous drugs including cocaine and heroin.
These statistics underline serious threats to many American young people. What can be done? The Center for Disease Control has identified several evidence-based ways to reduce the risk of suicide and risk behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth – by creating safer and more supportive school environments. So far, however, these strategies have not been fully or consistently implemented, and they are only rarely combined to create an optimum response.
How Schools Can Help
Schools are a critical point of intervention because they are the places where students spend most of their waking hours. When it comes to reducing risky or suicidal behaviors, schools are second in importance only to families. School nurses and counselors also often provide the first line of response to student medical or behavioral health issues. In rural settings where resources can be scarce, the school or school-based health center may be the main place students can find support or help. Based on available evidence, the Center for Disease Control has defined several strategies that can be adopted and combined to ensure that all American young people are supported and protected, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to these recommendations, schools can take the following steps – and, to date, only eight percent of schools do all.
- Create “safe spaces” like a designated classroom, office, or student organization where students can receive support from school staff or other students. Only about 60% of schools currently have such spaces available.
- Prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Most schools report having such policies in place, but a fraction of them do not.
- Facilitate access to medical health and behavioral health providers with experience serving lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Fewer than half of US. high schools facilitate such access.
- Promote professional lessons on how staff can create safe and supportive school environments. Less than 60% of high schools provide this type of support to their faculty.
- Deliver health education that includes information relevant to lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Only one-fourth of U.S. schools do this.
These strategies are an important way to address the needs of not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, but may also help transgender and gender non-conforming students as well. Unfortunately, research on these subgroups and programs to help them remains to be done. An important recent development is the inclusion a gender identity question in the 2017 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.
Recognizing the existence of sexual and gender minorities in America’s schools and gathering large-scale data about their experiences can provide a clearer picture of the challenges various groups of students face – and, in turn, allow improved responses to their needs. By creating safer and more supportive school environments, we can reduce dangerous behaviors, eliminate many suicides, and improve academic and health outcomes, not only for sexual and gender minority youth, but also for all other students in our schools. Problems and tragedies that affect some students reverberate among many – and undermine America’s future.
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