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How to Ace your Social Work Fieldwork Placement

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Undoubtedly, social work fieldwork placements are a key component in social work education. Acting as an essential link between studies and practice, field placements can greatly impact the future functioning of students, and hence why students do their utmost to achieve a successful placement.

But how you may ask?

Throughout both of my fieldwork placements, I gained a number of skills and tips which helped me to cope with the demands and stress fieldwork placements brought with them.

Time Management

In the beginning of my fieldwork placement, I struggled. I was still finishing my dissertation, had to keep up with 8 cases, as well as attend lectures once every fortnight. I had no other choice, but to challenge myself to plan before hand and manage my time better.

My advice to you is to write an exhaustive list of all the things you have to do. You can either do this every week or once a month whichever you deem the most helpful. Prioritize the list accordingly and plan how much time you will need to spend on each task. Avoid getting stuck on single activities, if you feel like you cannot concentrate on a specific task, be flexible, and move on to another task. Every time you finish something, tick it off your list – it is so satisfying!

Supervision

You have probably learnt the importance of supervision during your lectures. Now is the time to actually make use of it. Do not hesitate to ask for supervision if you feel more guidance and information is needed. Additionally, ensure the time allocated for supervision is not used solely for case management. Use some of this time to discuss how you are coping with the workload, the feelings clients are evoking within yourself, your fears and safety concerns if any. Do not be afraid to use supervision as an added support. Whatever is said during supervision is confidential (obviously, if no harm will be caused to self or to others), so use this opportunity to process and assess your placement because hearing others’ problems is surely emotionally draining.

Research

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of doing research throughout the course of your placement. Be informed and read about the client group you are serving. Understand and be aware of the services available to them and the skills you can use when working with them. Fieldwork placements are a great opportunity for you to widen your knowledge, so make sure that you do this to the best of your ability. Both editorial and academic journal articles can be a source of information for you. Read them while commuting, watch videos while eating or cooking – educate yourself as much as possible because as they say, “you cannot pour from an empty cup!”.

Ask Questions

Your practice educator is not expecting you to know it all on your last day of placement – let alone your first day! Social work is a learning process, and we can never reach a point where we can say we know everything. Human beings are different and dynamic. Hence, why asking questions will only help you understand your client group and what is being expected to enhance your practice. Do not hesitate to tell clients that you are not sure about an answer while assuring them you will research a solution. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, if you did not understand something. Ask your practice educator about the agency’s policies, regulations, procedures or any reference materials you can access when needed. Do not pretend you know it all – because you do not, nobody does!

Respect your Practice Educators and Tutors

You may not always agree with your practice educators and tutors, but ultimately they are the ones who will be assessing your progress. Starting on a wrong foot is surely not ideal which can derail the placement before it begins. Try to stick with their guidelines and even though you may feel at times it’s wasting your time on unnecessarily. I highly suggest you take a step back before complaining. I am not saying you should be passive, however, avoid arguments about word limit of essays, working hours or workload. Keep in mind your practice educators and tutors know what they are doing, so if they request something try to find a diplomatic path forward.

Do More than it is Expected

Give your placement your very best, and at times this may entail doing work that is not compulsory. Attend any meetings, conferences or opportunities taking place within your organisational framework. Observe how graduate social workers interact with their clients, chair a meeting and extend your comfort zone. Volunteer to take phone calls or intakes, even if this may mean staying for an extra hour. It is amazing how much you can actually learn from this! In the beginning of my first placement, I was terrified to answer the phone because I was always scared that I will stutter, or say something wrong. However, after sitting in the office and answering the phone for 10 weeks, I have gained a lot of confidence while talking to others over the phone.

Self-Care

Ultimately, as social workers, we have to preserve ourselves because we have minimal tools to protect ourselves from burnout. So while I highly suggest you do all the above, you also need to have an ‘off’ button. Learn to assess and identify your limits in order to detach yourself from placement related work for a few hours a day especially before going to bed. Dedicate some time for yourself, read a fiction, watch a funny video, take bath or go for a walk – do something that makes you feel good. Stop yourself from going to bed thinking about the following day and the long to-do list that you have waiting for you. Avoid thinking about action plans and give your mind a well deserved break.

Although sometimes you may feel unstoppable and very motivated, especially in the beginning you must remain mindful of your body limits because otherwise, you will be risking being burnt-out before actually stepping into the profession.

A freshly graduated Social Worker, with a passion for learning. Main interests include Mental Health, Addictions, Trauma in Children and Foster Care.

          
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Child Welfare

Reps. Bass, Marino Introduce Legislation To Develop And Enhance Kinship Navigator Programs

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Earlier this week, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Congressman Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced legislation to provide grants to states, tribes (including tribal consortia), territories or community-based organizations to develop, enhance, and evaluate Kinship Navigator programs. Kinship Navigator programs support family caregivers through complex legal and administrative systems, help avert crises, prevent multiple child placements, and avoid the need for more costly services.

“With the rise of substance abuse highlighted by the opioid epidemic, more and more kinship caregivers are stepping up to raise children in need of temporary care or permanent homes,” said Rep. Bass. “This is happening in every state and every county in the United States. While we work to address this immediate epidemic, our child welfare systems are being overwhelmed. Kinship caregivers need support and this bill will help provide the assistance necessary to creating a stable home and environment for the child. I hope Congress can come together on this bipartisan issue to stand up for our kinship caregivers and our nation’s most vulnerable youth.”

“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, safe, and loving home,” said Congressman Marino. “We know that when children grow up in stable households, they are much more likely to succeed as adults. This legislation will help ensure that every foster child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, start great careers, and raise loving families of their own.”

The bill will allow community-based organizations to apply directly to the Department of Health and Human Services for funding and also require program evaluations that include community perspectives. You can read the full bill here.

Why Kinship Care Matters:

Research demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to experience numerous different placements with different families. Kinship care results in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care because they are more likely to remain in their same neighborhood, in the same educational setting, be placed with siblings, and have consistent contact with their birth parents than other children in foster care. This is one critical piece in improving outcomes for the children in the child welfare system.

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Education

Students and Alumni Call for Social Work Dean’s Dismissal

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Photo Credit: CUA Student Press Release

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.

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.”

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.

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?

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Justice

Brett Kavanaugh’s Hall Pass for Police Misconduct

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Brett Kavanaugh

On July 9, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Since Kavanaugh’s nomination, opponents are extremely concerned his addition to the court will skew the court to a conservative majority resulting in the rollback of rights and protections for women and minorities

Although Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade has been widely discussed, the latest allegation of sexual assault levied by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has added yet another layer of angst among Democrats and women advocacy groups opposing his confirmation.

Observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels between the Kavanaugh hearings and the installation of Justice Clarence Thomas despite the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991. Thomas is currently the longest serving conservative justice on the current court. Most importantly, it is likely his impact will be felt for decades to come which is why its imperative the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

As the spotlight shifts from Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe to allegations of sexual assault, little attention has been paid to Kavanaugh’s position on the exclusionary rule which may drastically change how law enforcement wield its governmental power. The exclusionary rule is “a law that prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial” presented by police to prosecutors.

Last year, Kavanaugh gave a speech where he commended the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s view that the exclusionary rule “was beyond the four corners of the Fourth Amendment’s text and imposed tremendous costs on society,” and that it was not “required by the constitution.” Kavanaugh was referring to Rehnquist’s originalist approach to the constitution and his belief that the court should not go beyond its text.

The exclusionary rule was created to deter law enforcement from performing unreasonable searches and seizures as defined by the 4th amendment of the United States Constitution. This limit on law enforcement power is so intrinsic and engrained in our culture that it is almost taken for granted.

The rule simply says that evidence unlawfully obtained by police cannot be used against a suspect at trial. The rule also provides an important check on a criminal justice system that is already skewed against poor people and people of color.

A recent study found that the majority of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and later exonerated are African American. In regards to murder convictions, African Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people. The disparity is even more pronounced with regards to drug offenses; African Americans are twelve times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than whites.

The stock argument in opposition to the exclusionary rule is that it inevitably allows guilty persons to go free. According to Judge Benjamin Cardozo, “The criminal is to go free because the constable blundered.” However, those in favor of the exclusionary rule remaining intact believe without it, the protections guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are nothing more than empty promises.

The exclusionary rule has been chipped away at with various exceptions since the Rehnquist Court. Currently, the Supreme Court has four conservative justices; Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. With the addition of Kavanaugh our protections under the exclusionary rule, and Roe for that matter, will be in jeopardy.

The public has already witnessed Officer Michael Slager on video attempting to plant evidence on Walter Scott after fatally shooting in him the back while he was running away from a traffic stop for a broken taillight violation in Charleston, South Carolina. Communities of Color already fear and mistrust the police, and unchecked police power will further widen the divide.

If police are allowed to illegally enter into a home or seize property without securing a warrant and are able to present this evidence in court despite being obtained illegally, many fear this move will reward illegal behavior by the police.

The hypocrisy of government benefiting from its own unlawful conduct leads to a lack of trust in it and further diminishes the idea of equal protection under the law. Most importantly, when a court permits the use of illegally obtained evidence, the court not only sanctions the misconduct but also encourages it.

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Mental Health

Self-Regulation Significant to Overcoming Early Adversity in Drug and Alcohol Abuse

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Self-regulation may hold the key to helping young adults overcome their risk for developing alcohol and drug problems, according to recent research from the University of Georgia.

The study looked at 225 non-college-educated adults aged 18-25 from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who grew up in rural areas in Northeast Georgia. Led by Assaf Oshri, an associate professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the research team found that young adults who experience abuse as children have a higher risk for developing alcohol and drug problems. These same young adults also have a decreased ability to self-regulate, or avoid impulsive decision-making in socially stressful situations.

Oshri pointed to the results as evidence of the need for family-focused preventive intervention programs for adolescents that target self-regulation, in hopes of better identifying factors that promote resilience among youth.

“If we use delayed gratification, we can do well in life, but it seems like those who have specific early life experiences are less able to perform this optimal decision-making, and that can affect their risk of substance abuse,” said Oshri, who is housed in the department of human development and family science.

Protective factors at the biological and psychosocial levels offer hope that interventions targeting decision-making can help at-risk youth, he explained.

“The goal is to try to identify mechanisms that will help youth who experience adversity in life,” he said

During the study, the young adults were assessed twice over two years. In addition to completing surveys measuring their drug and alcohol use and experiences with child maltreatment, participants completed a decision-making task that evaluated their tendency to make impulsive decisions and ability to self-regulate and delay gratification.

To accomplish this, researchers used a tool called “delayed reward discounting.” The young adults answered questions such as “Would you rather have $14 today or $25 in 19 days?” They also agreed to have their heart rates measured while they completed a series of increasingly difficult math-related tasks in front of an audience of research assistants. These measurements allowed researchers to record stress levels and assess self-regulatory capacities.

Study results found that as participants’ maltreatment experiences as children increased, the higher their inclination toward impulsive decision-making and problems delaying gratification.

The paper, “Child maltreatment, delayed reward discounting and alcohol and other drug use problems: The moderating role of heart rate variability,” was published online in August in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Co-authors are UGA graduate students Sihong Liu and Erinn Bernstein Duprey and James MacKillop from McMaster University in Canada. The work was supported by the UGA Owens Institute for Behavioral Research and the Sarah H. Moss Fellowship for UGA faculty.

The abstract can be found at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acer.13858.

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News

ICE Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information Undermining 2018 Election Administration

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.

We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.

Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.

Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

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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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