The Social Networker

Social Worker Shortage, High Turnover Threatens Public

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on May 25, 2017 · 0 comments

We’ve discussed the issue of social worker churn before. That problem is not going away and is not getting better on its own. In fact, the high turnover in the social work profession, coupled with a general shortage of social workers overall, is a problem being felt all around the industrialized world.

Catherine Hutton, in RNZ, reports that a shortage of Child Youth and Family social workers, coupled with a lack of resources, is leaving children in New Zealand at risk of abuse and neglect. “Belinda Inglis, a Masterton-based family lawyer, said in the past six months, 10 staff who specialised in care and protection had left CYF, and they had not all been replaced yet,” Hutton writes. “Ms Inglis, who acted as a lawyer for children in the Family Court, said when she looked at a child’s history, CYF staff shortages and lack of resourcing were often evident.”

Evidently, cases are being delayed in New Zealand’s family courts while parties wait for court-ordered CYF reports. CYF workers are in short supply, resulting in delays of months if not longer.

In the UK, meanwhile, as reported in the Daily Nation, British businesses are trying desperately to fill vacancies (due to a drop in labor supply from the European Union following Brexit). While some of the vacancies involve wholesale, retail, accommodation, and food services worker, others involve human health and social work. These fields take advantage of large numbers of workers from the EU.  The fact that the UK cannot fill its own social work positions without generous amounts of labor from the European Union underscores the shortage the United Kingdom is experiencing.

Back here at home, as reported by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene in Governing, turnover in public-sector jobs remains a huge problem — particularly in social services. “One well-known study found that with one caseworker, the chance for a child to achieve a permanent and stable living situation was 74 percent,” report Barrett and Greene. “If a child had two caseworkers in one year, the odds dropped to 17 percent. With three caseworkers, it was a mere 5 percent.”

The turnover in the field is considered “devastating.” If clients end up working with different workers every few months, they are less willing to comply and less confident in the quality of the care they are receiving. “Constant workforce churn costs not just clients hope but governments money,” add Barrett and Greene. “Once turnover persists, it creates conditions that lead to a seemingly never-ending cycle: experienced caseworkers don’t have time to mentor new ones, caseloads increase, backlogs develop, tempers flare, pressures rise and burnout shows no signs of fading. This is an issue in most of America, but in some places, it has recently reached crisis levels.”

The problem remains, and no better description of the vicious cycle of social work turnover can be written than the preceding paragraph. What problems have you encountered with social worker churn in the American workplace? What solutions do you see to the problem… if any? Are you thinking of leaving the field? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts with us.

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Social Work and False Allegations of Abuse

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on May 22, 2017 · 0 comments

It is, unfortunately, a stereotype faced by the social work profession. Say “social worker” to most people and you will automatically conjure images of stern-faced unfeeling government automatons who show up at your door and deprive hard-working parents of their children. But stereotypes derive from somewhere. While the idea that social workers exist to tear screaming children from the arms of their mothers is a myth — and while the reality of social work is that we change lives for the better every day — the source of the public’s fear over social workers is rooted in reality.

That reality is that when someone is accused of a crime or other action requiring social worker intervention, the stigma of the accusation is often enough to cause very real distress. On rare occasions, that distress is entirely justified, because the accusations are false. Anyone can call in a complaint against anyone else, after all, and there have even been rare cases in which social workers abused the system to call in complaints on individuals they did not like. This begs the question: are there enough safeguards against false allegations?
Carl O’Brien reports in the Irish Times on what he terms “the fallout from the controversy in which Sgt Maurice McCabe faced an unfounded allegation of child abuse.” These false allegations have, in O’Brien’s words, “prompted real concern about the checks and balances of a system in which highly sensitive information and allegations are routinely shared between social services and the Garda [the Irish police].”

He continues, “Professionals on the front line of child protection services who spoke to The Irish Times feel the system works fairly and safely in the vast majority of cases. However, they say it’s vulnerable to errors due to a combination of pressure on the childcare system, high staff turnover and the move from paper-based records to an IT system.”

This is the balancing act, of course, between the way a system whose purpose is social oversight truly works. We must be able to investigate potential needs on the part of our citizens, but if false allegations occur — and while they do, they are still rare — due process becomes that much more important. It’s all too easy for social workers to allow their feelings to become mixed up in their work, as we are a dedicated and passionate group. Even when we believe we know the truth, however, we must adhere to the highest standards of due process. If someone is wrongly accused, we must be able to look back on how they were treated and take pride in the professional conduct of all involved. If we cannot, then it’s time for serious reflection on our system… and on the protections we afford both alleged victims and alleged abusers.

What protections do you believe should be afforded the accused in cases of abuse or other social work issues? What would you change if you could? What about our system works well, in your opinion? We welcome your thoughts on this difficult issue.

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Social Workers as a Force for Change: Ending Human Trafficking

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on May 20, 2017 · 0 comments

Social workers individually, and the social work field as a profession, have a long history of improving society through the diligent efforts of social work’s dedicated, compassionate professionals. Now, it looks like some social workers are turning their attention to a particularly dark issue where humans’ treatment of their fellow human beings is concerned, and that is the trafficking of individuals. Can social workers help end human trafficking? It’s beginning to look like that just might be a possibility.

Briana Latter reports in the Daily Trojan that the state of California has a serious problem with human trafficking — one that eclipses other states. “The online master of social work program at the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work released an interactive website about human trafficking as the second piece of a two-part campaign to spread awareness about the issue,” she writes. “The website provides a place for the public to learn about human trafficking from an educational standpoint.”

Latter explains that the site is a collaboration between the school and Professor Annalisa Enrile. Enrile has been passionate about human trafficking for years. Her family is Filipino, and she asserts that the primary export of the Philippines is migrant labor. Described as a leader in the fight against human trafficking, Enrile has built a website that does not just educate, but also explains “how social workers can play a role in ending the practice [of human trafficking].

Latter says the website is one component in a two-part campaign. The other part was a video called “Freedom;’s Journey: Understanding Human Trafficking” released in January on Human Trafficking Awareness Day (the eleventh of January). “According to the video,” writes Latter, “more than 20 million victims live as modern-day slaves.”

The website, meanwhile, includes “personal stories from survivors, as well as a spotlight on child soldiers. The website’s visuals provide additional information about the human trafficking epidemic. The maps show the different countries that the victims come from, as well as where they end up.”

Enrile rightly points out that the first step toward ending human trafficking is making sure the issue is foremost in the public consciousness.  This is definitely an issue with which social workers can engage, and one that is worthwhile among the many social issues that we, as professionals, choose to tackle. How would you raise awareness of this important issue? What actions can you, personally, take to end the practice of human trafficking? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

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Social Workers: To License or Not to License?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on May 17, 2017 · 0 comments

Social workers are skilled professionals, often possessing years of experience working with clients and improving lives. The question is often asked, however, whether social workers must be licensed, and if there is a requirement for licensure where you work as a social worker, chances are good that you have strong feelings one way or another about that fact.

Tony Leys, reporting for the Des Moines Register, underscored the passions running high on this topic when he highlighted a move by a Republican state representative. Rep. Bobby Kaufman literally tore up a bill from Governor Terry Branstad that would have cancelled licensure requirements for social workers, mental health therapists, barbers, and several other professions.

Leys explains that Kaufmann was chairman of a subcommittee considering the bill from the Republican governor. Kaufmann says he received thousands of emails about the bill, most of them opposing dropping the licensing requirement for social workers. “There is zero appetite in this state for removing licensure,” Leys quotes Kaufmann. “There is zero appetite for that to reappear in an amendment or to reappear in any sort of other bill the rest of the session.”

“The bill,” writes Leys, “would have substituted undefined ‘registration’ for formal licensure for dietitians, athletic trainers, funeral directors, mental health counselors, marital therapists, social workers, speech pathologists and audiologists. It would have ended all licensure requirements for respiratory therapists, massage therapists, hearing-aid specialists, barbers and interior designers.”

In a letter to the Des Moines Register, Barb Yankey echoed the sentiments that Kaufmann says he has heard on dropping this restriction. “As a retired hospice social worker,” writes Yankey, “…I find this proposal appalling. Our state has the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Art and Sciences to promote public health, welfare and safety. The board’s licensure establishes rules and regulations to ensure the integrity and competence of licensed cosmetologists and investigates complaints for unprofessional conduct. I am adamant social workers continue to receive the protections found through licensure that are given to cosmetologists and other professions.”

Yankey’s letter further underscores an important concept here: Licensure is not merely a restriction, a hurdle to participation. It is also vital protection for those licensed. Licensing requirements ensure integrity and quality of service while conferring certain legal protections to the social worker that are vital to the performance of his or her job… don’t they? That is the crux of the debate. On the other side of that debate is the notion that the ability to license a thing is the ability to control that thing.

So, where do you stand? As a social worker, are you required to hold a license? Do you believe that restriction should remain in place or, like the governor of Iowa, do you believe that requirement should be dropped? Please share your thoughts with us.

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Balancing Law Enforcement and Social Work

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 28, 2017 · 0 comments

There are two schools of thought where societal ills like crime and violence are concerned. One is that vigorous law enforcement can address problems after they occur, bringing those who contribute to societal decay and cultural problems (such as crime and drug abuse) to justice. This is believed both to remediate and to deter undesirable behavior. This model, however, does not always work, as it treats symptoms rather than root causes in many cases.

The other school of thought is preventive in nature. Those who subscribe to it believe that addressing society’s ills requires finding the problems at the core of those ills, then working to prevent these issues from occurring. This approach, while it produces many benefits, also cannot prevent all crime. There will always be those who turn to criminal conduct for a myriad of reasons, despite our best efforts to preempt the conditions that contribute to such choices.

The solution to what ails us as a community may therefore be to balance law enforcement with social work. Julie Muhlstein, writing for HeraldNet, highlights work being done in which social workers embedded with the Everett Police Department are working on behalf of the department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team.

“[Social workers] Staci McCole and Kaitlyn Dowd unravel tangles,” Muhlstein writes. “They find housing and drug treatment. They handle red tape. They navigate the mazes of social services. It’s all to help people — the ones most troubled or most in need — while supporting law enforcement and working to make Everett a safer place. Dowd and McCole are social workers embedded with the Everett Police Department. They serve with Everett Police Sgt. Mike Braley on the department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team. …Dowd and McCole talked about meeting people on the streets, or staying in cars or makeshift homeless camps. Describing one sad scenario, Dowd spoke about being at an encampment with Everett Police Sgt. John Zeka and meeting a woman who had been homeless nearly a decade. She was pregnant and addicted to methamphetamine. With the social worker’s help, the woman got into detox and treatment. The baby was born healthy.”

The Everett program underscores what can be accomplished when social workers cooperate with, and supplement, law enforcement officers. Neither approach can address all issues by themselves, but together, the two are complementary. This offers the best opportunity for any community plagued by crime, drugs, and violence. It also offers something even more valuable to the community’s residents, and that is hope for the future. We’d like to see more of this type of collaboration in the future… and it looks like more and more police departments are coming around to the concept of combining prevention with law enforcement.

What do you think? Comment and share your thoughts and experiences below.

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Managing the Fallout: When Failure Costs Lives

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 25, 2017 · 1 comment

Social workers are people. No human being is perfect. This means that when a human being makes mistakes — or simply guesses wrong in a scenario with no clear-cut answers — the power that social workers wield can have real consequences. Most of the time, these consequences are positive, as the social work field has done much to advance the cause of communities in the United States and around the world. On rare occasions, however, a social worker fails — and while a human life seldom hangs in the balance, there have been times when someone dies.

Oralandar Brand-Williams, reporting in The Detroit News, says that felony charges against two local social workers have been dismissed by a judge in Detroit. There was, according to the judge, not enough evidence to take the case to trial, despite public outcry at what the public saw as a failure of social workers in the case.

“Elaina Brown, 24, and Kelly M. Williams, 47, both Wayne County residents, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, both felonies,” writes Brand-Williams. “Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and a conviction on second-degree child abuse could result in a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty remains and a Jan. 12 pretrial hearing was scheduled to hear arguments on the remaining charge. Their lawyers hope to have those charges dropped as well.”

At issue was whether Brown and Williams failed to do their jobs while investigating a mental health complaint concerning one Deanna Minor. It’s alleged that Minor killed her son because she was not taking required medications, and that Brown and Williams ignored evidence to that effect.

Meanwhile, John Steckroth, in Click On Detroit, writes that the prosecutor’s office is considering an appeal. Last summer, 3-year-old Aaron Minor was found dead in a bed in his mother’s apartment. He may, in fact, have been lying there dead for more than a week. The lurid case drew a great deal of public attention. Did the two social workers ignore indications that Deanna Minor was unfit? Could they have taken more action more proactively, and thus prevented Aaron Minor’s death?

Ultimately, there’s no way to say. It’s easy to look for someone to blame after a horrific death like this, especially one of a child. No social worker wants something like this to happen, and most of them work very hard to make sure it never does. But social workers are also human beings. Wherever the human element is present, there will be the potential for great triumphs… and rare but very real tragedies.

What are your thoughts? We would appreciate it if you shared them.

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Confidentiality for Unlicensed Social Workers?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 23, 2017 · 0 comments

Confidentiality for Unlicensed Social Workers?

Confidentiality and transparency are often seen as opposites. On the one hand, there is the need to protect the identities of those who work with the public in potentially controversial capacities. Social workers definitely fall into this category, as the amount of power they have to affect the lives of their clients is sometimes misinterpreted as “breaking up families” and “taking away children.” There are thousands of hard-working social workers in the field who give of themselves tirelessly to help their clients, but the rare bad apple only strengthens the misconceptions held by some members of the public.

When a social worker makes a mistake or, worse, abuses his or her power, this creates resentment. And even a social worker who does nothing wrong can incur the resentment of clients or family members of clients… leading to high-profile acts of violence against those in the social work field. Then, too, a social worker might be asked to disclose the details of the work he or she is doing with his or her clients, which could potentially expose the private business of those clients (which in turn creates even more problems for both the social worker and those that social worker serves). It is to prevent scenarios like this that confidentiality rules and laws have been instituted… but should those protections extend to unlicensed social workers?

Olivia Covington, reporting in The Indiana Lawyer, explains that Indiana’s Supreme Court recently tackled the issue  of “whether communications with an unlicensed social worker are considered privileged and confidential. …The issue stems from the deposition testimony of Amy Wallace, an unlicensed social worker who provided social services at Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis to B.L., an alleged victim of molestation by her uncle, James Rogers. During deposition, Wallace refused to answer four questions from Rogers’ counsel, citing to I.C. 25-23.6-6-1 as a legal basis for why she could not answer. Rogers sought to compel the testimony, but the trial court denied the motion. The Marion Superior Court agreed with Wallace, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and held that the ‘counselor’ privilege under state code applied only to social workers.”

The crux of the issue is succinctly defined by Covington: “If only licensed social workers are protected under the statute, then people seeking full confidentiality will have to pay more to work with someone who has the appropriate licensure… That system would create two classes of people… one class wealthy enough to pay for confidentiality, and one class subject to the possible disclosure of their personal struggles.”

It’s obvious there are no easy answers to a problem like this, but we lean in favor of extending those protections for the same reasons. Confidentiality should not be something one class of person can pay for and another cannot afford. If confidentiality is warranted, it should be warranted regardless of economic station and opportunity. What do you think? Please comment here.

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Ethics, Propriety, and Social Work

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 20, 2017 · 0 comments

Could failure to complete necessary paperwork land you in legal trouble? What about violating one of the most significant of rules where the social worker/client relationship is concerned? Well, there are no easy answers, but failure to abide by proper ethics — while maintaining a sense of propriety — certainly could result in serious legal issues. Much depends the nature and severity of the failure. CBC News reports that a social worker in Canada has been suspended for five years, and told to pay a penalty of up to $29,000, after a tribunal found the man guilty of professional misconduct.

“[Social worker] Morley Rice was found guilty of engaging in a personal relationship with a client, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers said in their decision dated Dec. 5 [2016]. Rice was found to have also disclosed confidential information, and failed to complete and document client assessments. A tribunal for the social workers association decided Rice will not be able to reapply for five years, and he must follow a number of conditions when or if he does reapply.”

Meanwhile, Luke Stevenson, reporting for Community Care, explains that a social worker who felt “inadequate” has been sanctioned by the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK for failure to maintain proper records in cases involving children.

“The HCPC found the social worker did not record in a timely manner updates about visits, meetings or assessments in relation to 16 different service users. His performance was of concern to the council for four years before he was dismissed in 2014, the HCPC panel heard, and he received regular support and supervision throughout this period… The social worker admitted to the failings, and submitted a reflective statement to the panel accepting the need for social workers to maintain accurate records… [The social worker] told the panel that delays in some of his cases of three to six months were unacceptable and cited ‘the high workload that he was under’. He also said he felt inadequate and that there was “an impact on his health’.”

Both of these cases have in common the fact that the social workers involved knew they were doing something wrong. They knew they weren’t adhering to the code of ethics and conduct that governs social workers. As a body of professionals we have considerable power, which makes it all the more important that we hold ourselves to a high standard — regardless of the often demanding, stressful, and even punishing nature of the work that we do. Whenever a social worker gives in to that pressure and does what he or she knows to be wrong, the whole profession suffers a black eye that the public rarely lets us forget.

What ethical or workload struggles do you grapple with in the profession… and how have you overcome them? Please comment and share your thoughts.

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Was this Social Worker Fired for Asking Questions?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 17, 2017 · 0 comments

Was a 45-year-old social worker at Erlanger Health System in Tennessee fired because she questioned a hospital’s response to the suicide of a patient? Zack Peterson reports in the Times Free Press that Veronica Lackey is suing Erlanger for half a million dollars. She says she lacked sufficient training to raise the alarm to the patient’s condition. As a result of the patient’s suicide, Lackey was placed on internal probation and transferred as punishment. She claims she was made a scapegoat in the incident and was fired when she tried to file an internal complaint.

“According to the lawsuit, Lackey was walking down a patient floor with a medical student on July 26 ]pf last year] when two people rushed out of a room and said they needed help: A male patient had hanged himself in the bathroom. Inside the room, Lackey and the medical student found a nurse trying to give the man CPR. The nurse asked the duo to give a ‘code’ for a medical emergency. But no one at Erlanger had ever trained her to give a code, so Lackey ran to a nearby nurses’ station, the suit says. …The [nurses] also did not call for a code, the lawsuit says. This time, Lackey ran to a break room on the floor and found five nurses. When she told them what was going on, they all left the break room, the suit says. The patient died soon after.”

Lackey was subsequently disciplined for not calling a code. She was accused by Erlanger of “spreading rumors” that nurses were unavailable, improperly documenting the suicide, and missing a meeting on the incident. Lackey denies these accusations, saying she didn’t receive proper notice of the meeting. She was given more work to do, she contends, and placed on a two-year probationary period — a punitive action for her alleged failure, she contends. When she complained that she never received proper training for the action that got her disciplined, she was fired, despite a clean record of disciplinary problems prior to the incident. She also alleges racial discrimination.

There is no way to know the truth of the Erlanger incident until all the evidence is heard. Lackey may well have been scapegoated for the death of a patient. She might also have been negligent and her lawsuit might be an attempt to profit from a situation of her own making. There’s simply no way to tell at this point. However, the whole affair does highlight the importance of proper training. Whether for medical professionals, social workers, social workers in medical settings, or any related scenarios, ongoing training and education is important. This is one reason organizations like ours make ongoing training available to social workers — to prevent the types of problems that a deficit of training and education causes. The stakes are not always life and death, to be sure, but they are frequently serious. It is better to be over-educated than under-educated, and better to keep your skills and training updated than to let them lie fallow.

In what ongoing training do you engage? Feel free to share your thoughts with us here.

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Preempting Workplace Violence

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 13, 2017 · 0 comments

Nobody likes to think about workplace violence, but it happens. There have been several high-profile acts of violence committed against social workers. There have also been multiple workplace shootings. The high-profile attack in San Bernardino, California, began at a workplace gathering. There are countless other examples. Nobody likes to think workplace violence, ranging from a single employee striking another to “active shooter” nightmare scenarios, can happen… but they do. Thankfully, they are rare, but the fact is that all of us must be on our guard to prevent and preempt workplace violence.

Kathleen M. Bonczyk, writing in Property Casualty 360, paints a perhaps naive picture while making this point. “Once upon a time, employees who were dissatisfied with how management treated them might respond by organizing, filing a grievance or suing,” she writes. “If they were really frustrated, they might refuse to sign the warning notice or performance appraisal form that was presented to them in protest. Nowadays it is not uncommon for disgruntled employees to push the boundaries of behavior much further, even to the point of killing supervisors or managers.”

This attitude is a bit wrong-headed. Workplace shootings, despite the attention paid to them in our media, are uncommon. They do happen, however (and they are not new to the American workplace). What has changed is our awareness of the problem. Toward the end of preempting these incidents of violence, there are strategies we can employ. These include, according to Bonczyk, making employees feel empowered, and giving them a voice they feel is being listened to.

“Employees who kill tend to do so because they feel powerless and need to redistribute the balance of power,” Bonczyk writes, “In accordance with governing federal law, employees are entitled to safe working conditions under Section 5 of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (the OSH Act”) of 1970. OSHA is charged with various responsibilities including administering and enforcing the OSH Act and engaging in educational activities intended to promote employee health and safety goals.”

In other words, employers and their employees must work together to prevent workplace violence because it is the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace safe. Bonczyk goes on to explain that minimizing the risk of workplace violence starts at the beginning of the working relationship. Behavioral-based interview questions help identify those employees best suited to your workplace while weeding out those who are unsuitable. “This method,” she explains, “is based on the concept that the way an applicant behaved under similar circumstances in the past is a good indicator as to how he or she will behave in future.”

On an ongoing basis, both management and employees can help preempt workplace violence by remaining aware of odd behavior on the part of their coworkers. Odd behavior, complaints, warning signs of violence, nervous or erratic behavior… all of it should be reported, and dealt with in a caring, compassionate, and proactive manner by human resources. Working together, everyone in the workplace can improve conditions therein… while reducing the chances of a violent incident at work. This is a laudable goal and one that we should all keep in mind.

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