International Development and Social Work

This last spring I was selected along with three other classmates to serve as a delegate for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). I and 19 other women from around the U.S. spent a week completely submerged in the world of international relations, diplomacy and advocacy. The theme of this year’s CSW was “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”. In a nutshell, the Millennium Development Goals are a set of 8 goals for international development to be achieved by 2015. Although there are criticisms, some that are extremely valid, of the MDGs and the UN’s approach to international development, I want to take this post in a different direction.

More information on the MDGs, history and next steps here: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.

The week we attending the conference was a jam-packed, roller coaster ride of events ranging in topics from ‘empowering girls through spirituality’ to ‘involving men in the movement’; briefings from U.S. Ambassadors; networking events and somewhere in there was one slice of cheesecake or seven. It was an exhausting, exhilarating, disappointing and motivating week. One of the biggest surprises for me was the low representation in the process of professionals identifying as social workers. I understand that the social work profession is not as, well, professionalized, in other countries as it is in the U.S. but nonetheless, I was disappointed.

As part of our delegate status we were continuously updating the discussion board with entries to include WILPF members in the conversation that were unable to be at the CSW. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote toward the end of the week.

“As a social worker I come away from this experience slightly disappointed in the representation of my profession on the global level. However, I also strongly believe in tackling issues from a strengths-based perspective and see a great opportunity for freshly minted social workers such as myself to revitalize the voice of the profession in the international policy arena. The values that we hold most dear as a profession are also those found at the heart of sustainable development. I am motivated to work towards a ensuring that the global voice of social workers is strong, vibrant and innovative.”

Even now that I am back home comfortably surrounded by fellow social work students, as I read over this excerpt again, the same feelings rise up. There is such a need for social workers to speak up and speak out on an international level about issues we face every day. Not only are we making things happen in our own communities, we have the tools to make lasting change for communities around the world. Cultural Competency, meeting the client where they are, evaluation and evidenced-based practice are consistently pushed as the “wave of the future” in international development but as social workers, we are already there. I believe that we play vital roles in our communities, we help those that need it most right around the corner but that is not to say we cannot represent them or we cannot empower them to speak for themselves on a global scale. There is power in our values, ethics and practices as clinical and macro social workers that has validity in the international development conversation.

The GCSW has numerous opportunities for social work students to get involved at the international level. For more information about these opportunities, feel free to email Professor Patrick Leung at pleung@uh.edu or visit the GCSW website.

By: Dixie Hairston

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Presenting at Professional Conferences

Between wedding planning and dual degree coursework in Spring 2011, I decided I wanted to attend and present at two conferences: the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) conference and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting. While I had attended the 2010 CSWE Annual Program Meeting, I did not present, so the process of submitting an abstract to this conference was incredibly new to me. I also had never attended NACSW, but received a call from Dr. Rick Chamiec-Case, the executive director whom I had met a couple of years ago, nudging me to submit a workshop proposal. So, I did.

For NACSW, I submitted an abstract for a workshop entitled, Spirituality and Self-Care. This was not only my first workshop to at a conference, but was my first time at a NACSW conference and my first time presenting at a major conference without any of my colleagues in attendance. Despite any anxieties I may have had going into the weekend, my experience was wonderful – everyone at NACSW was so positive and welcoming, and it was amazing to be surrounded by social workers who are so passionate about discussing religion or spirituality in social work practice!

When I picked up my registration packet and began identifying the sessions I wanted to attend, I realized very quickly that many were at the same time mine was: Saturday morning, 10am. Immediately, I began to think that since so many interesting sessions were scheduled for that time, I’d have a small crowd. Saturday morning came, I grabbed breakfast, and then headed over to the room I was presenting in. Wow, people are actually waiting at the door… hm…. They must have just not attended the session before, I thought as I walked up. The session before mine ran late, so as soon as they filed out, I calmly but quickly walked up to the front of the room and started setting everything up. Clicker: check. Powerpoint: check. Breathe in, breathe out: check. Business cards: check. Bottle of water: check. Bathroom: shoot! Do I have time? No… ok, here goes.

I stood up, after having my back to the audience, and turned around to see a very full room. Whaaaaat??? Why this session???, I kept thinking to myself. I was literally shocked, and as my senses came back and I heard the moderator say she ran out of evaluations and that there were no seats left. Attendants were squeezing in to sit on the floor and stand in the back of the room! One deep breath and I began.

After the talk was over, I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from those who attended. It was an amazing experience for my first workshop as the sole presenter, and I’m sincerely grateful for the doctoral program’s willingness to support my experience!

CSWE was another wonderful experience for me this semester. Four days after returning from NACSW, I was back on a plane headed to Atlanta for CSWE’s Annual Program Meeting (APM). Lucky for me, I have family that lives in Atlanta and was also able to spend some of that time with loved ones.

There were some wonderful sessions at CSWE’s APM this past fall, and it was a real treat to see so many of our doctoral students there as well. However, the highlight of the conference was presenting with my mentor on Sunday. Dr. Danielle Parrish and I had submitted two abstracts for this conference: one on the mentoring program, and another on our work examining field instructors’ views of evidence-based practice (EBP). Without data yet at the time of abstract submission, the mentoring program received a moderate score, but will be resubmitted this year with data (so, I had my first abstract rejection experience!), while the field instructor abstract was accepted and scheduled for early Sunday afternoon.

To be able to present with my mentor was an honor and an incredible experience. The data was based on a study we had worked on together, and while there weren’t many in the audience as most were heading home that morning, there were still enough to stimulate a discussion. What was also fascinating, was that the other two presenters within our time slot were two faculty members I had actually had dinner with the weekend before at NACSW!

For anyone considering submitting abstracts to conferences, especially either of these two, I would strongly encourage you to do so. I feel as though the ability to learn from others (not just in material, but also in presentation style), to share what we know, and to network at these events has been invaluable.

By: Holly Oxhandler

Second and Third and Millionth Chances

When I was just learning the ropes as a case manager, I had a million questions. Where do you park? How do I use this phone? Is this a meeting space, or the lunchroom, or both? Quickly, my questions became less office related and more client focused: Are they eligible for this program? Which funding source should I use? Typically, how many food packages can the average client carry if they don’t have a car?

Even though the situation was not relevant at the time, I asked my supervisor a question that often comes up in social services, something to the effect of: How many times can a client come to us for services before they can no longer request help from us?

Minus the social work sugar-coating: How many times can someone ask for help and not follow through before they are denied?

I asked this question months ago, and the reply is still marinating in my thoughts.

His answer was simple but one of the most inspiring responses I’ve ever heard:

“Well, here at <insert organization name> we’re not only a place of second or third chances, right? We’re also of sixth, seventh, eighth– millionth chances, so we discuss the barriers that the client faced and how this next opportunity will be different than the last.”

Simple. Right.

What I gather from that is:

We’re a place of second and third and millionth chances.

We are human, too, and we perform our jobs based on how well we can carry out our purpose to serve others, not solely those people we deem deserving of help.

We need to go one step beyond forgiveness and acknowledge that it is not our position to place judgment. If it’s not our place to condemn, it’s also not our place to forgive. It is, however, our position to serve.

Some people might think that it’s an abuse of the system—that it is inconsiderate and ungrateful to continually ask for help without fulfilling one’s “end of the deal.” That may be true. After all, social workers are not saints. We needn’t necessarily serve a client for the hundredth time with a smile and a pat on the back (wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of patience?). While resources are limited and patience grows thin, I couldn’t possibly say that I’ve been down the same road as many of my clients, and there are a million reasons why a plan with perfectly outlined goals and objectives falls through. One very common misconception about the homeless population is that they just need to “get a job.” To those who believe this would instantly solve the plight of the homeless, I would like to ask them if they’ve seen a job application that isn’t required to be filled out electronically. More importantly, what do the first few boxes on a job application require? An address. What don’t you have when you’re homeless? You probably get where I’m going with this. So when clients come to me and tell me they’ve been looking for a job for over six months, sure, it’s hard to create a plan of action that revolves around income, but we do it anyway. And if it doesn’t work out, we try something new. Try, and try again, because if you don’t even have hope in your clients, how can you expect them to have hope in themselves?

So, here’s my method for trying to avoid being tormented by injustice in the world; I’m still testing it out, but I think it’s working, in my work life and in my personal life:

Try to understand as best you can. Try to focus on the good, on the solution.

Then, try to help.

Try to be a person of second and third and millionth chances.

By: Melanie Pang

Equal Justice Works Conference

This past weekend I attended the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair.  Equal Justice Works (EJW) is a national organization whose mission is to mobilize the next generation of public interest lawyers by providing resources and opportunities for law students, law school professionals, and public sector employers.  I have attended this conference for the past three years, and it is always a unique opportunity to come together with an inspiring group of students.  On Friday, I went to several conference sessions on topics from student organization initiatives to the new Public Defender Corps program that EJW is launching this year.  I was also at the conference to attend the annual meeting of the EJW National Advisory Committee (NAC), a committee that I have the pleasure of sitting on.

The conference is always energizing and a reminder not only of the idealistic values that pushed me towards graduate school, but also that there are many other individuals out there who share that sense of idealism.   The NAC has allowed me to mix those values with action.   The committee is made up of seven law students and seven law school professionals who support EJW in reaching out to law schools and law students in order to help plan the annual conference.  My social work skills have come in handy in this capacity.  In doing outreach to law schools, I have met with a mix of individuals.   Some have no idea what EJW is, while others are in search of resources to mobilize eager students at the school. I have kept in mind the tried and true social work principle “start where you client is” in these situations.  To top off the weekend, the NAC elected me to represent the committee on the EJW Board of Directors.  Among several qualified and inspiring candidates, this election was a true honor.

By: Chloe Walker