Practice Updates Examine Domestic Violence, Bullying

Rita WebbNASW’s Rita Webb: A troubled economy threatens services for domestic violence victims.

When the economy tanks, domestic violence increases, according to the recently released diversity practice update “Women and Domestic Violence: Implications for Social Work Intervention.”

“An economic crisis alone does not cause domestic violence; however, economic stress can exacerbate an already precarious situation,” it says. “In addition, the loss of a job, home, or car can reduce a victim’s ability to leave an abusive situation.”

It continues: “Understanding and recognizing the underlying dynamics of economic stress on relationships helps social workers to identify possible risk factors and provide intervention for women who may be at higher risk of abuse.”

Tough economic times also negatively impact victim support services, according to Rita Webb, the NASW senior practice associate who wrote the practice update. She cites a report by the National Network to End Domestic Violence that found that 9,280 requests for services last year went unmet because of limited resources, funding and staff.

“It is, therefore, important for social workers to continue to advocate for funding for shelters, transitional housing, and support services to help these vulnerable women and their children have access to a safe environment,” the update says.

In a related update, Webb sheds light on the unique circumstances of immigrant women domestic violence victims.

For immigrant women victims of domestic violence, escaping an abusive relationship is not easy, says Webb in “Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking: Double Jeopardy for Immigrant Women in the United States.” It is typical for perpetrators of domestic violence to exert control by exploiting immigrant women’s limited understanding of the immigration process and their legal rights. Perpetrators will threaten deportation, for example.

In addition, navigating a new culture and language and feeling socially isolated make it more difficult for immigrant victims of domestic violence to get help.

The practice update says addressing the needs of domestic violence victims, including immigrant women, may require:

  • Crisis-oriented, community-based, confidential counseling that includes immediate safety planning;
  • Temporary shelter for victims and their children, if needed;
  • Education about justice system options to help stop and prevent violence, the direct provision of legal services or referral to available, accessible legal service providers;
  • Supportive, ongoing advocacy to help victims build additional skills and negotiate systems that might help them be safer and obtain needed services; and
  • Information about other services to meet victims’ needs for housing, food and financial and mental health counseling.

Focus on bullying

A school social work practice update warns that the changing nature of bullying tactics requires new ways to approach the problem.

Students increasingly rely on electronic communication, and bullies have been quick to exploit technology to torment their victims. The practice update notes that “cyber bullying” can include sending mean text, e-mail or instant messages; posting obscene pictures or messages about someone in blogs or websites; or using someone’s name to spread rumors or lies about someone else.

Sharon Issurdatt, an NASW senior practice associate, wrote the practice update. She says that with the advent of cyber bullying, bullying no longer ends when the school day ends.

To intercede, social workers should first avoid the use of labels such as “bully” and “victim” when describing the participants in a bullying episode. “Children who are labeled by their behaviors can have a difficult time changing those behaviors,” the practice update says. “Labeling the behavior instead of labeling the child can prove to be beneficial.”

The practice update also says that the typical approach to addressing conflict — to bring both parties together to discuss the situation — is inappropriate because the complex dynamics of bullying are similar to the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

“It is important to protect the students being bullied by providing a safe and secure environment for them to discuss their feelings” the update says. “Feelings of safety are compromised when the person causing harm is present.”

Issurdatt points out that zero-tolerance policies, whereby schools suspend or expel students for bad behavior, have been shown to be ineffective and may actually increase maladaptive behaviors. Research has shown, however, that when students are more engaged in the classroom, rates of violence go down and school safety increases.

Issurdatt says school social workers should help teachers identify the warning signs of bullying, such as increased aggression and changes in academic performance and attendance.

“School social workers can advocate for policies that enhance supportive qualities within schools,” the update suggests.

Job supervision

Another school social work practice update authored by Issurdatt highlights the benefits and challenges to adequate job supervision.

Ongoing, consistent supervision, the update points out, helps guide and shape the work a social worker provides. Through their experience and insight, supervisors are able to help prioritize caseloads and address ethical and legal concerns regarding a social worker’s practice.

While NASW’s practice standards for school social calls for appropriate school social work supervision, this standard is often unmet, according to the update.

“One of the main challenges to receiving adequate supervision in the school setting is the lack of time provided for supervision and professional development within a school social worker’s schedule,” it says. “School social workers often have sizeable caseloads. Ironically, caseload size and their demands push supervision down the list of a worker’s priorities.”

Other challenges include lack of funding and that a school social worker may be assigned to more than one school.

Workarounds can include group supervision, which saves time by allowing a supervisor to meet with a number of social workers at once, and remote supervision via phone or e-mail. When meeting with a supervisor is not feasible, the update suggests peer consultation.