Social Work in the Public Eye (January 2009)

Donna SteffeyDonna Steffey spoke to the Northern Virginia Daily about ways to help children when a family is dealing with a financial crisis.

Children as young as 5 or 6 can have a basic understanding of money, Steffey, a licensed clinical social worker with Generations Counseling Center, said in the article.

"Kids pick up on just about anything. They are more tuned in than most parents realize," she said.

For many middle-class families with young children, this is the largest financial downturn they've experienced, making it even more of a source of insecurity.

She encouraged parents to talk to their children about financial problems in a general way, saving adult discussions, particularly emotional ones, for out of earshot.

"Children will worry about their parents if they ask questions and don't get good answers," she said. "This leaves them to come up with their own."

The latter, Steffey said, is often much worse than the family's realistic situation, further increasing anxiety among children.

Despite the bleak outlook, there is some good that can come out of the country's economic woes, area professionals said in the article.

Parents can look for activities to do with their children that don't cost money. If budgeting is actively taught, parents can help children understand how much allowance, or in the case of teens, paychecks they need to save to buy a video game or other item, Steffey said.

Take the opportunity to talk to children about what's really important in life, she said, and the minimal importance of material items. The message, said Steffey, can bring family members closer together, particularly when they are exposed to others facing more dire circumstances.

"Everybody goes through hard times. We will get through this," she said.


Barbara Stubbers (no photo) was featured in the Bradenton Herald in Florida in a story that warns people not to ignore their stress levels. While stress has the power to wear your body down, it also can effect emotions and behavior, making you cranky and irritable, Stubbers, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist in Bradenton, said in the article.

Besides moodiness, extra worries and stress can cause a lack of sleep, which, in turn, contributes to a host of other problems, including weight gain and mental fatigue.

Stubbers suggested lots of physical exercise to help melt away tension, anxiety and depression. "Do all the things that mom always told you to do," Stubbers said.

Talking to a counselor or friend makes people feel better too, she said. Many places of employment offer an assistance program for employees who would like counseling or just someone who will lend an ear.

Other people lift their spirits through prayer and attending church, said Stubbers.

Other medical advice includes taking breaks throughout the day from work, listening to smoothing music or picking up a new hobby, such as knitting or playing an instrument, to get your mind off stressful things.


Wendy Crocker (no photo) spoke to the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts about ways to help children deal with fears they may have during the Halloween holiday.

Although children these days are exposed to many fearful things, both in the real and imaginary world, they're not immune to being scared by the trappings of the holiday, Crocker, a licensed independent clinical social worker with Cape Cod Counseling Associates, said in the article. Some activities can instill fear in them that may last long after Halloween is over, it was noted.

The article also focused on different Halloween activities. For example, haunted houses can be fun or overwhelming for young children who "still have one foot in imagination," Crocker said in the article.

Their bodies sense danger and respond to anxiety. They sweat. Their hearts race. They freeze. They may even run out. They lack the awareness that this isn't real and the coping skills to handle it. They are unable to verbalize that "this is scaring me," Crocker said, making it important for parents to notice their reactions and respond appropriately.

Crocker uses play therapy to help children who feel anxious about Halloween realize that imaginary things won't hurt them. She advised parents to prepare their child for a haunted house visit if they don't know what to expect. Explain that it's not a real skeleton they're seeing but someone in a costume.

Crocker strongly advises parents to preview movies. "If something is too scary, shut it off," she said, or leave the movie theater.

Although most children love playing dress-up, some may feel uneasy wearing Halloween costumes. Crocker suggested having them try on costumes ahead of time so they can get used to them.


Elaine MeizlishElaine Meizlish was quoted in Camp in Kansas City, Mo., in an article about women who are questioning their sexuality. The article noted that as citizens celebrate National Coming Out day and Coming Out Month in October, there are resources for people struggling with the decision to come out. Meizlish is a licensed clinical social worker who leads a coming out group for married or divorced women. "I would say in the last almost 10 years now, I have been offering groups for women who are married and/or divorcing or separated and coming out and questioning their sexual orientation in some way," she said.

She said her support/education group is mostly made up of women in their 40s and 50s. "I do have a couple of women in their late 20s and a few in their 30s," she said.

She finds that many of the women who come to her group may have had earlier experiences with women in a relationship but chose to get married to men.

"And it gets repressed, or tries to get repressed and then you come to a place in life where your children may leave to go to college or [you enter] your 40s and 50s and you start looking at your life and seeing that things are not quite how you know they could be," she said.

"I do believe that sexual orientation is inherent and people try many different ways to repress their sexual attractions or their feelings, but eventually they will emerge," she continued.

Meizlish says that the group is diverse. "We have women in the group who are still married, women who identify as bi and women who identify as lesbian."

"What's been really wonderful about this group is because we've met for a while, we've had people on a continuum of a process of transition. And so some of the people who have been there for over two years can provide their experience to the newer people coming in. There's a lot of sharing that goes on in the group, which has been really neat for me to see," she said.

She said the women are very respectful of each other's needs. The group has grown to as many as 20, but on average, 10 to 12 women attend each meeting. Meizlish said she had not reached a point where they would have to cut off the number of people attending and all agreed they would not want to see that happen, or have any kind of waiting list develop.

"But because it's a support group and not a therapy group, I don't focus in on the people's issues in the way I would if it was a therapy group - and that's the difference," she said.