Social Work in the Public Eye (November 2015)

Jennifer Hill NASW member Jennifer Hill and her mother, Edith, arrived at the Superdome in New Orleans on Aug. 28, 2005, to wait out Hurricane Katrina.

They figured as soon as the storm was over, they’d leave the Superdome — which the city had dubbed the “shelter of last resort” — and go back home.

“As soon as this was over, we would be going home,” Jennifer Hill said in a West Virginia Gazette article. “That was the feeling when we walked in the door.”

But the Hills didn’t get to return home after the storm, as New Orleans was 80 percent under water, the article says. They did not know what was going on, however, even after flagging down a National Guardsman.

“He said, ‘You’re not going anywhere; the city’s under water,’ ” Edith Hill said, adding that since he was from Kansas, she figured he didn’t know what he was talking about. The article said nobody seemed to know exactly what was going on, even the mayor, who was interviewed by a local radio station.

“It was the most ominous interview, the most ominous conversation I’ve ever heard,” Jennifer Hill said. “His only response, to every question, was ‘I don’t know.’ And every time he said ‘I don’t know,’ that pit in my stomach kept getting bigger and bigger.”

The Hills stayed in the Superdome for a week, with rationed food, no running water, broken plumbing, scattered electricity, and oppressive heat, the article says.

“We were surrounded by people in the dome that had watched family members die,” Jennifer Hill said. “I mean literally, watched them drown, watched them float away.”

After the Hills evacuated the Superdome, they eventually arrived in West Virginia, a state, the article says, shined during the catastrophe.

“We were in that kind of shaky calm where we were like, ‘What is life? What do we do?’ ” Jennifer Hill said. “But people in Huntington, people in West Virginia, were just so open and so caring that, even then, that moment of complete shock, we were able to kind of regroup and, if nothing else, just sit and think for a second.”

Jennifer has been a social worker at the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia for seven years, working with kids in foster families and emergency shelters. Jennifer and Edith are among the few evacuees who stayed on in West Virginia, making it a new home.

Alberto GodenziNASW member Alberto Godenzi will step down from his role as dean of the Boston College School of Social Work in 2016, says an article from the school’s Office of News and Public Affairs.

Godenzi was dean for 14 years, and the article says his leadership helped transform the school by improving its academic reputation, research output, quality of faculty and responsiveness to critical societal needs.

“I am very happy about what we have accomplished as a school of social work,” Godenzi says in the article. “We are known as a place that does cutting-edge work in areas such as neuroscience, immigration and naturalization, and environmental justice, in addition to the more traditional fields of social work.

It has resulted in a cultural shift for the school that has distinguished us in academe and enabled stakeholders outside of the academy to see us as partners in helping to resolve the world’s most compelling challenges.”

At the request of the university, Godenzi will assist in the development of Boston College’s next strategic plan by reviewing current international engagements and relationships and then preparing recommendations for enhancing the global connections and impact of Boston College.

Subway©, the popular chain sandwich shop, is known for its inexpensive subs and former spokesperson Jared Fogle, whose claim to fame was that Subway® sandwiches helped him lose a considerable amount of weight.

Fogle was charged in July with child pornography and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors, ending his lucrative Subway® career.

An online article for WTTV, a CBS affiliate in Indianapolis, says Fogle furthered the underground sex trade by using his fame and wealth to travel the country and engage in sexual acts with minors.

Carol Juergensen SheetsNASW member Carol Juergensen Sheets says she is the only certified sex-addictions therapist in Indianapolis, where Fogle lived. She says in the article she hasn’t evaluated Fogle, but has a good idea of what he’s going through.

“Jared is suffering from an exploitative sexual addiction — he exploits children,” said Juergensen- Sheets. She adds that “sex addiction” was recently excluded from the manual of psychiatric disorders, but it’s still an addiction.

“I definitely think it’s an addiction, and I don’t blame people for wondering about this,” she says in the article. “This is a new field. We have always had sexual addiction, but with the Internet it became so much more common.”

According to the article, Fogle is accused of hiring prostitutes who were older than 18 and paying them a finder’s fee for younger girls. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of children are sold as sex slaves every year.

Kim Kardashian West and Anne Boleyn may not seem very alike. But they actually represent a cultural type that people love to hate — making them extremely popular, despite being disliked at the same time.

Robert WeissNASW member Robert Weiss, a social worker and sex therapist at Elements Behavioral Health in Long Beach, Calif., specializes in media and intimacy in the digital age. He is quoted in an article on about why a celebrity’s popularity doesn’t necessarily correlate with how much they are liked.

The one reason is simple, he says in the article: It just doesn’t matter whether we like celebrities or hate them — we use A-listers to help us relate to each other and make sense of society.

“In all of our very human and understandable needs to feel important and connected, we seek out bigger-than-life figures around us to whom we can connect,” he said, saying stars like Kardashian West and Beyoncé fill roles as “cultural touchpoints” — much like kings, queens and emperors filled those roles in the past.

Beyoncé, Weiss says, fills the role of the ingénue, princess or queen, while Kardashian West plays the role of the temptress or the wicked queen. Using some examples from history, Weiss says Beyoncé is akin — role wise — to Catherine of Aragon or Jackie Kennedy, while Kardashian West is Anne Boleyn or Marilyn Monroe.

“Ultimately we follow those we love and those we hate equally — provided they have gained the kind of status and consistency that allows them to be cultural touchstones or reference points for emotionally relating,” Weiss said. “We need them; they serve a psychological role for us.”

The article says Kardashian West became the most popular person on Instagram as of Aug. 24, edging out Beyoncé.

The Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, which houses mother and child Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, has been at the center of controversy over the Obama administration’s family detention policy, according to an article on

Olivia LópezNASW member Olivia López was hired by the center last October as a social worker, and she was initially excited at the prospect of helping migrant mothers and children in a group-home setting. She shared an inside perspective with McClatchy (López no longer works at the center), and described a facility where guards isolated mothers and children in medical units, nurses falsified medical reports, staff members were told to lie to federal officials and a psychologist acted as an informant for federal agents.

“Social work is different here,” Lopez said she was told. She says in the article she was hired to help give the appearance of a well-supported medical unit, and several initiatives she launched were met with fierce opposition. The goal, López said she learned, was a clean paper trail to avoid audits by various agencies and organizations.

“If a document is clean, there aren’t any follow-ups,” she said. “The audit stops at the document.”

López’s story is a troubling narrative, says the article. Federal officials and company representatives describe the facility as a safe and comfortable place where mothers and children can stay during their asylum proceedings, the article says. There is state-of-the-art medical equipment, yoga for moms, and games for children.

But López says nothing changes the fact that the children were locked up and under the threat of being deported at any moment.

“It might look like they’re having fun playing soccer, but that’s certainly not the narrative of their lives,” she said. “They know where they’re at. They know they’re in a prison. They know they can’t leave.”

The facility is operated by the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group, and overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the article says, including that GEO officials did not address López’s specific charges but said they “strongly refuted” the allegations.

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