Social Work in the Public Eye (June 2015)

Brant Duda

Brant Duda

When a person reaches the age of 18, it can be a significant time for many different reasons. According to an op-ed written by NASW member Brant Duda on, turning 18 as a foster youth meant he could make his own choices, and youth services could no longer tell him what to do.

But in their rush to get away from problems, foster youths may forget that they will be alone to deal with responsibilities, he says. Youths who leave foster care at 18 with little or no support can suffer terrible outcomes, Duda writes.

Left to fend for themselves, one in four in Ohio experience homelessness by age 19. One-third will be incarcerated, he says, half fail to complete high school or earn a GED and many end up pregnant or fathering a child.

Duda says that although Ohio has done little or nothing to serve this neglected population, the state is on the cusp of creating a law through House Bill 50 that would begin to serve foster youths by extending the time at which they age out of the system from 18 to 21.

The bill reflects language of a 2008 federal law that says states can use federal funding to support foster youths until age 21 as long as they meet certain criteria, including completing their secondary education and enrolling in a postsecondary or vocational educational institution.

As a social worker, Duda says he’s among the 2 to 9 percent of foster youth to achieve a bachelor’s degree and he is currently pursuing an advanced degree. He adds that it’s a community’s job to help this disadvantaged population.

Laurie-Anne Walton

Laurie-Anne Walton

NASW member Laurie-Anne Walton brings a unique perspective to helping the homeless in Hollywood, Fla. She is a licensed clinical social worker and “a special emissary in Hollywood’s effort to end homelessness,” says an article in the Sun Sentinel.

Walton works closely with law enforcement to help the homeless population, and this is an exceptional approach because a social worker — not a police officer — is in charge, the article says.

“I’m trying to build rapport and not come off as authoritative or intrusive,” says Walton, who teams up with a police officer to provide outreach at the street level. “Part of social work is building a relationship.”

She assesses the needs of the homeless people she speaks with, and arranges for them to access services as needed.

“I get out there and meet people face-to-face,” Walton says. “When I spend time with them and get to know what their story is, they tell me no one has sat and talked to them in they can’t remember how long.”

Hollywood is an example of a national trend, she adds in the article, in using a hybrid homeless outreach model to tackle a chronic problem. Nationally, the article says, about half of the homeless are in shelters. More than one-third are between the age of 31 and 50; and a majority, 62 percent, are men. One out of four suffers from mental illness, and an estimated 35 percent are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the article says.

Lynn Lyons

Lynn Lyons

Worry can actually be helpful, but when it’s fed by imagination and given free reign it can lead to anxiety, according to NASW member Lynn Lyons, a clinical social worker from Concord, N.H.

An article in the Victoria, British Columbia, Times Colonist says that Lyons spoke at St. Michaels University School — also located in Victoria — at the school’s third annual brain awareness week.

Anxious parents are six to seven times more likely to have an anxious child, Lyons says in the article, and parents and kids need to understand that worry seeks comfort and certainty.

“What we know about anxious kids, if we look at the research, is that they are not good at tolerating uncertainty,” Lyons said. “They tend to score lower on independent problem solving and score lower on autonomy scales.”

She says it’s OK for kids to experience a degree of uncertainty and learn to reassure themselves and problem-solve. Lyons advises externalizing one’s worry — for example, by giving it a name like Steve. Acknowledge Steve, she says, thank him for sharing his information, and then bid him goodbye.

The article says parents, faculty and students took away the simple message from Lyons that worry has a place in life. We can’t eliminate it, she said. But we don’t have to give it control, either. And it’s not who we are.

John Moon

John Moon

Victims of trafficking often don’t believe they are victims, according to NASW member John Moon, who was quoted in an online article by Texas Public Radio (

The article says police in Beaumont, Texas, arrested a girl they called “Maya” a day after her 17th birthday, and it was the best present she could have received. Her pimps had made her have sex with hundreds of adult men across Louisiana and Texas, and gave her meth to make her stay awake and work, the article says.

Bexar County’s (Texas) Juvenile Probation department has identified 122 victims of sex trafficking since 2009, according to the article, and the county’s Mission Roads Center — inside its juvenile detention facility — was created for sexually traumatized girls. Girls on probation, like Maya, are put in the program when sexual trauma is discovered.

Moon is a licensed clinical therapist for the Mission Roads Center, and says in the article that while denial, shame and guilt surround sex-related traumas, victims of trafficking are different.

“They genuinely believed they were in control,” he says. “They genuinely believed they chose to do this; the insidious nature with which they are seduced, exploited, co-opted into doing the things they have done. And as you strip through those layers you can get to some of the guilt and shame we talked about.”

Moon adds in the article that a young woman’s therapeutic progress is the main consideration for when they are released from the center.

Although the program operates independently of a hard deadline, the average length of stay is 10 months. The program, however, will go on as long as necessary, ensuring that young women participate and get the help they need.

Rocio de la Grana

Rocio de la Grana

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce recognized NASW member Rocio de la Grana with the HYPE Miami Awards’ Most Valuable Graduate, according to an online article by Florida International University News.

“I am in shock,” de la Grana says in the article. “I feel so privileged and honored. Thank you to the exemplary mentors I have had at FIU.”

She is the current MSW student representative for NASW at the Miami-Dade County unit. The article says that de la Grana, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, has dual bachelor’s degrees in social work and liberal arts. She is in the final year of her master’s degree in social work and is expected to graduate this summer

According to the article, de la Grana was an exemplary student demonstrating superior focus, hard work and determination in her scholarly pursuits. She also performed exceptionally well in her two-semester internship with the Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education Learning Program ™ (HELP.)

The HYPE Miami Awards recognizes Miami-Dade’s brightest young professionals who have demonstrated outstanding achievements. All applicants must be under the age of 35, and have lived or worked in Miami-Dade County for at least two consecutive years. Awards are presented in the following categories: entrepreneur; go getter; difference maker; rookie of the year; and most valuable graduate.