Social Work in the Public Eye (June 2014)

Doug BehanNASW member Doug Behan, director of continuing education for the Institute for Families at the Rutgers School of Social Work, has received a grant from New Jersey Adult Protective Services, part of the state’s Human Services Department.

According to an article on, people involved in a natural disaster can be vulnerable to fraud, as con artist scams often follow in a matter of hours after the disaster occurs. The grant Behan received will develop and deliver a curriculum to create awareness about the exploitation that follows a natural disaster.

“People who have been through a disaster are in a vulnerable place and have lost their equilibrium, and many are experiencing post-traumatic stress,” Behan said. “They are in desperate need of services and can be conned fairly easily. It is vital to raise consciousness at all levels throughout the state about this type of exploitation.”

Behan said many people will be working on the project funded by the $240,000 grant.

“We have a long relationship with the APS unit and they are a key factor in making this project a reality,” he said. “Many people at the state of New Jersey and the Rutgers School of Social Work are working on this important project, of which I am one.”

The Rutgers team will hold a free fall conference open to law enforcement, social service workers, business owners and the general public on topics related to the exploitation of at-risk populations, including the elderly and those with disabilities or mental impairment. The team will also host 60 free educational seminars throughout New Jersey.

Jennifer LawrenceOn April 23, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. An article in the Boston Globe says although the bombings happened more than a year ago, many of those who were wounded are still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, anxiety, and depression.

NASW member Jennifer Lawrence, a social worker at Boston Medical Center, specializes in trauma-related counseling, and said she sees several survivors and their family members on a regular basis. They still have nightmares and flashbacks, she said, and a couple of her patients have agoraphobia — an extreme fear of leaving one’s home.

“People are more able now to function, more able to be productive again at work or at home and use coping skills they have developed,” Lawrence says in the article. “But I have three or four people who are still debilitated … and are not able to go back to work.”

Three people were killed at the bombings, and 275 others were wounded, the article says, with some needing to have limbs amputated as a result.

Margaret RappPeople who live in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of Pennsylvania are among the most miserable in the U.S., according to an article on, which serves Luzerne County, Pa.

NASW member Margaret Rapp says in the article that she isn’t surprised to see a report that paints a picture of “doom and gloom” in the region. Rapp, director of the social work program at Misericordia University, said it has taken a long time to recover from the recession that started in 2007, and the area has fewer mean hours of sunlight than many other parts of the country, which can have a psychological impact.

“My personal experience is that we’re dealing with a very fragile population that is trying to cross over into the 21st century,” Rapp said.

Residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania also have a collective memory of mining disasters, Hurricane Agnes and the collapse of the silk and railroad industries, Rapp says in the article — issues that breed fear in residents of losing their independence, families and homes.

The unemployment rate in the area has fallen four tenths of a percentage point to 7.7 percent, which Rapp says is an indication that fewer people are seeking work.

“All in all, I think the struggles are very real for people in Northeast Pennsylvania,” she says in the article. “I think they’re a good, honest people — a lot of integrity, a lot of energy, very afraid of change because they’ve been burned so many times, resulting in this almost fear cycle.”

Ron Avi AstorA Los Angeles Times article published after the deadly shootings at Fort Hood in April says the tragedy at the U.S. military post in Killeen, Texas, suggests that the military is still struggling to develop a health care system that will identify and successfully treat military members who may become violent.

NASW member Ron Avi Astor, a professor of education and social work at the University of Southern California, says in the article that those accused of mass shootings invariably are found afterward to have exhibited certain common “variables.”

These include expressions of intent, access to a firearm, and friends and family members who heard the suspect mention the possibility of violence or suicide, he says in the article. Astor gives the example of Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was convicted of premeditated murder for shooting and killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 at Fort Hood in 2009.

Before the shootings, Hasan expressed rage and anger toward U.S. military members fighting Muslim insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the article says.

“He couldn’t have been more clear,” about his intentions, Astor said, but the military took no direct action against Hasan.

The article says tens of thousands of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD, but only a small number commit violent acts. Experts in mass shootings and mental illness say it is very difficult to predict those who will eventually explode into violence.

Susan FineranAn article on, the online version of The Oregonian newspaper, focuses on teen sexual harassment at work and says young workers are less likely to find help but suffer the deepest scars.

NASW member Susan Fineran, a University of Southern Maine professor, is one of the few academics studying the issue, the article says. Fineran has done three studies about teen workers and sexual harassment. She says teens can become normalized to certain behaviors at school, so they may not speak up when they experience similar situations at work.

“Students hear from classmates, ‘Hey baby, you’re really looking hot,’ and other bad language that denigrates women,” she said. “Teens get normalized to these behaviors so in the workplace they don’t have the expectation of being treated better.”

In one of her studies, Fineran found that nearly one-third of the 518 teens polled in 2008 and 2009 said they experienced some type of sexual harassment at work. Fineran says in the article that she believes young people who get harassed on the job are more likely to suffer long-term effects.

Many students in the study said their grades suffered as a result of what they experienced at work, and they were less likely to find another one or consider a career. Fineran says even if young people notice red flags during the interview process, many need the money, so they accept the employment offer anyway.

For more media stories like these, visit Social Workers Speak.