Social Work in the Public Eye (April 2014)

Tricia CollinsSocial workers play a vital role in helping women with a history of prostitution or involvement in sex trafficking to get their lives back on track, and Florida social worker Tricia Collins is one of them.

According to an article in Take Part, a publication by the University of Southern California School of Social Work, Collins says that the way prostitution is perceived — and the way the women who are involved in prostitution are perceived — is backward.

“They’re nothing like people think that they are,” she says.

Women who have become entangled in the sex trade can battle back from it, Collins says, and she hopes to change the cultural misconceptions commonly held about women who are in it.

“They can go on to be very good parents and productive members of society,” she says in the article. “They’re not the ruined women of our culture ... They’re worthy of respect.”

Before pursuing her MSW at USC, Collins found herself already helping people. Volunteering played a significant role in her life, and she feels drawn to helping marginalized or oppressed women’s groups.

The article says her family vacations were spent volunteering in countries like South Africa, working with women and children affected by AIDS, and in Costa Rica, teaching women English so they could become more employable.

“It was the volunteering that led me to doing social work as a profession,” she says. “So I decided to go back to school and make it more official.”

Collins began her own group, called Freedom Way, which provides educational outreach to her local community about its own sex-trafficking industry. She continues to be a longtime volunteer at

Created, a Tampa-based nonprofit helping victims of sexual exploitation reintegrate into society.

Collins also works part-time at a psychiatric facility, counseling children in a rape crisis center, where she began working during her MSW field placement requirement.

Pamela GrahamNASW member Pamela Graham, director of the Florida State University Bachelor of Social Work and Professional Development programs, attended a workshop in Florida on a proposed bill introduced by Florida state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat who serves the 33rd District.

An article in the Florida Current said that making sure all child abuse investigators have a social work degree is a top priority for Sobel, and the bill would require child investigators and supervisors hired by the Department of Children and Families to hold either a BSW and/or MSW. The bill draft also includes creating an institute at FSU that would help lawmakers develop policies to prevent child abuse.

Graham told the panel at the workshop that it is critical to have an educated team in the field trained to recognize dysfunction and able to assess whether a child is in danger, and she compared a caseworker visiting a family to an injured person showing up at a hospital emergency room.

“It’s a traumatic situation and (you have to ask) do I want a RN to be there or do I want someone with a related degree in biology or chemistry?” she said.

The article says state Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, asked Graham to clarify this statement. Her response: “They have a high level of expertise because they have gone to a four-year degree nursing program, so all the things that you want that RN or MD to have those people have,” she said. “What I’m saying is to have a BSW with a four-year degree in these really important jobs with extremely vulnerable families is — yes, equivalent expertise but not medical expertise.”

Charles WhitlockAn article written by NASW member Charles Whitlock says aging veterans and their spouses don’t always use the resources available to them, and many could be eligible for benefits they are not aware of.

Whitlock is a VA-accredited claims agent who works in a continuing care retirement community in Pennsylvania. After becoming an agent in 2011, he started educating elders and health care professionals on VA benefits. He says in the article that he was amazed at the lack of knowledge about VA resources. After conducting an informal survey at five Wesley Enhanced Living communities in Pennsylvania, he determined residents were not as informed as they could be and they use a limited amount of the benefits available to them.

For example, from the survey responses, Whitlock saw that older adults most frequently use the pension benefit, which is paid to wartime veterans with limited income who are permanently disabled or age 65 or older. But he wrote that veterans also can apply for VA health care and they can be placed into a priority group if they qualify. Once approved for VA health care, a veteran can receive medical treatment at any VA health care facility.

Whitlock also asked in the survey what VA benefits the respondents would like to learn about — including pension, burial and/or memorial, health care and dependent or survivor benefits — and he saw from the responses that most lacked knowledge about the benefits listed.

Whitlock writes that it is the responsibility of those working with veterans to know the resources and benefits available and share that information with clients. The article is published online at the American Society on Aging.

Marian TruaxNASW member and licensed clinical social worker Marian Truax brings her gentle, therapeutic method to her hometown of Delmar, N.Y., according to an article in the Saratoga County Spotlight.

Truax, who opened a private practice in Delmar, said she became interested in her profession because she wanted to provide people with the skills to get through the “ups and downs” in life. She also wanted to advocate for people who might not otherwise have a chance for a fresh start.

“It is rewarding to see someone progress and feel good about themselves,” she says in the article. “With the right tools and the right work, people can grow.”

Truax says she applies a more gentle method to clients. What sets her apart from other service providers is her encouraging approach and background in treating a variety of mental health issues, the article says.

“I am respectful and nonjudgmental. I have many years of experiences with different populations, so I have an array of knowledge to work from,” she says.

Truax meets her clients where they are, and adds that it is important people don’t feel shamed or criticized, and that they are not pressured into making changes.

Elisabeth BridgewaterNASW member Elisabeth Bridgewater is a program coordinator for the co-occurring disorder program at the Recovery Centers of King County, located in Washington state. She recently worked with a client who came to the center for treatment of heroin addiction.

According to a KBTC's Northwest Now video segment, the client, who they called “Dallas,” was living under a bridge in downtown Seattle before he went through detox at the Recovery Centers. He then received 60 days of inpatient treatment and is now an outpatient.

“He didn’t want to live under a bridge, he didn’t want to see a rat eating his potato chips right beside him. But with that very quick decline, use of heroin, that’s what it came down to,” Bridgewater says in the segment. “This is a lifetime of recovery, it is a lifetime of change doing different behaviors.”

Bridgewater wants the public to realize that people recover from addiction and mental illness every day, and she says it’s important not to sweep these people under a rug.

“I want folks to understand that a lot of times, mental health and substance abuse go hand in hand,” Bridgewater says in the segment. “There’s a lot of reasons why we use. There is that genetic component … it’s the chicken and egg. Did you use because you couldn’t manage the emotions? Did you use because you saw Mom and Dad use? There are all these variables.”

Dallas says getting the drugs out of his system in detox is only the beginning, and the real work starts now that he’s out.

Bridgewater is a past member of the NASW North Carolina Chapter’s board of directors, and recently has been nominated to serve on the executive committee of NASW’s Washington State Chapter board of directors.

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