Social Work in the Public Eye (June 2012)

Luis ZayasIn an NPR “Talk of the Nation” segment called Why Are Young Latinas at Risk? NASW member Luis Zayas talks about the high rate of suicide and depression among high school-aged Latina females in the United States.

The show, hosted by Lynn Neary, highlights Latina girls as one of the fastest-growing groups in the country. According to the segment, research has uncovered certain trends in this group, showing that young Hispanic women are the most likely to drop out of school, use drugs, and attempt suicide (one out of six).

“The Latinas have overall the highest rate of (suicide) attempts of any group, whether it's male or female,” said Zayas, who was professor of social work and psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis at the time of the interview. (He has since been appointed dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.)

Discussing the root of the issue, the show emphasizes the pressures young Hispanic women face from their families to take care of the home and act as surrogate mothers to younger siblings. Many are not encouraged to acquire a higher education. Adulthood is often considered synonymous with becoming a parent in the Hispanic community, and other studies claim that young Latinas also have the highest teen birthrate.

Part of the young girls’ problems stem from enduring poverty, social isolation and cultural clashes with their parents, the segment points out.

“ …If you think of the issues of culture and immigration and acculturation as one stream coming together with issues of a family's functioning that's associated with this immigration process and acculturation process, and then we think about young women themselves: What are the adolescent developmental processes that young women go through? When you bring these together, we have among Latinas, a particular set of circumstances that may be what explains some of the high rates of suicide attempts among them,” Zayas says.

Therapy, he says — although seen as taboo by older Hispanic generations who reject the idea of discussing problems outside of family and the home — is much more welcomed by the younger generation and can be an option for young Latinas to get help.

“Among the younger group, there's much more willingness to talk to a counselor at school, a social worker at school, a psychologist at a clinic, and talk openly,” Zayas says. “That's been our experience … the girls that we are studying are girls who have attempted suicide and who we find in mental health clinics, and they are very open with their therapists.”

Caitlin RyanNASW member Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, has received the 2012 Mary Smith Arnold Anti-Oppression Award from the Counselors of Social Justice-American Counseling Association, according to an article on Asian The award recognizes professional counselors and counselor educators who have challenged and fought against the oppression they have witnessed in their schools or communities. The Family Acceptance Project is affiliated with San Francisco State University and works to minimize and prevent major health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths.

These risks can include suicide, homelessness, HIV and substance abuse, and can come about when young people feel like they are not understood or accepted by their families. The award recognizes Ryan’s groundbreaking research, the article says, along with her family intervention work linking family acceptance and the rejection of LGBT youth with health-related risk and wellness.

“I nominated Dr. Ryan for the Counselors for Social Justice Mary Smith Arnold Anti-Oppression award because I can think of no other researcher/clinician who does such powerful work at the intersection of multiple oppressions: heterosexism, sexism, racism, religious differences, and across so many diverse populations,” says Stuart Chen-Heyes, associate professor and program coordinator, counselor education/school counseling at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He was one of the founders of the Council of Social Justice, as was Arnold.

“From her early work to inform quality health care and counseling for LGBT youth to her decade-long work with the Family Acceptance Project, Dr. Ryan exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Mary Smith Arnold,” Chen-Heyes says. “As a former student of Dr. Arnold’s myself, her message has informed my work and the work of so many others: We all need to be allies to challenge multiple oppressions. Dr. Ryan’s work is a shining example of the power of rigorous research and evidence-based interventions to challenge oppression in its many forms and complexities.”

Ryan, along with a team of staff and interns, is working toward developing the first evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBT children and youth, the article says. Once developed, FAP will introduce the model across the U.S. and to groups that FAP works with in other countries.

The project offers free services to families with LGBT youth in the San Francisco Bay area to provide resources, counseling, guidance and advice.

Aime EipersIn the MTV documentary series “True Life,” the reality show follows a variety of young adults in specific situations, including those who suffer from the consequences of misdirected allegations.

For the “True Life” segment “I’m a Sex Offender,” MTV sought out NASW member Aime Eipers to provide social work services to Justin (last name withheld), a 22-year-old Illinois resident. At 18 years of age, Justin had a consensual sexual relationship with his then-15-year-old girlfriend, who pressed charges against Justin after he broke up with her.

The results of his ex-girlfriend’s actions have deemed Justin a convicted sex offender on a misdemeanor charge, and he is now fighting with Illinois lawmakers to clear his case and remove his name from the state’s sex offender list.

“I really enjoyed my experience being on ‘True Life,’” Eipers said. “I really like that it shows that a social worker can hear the difficulties a client like Justin is going through and still find a way to give them hope and have them leaving with a positive outlook.”

MTV producers were positive about the impact of having a social work session within the episode, Eipers said.

“I was able to give my perspective on this type of situation and was allowed complete discretion over how the session would proceed,” she said. “I believe that my role as a social worker was portrayed in a very good way and that viewers could easily gather how a social worker can provide essential tools to any client they may encounter.”

Justin is now a student at North Illinois University, and says in the segment that his peers and fellow classmates have been very supportive of his situation.