Social Work in the Public Eye (November 2011)

Thomas “Tab” BallisThomas “Tab” Ballis was interviewed by Jemila Ericson for WHQR Public Radio in Wilmington, N.C., as part of the station’s special coverage of the decentennial remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

Ballis, a licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, explained that he spent time at a Ground Zero tent as an on-site counselor for the Red Cross. He arrived in December after the attacks. He noted that even up to that date, responders continued to work nonstop. “They were being driven [by the hope] that they would find at least one soul who survived under the rubble,” Ballis said. He said there were “no magic words” to aid the responders during their exhaustive efforts, but they were appreciative of knowing counselors were on hand. They told him that their presence was healing.

Ballis noted he witnessed loads of mailbags arriving daily at the site that were filled with cards and letters from schoolchildren across the U.S., thanking the firefighters for their efforts.

On the anniversary of the experience, Ballis said that today he focuses his attention on the hopeful and inspiring images that arose after the attacks. “What stays with me today is the resilience of the human spirit,” Ballis told the radio station, “and the endurance of the American dream that was symbolized by the ongoing efforts to remember and to heal.”

Elizabeth WoodLearning how to talk with children about cancer was the focus of a column written by Elizabeth Wood for the Newark Post in Delaware.

“The more you know about cancer, the less anxious and better prepared you’ll be to talk about it with your child,” said Wood, who is a clinical social worker for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology/BBMT at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

She noted that cancer affects about 14 of every 100,000 children in the U.S. annually. “A child diagnosed with cancer will have many feelings about the changes affecting his or her body, and should be encouraged to express any feelings, concerns or fears,” Wood stated. “Honest communication is a key component to helping a child adjust to a serious medical condition.”

Children need clear and honest answers to their questions that they can comprehend.

“Parents can also prepare their child for any treatments-and possible discomfort that might go along with those treatments-by reminding them that the hospital and medicine may feel frightening, but they are helping to fight the cancer,” she wrote.

If a child’s loved one is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to help reduce the fear of the situation with honest communication.

“Provide your child with opportunities to express his or her feelings and re-assure them their feelings are never wrong,” Wood stated. “It’s also normal for your child’s feelings to change frequently over time, so be available to discuss any questions or concerns your child may have. If you don’t know the answer to his or her questions-don’t panic. Tell your child you don’t know the answers, but will ask someone for them.”

The column noted that many hospitals offer support groups and services for children dealing with a loved one’s cancer diagnoses. “A social worker can facilitate discussions designed to help children talk about their feelings, while also giving your child an opportunity to meet other children with similar family situations,” Wood stated.

Tabitha OlzinskiWhen school beckons after the lazy days of summer, how can parents help their children adjust to the change in a healthy way? WALA-TV-FOX10 in Mobile, Ala., sought the advice of Tabitha Olzinski, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in child development.

Olzinski noted the difficulties parents face in gauging how their children deal with school issues. “We don’t get to see their social interaction or how they’re doing following directions or even getting their work done,” she was quoted saying.

If children are having difficulties, it can surface in different ways. The key is to take notice. “For a teenager, you’re probably going to see a lot of withdrawal from them,” the news station quoted Olzinski as saying. “They might just come home and go in their room and shut the door and not want to communicate with anybody . . .”

She suggested parents be aware of changes of their child’s normal habits. Such changes can be possible signs that something is not right.

Olzinski suggested parents talk to their children about what is going on with them. “You could also talk with the teacher to see if anything has changed at school,” she was quoted as saying. “Ask about bullying, which is a big problem for a lot of kids, and it can be really hard to talk about.”

There are also methods to detect if something is wrong with smaller children, Olzinski said. “Watch out for crying, lack of appetite or if your child has a hard time sleeping,” she told the news station. “Remember, for little ones it can take a bit longer to adjust to a new environment and a new routine.”