Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2011)

Janet NelsonWCTV in Tallahassee, Fla., profiled the unique work of Janet Nelson, a licensed clinical social worker who provides mental health services to Tallahassee Community College students. Nelson, a student of martial arts since 1974, has taught women self-defense techniques since 1980, the story explained.

“Nelson began to see how she could bring together her social work background with her knowledge of self-defense techniques to help social workers and other human services professionals learn how to stay safe while helping others,” the news station reported on its website.

The story went on to say that Nelson was a presenter at the Council of Social Work Education’s annual academic conference in Portland, Ore., last year.

“She and researcher Christina Newhill from the University of Pittsburgh led a session titled ‘Effective Strategies for Teaching Personal Safety Skills to Social Work Students,’” the article stated.

Nelson told the station: “Social workers tend to think that their good intentions will be enough to keep them safe. But it is important for us to understand the nature of our work. Social workers are on the front lines, often working with desperate people. If the client has mental health issues as well, it can be a volatile combination. We have to be prepared.”

The article reported that Nelson has provided training in 11 states and taught nearly 400 social workers at the October 2009 Teri Zenner Safety First Conference in Kansas. Zenner, a Kansas social worker, was killed by a client in 2004.

Besides physical techniques, Nelson also shows participants the challenges social workers face, such as safety issues that arise around home visits, the story explained.

“We talk about assessing the situation in advance, figuring out how you would get out, knowing where to sit, when it’s time to leave — and recognizing when not to go in the first place,” Nelson told the station.

Vonda V. JohnsonVonda V. Johnson, a BSW student in The Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, was one of 35 students selected in January for the Virginia Capital Semester program.

The program offers qualified college and university students the chance to complete an internship in state government while continuing their studies on a full-time basis through coursework at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Johnson, who previously worked as a logistic coordinator for the automotive industry, said she is a non-traditional student who decided to utilize local resources at colleges, career professionals, community agencies and service groups to return to school. She selected Norfolk State University and took advantage of its reclamation program.

Johnson said her experience so far has enabled her to help others understand the various aspects of social work. She said she is helping people in her community understand how social workers can have an effect in public policy, as well as on people’s personal lives, employment, families, and communities.

Johnson said she plans to have a career where she is able to influence public policy that assists social workers and the field of social welfare.

Johnny AdamsCoping with stress was the focus of a story published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Texas. The article quoted Johnny Adams, a licensed clinical social worker and counselor in West Texas, who said college students in particular may juggle too many activities and should take a moment to re-examine and prioritize what is most important to them. They also need learn how to be assertive and say “no” in order to maintain balance in life.

However, Adams, acknowledged this concept is not simple to execute.

“Fear of being unliked, guilt and unhealthy boundaries are frequent reasons individuals commit to obligations they simply can’t afford to commit to,” Adams told the newspaper. But, he said, “in the long run (students) do more damage to themselves by consistently not being able to say ‘no.’ They get more worn out, more frustrated, more burnt out, more anxious, depressed, etc.”

The article profiled different people who discussed ways they deal with their busy lives.

Adams said recognizing limits and personal boundaries can help a person focus energy on what matters most. “The ability to assert your priorities and say ‘no’ to extra commitments can improve an individual’s mental and physical health, including self-esteem,” the article stated.

Adams said, “I think if a person learns to set healthy boundaries, including the ability to say no, they’re going to be taking care of themselves and they are going to become less frustrated and less burnt out, more healthy and they’re going to be in a better position to help others, especially to others they are close to, that want and need help.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Nancy Schulman (no photo) and her husband, Robert Schulman, are giving $250,000 to several New York City foster and domestic violence organizations in support of helping people become productive members of their communities.

The article noted that Nancy Schulman, a psychologist and social worker, has led support groups for domestic violence victims. Her husband wanted to help with the effort, so in 2005 they started the organization Of Home, Family and Future, which awards grants to women and children who have been victims of domestic violence.

The couple purchased a three-family house in Westchester, N.Y., where domestic violence survivors and their children can live for up to five years, the story explained.

“We were clear that this was not a shelter. This was a step beyond that,” Robert Schulman told the newspaper. “Our approach is to fund a small number of people, and invest enough resources to help them change their lives.”

The article added that the two want to use a similar incentive-based program to help children in foster care graduate from college.

Children in foster care are likely to drop out of college during their first semester if they are not given adequate monetary and mentoring support, the couple told the newspaper.

“We don’t accept government money so we don’t have to go through the bureaucratic nightmare of getting money and Rob and I pay all of the program’s administrative costs so all the money goes to the kids,” Nancy Schulman was quoted as saying.

The couple has partnered with social service groups such as foster care agencies in New York to help college-bound students cover expenses.

Upon reaching college, the students are paired with volunteers who give advice, help with school work and distribute the grant money from the Schulmans.

“Give them someone who has money and they’ll develop a relationship with that person,” Robert Schulman told the newspaper. “They think they’re working the system; we think they’re falling into our plan.”