Social Work in the Public Eye (April 2011)

Elizabeth StrandElizabeth Strand, director of veterinary social work services at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary Medical Center, operates a help line for people who need counsel concerning their pets. An article published by Knoxville News Sentential reported that Strand is getting more calls from people who can no longer afford to keep their pets.

Financial hardship or job loss may trigger a range of emotions — anger, sadness or even shame, according to the article.

Strand told the newspaper that the unconditional love of a pet can boost a person’s self-esteem, but not being able to return that love by providing medical care is a profound blow for pet owners.

“It also makes sense why people would go to extraordinary amounts to maintain that relationship because it’s one of the relationships where they feel 100 (percent) accepted,” she was quoted as saying.

To help clients, the story pointed out, Strand refers pet owners to organizations that aim to help people who are struggling to make ends meet, such as the Community Action Committee in Knoxville.

Strand has a clear message for pet owners. “Love your pet, but love yourself, too.”

Strand was also quoted in a December 2010 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association article noting that the counseling of pet owners is a growing field that mixes social work with veterinary medicine. A number of veterinary colleges and some private practices now have social workers on staff to counsel clients and the veterinary team, the article explained.

Strand said that veterinary social work is a new discipline that includes counseling for pet loss and management of compassion fatigue for people whose jobs involve animal care.

David AllhusenDavid Allhusen was quoted in a Casper Star-Tribune article that addressed homelessness among veterans.

The story explained why Allhusen, who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Casper, Wyo., takes time to participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “point-in-time” count of the homeless. He told the newspaper he needs to find the homeless veterans before he can help them.

The count is conducted every two years to provide a snapshot of every homeless person in every community in the country, the article explained.

Local organizations and volunteers take time during a single day in late January to tally all the emergency shelter beds in the region and whether they are occupied. Then the counters walk the streets to find people who are living outside.

The article noted that cold-climate states such as Wyoming may not gather accurate homeless counts because of harsh weather that may motivate people without homes to travel away during the winter.

“We’ve raised the questions if there’s a little bit of bias in the Rocky Mountain region,” Allhusen said. “Why don’t we do a homeless count in January in Arizona and Florida, say, but June or July in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region?”

The story noted that the VA recently announced an initiative to end chronic homelessness among returning soldiers in five years. The January count will assist the department in knowing where to deploy more outreach and services.

Under VA guidelines, homeless veterans are entitled to free medical and dental care and other services, Allhusen said, adding that the first goal is to move the homeless into housing.

The VA and HUD have an agreement in place to provide housing vouchers for homeless veterans, Allhusen continued. Once a homeless person is in a stable living arrangement, a case manager can address any issues and help the person toward finding work.

“If they’re in a home, they’re likely to rebuild their life faster,” Allhusen said.

Catherine A. HoganCatherine A. Hogan, executive director of Inclusion Teaming, was interviewed for a story in the Westport News in Westport, Conn.

The article explained that the nonprofit organization helps special-needs children learn to improve their communication skills by pairing them with volunteers from area high schools.

Hogan said in the story that three current clients with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism characterized by social isolation and communication deficiencies, are paired with three of the student volunteers.

The students work with the special needs children for 75-minutes a week.

“Kids with differences usually have a hard time with some group-work skills, such as taking turns,” Hogan said. “We use fun tasks to remind them that there are certain things they must do as we go through the teaming process.”

They also exercise together.

The sessions include discussions about listening, giving feedback and being tolerant of another’s point of view.

Hogan also coordinates anti-bullying programs for educators and professionals, the story explained.

“One of the major reasons children are bullied, she said, is that others cannot understand why they’re acting seemingly different,” the article said. “However, if (special-needs children) could practice interacting socially with other people their age — and, likewise, if teens who have no skills differentials could spend more time being with those with special needs - understanding, acceptance and tolerance would flourish.”

Although Inclusion Teaming has about 45 students on its roster of volunteers, Hogan said she hopes more students with atypical communication skills will step forward and join the groups that are being formed.

“We don’t care what their atypical skills are, because we pair children with similar learning profiles together anyway,” Hogan told the newspaper.