Social Work in the Public Eye (November 2010)

Sam Hickman (no photo), executive director of NASW’s West Virginia Chapter, is profiled on a White House website that explains how the 50 states will benefit from the Affordable Health Care Act, which was passed into law earlier this year. The website [deactivated] includes an interactive map of the United States. Each state features a person or a fact about how the new law will benefit the states’ residents.

Selecting West Virginia will show a picture of Hickman with text explaining how his family will benefit from health care reform. It states: “Sam Hickman’s son is 23, married and uninsured. Sam is happy that he will be able to add his son to his plan and get the peace of mind that comes with knowing his child will be protected if he gets sick or has an accident.”

Hickman said he submitted his story after he heard from the office of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., about the opportunity to represent West Virginia.

Carolyn MessnerCarolyn Messner, president of the Association of Oncology Social Work and director of Education and Training at CancerCare, wrote an article called “Impending Oncology Social Worker Shortage?” for Oncology Issues magazine in its September/October 2010 issue.

In the article, Messner stated that oncology social workers are often described as “troubleshooters and problemsolvers” for patients and families.

She noted that people who have cancer appreciated the relationship, sensitivity and compassion offered by these specialized health care professionals.

The association president said that while there are risks for oncology social work burnout, others find the positive rewards of helping people lead to job satisfaction.

Messner explained how social work will be disproportionately affected by retirements of members of the baby boomer generation. “With the impending boomer retirements and the knowledge of ‘brain drain,’ there is increasing concern over the impact of this loss on the pool of social workers,” she stated.

Messner discussed how the landmark study by NASW, Social Workers and Educational Debt, showed that many social workers graduate with extensive educational debt paired with the prospect of low salaries. This contributes to the decrease in the workforce, Messner explains.

She also noted a decreasing number of new social workers providing services for older adults. Since cancer is primarily a disease of older adults, this is a concern. Another problem is that oncology social workers face ever higher workloads due to economic cutbacks, Messner stated.

“The loss to society and the implications to community cancer centers that serve cancer patients while coping with a social work workforce shortage is a staggering toll in human, personal and economic growth,” Messner said in the article. “Every effort is being made by professional social work organizations, including NASW and AOSW, as well as schools of social work, to stem the tide of this workforce shortage.”

Tory CoxTory Cox was quoted in the Long Beach Press-Telegram in California for a story about how social workers are vital to helping students attend classes.

Cox, as a Long Beach Unified School District social worker, said he knocked on parents’ doors when children were absent from class.

He said he found that in some cases the absenteeism was because the family was — or was on the verge of being — homeless.

In other situations, parents were working long hours and did not know their children were skipping school, Cox said. “The kids took advantage of that,” he told the newspaper.

Last year, the story explained, Cox was part of a group of seven district social workers who performed outreach with parents and students in an effort to lower absenteeism at 31 schools with the worst attendance rates.

The story noted that Cox and most of the other social workers on the “Attendance Recruitment Team” won’t be back due to budget cuts that resulted in 11 of the 12 social workers being laid off, the story explained.

Tiffany Brown, LBUSD director of coordinated student services, told the newspaper that the team “was successfully improving students’ attendance at (those) school sites.”

The story quoted one principal, Ed Garcia, as saying that Cox did a good job reaching out to parents of frequently absent kids and would refer them to services as necessary.

Cox said the goal was to connect kids with counselors and teachers and match them with mentors. He told the newspaper he also tried to involve habitually absent or truant students in activities outside of class.

Cox pointed out that social workers have special training to analyze family dynamics and connect families with support.

“There’s a difference between relaying a message and helping solve problems that contribute to the underlying reason that the problem exists,” Cox said.

Jennifer KoganThe fragile relationship between teachers and parents was the focus of a story published in the Los Angeles Times. Social worker Jennifer Kogan, who offers parent counseling and support services to families in Washington, D.C., was quoted in the story.

It referenced a Time magazine study that found that 40 percent to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years because of “parent management” and 73 percent of teachers polled said they felt too many parents treat schools and teachers as adversaries.

“Whether parents think they weren’t watching Buttercup closely enough or were just overreacting, teachers become the target of angry parent onslaughts,” the story’s author, Christopher Nelson, stated. He encouraged parents to view teachers as allies instead.

Kogan was quoted as saying, “Most schools have a back-to-school night at the beginning of the year. This can be a good time to introduce yourself to your child’s new teacher.”

The author also suggested that parents not overwhelm the teacher with day-to-day questions about their child’s development.

“It can be a good idea to wait until the first parent-teacher conference before asking about your child’s progress,” Kogan was quoted as saying.

The author advised parents to see themselves as advocates for their children’s education.

However, it was also noted that parents and teacher will not always agree on everything.

“Situations will surface, disagreements will ensue and arguments will arise,” the author explained. “It’s up to you to handle these in a professional and courteous manner.”

He concluded by stating it is best to not immediately throw blame onto the educator for every problem that arises. “Instead, work with them to make Buttercup’s experiences the best they can be,” the article stated.