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Technology and child welfare

I am so excited to be affiliated with the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare for many reasons, one of which is the conference they held yesterday, “Social Media, Smart Phones and Safety: How Technology is Changing Child Welfare Practice.” I attended the first presentation by Dr. Dale Fitch but had to leave to attend my fellowship seminar. However, lucky for all, the entire conference will be available online. Our center also publishes a companion magazine, the CW360, which you can download here.

I am a pretty heavy user of social media and technology and have been encouraging my fellow colleagues and classmates to embrace all the potential these technologies have to offer our profession. Yes, there are risks, but there are always risks. The key, I think, is to be proactive rather than reactive. Yesterday, we heavily tweeted the conference using the hashtag #cwtech (for those of you on twitter, if you want to follow our conversation you can do a search for #cwtech and you will see the conversation). You can also follow us on Twitter @CCASCW_MN.

You can watch the conference here. If you have feedback, please let me know so I can pass it on to our staff at CASCW.

“Still not racist, I have a _____ friend”

Little did I know that Tea Party activist Marilyn Davenport stole the “I can’t be racist, I have a Black friend” line almost word*for*word. Congratulations, Ms. Davenport! Her actual words:

“Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people—mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”

Let’s see if everything on the “I can’t be racist” list can be checked off:

√  You don’t know me (so you don’t know if I’m really a racist or not)

√  You don’t get the joke (you must not have a sense of humor)

√  I have friends who are Black (sometimes stated as “my Black friends thought it was funny/didn’t think it was racist)

√  Oops, I only meant to send this to friends (who I think are racist like me)

What was the outcry about? This photo that was attached to her email. It was a supposed to be a birther’s “joke” about questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

Saturation (I can’t get no)

I’ve been working on a literature review for my specialized exam, and I have come to a familiar spot – the point where I realize that I have to stop gathering more information and get down to business with what I’ve got.

I’m the type of person who can’t quite trust that I’ve chosen the best representation of the literature. There’s always more to be found, other studies I’m sure I haven’t read, elusive material out there that I haven’t found that I’m just positive is that golden nugget I’m looking for that will tie everything all together in a nice, neat bow.

Yes, that is a large part of the reason I haven’t updated the blog! I’ve been spending most of my evenings reading and hunting down more articles and books. I think I’m finally at the point where I’ve reached saturation in the literature and nothing else I find is giving me new information. So to misquote the Rolling Stones once more, although I can’t always get what I want, sometimes I get what I need.

On to writing!!

“I can’t be racist, I have a ______ friend.”

Earlier this week Love Isn’t Enough featured a post titled, “It does still matter if you’re black (or white) by a blogger named Jennifer (the post was originally published at Mixed Race America.)

Jennifer writes,

“A friend recently told me that many white students will say that they have an African American friend but most African American college students don’t claim to have any white friends (or friends of any other racial group). The disparity, a researcher noted, was that the white college students were counting, as friends, black students who sat next to them in the classroom or who lived in the dorm–people they chatted with and were friendly with. But the African American students counted as friendly only people they had significant ties to–whom they socialized with outside of a classroom or dorm environment.”

I did a little research into this, and found a WSJ article by Jonathan Kaufman from 2008, that I think was the genesis for the quote above. In this article, Kaufman writes,

Following a recent discussion in one of his classes about the campaign, in which most students expressed support for Sen. Obama, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke sociologist, asked his white students how many had a black friend on campus. All the white students raised their hands.

He then asked the black students how many of them had a white friend on campus. None of them raised their hands.

The more he probed, Mr. Bonilla-Silva says, the more he realized that the definition of friendship was different. The white students considered a black a “friend” if they played basketball with him or shared a class. “It was more of an acquaintance,” recalls Mr. Bonilla-Silva.

Black students, by contrast, defined a friend as someone they would invite to their home for dinner. By that measure, none of the students had friends from the opposite race. Mr. Bonilla-Silva says when white college students were asked in series of 1998 surveys about the five people with whom they interacted most on a daily basis, about 68% said none of them were black. When asked if they had invited a black person to lunch or dinner recently, about 68% said “no.” He says his own research and more recent studies show similar results.”

When people say racist crap, like recently when my local radio station KDWB played a song stereotyping Hmong people (Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Hmong in the U.S.) to the tune of “Tears in Heaven,” their response, when we complained to the station, was that “some of our Hmong listeners thought it was funny.”

The same old tired regurgitated twist on “I can’t be racist, my _______ friend thought it was okay.”

Continue Reading →

Determining “best interests?”

I was recently part of a discussion that focused around disabilities and social inclusion and since then I’ve had a bunch of thought rattling around in my mind about how we as social workers determine what  is in someone’s “best interests.”

The basis of all of these thoughts comes down to this: at what point is a person considered so vulnerable and unable to “speak for themselves” that it is appropriate for the service professional or social worker to act against their own code of ethic (advocating for self-determination) and take away the option of choice because it was determined to be against that person’s “self-interest?”

We must negotiate that line or continuum, not just a daily basis, but multiple times in our interactions with, and decisions regarding, vulnerable persons. Our professions are pretty good at giving lip service to “empowerment” and “advocacy” and “self-determination” until we decide that the “client” is not acting in their “best interest” (according to OUR standards, of course) and then we step in to “protect” them.

Maybe this subjectivity is less ethically “sticky” if the client is causing harm either to him/herself or to someone else; but what about those areas in which harm isn’t exactly evident or in which the harm to self or others is much more subtle? For example, this discussion centered around social inclusion and persons with disabilities. More specifically, the conversation began with ways in which direct support staff or professionals working with clients who exhibit these characteristics can “encourage”  social inclusion in the greater community. Someone in this group stated they thought that some of the examples given were more coercive than “an encouragement” and that the people in question (clients) did not appear to have given consent to enter these “friendships” with community members (in fact, it seemed more about the community members who volunteered/mentored the person with the disability than an equal relationship).

Several years ago I worked in a residential group home for persons with disabilities. One of my duties was to take the residents out into the community – for example, to movies, the mall, the library, to parks, etc. Our job was not to “help” the residents “make” friends, our job was to facilitate their interactions in the community. Some of the residents did not want to have friends, in the community or otherwise. They would tell you directly that they had all their social needs met by family members who visited and occasional (and rare) conversations with staff. Part of the lack of interest in socialization had to do with their disabilities, and other parts may have been due to personality or temperament. After the discussion from last week, now I wonder what I would have done if part of my job duties had been to “find” friends for the residents. There seems to be no guidelines for this – helping our vulnerable clients “make friends.” What is the power dynamic in these relationships, when we are basically encouraging volunteer mentors from the community and asking them to befriend persons who are vulnerable?

Either way, if forcing residents who have low thresholds for social interaction and engagement makes them feel bad, do we make them anyway? Could one argue that a client is self-harming [emotionally] if it is determined that a person needs social interaction and s/he refuses?

How do we facilitate choices for clients while also determining what’s in their best interests and subtly (or not so subtly) imposing our views on them? I’m not talking about social exclusion here – I am not advocating that we do not consider the social needs of the people we work with. I am asking about those clients who have low thresholds for social interaction and how much we force it upon them, because we think it is in their best interests?