A Lesson in Policy Advocacy: A Day at the Capitol

Advocacy is an important part of what we do as social workers. We are charged to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are to gather information and disseminate it to those who need it, who do not have access to it, who cannot understand it, or who may not even know that they need it.

The What: NASW Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol. On February 7, 2017, the Zarrow School of Social Work attended the National Association of Social Workers Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City. While there, we listened to legislators speak about issues that pertain to social work.

The Why: speaking for those who are vulnerable. I chose to reflect on this activity because it was something that I had never previously done before. I have never had the opportunity to go to the state capitol (even though I have lived in and near several state capitols) and listen to my legislators talk about issues they are passionate about that affect me.

The How: showing up. It is hard to take time out of your day, drive into the city, find parking, and then sit and listen to politicians talk about issues that might be boring. At least they might be boring to some. But that is what we did: almost my entire cohort and me. Even before this, several of us took a tour that, at times, seemed patriarchal and condescending. Those are difficult things for a bunch of social workers to deal with. But we dealt for the greater good. From here, we went panel discussions, had lunch, and then went on to meet with our representatives.

The results. I was very excited to do this, since I actually voted for Scott Martin. He lives near me and even came to my house to talk issues before the election. Imagine my dismay to discover that almost all the state senators and representatives were on their way to a funeral. That had me scratching my head. Were they all going to the same funeral? Who died? Why were they ALL going? It seemed as if most of the people we tried to meet had someplace else to be. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, since they were supposed to be in session. That means they were supposed to be in their offices. I speculated that they’d all had plenty of warning that we were coming, so they created reasons to be gone. Oh well. Sometimes advocacy doesn’t work out the way you want.

The lesson. The lesson learned we not the easiest lessons because it seemed that so few of our representatives were available to talk to us. It was tough to deal with the idea that maybe they didn’t want to talk with us. Or maybe they did really all have a funeral to go to! I have no idea. I did learn, however, that persistence is one of the most important traits a social worker can have. You just have to keep showing up.

I can imagine that a huge crew of social activists (aka social workers) would be intimidating for anyone in a position of power to deal with. What is so frustrating is that they should be happy to see us. We have their constituents’ best interests at heart, just like they claim. We can provide valuable insights that they might be blind to for whatever reason.

Like I said before, just keep showing up.

Policy Advocacy Interview Reflection

Hello!

Every time I hit the submit button on an assignment, I breathe a little sigh of relief. This semester has put me through the wringer. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way either. What is up with the second semester of grad school? I don’t recall feeling this way during my first masters degree (shout out to Wisconsin!). Granted, the course requirements were HALF the size of this one.

Below you will find the reflection of a recent paper I submitted. It is about advocacy, policy, and the wide world of school counseling. I am blessed to have a field instructor who gives freely of her time to others AND to me. Take a peek. Identifying information has been removed.

Reflection

            RW is my field instructor, and I have learned numerous things from her. One thing I have learned specifically is: you never know when the opportunity for advocacy might arise. It would seem obvious that it would be in a behavior plan meeting or the like, but there have been many times when a child needs advocacy in the classroom with their teacher. Some teachers just do not understand the unique needs of certain students, and that is where her work comes in.

Another thing I have learned is: if I do not do it, who will? We can never assume that another person will come stand in the gap for anyone. We have to be ready to meet that need. There might be someone hot on our heels who can provide additional support or even take over for us when we are no longer adequate, but we must be ready.

There are many things I will take from this interview as well as my time working with RW. One of those things is to be familiar with the policy that affects the population I am serving. I might not spend my career in a school setting, and I need have some level of understanding of the policies that affect those for whom I care.

Finally, I will delegate to those who are capable. I do not like delegating because I feel that no one is capable of doing as good a job as me on whatever task I assign. I have to get out of this mindset, or I will go crazy. There are people around us, in the workplace and otherwise, who are just as capable of meeting needs and taking care of problems as I am. They might do it differently than I would, but it is effective just the same.

BP11: Child welfare, or “Making your kid clean his room doesn’t violate child labor laws, does it?”

Explain 2 historical policies pertaining to child welfare and 2 current (or recent) aspects of child welfare not relating to out-of-home placement (aka “child welfare” as a part of DHS). 

I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed with food and love from Easter festivities. We do it up right at my house. Ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, deviled eggs, homemade bread, and pavlova for dessert.

Here’s that recipe if you’re interested:

http://www.marthastewart.com/332803/pavlova

Oy, child welfare is dicey. My practicum placement is in a public school, and I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of child welfare, including the icky DHS stuff. But, here we go…

I LOVE that the history of child welfare in this country begins with a dude named Charles Loring Brace who moved poor and orphaned street kids from crappy urban settings into farm families in the Midwest. While this tactic split up families, it got kids who were in terrible conditions into better ones, hanging out with cows and corn in Wisconsin and such. I’m a bit of a country mouse anyway.

Let’s talk about Etta Wheeler for a minute. When she found out about the abuse that was being exacted upon a 9-year old indentured child (read: slave), she went to the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to find out what could be done. You read that right. Animals. There was nothing to protect children yet. Because of her work to right this wrong, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was created. Now, a lot of folks think that, during her work, she was advocating for this child as if she were an animal, but that is not the case. She was acting as an advocate of an abused child.

Another historical issue that came up was the issue of child labor. There were a lot of destitute families at the turn of the 20th Century and going into the Great Depression. Families did what they thought was best and put their kids to work to make ends meet. Kids worked in coal mines, which isn’t good for ANYONE, but there were zero protections for them or for women. In 1916 the Child Labor Act was put in place to prohibit the interstate transportation of goods that were made by children. In 1918, the Child Labor Act was ruled unconstitutional (uh oh) and most other attempts to protect women and children were thwarted until 1935 with the Social Security Act. This is crazy to me. My grandfather was born in 1915 (he passed away almost 9 years ago), and was the youngest of 9 children. Any of them could have worked as children without any sort of protections in place. Scary.

There are many federal grants that are helping parents with child care these days. The primary programs are the federal dependent care tax credit, the child care tax credit, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Title XX. These programs were designed to assist low-income families with childcare so they can work. As a working mom, I can attest to the fact that childcare is EXPENSIVE. Unfortunately, I always made too much money to qualify for these services.

Currently, my biggest concern is for children’s education. I consider this a child welfare issue because every child has the right to a good education. Our public school system is being threatened as well as all the things that fall under the umbrella of public school. Free and reduced lunch programs for children are being rethought. I work in a place where 92% of children are on free or reduced lunch. 92%! If those protections were to change, what would that mean for those kids? Our Secretary of Education does not believe that all schools who receive federal funding, whether public, charter, or private, should be equally accountable to the US government (read: school voucher program). In layperson’s terms: if a parent doesn’t want to send their kid to public school, they can go to private school and get vouchers from the government to subsidize some of the cost. But, those schools receiving those funds would NOT be held to the same standards at the public schools.

…so, how many more days do we have til summer? Because I’m craving a margarita and a pool deck, STAT.

Policy Blog Post 10: Our House is a very, very, very fine house..

Choose from housing, homelessness, or food policy.  Trace historical roots (including at least 3 aspects or discrete pieces of legislation) and at least 2 current issues.

Happy Monday! I had a crazy weekend that was filled with 24 children in my 1700 square foot home, muddy shoes, water balloons, Nerf gun battles, a ripped trampoline, some kid getting shot in the eye, and another kid getting pistol whipped. It made for a great birthday party for my 10-year-old! Speaking of housing….

Let’s talk about how the U.S. government has tried to solve housing problems. We’ll start by talking about the 1937 Housing Act.

  1. Let’s be honest. We try to be the white saviors and end up dehumanizing folks. It’s not something that we should be good at, but dang, we’re SO GOOD AT IT. The 1937 Housing Act started out with good intentions. It wanted to rid the US of unsafe housing situations and slums. The US Housing Authority came from this. Everyone wants to feel like they are safe, right? The 1949 amendment to this act cleared slums and redeveloped the area into single-family homes. Half the homes were subsidized for low-income families.
  2. The 1954 Housing Act amendment strove for “urban renewal”. What does that mean? It means further slum clearance, removal of “urban blight” (what does that even mean??), and the avoidance of constructing public housing. Basically, if you were pushed out with the slum clearance, you couldn’t come back because you couldn’t afford it. Yay, progress! Remember, we’re rolling in on the Civil Rights Movement.
  3. It’s not all bad though! Let’s jump ahead to the 1976 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. This was an attempt to keep the banks honest (I’m laughing as I type that) and prevent redlining. What’s redlining, you might ask? Redlining was a practice by banks (it’s illegal, btdubz) that prevented the issuance of mortgages to families and business based on the racial or ethnic makeup of the area. It could be overt or covert through raising prices or property taxes. It still happens…anyhoo…
  4. Gentrification is a major problem across the country. We push minorities out by raising home prices and taxes around them in order to ‘raise up’ the neighborhood. Redlining is part of this.
  5. The current administration put Ben Carson in charge of Housing and Urban Development. Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon who has ZERO experience in this area. I’d say this is a significant issue.

I have more to say, but I’m out of time! Argh!!

EDIT: per the request of my professor, the song…

Policy Blog Post 5: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Explain the role the voluntary and private sector have in social welfare.  Describe at least 2 benefits and 2 concerns relating to the voluntary sector and/or the private sector in general.

“You cannot feed the hungry on statistics.”-David Lloyd George

I’m coming from a lively discussion in HBSE2, and I’m kind of reeling from it. We watched the documentary A Place at the Table which highlights some of the voluntary sector with regards to the increase in hunger across our country and closing the gap of hunger. I started the discussion by saying that I wanted to reduce my lip service and start actually helping out. I want to begin meeting needs instead of just talking about it. There was far more on the minds of my cohorts.

The conversation devolved into a bit of mud slinging. I think others would disagree with me, but I felt extremely uncomfortable. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but to say that people who make more money than “the rest of us” are somehow morally inferior?? Really? It’s morally inferior to make $250k a year. Really? How can someone make that kind of generalization without knowing the heart of the person they are talking about? I don’t know what that person is doing with their funds. I don’t know what kind of situation they came from. I don’t know if they are donating to charities on a regular basis. I don’t know if they have medical bills, other family issues, etc. I won’t make those kinds of comments. Even more important to the kind of work I want to do is this: I won’t make those comments because, eventually, I might ask for donations from these people, and the last thing I want to do is piss someone off because they got wind of a comment I made in a class I took in grad school about how I think that I’m morally superior because I care about social justice and make a pittance compared to them. But I digress…except this isn’t a digression!! This dovetails right into the blog post.

The voluntary sector relies on charity! Many of the grants that are applied for are funded through the trust of a rich dead person. Faith-based services are funded through the donations given by their congregants. Ideally, a person who is making a lot of money will be giving a lot to their church or charity of choice. Until the government closes the gap and gets on board with taking care of the people of this country, we need those voluntary and private sector donors to meet the needs of hurting people.

Another poignant thing that came up in conversation was this: are these charities enabling people to stay unemployed and in the system? Maybe yes. But the system is fatally flawed, is it not? The poverty line is so low and the threshold for receiving services is so low that, in order to qualify and meet the needs of yourself and your family, some folks are opting to only work part time. Full-time work is honorable, but what do you do when all your assistance is quickly cut? There is no opportunity for transition for these people who are struggling to get on their feet and then stay there.

This is where the idea of privatization might come in. Many people think that private sector charities and philanthropy are far more efficient than public welfare systems. The private sector can meet the needs of people without all the red tape of bureaucracy. However, private entities function without any government regulation (not a horrible thing), and therefore are more apt to discriminate against certain people or ethnic groups (a horrible thing).

So what’s the fix? I’m detail oriented, not big-picture. Micro. I want to go out and, one at a time, help the people that I come across. I’m not willing to get into a shouting match with my cohorts about how the system is broken but not do a damn thing about it. What are we going to do, people, besides yell at each other??

If you need me, I’ll be at Food and Shelter.

Social Policy Blog Post 4: “Who’s poor?”

Discuss at least 2 ways poverty and unemployment are measured as well as how these measures affect pictures of poverty or unemployment.  [For example, would the poverty threshold or poverty guidelines measure higher?  How might this affect legislation regarding poverty.]

*Clarification – for 2 ways to measure unemployment, how does the federal government measure unemployment?  Who might this leave out that it should include?

Let’s start this off by saying I am poor. I Uber for income and sometimes make money singing, but I do not have a steady job. I am a student. I have ungodly amounts of debt. I am poor.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what the government thinks.

According to the text, the two ways of measuring poverty are poverty threshold and poverty guideline. The poverty threshold is more commonly known as the poverty line. Threshold tends to be higher than guideline. Threshold is used strictly for statistical purposes, while guideline is used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for federal programs like TANF and SNAP.

In my personal experience, neither one of these things takes into account debt-to-income ratio. I was divorced and co-parenting my son with minimal child support and no alimony. I was working full time and making money at a rate above the poverty line, so I didn’t qualify for any federal aid. If I’d dropped a day at work, I would have qualified! These levels of poverty exclude the working poor. Those who are trying to pay off debt, working full time, and make too much money to qualify for the things they need.

Unemployment is measureable. Anyone who doesn’t have a job is unemployed. Underemployment is not as measurable. It can mean those who are working below their skill set or education level. It can also mean those who want to work more hours than they are working.

Regarding employment, in the US a loss of a job might trigger short-term poverty. Then there is the idea of structural unemployment. Structural unemployment occurs when there are changes in the way things are done, like technological advancements in certain labor and factory jobs. These advancements create unemployment for some because the workers’ skill sets are limited.

I’ve been underemployed almost my entire working life. I’ve been college educated since 2001 and obtained my first masters degree in 2006. I’ve worked entry-level positions in non-profits. I tried to get promoted but didn’t have the “right” education. (I have a master of music.) This was during those years when I was struggling as a single parent. I understand that feeling of not being able to get ahead or even catch up because it feels like the system is set up to defeat you.

 

Social Policy Blog Post 3: What’s church got to do with it?

Trace the religious roots to social work and examine how social work and religion coalesce and/or diverge today. Make sure to point out at least 4 historical roots, 1 place of coalescing, and 1 divergent point in your analysis. 

I have been on the struggle bus this week. I had a car accident and a sick kid within 24 hours. Let’s see how this goes!

I am a preacher’s kid and was raised by an extremely conservative family. This topic is a tender spot for me. I grew up with all the Bible stories and platitudes talking about helping the poor, sick, widows, and orphans. I also grew up hearing about how “poor people are living off the government” and “they’re just lazy”. I know that not everyone who professes any kind of faith is like this, but it is a common theme. Anywhooo…

Historical connections

  1. Jewish protections for the powerless (gleaning, marriage contracts).
  2. Survival of ancient religious communities was dependent on communal living.
  3. The rise of voluntary social organizations connected to the church during the Second Great Awakening and the influence in moral and social reform.
  4. Settlement houses of the late 1800s that were based on an idea of Christian Socialism.
  5. I’m not sure why this won’t let me delete these numbers because I don’t need a number 5….in the Western world, we don’t value a sense of communal living like ancient communities did. We have an ‘every man for himself’ mentality. This is a divergence.
  6. Churches are still heavily involved with social welfare and volunteering. Food banks, bill payment programs, and international mission involvement are just a few of the ways the church reaches the less fortunate. This is a coalescence.
  7. This is all I got for today. I would like to adjust this at some point, but I’m out of time. Peace!!