Social Work Student Legislative Action Day Paves the Way for Change

By Erin Moore, 2nd year MSW Student, Anthony T. McCabe, 2nd year MSW Student

On March 10th, 2015 Binghamton MSW students joined over 400 of their peers in Albany to lobby for the passage of the New York DREAM Act and an enhancement to the Social Work Loan Forgiveness program. The trip was meant not only to provide an opportunity for students to dip their toes in the political well, but to also get a more intimate understanding of the ways in which state policies impact their social work practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – more commonly referred to as the DREAM Act – seeks to expand educational opportunity for the nearly 5,000 annual undocumented high school graduates in the state by extending access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).  It also seeks to establish a Dream Fund Commission to raise private monies for the same population.

At the time of the MSW students’ visit to Albany, the bill had already passed the State Assembly 87-45. It currently awaits final resolution by the State Senate – but since the bill faces such formidable opposition from the Republican majority, Senate action is unlikely at this point. The DREAM Act’s last hope is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, in which he strategically linked the DREAM Act to a controversial education investment tax credit which is supported by Senate Republicans. The final deadline for a budget resolution is March 31st, at which point it will be clear as to whether or Cuomo’s coupling strategy paid off.

The Social Work Loan Forgiveness Program (SWLFP) hit a little more close to home for the student advocates. The New York State chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) sought a $500,000 increase to the current program, which allocates approximately $1.2 million dollars annually to eligible, licensed social workers.

The underpinning of the case for enhancing the SWLFP is that recruitment and retention of licensed social workers has remained an ongoing challenge in New York State in spite of a projected 25% growth in need of their professional services in critical human services areas. One way to incentivize licensed social workers to begin or continue their career in high needs communities is to offset diminished income potential through student loan forgiveness. This particular incentive has become increasingly important as starting salaries have stagnated at an average of $35,000 per year and student loan debts continue to increase. According to the NASW, over half of NASW social workers have loan debt upwards of $39,000.

As the program is currently administered, only 32 of the more than 1,000 annual applicants will be granted the award (which, over 4-years, has a maximum pay-out of $26,000). That’s less than 3% of all applicants — and the allocation of awards tends to be concentrated in New York City. For this, among other reasons, the NASW is seeking the enhancement to the SWLFP to ensure that more upstate social workers are brought into the fold so that they can work in the communities that need their services the most.

The student advocates each met with their elected officials in groups varying in size based on constituency. As representatives from Binghamton University, many students met with Senator Tom Libous and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo–both of whom represent the region where Binghamton University is housed and many students reside.

Senator Libous was not available due to health reasons, however a member of his staff was able to meet with the group. The staff member was receptive to the proposal of increasing the funds available for the SWLFP. While he did not expressly state Senator Libous’ position on the New York DREAM Act, he did tell the group that he sees a lot of opposition to the bill within the senate. The students and professors present took turns dispelling the myths around the bill that encourage opposition. The staff member promised to pass the message to Senator Libous, and he gave a bottle of Senator Libous’ “famous” steak sauce to anyone who wanted it.

March is National Social Work Month!

March is National Social Work Month!

This month, social workers around the country are celebrating the history and the future of their profession.

This year, social workers have extra cause for excitement: the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) turns 60 in 2015.

Founded in 1955 through the merger of seven organizations, the NASW is now the largest membership organization of social workers in the world.

But what do all of these social workers do?

These social workers serve individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities through public, non-profit, and private agencies. They work with children and with older adults. They help students at schools and workers through employee assistance programs. They provide care in hospitals, at nursing facilities, and through hospice. They work with those who have survived traumas, including domestic violence, armed conflict, and natural disasters. They work with those who seek to empower neighborhoods, to fight discrimination, and to advance human rights. They advocate with, and for, marginalized groups. They are service providers and researchers. They are policy makers and community organizers.

In the last six decades, social workers in the NASW have advocated with, and for, all Americans, including women; children; older adults; individuals of different abilities and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and individuals who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. They’ve been involved in campaigns that have led to voting rights, access to physical and mental healthcare, and funding for social services. They’ve responded to the needs of military personnel and their families; individuals with HIV/AIDS; and survivors of tragedies like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina.

The NASW provides for the advancement of social work professionals through opportunities for networking; support for licensure and continuing education; and the operation of various specialty divisions like the NASW Press, the NASW Legal Defense Fund, and the NASW Social Work Ethics and Law Institute. The organization also raises awareness about the social work profession, through efforts like the creation of National Social Work Month and the development of www.SocialWorkersSpeak.org, which explores how the news and entertainment industries portray social workers and the issues social workers address.

To learn more about the history of the NASW and of social work, visit the interactive timeline on the NASW website. To learn more about the future of social work, check out the work of the students, faculty, and staff here in the Department of Social Work at the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) at Binghamton University.

I came to CCPA after earning a bachelor’s degree in integrative neuroscience through the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University. I’m now finishing the second year of the Master of Social Work (MSW)-Master of Public Administration (MPA) dual-degree program in CCPA. I’m often asked exactly what I’m going to do with this combination of educational experiences. I think I’ve got a lot of options.

By the time I graduate in the spring of 2016, I will have completed more than 25 courses in social work and public administration; three years in a graduate assistantship with Dr. Victoria Rizzo, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Social Work; and two field placements that will have afforded me more than 1,000 hours of professional experience. I spent last year with the Youth and Outreach Services team at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca. In the fall, I’ll start working at United Health Services Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, under the Manager of Social Work.

My classmates are providing clinical mental health services through agencies like the Binghamton University Counseling Center, the Lourdes Memorial Hospital Center for Mental Health, and the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Southern Tier. They’re working to help develop a system of community schools through the Broome County Promise Zone. They’re providing for older adults through the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, which includes field placements with agencies like the Broome County Office for the Aging and the Rural Health Network. They’re working with those who have struggled with substance abuse at the Addiction Center of Broome County and with those who have survived domestic violence through RISE. They’re serving the community through organizations like Catholic Charities, Family & Children’s Society, and the United Way. The MSW program has field placement partnerships with more than 200 organizations, offices, and agencies across the Southern Tier and throughout the surrounding counties.

We learn from an incredible team of faculty and staff. Find out more about their research and service – in areas like trauma-informed practice, sexual assault prevention on college campuses, community-engaged schools, and healthcare – by checking out the Faculty and Staff section of the Department of Social Work website.

But, regardless of our past experiences, our current work, and our future plans, the students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Social Work are all united through the core values of the NASW: we believe in service, social justice, the dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. We all want to “pave the way for change. “

Emily Tier
Bachelor of Science, Integrative Neuroscience, 2011
Master of Public Administration, expected 2016
Master of Social Work, expected 2016

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Interdisciplinary Research and the Community and Public Affairs Doctoral Program

Researchers are challenged to address some of our nation’s most critical social issues such as drug abuse, educational inequalities, healthcare access, and mental health stigma. No one discipline can research these complex issues effectively if done isolation. The combined knowledge and skills of researchers from multiple disciplines as members of research teams, however, generates new ways of thinking, helps develop stronger research questions, and assists with the dissemination and translation of research findings across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Although interdisciplinary research is increasingly encouraged, one of the greatest challenges to interdisciplinary research is distinguishing it from related types of research. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are often used incorrectly and interchangeably; when clearly defined, these terms more accurately represent a continuum of research. Multidisciplinary research draws on theories and methods from other disciplines, but remains within traditional disciplinary boundaries. Interdisciplinary research, however, can be distinguished based on its purposeful integration of ideas across two or more disciplines to create a new and holistic understanding of complex social issues. Too often researchers promote their work as interdisciplinary when it is more accurately multidisciplinary. A key question to distinguish multi- from inter- disciplinary research is whether the research would be different or suffer if a member of the research team from another discipline left the table. If the answer is no, the research is not really interdisciplinary. My own research, for example, on the role of multiparty collaboration in expanded school mental health could not continue without the expertise and skills from highly respected interdisciplinary scholars from education, mental health, and policy who have deep experience studying collaboration from a range of methodological and theoretical perspectives.

Our new doctoral program in Community and Public Affairs (CPA) aims to prepare students for interdisciplinary research. With a commitment to advancing research on complex social problems, our program intentionally recruits and admits students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds so that every class serves as workshop for learning how to do interdisciplinary research. Our curriculum draws from varied disciplines (e.g., anthropology, demography, criminology, geography, sociology, and psychology) as well as professions (e.g., counseling, human development, public administration, student affairs administration, social work) to research the dynamic interplay among individuals, the organizations serving them, and the institutions in which they are embedded. In a recent Issues, Dilemmas, and Ethics in Social Systems class, for example, students were working together to integrate theories from sociology and psychology as a framework for exploring inequalities in public education. Our program guides students to conceptualize their research topics by integrating theories across two or more disciplines to create holistic frameworks for researching social issues facing individuals, organizations, and institutions.

Varied approaches to research, reflecting both traditional (e.g., survey) and emerging (e.g., social network analysis) methods as well as the importance of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies, are also a focus of our program. Students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty across the college and university to support the development of interdisciplinary and methodologically rigorous research. One of our current students, for example, is integrating theories from criminology and psychology along with methods from geography to research campus violence. Graduates of the CPA doctoral program are trained for careers in a variety of settings including academia, research foundations, government, and nonprofit organizations where they will be leaders in advancing authentic interdisciplinary research.

Elizabeth A. Mellin, PhD, LPC

Associate Professor

PhD Program Director

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

It’s About the Journey not the Destination

Something that I have been trying to remind the second year graduate social work students that I teach is to enjoy this time in graduate school, as this program with their peers is a once in a life time experience. The students typically roll their eyes, groan and sigh as I say this. Especially now as they are halfway through the semester with less than 9 weeks until graduation. They talk about how their lives have been put on hold, the sacrifices that they have made to pursue this professional degree. I challenge them to look at the journey along the way, not just the end goal, and the destination of graduation. This parallels a lot with the Grief, Loss and Bereavement in Social Work Practice Elective which I am teaching this semester, and the years which I spent working in the hospice field of social work.

We are always in a hurry to get to the next thing, obtain the next goal, the next degree, the next job, publish the next article, move into the next house, finish the next semester, etc, are we forgetting to be present in the current moment? Consider the following…

“First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work. And then I was dying to retire.
And now I am dying…

And suddenly I realize I forgot to live”.

– anonymous

We are all busy, we all have deadlines and due dates and bosses and families and are juggling a million things. But are we so busy that we cannot be present in the moment? I am as guilty as the next person. A skill which we teach social work students is to be present. While working with a client(s) be present, be with them be in that sacred space to help them. We teach this to students, but do we practice it ourselves? As you are reading this blog, how many other tabs do you have open, what else are you doing? When was the last time that you did one thing at a time?

This blog is cathartic for me to write in the present moment as I need to be reminded of being present and enjoying the journey myself. My time where I was 100% present was while I was running or practicing Baptiste Yoga. I recently got caught up training for a ½ marathon and I lost sight of my journey, running and practicing yoga for the cleansing and centering that it offered me. I got caught up in the destination, the training miles and the schedule of on days and off days and the pressure. I was not present. I am now in a cam walker boot, nursing a calf tear for the third time and I feel like my life is spiraling out of control because I have lost my center. It is time to readjust my journey and find another way to center myself. When I was on a healthier journey of centering and cleansing I had incorporated meditation into my life. It is time to incorporate meditation again.

Many patients who I have had the pleasure of working with as they have approached death under hospice care share that they have regrets. As they approach death they share that they wish that they had spent more time with family and friends, they wish that they had been more present. They wish that they had said the things that mattered. They wish that they hadn’t been so busy doing, rather than living. A book that the Grief, Loss and Bereavement in Social Work Practice read was The Four Things That Matter Most, by Dr. Ira Byock. I was pleased that the students took the time to slow down and read a non-text book. This books talks about telling those people in your life whom you care about, “I love you, thank you, please forgive me and I forgive you.” Many students reflected up how this book can be used not only in their professional but also personal lives.

What do you need to incorporate into your life in order to slow down and enjoy the journey? Are you living in the present, or are you focused on the destination? What might you be neglecting to reach your destination; health, family, friends, your true calling? Do those people who are important parts of your journey know that they are? If not take the time to tell them. I know that this takes time, start with 5 minutes and build on that slowly. You don’t want your life to be over before you truly lived it. I challenge you to reflect upon this and try something new, to be present with yourself and those you care about, they deserve it and so do you!

For those students graduating who are reading this, you have about 9 weeks left until graduation, breathe it in, and enjoy it! This is an experience that you will not get back, do not just wish it over! Tell someone whom you have met on this journey, “Thank you!” This will make you more mindful and centered as you move on to your new journey which lies ahead.

Sarah E. Hopkins, LMSW

Full Time Lecturer

Department of Social Work

Binghamton University

College of Community and Public Affairs