By Amy V. Simmons
Although policy, systems and cultural factors vary, there is great intersectionality when it comes to social work related practices, methods and innovations around the world.
SWHELPER recently hosted its second annual online Global Social Welfare Digital Summit from March 19-22, 2019. Registrants from around the world attended the livestreamed, virtual conference, comparing notes, sharing helpful tips and more.
Presenters and attendees hailed from Canada, India, Italy, Singapore, South Africa, United Kingdom, the United States and several other countries.
Topics ranged from best social work practices, issues surrounding immigration, trauma informed care, research, helping those affected by domestic and sexual violence and much more.
Summit organizer Deona Hooper, MSW — a resident of Delaware — is the founder and editor-in-chief of SWHELPER. SWHELPER is an award-winning progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment related to social work, social justice, and social good.
Anne McSweeney, LCSW, owner and educational director of CEU Creations — which provides cutting-edge educational trainings to clinicians throughout the United States — was the summit’s partner and sponsor.
Social Work and Technology
The field of social work and other helping professions has been transformed by the many technological advances available to both practitioners and clients. However, trying to navigate the many tools and advances — as well as managing the emerging protocols surrounding them — can be daunting and overwhelming.
Hans Versteegh of Welzijn 3.0 (“welfare” in Dutch) in the Netherlands presented one such session entitled “How to Benefit from Social Media for Nonprofits and Helping Professionals” providing attendees with practical suggestions on how to build social media into their daily practices.
In the Netherlands, where almost all citizens (89 percent) are tech savvy, robotics and digital platforms are becoming part of the helping profession scene, Versteegh explained. Social media plays an important role in these trends.
In light of the increasing use of these tools in tandem with traditional care methods, social workers will have to be digitally literate in order to best serve their client base in this fast changing 21st century landscape, he told attendees, providing an overview of many of the tools and methods which are currently being utilized.
Exploring Holistic Models of Care that Benefit The Entire Community
Anne MacAulay, continuing professional development coordinator for ANZASW (Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers) delivered a presentation entitled “Primary Healthcare – What Impacts Could We Have Using a Holistic Model?”
As a social worker for over 25 years, MacAulay has been working within the disciplines of mental and physical health social work on many levels. At the outset, she explained that in her country — which provides free or subsidized medical care — most health social workers are employed by hospital boards and work within the confines of the hospital system to help provide patient care.
One of the most difficult tasks for New Zealand’s social workers is to convince the hospital funders to allow practitioners to move away from a strictly medical, interventionist model to a more holistic, preventative model, something many of the American attendees could relate to.
In the course of her presentation, MacAulay explored the long-term benefits of timely and appropriate support for clients of social services, in tandem with a strong self-education and empowerment component that may include digital tools, classes, and other methods.
“If a person is healthy, then a lot of the other issues that social workers deal with go away,” she said.
Disease Management Challenges and the African American Community
The complicated relationship between the helping professions and underserved segments of the African American community is well documented, due to a complex history which included experimentation without consent and other forms of exploitation. When all of these mitigating factors are combined with entrenched poverty, problems surrounding disease management with this population are exacerbated.
Pennsylvania resident Patricia Green-Rodgers, MSW, MSPR, founder and chief strategist of the award-winning Patricia Green Group, addressed this conundrum in a presentation entitled “How Trusted Influencers Improve Health Outcomes for Underserved African-Americans.” During her presentation, she discussed the importance of building relationships with trusted influencers when creating health messages targeting African Americans, a service she has provided through her work with the CDC, HHS and FDA over the years.
“The challenges are tied to race and place,” Green-Rodgers told attendees. “Where we live really does influence our health. We know that there are a lot of situations in which African Americans live that really predispose them to getting sick. With African Americans, disease has to compete with other kinds of pressing environmental issues.”
However, class and social status within the community are no buffer from discrimination, as was illustrated in the much publicized story of Serena Williams and her nearly fatal postpartum treatment experience. It is an entrenched institutional problem that spans hundreds of years.
“Stories of inequities span generations, and any kind of negative experience an African American has with a health care provider is usually linked to race,” Green-Rodgers said. “Even if the individual just perceives that it is linked to race, it is really rooted in generational pain; in many cases, mind pain will override physical pain.”
As a result, culturally competent communications tools must be created and utilized — and coalitions built — in order to effectively reach this population, she emphasized, citing several examples.
Helping the Helpers
Learning how to prioritize self-care and incorporate it into one’s routine is critical for all helping professionals, including social workers. If balance is not struck, career burnout and compassion fatigue take their toll.
Fabiola Paul is a New Jersey-based licensed clinical social worker, certified clinical trauma professional and the founder and CEO of Enlightening Counseling and Educational Services, L.L.C., an online platform for women and teen girls that provides counseling, among other services. She delivered a conference presentation entitled “Helping the Helper: Self-Care in Today’s World.”
Paul discussed some of the signs and symptoms of “compassion fatigue” – a condition which can lead to professional burnout in social workers and other helping professionals, such as decreased feelings of work competence, dread of working with certain clients, and a diminished sense of purpose and enjoyment with one’s career.
Some cognitive symptoms can also present, such as a preoccupation with trauma, intrusive thoughts and images of a client’s (or personal) situation and trauma apathy, Paul said. Others manifest physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, aches and pains and an impaired immune system which they may or may not attribute to their work exposure.
She broke down the self-care evaluation process into three categories — prioritize, plan and prepare — and provided an assessment sheet to help participants begin that process, along with some helpful suggestions.
Overall, in spite of a few minor technological glitches, the conference was pronounced a resounding success by its participants. Many presenters and attendees committed to be a part of next year’s event.
For more information about SWHELPER, visit: www.socialworkhelper.com.