Social Work

#StopTraffick

Today was enlightening. I attended the United Way Convening on Human Trafficking in Atlanta. I attended because I work with middle schoolers and feel like I need to be aware and on top of this global issue. Not only that, but is a major hub for human trafficking because we have one of the largest international airports in the world. I also believe that as a citizen of this country and member of my community, I need to join the discussion and use my voice to bring light to the issue, hold our leaders accountable for strengthening laws and services. I also need to educate these kids!

I learned about a website that is like CraigsList, though it is a major hub for adolescent sexual exploitation. I’m not sure how this website is legal (at least in this particular area), but I did find out that American Express, MasterCard and Visa will no longer allow their cards to be used to purchase adult ads. “Adult ads.” Sure.

I listened to Dr. Alex Trouteaud, a sociologist that works at youthSpark, discuss the supply and demand of sex trafficking. It was fascinating! He spoke about it from an economical standpoint, as it is a $150 BILLION (annual!!) industry. He referred to the victims as “supply”, the pimps as “market facilitators” and the johns as “demanders”. [He assured us he was empathetic towards the plight of these people, which we all knew].

The average age for entry into sex slavery is 12 years old. Yes, I typed that correctly. TWELVE. A  lot these kids have sexual abuse histories, which probably isn’t surprising. Many of them have shitty home lives, filled with poverty, violence and absolutely no support. Some are runaways, some homeless, some still live at home! the life expectancy once you enter “the life” is 7 years. If you enter at 12 and see your 20th birthday, you are the exception.

Obviously most demanders are men. Not all of them are pedophiles, and not all of them know they are buying service from a child. In Atlanta, the demand for sex services from females under 23 is 50% and 10-20% under 18. 15% of men in the U.S. exploit children for sex. 56% of demanders are married and 24% have children.

He shared that research shows that arresting a man for buying sex results in 70% recidivism reduction. That shaming piece is apparently a big deal, especially since many men are prominent figures in their community. I’m talking lawyers, teachers, doctors, clergymen, coaches, political figures.

He also mentioned that child labor in cocoa harvesting is a major issue. God. How many of us love chocolate?  A good 95% of the world, at least. I had no idea. Now I want to hold these chocolate companies accountable and plan to look for chocolate suppliers that have appropriate labor policies. It will mean spending more for chocolate, but so be it. We need to demand more transparency in supply chains!

Speaking of the money issue, do you know how much we perpetuate human slavery every day, as consumers? We want a shirt for $5, but that shirt had to be sewn by someone. I know there are tons of machines that make things for us, but that isn’t totally the case in clothing and textiles. Lots of that shit is handmade still. If we buy it for $5, and the company had to make a profit, how much do you think that employee got for their time and work? We’ve all heard stories about sweatshops and dirty labor practices. That shit happens in America, too, as does “domestic servitude.”

Dr. Brook Bello from More Too Life spoke. I can’t even begin to explain all the feels I felt. I had no ideas she was a survivor, and while her talk was not about her personal experiences, she threw in some tidbits throughout her presentation that took my breath away. She is truly a beacon of hope for survivors.

She talked about how survivors can get their innocence back when they realize they are not to blame and are not the guilty party. She also talked about how you can’t buy sex, because sex is consensual and passionate, and that sex via slavery is never that. She also said that there’s a misconception that we can help restore these people’s self-identities , but she said you can’t restore something that was never there to begin with. If you think about, the beginning of identity development happens in early adolescence. If the average entry age into the life is 12, then those kids aren’t forming a positive identity. In fact, they are being dehumanized, which leads to no identity formation. Big problem. She talked about how we can help victims survive and thrive by helping them form an identity through self-discovery.

She also mentioned that since men are a large part of the problem, they need to be a large part of the solution. Amen.  We need to teach boys not to view females as sex objects. Dads, stop making oogly eyes at your son when the Hooters commercial comes on TV. Don’t teach him that it’s ok to think she looks like vagina on legs. Women are MORE than tits and ass, and these young boys, full of hormones, need the adult men in their lives to model this way of thinking. Don’t eat at those establishments. Don’t buy products that objectify women in their ads. Talk to your kids about their icons – movie stars, celebrities, music stars – and how they may not portray women in a good light. I immediately think of this ad and this picture of a musician. Media has completely skewed our ideals about sex, relationships and love!

We learned a lot of the federal, state and local initiatives to combat human trafficking, but as citizens of the United States, it is OUR job to use our voice to make OUR world a better place. 

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Social Work

My Statement of Purpose.

Wow. I just found my Statement of Purpose that I had to write when I applied for the Masters of Social Work program at Florida Atlantic University in 2008. WOW! It takes me back. My writing wasn’t great but damn if you don’t get better at writing in college!

If you are interested in reading it, it will give you a little more insight into my passion for helping others.

They accepted me, BTW. 😉

Growing up a single child in a single-parent home was difficult. This environment did not allow me to thoroughly enjoy my youth due to responsibilities put on me at an early age. However, I have emerged a compassionate, responsible and thankful woman because of those experiences. I would not feel complete if I could not volunteer and assist those in need and advocate for those with no voice. I am a social justice advocate, through and through. I owe my passionate personality to my mother, and the experiences I endured as a child.

I started my college career off on a bumpy road, transferring to a few different majors throughout community college. In 2004, I saw the movie Hotel Rwanda. I have never felt such a huge tug at my heart – I left the movie theater in tears. Due to this experience, I took great interest in the developing world, with a particular interest in anti-genocide activism in Africa. I decided to apply to the Peace Corps but was deferred due to reoccurring headaches that needed to be resolved. I saw that as a sign, decided to finish my B.A. and applied to the University of South Florida.

While there is no degree at USF that focuses on human rights, I was able to connect many of my interests to the political science degree, International Studies. My major has taught me a great deal about world issues and politics but it has become very clear to me that I do not want to concentrate on issues at the institutional level. Although I do have experience with macro-level advocacy, my heart lies with helping others at the micro level. Having been involved in several areas of advocacy and volunteerism there are three main areas of interest I would like to pursue. I would like to concentrate on refugee populations, the homeless and empowering adolescent girls.

The social issue of greatest concern to me is the guidance that many young girls fail to receive in the household. EDITED OUT – She has not been a good role model for these girls, mostly because she did not receive good guidance from her mother. This cycle is constant in our society and I would like to help break the chain. EDITED OUT I believe programs like the Ophelia Project advocate for youth, building self-esteem and self-worth in young girls. We, as a society, also play a role in the development of young girls into healthy, happy and productive adults.

As a member of society, I had the opportunity to work with a young girl through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program (2005 – 2006). I met Sarah by tutoring her at The Boys and Girls and Club (2005). Sarah was behind in her reading ability so I began meeting with her weekly to coach her. We quickly formed a close bond and it was apparent that she needed a confidant. Working one-on-one with children and watching them learn and mature is very rewarding. I prefer the individual interaction because it is more personal. A personal atmosphere allows you to build trust with one another, creating a more effective environment for the individual to grow.

Another personal relationship that has inspired me is with a local refugee. Mogtaba is from Darfur, Sudan, a country in Africa that is experiencing the first genocide of the 21st century. Mogtaba opened my eyes to the current refugee infrastructure and the immediate issues they face as they try and assimilate into America. Due to governmental budget restraints, refugees receive very little assistance. While they are entering a seemingly better life, they are confronted with an entirely new set of daily struggles. Instead of the threat to their life, they are faced with a threat to their dignity. I am very interested in working in this area, helping to develop new programs that address the more immediate issues that refugees face, like learning to speak English, keeping a checkbook, and pursuing an education. It is very important that we provide the tools and resources to these people so they can become contributing members of society.

Mogtaba and I have partnered on the development of the STAND chapter at USF.  STAND is a national student-led anti-genocide coalition. In Fall 2006, I was given the opportunity to work with a group of my peers at USF to start a chapter. I became President in Spring 2007 and have had the opportunity to lead and serve with many inspiring individuals and community organizations. Being the co-founder of the USF STAND chapter has done great things for my personal and professional development. Through the development of this organization, I have had to step outside my comfort zone on a number of occasions, including facing my fear of public speaking. I have gained valuable leadership experience through conducting meetings, planning events and empowering my younger members.

Through my work with STAND, I have fostered a close relationship with the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture (FCST). STAND and FCST have worked on important events in order to educate the community on the Darfur genocide and how they can assist the refugee population in Tampa. One of our most successful events took place in April 2007. We co-hosted the screening of The Lost Boys of Sudan, a documentary focusing on the young Sudanese men who have struggled with assimilation into America. An actual lost boy, Abraham Alowich, relayed his personal story and talked about his new education initiative to help his people back home. The most exciting aspect of the event was our true special guests – a group of lost boys that live in the Tampa Bay area. This event was very inspiring and our goals were met: the event opened the community’s eyes to the refugee population in their backyard, and many reached out to FCST about volunteering and helping these young men assimilate into their community

Through a weeklong Alternative Spring Break trip this year, I was immersed with a homeless population in Washington, DC. I volunteered and lived at Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), our nation’s largest homeless shelter. CCNV is a completely volunteer-run organization and most employees were once homeless themselves. While it is wonderful that these people are gaining job skills, I believe their lack of experience with people presents issues to the organization. Working with the homeless population on a daily basis has hardened their heart. I think this presents an issue that happens to many people in the human services field. It is very important that we do not lose our humanity while fighting for it. During my work with refugee and homeless organizations, I have observed a real lack of resources necessary for people to escape their current situation. I realize that people and funding are needed to implement these programs. This is an area I am extremely interested in pursuing.

Aside from my volunteer experience, I have worked with Lee Hecht Harrison, a human capital solutions firm, since 2002. I started out as the Client Services Coordinator, providing customer service to our clients, as well as administrative assistance to the staff. I was promoted to Assistant Business Manager in 2004, taking over the operational aspects of the office, including customer billing, employee payroll, expense reports and travel arrangements. In 2007, I was asked to move into a project management role, handling all of the logistical planning and follow-up for our group projects. I have also been indirectly responsible for the Marketing Coordinator, who handles our entire customer and client administrative needs. I will remain at Lee Hecht Harrison until July, where I will resign to begin a new chapter in my life.

Pursuing a Masters degree in Social Work will empower me. It will give me the tools, resources and knowledge to guide young girls, advocate for refugees and make an impact on the homeless population. My experience has shown me that there is critical need in these areas. I would like to play a role in helping individuals see their self-worth; this enables them to pass on their positive experiences to others in similar situations. I have witnessed this personally as my own mother broke the chain of abuse in our family. Mogtaba is a perfect illustration of refugees creating change in their community. In the homeless population, CCNV has proven the possibility of escape from poverty through community, though much work needs to be done. Until now, my academic and career experiences have failed to connect me at the personal level. I have been inspired by the power of the individual and I am ready to move to a more hands-on career path.

Love,

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Education · Social Work

Helping students achieve academic success, one barrier at a time.

I work for an awesome agency. Communities In Schools is the nation’s largest dropout prevention agency. I hate saying it that way, so here’s a more positive spin: Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Our goal is to ensure that every child graduates from high school (tall order, I know), and we work towards that goal by connecting students to support services, enrichment experiences and community resources to help alleviate barriers that are hindering their academic success. Wow. I as read what I just wrote, I am overcome by what a ginormous task that is. We don’t downplay our jobs as easy. We are up against a lot of risk factors when it comes to the students that we work with.

 

First, there are individual risk factors:

  • Has a learning disability or emotional disturbance
  • High number of work hours
  • Parenthood
  • High-risk peer group
  • High-risk social behavior
  • Highly socially active outside of school
  • Low achievement
  • Retention/overage for grade
  • Poor attendance
  • Low educational expectations
  • Lack of effort
  • Low commitment to school
  • No extracurricular participation
  • Misbehavior
  • Early aggression

I have students that can check off just about all of these boxes. Of course, the more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to go down the dropout road, or so research says. But do you know what can help kick these risk factors to the curb? The CIS Five Basics, which was created by our founder, Bill Milliken.

  • The First Basic: A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult
  • The Second Basic: A safe place to learn and grow
  • The Third Basic: A healthy start and a healthy future.
  • The Fourth Basic: A marketable skill to use upon graduation.
  • The Fifth Basic: A chance to give back to peers and community.

Do you know why mentoring programs get federal funding, and lots of grant money, in general? Mentoring is an evidence-based practice that leads to positive outcomes in young people. That first basic is essential. Can you recall an adult in your young life that made a difference? I’m guessing that there is at least one person who made an impact on you. Think about these young people, with lives full of risks factors. Having just one positive person in their life, even if they only see them once a week for an hour, is more than huge. It’s epic. It’s like having your own personal motivator. Someone who believes in you, provides you with real-life experiences and reality checks, offers suggestions and helps you with decision-making. Someone who points our your strengths, is real with you about your screw-ups, but helps you learn from them instead of making you feel like trash. Mentors are major.

Moving on. One thing I have learned since starting this position in 2012, is that dropping out of school is not an event. A child does not wake up one day and say “Hey, today’s a great day to ruin my future!” That goes for most of the decisions they make on a daily basis. What we have discovered through research, is that dropping out of school is a process, and it begins early. There is a huge push now for reading fluency and comprehension by third grade. Obviously, third graders still have much to learn in the way of the written word, but to be able to read, and not struggle with it, is highly important by the time a child finishes third grade. That is because up until third grade, you are learning to read. After third grade, you are reading to learn.

Think about it. What subject, or any area of life, can you get by without reading? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even math. So when a student is not on level with reading skills, due to any of the risk factors above or something else that is adversely affecting his concentration, then that child is setting out on a long and arduous journey  through his/her education. Children get discouraged and frustrated when they don’t understand things, and many of them do not ask for assistance when they need it. Therefore, many children get by with the bare minimum, yet their skills are still below where they should be. And it compounds every single year.

I work with 7th and 8th graders and I am honestly shocked by the lack of writing, vocabulary and reading skills in some of them. Many of them are getting support classes in the big areas like math and reading, and while that is definitely needed, I question how effective it is overall. I also wonder how much their confidence is affected by their lower skill level. It can only lead to fewer questions being asked, less homework being done due to not understanding, less risks being taken as a learner. I see it all the time in the kids I work with.

Likewise, kids these days don’t seem to have high frustration tolerance, which reminds me of my 9 month old. Now that is a child that goes from zero to 60 when you don’t get the bottle in his mouth in the allotted 4.5 milliseconds. This low frustration tolerance leads them to giving up very easily. They are also so afraid to fail. Where is this pressure coming from? Society. Parents. Schools. Siblings. Neighbors. People at the grocery store. The MEDIA. All of the above and then some. Mistakes are proof that you are trying. This is a key phrase I use over and over again. We have to let these kids know that life is full of ups and downs. We are never going to perfect at anything, even if we are super talented. Perfection doesn’t exist. We just have to be as good as we can be, and that involves trying our best every single day. I also wish students weren’t so afraid to ask for help. They are embarrassed, prideful, fearful, etc.

Next, I will delve into the family and community side of my job.

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Social Work

Mental Health in Children

I came across this article on Psychology Today regarding the mental health of children. I could not agree more with the author’s position on over medicating children. I think that, as a society, we have formed this skewed perspective that children must be miniature adults, acting prim and proper every second of the day. The reality of the matter, however, is that children are definitely not mini-adults. They have a boundless amount of energy, and they are creative, imaginative and endlessly curious. They are supposed to be this way. It’s all part of the developmental stages of life. It’s science.

In my line of work, I often witness the ways in which adults treat children. Some of them are right on target, understanding the ways in which children are developing, and assisting them on their journey through young adolescence. And then I see how other adults treat children, expecting way more out of them then a child will ever be able to deliver. I understand that we all have different styles when working with others, probably stemming from our personal background and history. Sometimes, though, I just want to shake adults. Take them by the shoulders and shake them like a Raggedy Anne doll. Well, maybe not so forceful. I could resort to the trout slap, however, which would be very amusing on my end, but not so much for the receiver.

I digress. (Often)

I guess the point I am trying to reach is that we often think children have the need for mental health services and/or medication because they can’t sit still or they blurt out responses. And then I often wonder how we could forget what it was like being a child ourselves. We all had boundless amounts of energy, some more than others, but it was present in all of us. I remember being so excited in science class that I would often jump out of my seat when I knew an answer. What child is not going to be excited when they know an answer in any class?!

It’s normal. Not abnormal. Children are not adults, and they should be allowed to express themselves in appropriately developmental ways. Not in ways adults express themselves. Because they are not adults. Hell, some adults aren’t even adults, developmentally speaking. And I don’t know about you, but I still get excited about things and sometimes resort back to my tween era…*reminisces*

The article mentions how the placebo effect is present in the parents and teachers of children who are medicated for ADHD. Isn’t that interesting? I also agree with the story in the article about the young man pulling on the braids of the girl in front of him. Of course, it caused a disturbance in the classroom and he was punished. I work with kids who struggle in the classroom due to varying degrees of personal, familial or environmental risks factors. Most of the students have classroom disturbances of one kind or another, and what I have found out is that they usually drift off into space, bother their neighbor, or get out of their seat when they don’t understand something or they are bored. Every single one of them admit to one or the other. Most of the students I work with only have conduct issues in the classes they are failing. It’s probably because they don’t understand, and therefore, they lose interest and become bored.

Boredom + children never bodes well. We have to learn how to better engage these young people. Reach them where they are, with what they are interested in and with the things that give meaning to their life. We don’t need to medicate every single one of them, or think that something is wrong with them because they squirm in their seats. We just need to remember that they are children.

Not adults.

Note: I am not a teacher, nor do I ever think I could perform the job well. Teaching is hard. I am not making a jab at teachers or the profession.

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Blogging · Books · Paper Crafts · Parenting · Social Work

I knew I wouldn’t stay away for long.

It was inevitable.

I ran a book review blog from 2010-2013 and totally loved it. It’s no longer live but it was called Smash Attack Reads. It brought much joy and entertainment to my life, but blogging became less and less important when my sweet baby boy was born.

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Blogging took up much of my spare time, as most serious blogger’s can attest to. And as most parents can attest to, you have little, if any, spare time when you become a parent…especially in the beginning!

But it was inevitable that I would return to blogging one day. I just have too much to say.  Whether my words are worth reading is purely up to you, dear reader, but I shall peck away at my keyboard regardless.

I plan to use this blog to write about books (duh), being a parent, my work as a social worker with youth, paper crafting, food, and any and everything else I care to share. It will be a smorgasbord of the things that make me happy, angry, sad or frustrated.

I would love for you to join me in my rambles.

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