Thanks to a partnership between UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, medical students at UCLA are again learning from social workers about the issues they face in medical workplaces. The project, now entering its second year, was initially put together by former Social Welfare chair Todd Franke; Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education; and Michelle Talley MSW ’98, a member of UCLA Luskin’s field education faculty and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Read more about the effort.
UCLA Luskin master of social welfare alumni speak to the new class of social welfare graduate students Sept. 15, 2017. Pictured, left to right, are: Malena French, '11; Tara Chandler, '09; Aiyanna Rios, '08; and, Bridgette Amador, '11. Photo by George Foulsham.
By Stan Paul
Even before the fall quarter had begun, the new class of first-year UCLA Luskin Social Welfare master’s students was already learning the lessons that will become the foundation of future careers in social work.
“Ten years ago I was sitting exactly where you are,” said Tara Chandler MSW ’09, now a social worker in mental health care, as she and a panel of recent Luskin grads shared practical advice about their roles as mandated reporters for the children, families, senior citizens, dependent adults and others they serve as professional social work practitioners.
The seminar for the incoming cohort of Social Welfare students was one of two half-day sessions designed to help students understand the role of social work and their mandated obligations when working with clients and families, said Michelle Talley, a field education faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who works with first- and second-year students.
Joining Chandler were Luskin Social Welfare alumnae Bridgette Amador ’11, Aiyanna Rios ’08, Malena French ’11 and Jolene Hui ’11, all of whom have moved up to positions as administrators and supervisors “in record time,” Talley said. In addition, Hui, who spoke on ethics and confidentiality issues, is director of membership for the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which governs the School’s MSW program, Talley said.
Session topics included mandated reporting of child abuse and elder abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and related legal responsibilities. The idea is to support students who had already begun internships a month before school begins, Talley said. “This is to help students, as they may encounter issues directly or indirectly at their placement,” she said, explaining that students participate in several modules to help them understand complex social justice issues.
The new cohort brings a broad range of experiences to the programs. On average, most of the students have one to three years of experience — either as volunteers or working in a service capacity, Talley said. This includes participation in research studies on adolescent and social anxiety, working with children and older adults, as well as working with a mental health agency providing case management services. Some of the students come from careers in teaching or law, or even as a behavior specialist, working with children with special needs and their families.
For UCLA Luskin student Tina Nguyen, who will be interning in a mental health setting in Los Angeles, the sessions served as a helpful refresher.
“For people who have worked with children or in mental health, you see that daily, so what they are talking about is very effective,” said the Orange County resident who has worked with children and adults in a nonprofit organization.
First-year student Brian Stefan said he was encouraged by the alumni presentations and plans to use his MSW to continue working in suicide prevention, outreach and education in the Los Angeles area. The L.A. native has had previous experience as a volunteer and a staff shift supervisor for a suicide prevention center. Stefan has also done volunteer work as a co-leader for a grief support agency and for the L.A. Mayor’s Office Crisis Response Team.
“The speakers sharing their passion and commitment to the social welfare field is inspiring,” Stefan said. “It’s amazing how much can be done with a Master of Social Welfare [degree] at UCLA.”
First-year UCLA medical student Matthew Hing, right, listens as social worker Katie Helgason, program manager at the St. Joseph Center in Venice, describes a typical day at the facility where she and others work to address the needs of the homeless. Photo by George Foulsham
By George Foulsham
Matthew Hing is a first-year medical student at UCLA, but on this April morning he’s a visitor in a nondescript building on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice — the St. Joseph Center, home of the Chronically Homeless Intervention Program.
Hing enters through a back door, weaving through a crowd of homeless people who gather each morning to take advantage of St. Joseph’s services. This isn’t your typical med school classroom, but Hing believes the experience will be a vital part of his training — adding more educational insight to his medical school curriculum.
Thanks to a partnership between the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Department of Social Welfare and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Hing and 19 other medical students are receiving a lesson in social work.
A month earlier, the students gathered in a classroom in the Public Affairs building for an orientation session arranged by Todd Franke, the chair of the Department of Social Welfare; Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education at UCLA Luskin; and Michelle Talley MSW ’98, a member of UCLA Luskin’s field education faculty and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity,” Franke said as he greeted the students. “We hope this is a marvelous success.”
Laviña talked about how much he learned from similar experiences earlier in his career. “I learned so much from the doctors and nurses and social workers,” he said. “Literally, I would not be here today if I hadn’t had that experience.”
Talley told the students about having worked in child welfare, and how she spent time working with public health nurses on adoption cases. “It was very helpful and useful in my role as a social worker, understanding some of the medical issues that a child could be faced with,” she said.
Hing’s day at the homeless center was the “shadowing” piece of the social work lesson. He spent a day observing and debriefing social workers and a psychiatrist, all of whom specialize in tending to the needs of the homeless.
“The psychiatrist, he saw three clients — all very different cases,” Hing said. “One was an intake case, the second time he had seen the client, so he was really getting a sense of what was going on — what had led to this individual becoming homeless, and how they were doing now.
“The second was much more stable — he’s been seen for several months — but there were new stresses in his life,” Hing said. “It was just a lot of things that a psychiatrist knew to ask that I never knew about.”
The third case involved a patient who was struggling with the anti-psychotic medication that she was taking, and how it was making her fall asleep. “So she was worried about her safety on the street,” he said. “This was something for me in a patient interaction that I would never think about, but you can learn from a social worker. Seeing those unique insights at work in this population — that’s what I got from shadowing.”
Hing shadowed those working with the homeless, and his fellow students had a variety of other experiences. One participated in a forensic interview on a child-abuse case — “an intense experience,” Hing said he heard later.
Hing’s trip to St. Joseph Center was arranged by Laviña, and the two have been the driving forces behind making the partnership a reality. After attending a conference about social medicine in October, Hing emailed a proposal for the program to members of the curriculum committee at the Geffen School. He and his colleagues, fellow medical students Amrita Ayer, Brian Dang, Lyolya Hovhannisyan and Samantha Mohammad, produced a potential syllabus, which led to a formal presentation to UCLA Luskin.
After emailing Laviña and Franke, Hing received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Todd thought it was an excellent idea,” Hing said. “He wondered why it hadn’t already happened, and was excited about the possibilities.”
The concept resonated with Laviña, who sees it as a logical extension of what social welfare experts provide to Luskin’s master’s students.
“Social workers have always worked in multidisciplinary settings, so we strive for collaboration with physicians and all other disciplines,” Laviña said. “We were happy to work with Matt and his peers, along with our faculty and panelists, to bring very direct feedback as to how they can become doctors who work with their patients and families using cultural humility and truly seeking a holistic approach.”
The orientation session was the first part of the program. In addition to the introductions by Laviña, Franke and Talley, the session included a panel of seven social welfare experts: Rosella Youse, a manager with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); Kim Tran MSW ’11, a forensic interviewer with DCFS who is stationed at Harbor UCLA Medical Center; Deborah Tuckman MSW ’99, a social worker in the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai; Thomas Pier, LCSW at Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology; Brian C. Wren, LCSW at Providence Health & Services; James Coomes MSW ’96, LCSW at the county department of mental health; and Kim Griffin-Esperon MSW ’98, LCSW with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The experts shared stories about dealing with child abuse, testifying in court for child welfare and neglect cases, helping assist children with spina bifida and cancer, providing guidance on home health care and about coping with many other social issues doctors might encounter during their careers.
“You won’t know child welfare social work like we do,” Youse told the medical students. “But I don’t know the medical field like you do. So together we are really the ideal team.”
The program is also supported by those who work with the students in the Geffen School.
“Caring for patients takes a diverse team of experts,” said Sheila Naghshineh, chair of the doctoring program for first-year medical students. “Having a social worker on the team is often vital to providing high-quality, customized care for patients in both the outpatient and inpatient setting.”
It is important for health care providers to understand the role of social workers so that they can learn to work together as a team, Naghshineh said. “The social worker shadowing pilot program helps medical students experience first-hand how to effectively work with social workers, and understand how and when to utilize their services, resources and expertise to benefit patients,” she said.
Asked if he thinks social work should be a part of the medical students’ curriculum, Hing’s response was definitive: “Yes, yes, yes.”
“Ideally, this should be part of our curriculum,” said Hing, who was raised in a medical family — his mother is a social worker and his father is a physician. “I think it is important for us to witness the empathy that social workers bring forth for their patients, who are often from the most vulnerable, marginalized parts of our society. I’d love to make sure that all of my classmates have this opportunity to see the incredible work that is going on around this.”
Laviña said he was inspired to witness and experience the students’ openness to the feedback. “I am heartened to think about the type of doctors they will become — and how they will better serve our communities,” he said.
Alexandra Lutnick delivers the keynote address at the 2017 CSEC Conference organized by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs' Department of Social Welfare. Photo by Stan Paul
“The stories I tell no way describe the torture I felt
Years of destruction I knew nothing else
Trusted my mind, body, and soul
In the hands of another human being to control”
from the poem “Mind, Body and Soul,” by Ummra Hang, a second-year master of social welfare student at UCLA Luskin
By Stan Paul
Ummra Hang’s reading of her powerful poem was one of many highlights of a UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs conference examining sexually exploited children. The event, held May 6, 2017, brought together students, faculty, policy experts, law enforcement and service agency personnel — as well as survivors of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation — to focus on a complicated and emotionally charged problem.
The conference, which included appearances by several alumni from the Luskin School, highlighted how commercial sexual exploitation is not just happening in other countries. It is believed to involve more than 100,000 young people throughout the United States — especially in densely populated California cities such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. The conference also served as the final project for — and was conducted by — Luskin master of social welfare research students in the University Consortium for Child and Families (UCCF) program, the culmination of their year-long research projects and part of a three-quarter course led by professor of social welfare Rosina Becerra. UCCF is a federally funded program and partnership between the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Families and six masters of social work programs in Los Angeles, including UCLA.
Assisting the students in putting on the conference were Consuelo Bingham Mira, a lecturer in social welfare and coordinator of evaluation and research for the Public Child Welfare (PCW) California Social Welfare Education Counsel (CalSWEC) program and social welfare field faculty Michelle Talley.
Although the problem is difficult to measure, research shows that sexual abuse and exploitation is not limited to young girls. It affects males, females and across the spectrum of genders and sexualities for a variety of reasons, said keynote speaker Alexandra Lutnick, a researcher and expert on human trafficking, the sex industry, substance abuse and criminalization.
“Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex — all face high rates of incarceration, family rejection, homelessness and child welfare involvement,” said Lutnick, author of the book “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains.” “Any one of those on their own puts someone at an increased risk of trading sex. And, when we look at the intersectionality of those, we realize the ways in which gender discrimination, discrimination based on sexual orientation, housing insecurity, institutionalized homophobia and transphobia all conspire to make this group of young people more vulnerable to being involved in selling sex.”
Lutnick explained that a complicated issue such as this refutes prevailing narratives.
“We don’t know how many are involved — it’s a hidden population,” she said. “There’s no registry,” and therefore no ability to gather data about the ages of youth entering the sex trade.
Lutnick discussed the role that physical or emotional neglect plays in bringing youth into the sex trade. With emotional neglect, a young person may not find support from the adults in the immediate family, so he or she may seek that support elsewhere.
“That could be coupling with somebody in an intimate partnership,” Lutnick said. “And then that person is asking, coercing or forcing them to sell sex. It could be looking for validation from people who are paying them for sex.”
Adding to this complex story is the role of child abuse, said Lutnick. “Inevitably that’s going to come up in any conversation about young people being involved in the sex trade. For some this means they’re being abused at home and to get away from the abuse they run away and then we’re back into the narrative of the role of homelessness.”
For others, she said, “their involvement in the sex trade is a continuation of the way in which their parents and guardians have been abusing them for many, many years. And it’s just one of the ways that’s now happening,” she said.
Panelist Gabriella Lewis, a supervising case manager with CAST, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit anti-trafficking organization, said that the problem is more common than most people realize. “Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a trafficker,” Calderon said. “Safety is constantly an issue with this population.”
Solutions are challenging, Lutnick said, and they remain obstructed by nebulous dichotomies such as victim and villain.
The idea of, “Oh, we just need to rescue the good kids and punish the bad people,” flies in the face of the reality on the streets, Lutnick said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this. We can’t legislate our way out of it and we need to direct attention to the root factors that contribute to young people either deciding to that the sex trade is their best or their worst option or finding themselves in situations where someone is specifically taking advantage of the vulnerabilities that they have.”
There is some positive news in California, Lutnick said. The state Senate passed a bill in the past year that decriminalizes youth involvement in the sex trade — progress that was many years in the making.
“Even though you’ve got a federal definition, they’re regulated at the state level,” Lutnick said. “So unless states change their penal codes, young people are still being arrested.”
Lutnick also had some advice for lawmakers and policymakers.
“When we have these proposed outcomes — lawsuits or legislation — what are the questions we need to ask ourselves?” she asked. “Is it going to result in the hoped-for outcome? What are the potential negative impacts? Does it address key vulnerabilities such as poverty, racism homophobia, transphobia? And, if not, maybe we need to work a little harder to do that deeper level work — that macro level work — to come up with solutions that aren’t going to create harm for anybody.”
Two Luskin graduates — Emily Williams MPP ’98, assistant senior deputy for Human Services, Child Welfare, and Education for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; and Sarah Godoy MSW ’15, a policy associate for the National Center for the Youth Law’s Child Trafficking Team — were among the expert panelists. Both were part of the juvenile justice/law enforcement panel that included LAPD detective Dana Harris, who specializes in the investigation of human trafficking, and Maria Griglio, a deputy county counsel representing the Department of Children and Family Services.
Recognizing that young people over the age of 18 involved in prostitution may have been a victim of exploitation long before that, Williams talked about the L.A. County Supervisors’ ongoing efforts to end commercial exploitation of children as well as the expansion and implementation of support services to those who are 18-24 years of age.
“We understand they need to be served just as much as children do,” said Williams, who serves as a policy liaison to a number of service agencies including the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Public Social Services, Child Support Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Panelist Monique Calderon, who was part of the “healing to action” panel, shared her own story of getting into “the life” in the sex industry after graduating from college, and how difficult it was to get out.
Conference organizers were pleased with the results of the daylong discussions.
“The conference exceeded my expectations,” UCLA Luskin social welfare field faculty member Michelle Talley MSW ’98 said after the event. “Every panelist enhanced the conference as each one imparted their knowledge and expertise about human trafficking and engaged the audience.”
Every student who participated went above and beyond to ensure the success of the conference, she said. “The conference was a start of an invigorating discussion of sex trafficking of youth in hopes to end trafficking as we know it today,” Talley said.
“This successful conference is just one of the examples of the many activities that the students are able to do in our MSW program,” added Becerra, who also acknowledged generous support for the conference by members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, as well as by private donors.
Fernando Torres-Gil, left, holds up a copy of a newspaper article listing the state ballot propositions, as Laura Wray-Lake reacts. Photo by George Foulsham
By Stan Paul
On issues that include condoms, juvenile justice reform and housing for the homeless, California voters will be making important decisions in Tuesday’s national election.
Judging from this year’s unusually hefty state voter’s guide, a lot of those issues will have a great deal of impact closer to home — it’s not just about Hillary and Trump.
“This election is more than just about the presidential election, which has taken all of the oxygen out of the political room,” said Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Torres-Gil served as moderator at a faculty panel discussion held just a week before the general election.
Holding up a full-page news article listing the 17 propositions on the California ballot, Torres-Gil started the discussion highlighting a few key state and countywide initiatives and their impact on social work, justice and quality of life issues. “This does not end on Nov. 8; the issues continue,” he said, acknowledging California’s “extraordinary influence” on the rest of the country.
Voting can be good for you — and habit forming — according to new Luskin Social Welfare faculty member Laura Wray-Lake, encouraging the students in attendance to exert a bit of peer pressure.
“The election is obviously really interesting to me from a research perspective,” said the assistant professor, whose work focuses on youth civic engagement and draws on several disciplines to understand social development among young people.
“When young people start voting, this goes a long way to establishing lifelong habits,” Wray-Lake said. “So, if you get into the habit of voting, you will become a more habitual voter across your adult life, which is important for democracy and is important for you in terms of having your voice be heard.”
Citing Pew Research Center data, Wray-Lake said that there are now as many eligible millennial voters as baby boomers for the first time ever. This translates into millennials being one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country. But, she pointed out, the potential of this powerful voting bloc is offset by the lowest voting rates across all generations. She said this had real implications in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, when youth voting influenced several swing states.
“If young people had voted at a slightly lesser rate, then Romney would have won the  election,” Wray-Lake said. “Young people really carried Obama to victory.”
She cited a recent poll showing that 70 percent of young people have not been contacted by presidential candidates. Candidates, she said, are putting campaign dollars where they think the reliable voters are, and they’re dismissing young people and their issues, including education, poverty and the environment.
On a positive note, Wray-Lake said that the voter registration rate in California has surged to the highest levels in modern history at almost 74 percent.
“That’s more registered voters in California than 46 other states combined,” she said. “You’ll do your demographic proud if you go to the polls,” pointing out that 10,000 new voters were recently registered on the UCLA campus.
Among the state’s initiatives with health implications is Proposition 60, which would add a condom requirement to the California Labor Code for the adult film industry. According to information provided in the voter guide, the primary argument for the proposal is that “Nobody should have to risk their health in order to keep their job!” Opposition to the proposal argues that it would be costly to voters, is opposed by lawmakers and is largely supported by a single special interest group.
Ian Holloway, assistant professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, said that Proposition 60 had its origins in L.A. County’s Measure B last year — which passed — and is now being rolled out at the state level. Proponents say that Proposition 60 will stem the rise of HIV in California, said Holloway, whose applied behavioral health research looks at factors that contribute to health disparities among sexual and gender and minority populations.
“When it comes to the adult film industry, the majority of adult films that are distributed throughout the United States are made in California and the majority of films made in California are made in Los Angeles County,” said Holloway, who also directs the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center. He explained that there could be a significant economic impact because the adult film industry brings a lot of revenue to the state. He noted that one of the fears is that the making and distribution of adult films will move outside of the state if the proposition passes.
While the goal is to protect the health and well-being of adult film actors, Holloway said that many in the community feel that the proposition is misguided.
“When we think about the HIV epidemic in the state of California, we’re talking about 5,000 new infections a year that disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men and racial-ethnic minority communities,” Holloway said. “So, adult film actors, while an important constituency, are a very small proportion of HIV cases in California.”
Holloway argued that if there is a real interest in focusing on reducing HIV among people living in California, the focus should be making prevention technologies more accessible to low-income communities, racial-ethnic minority communities, gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and other sexual and gender minority communities.
“If we’re thinking about this as an HIV-prevention measure, then we have many more tools at our disposal besides condoms,” Holloway said.
Laura Abrams, professor of Social Welfare, has applied her research to improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration. She provided analysis of Proposition 57, which considers criminal sentences and parole as well as juvenile criminal proceedings and sentencing. The proposition, if passed, would make a change to the state constitution that would “increase the number of inmates eligible for parole consideration,” as well as “make changes to the state law to require that youths have a hearing in juvenile court before they can be transferred to adult court.”
“Prop. 57 means a great deal to juvenile justice reform in California,” Abrams said. “It would help to prevent many youth from being directly tried in the adult criminal court system, and instead allow them to go before a judge to determine if they are indeed fit to be tried as an adult.”
Abrams said that, without the previous process known as “direct file,” many youth will be more likely to be offered rehabilitation within the juvenile system instead of languishing in the adult prison system.
Proposition 57 would amend the state constitution to provide the possibility of parole hearings for nonviolent offenders who have served their minimum sentence and incentives toward release for adults within the state prison system who participate in education and rehabilitation programs.
“This likely means that county services will need to be more attuned to those who are released, often with long sentences behind bars and coming home on parole,” Abrams said, and that will have implications for those in the social work field.
“Social workers will need to be attuned to the trauma that people can experience with many years of imprisonment, mental health needs, and to develop appropriate housing, transition, and other types of programming,” Abrams said.
Finally, two Social Welfare faculty went head-to-head on Proposition HHH, a City of Los Angeles initiative that aims to provide permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
W. Toby Hur and Michelle Tally, members of Luskin’s Social Welfare field faculty, discussed the pros and cons of approving a $1.2 billion general obligation bond. It would be supported by a property tax levied on homeowners to create 10,000 affordable housing units over 10 years for the homeless, including veterans, senior citizens, foster youth and those living on the streets due to mental illness and disability.
Hur, whose interests include ethnic communities, poverty and homelessness, argued that a tax levied on L.A. homeowners would be less than $10 per $100,000 of the value of a home or $50 for a home valued at half a million dollars, although it would increase over subsequent years.
“Initially when I read Proposition HHH it sounded really good and something that I would support,” said Talley, whose interests are in child and family welfare, as well as domestic violence and substance abuse. “Then it talked about increasing property taxes.”
Hur sees minimal burden for homeowners, but Talley said the tax could greatly affect low- and fixed-income residents and even contribute to homelessness for “those who are barely making it,” she said.
“Fifty dollars may not be a lot to you, but there are a lot of people on fixed incomes,” Talley said. “So it’s $50 they would have to take from somewhere else — food on the table, daycare programs. You might potentially have other kinds of consequences.”
Michelle Talley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose main area of focus is working with youth and families as it relates to Public Child Welfare. Other areas of interest are issues dealing with domestic violence, substance use, education, and attachment in youth and families.
As a field consultant with the Inter-University Consortium, a collaborative effort of Southern California social work programs that trains social workers in the area of child welfare, Ms. Talley works with first and second-year MSW students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Ms. Talley has also worked as a mental health clinician dealing with children impacted by abuse and neglect within their family nucleus. Most of the children and families worked with were also dealing with substance use/abuse, criminal issues, education, poverty, and mental health issues in which adversely impacted their family dynamics. Ms. Talley has also worked as an adoption social worker with Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The focus was to locate families and individuals who were interested in providing a permanent home for children in the Child Welfare system.