Posts

Research on Acceptance of Transgender Troops Cited

A UCLA Luskin Social Welfare study finding widespread support of transgender troops within the U.S. military was featured in a report on National Public Radio. The study, funded by the U.S. Defense Department and co-authored by doctoral candidate Shannon Dunlap, Associate Professor Ian Holloway and others, showed strong acceptance across the four branches of the military and across racial lines and sexual orientation. “This broad support from cisgender, heterosexual and LGB service members really just speaks to the valuable contributions that diversity does bring to the United States military,” Dunlap said. The study found the highest rates of acceptance among service members who identified as gay, as women or as people of color. Dunlap attributed this support to the ongoing fight for equality for many marginalized groups. “They really have historically gone through great lengths to serve honorably in the U.S. military, and they experience the same stressors,” she said.

 

Students Provide a Direct Line to Help Struggling County Workers UCLA volunteers, L.A. County team up on Partnership for Wellbeing call-in service

By Mary Braswell

A team of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare students is answering the call to provide support, resources and a compassionate ear to Los Angeles County employees feeling the strain of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven days a week, the volunteers staff a call-in line for those needing help navigating the array of mental health services offered by the county. They offer referrals for professional counseling, help understanding health insurance benefits and, occasionally, advice on relieving COVID-19-related stress through breathing, meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Launched by the county’s Department of Mental Health in partnership with UCLA, the Public Partnership for Wellbeing line is remarkable for the speed with which it was created and the commitment of the 20 or so students and recent graduates who stepped up to staff it, its organizers say.

Jeff Capps, who earned his master’s degree in social welfare from the Luskin School this month, remembers when the call for volunteers went out in April.

“I replied immediately,” said Capps, who knows several front-line workers battling COVID-19. “I just felt an overwhelming obligation to do what I could to help. This seemed like a very easy way for a student to do something, to maybe make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s small.”

Volunteer Hanako Justice, who is pursuing a dual master’s in social welfare and public health, spent the first part of the academic year working with the county’s psychiatric mobile response team, which assesses mental health needs and risks in the community. Just as the pandemic was putting limits on that on-site internship, the opportunity to staff the well-being line — which, for health and safety reasons, volunteers do from their own homes — surfaced.

“It really came full circle for me,” Justice said. “I’m really grateful that I get to use my experience and continue to provide some sort of resources and service.”

Initially launched to support the county’s first responders, the call line’s mission has expanded. Any county employee dealing with pandemic-related anxiety, grief or other stresses may now use the free, confidential service as a first line of help.

“It’s not a crisis intervention line, it’s not therapy,” noted Social Welfare Professor Todd Franke, who led the effort to launch the call-in line at the request of the county. “It’s to provide people with support and give them resources if this is touching their lives in some way.”

Franke recalled the first conversation about the project, when he was told, “We have this opportunity, we have this need. Is there any chance someone can get this up and running in the blink of an eye?”

Franke quickly brought on Ashleigh Herrera, who earned her doctorate in social welfare at UCLA Luskin in 2019, to train volunteers and manage the project. Thanks to the longstanding collaborative relationship between the county and UCLA, bureaucratic hurdles were quickly cleared. Within two weeks, the call line was operational.

In the first phase, as students were still being recruited and trained, the line was staffed by faculty, clinicians and professionals from across UCLA, including the David Geffen School of Medicine, the Prevention Center for Excellence, the department of psychology and UCLA Luskin, Herrera said. Now, the students and recent graduates are fully trained to staff the line, which is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We were excited to see such an overwhelming response from people interested in just supporting L.A. County workers during this time,” Herrera said. “Even as we’re having to practice social distancing, seeing everyone come together to be of service is tremendous.”

Many of the students selected to staff the line aspire to work in the mental health field, she said, and all will benefit from the opportunity to deliver care to those suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is going to continue to be something that affects us as a society,” Herrera said. “No matter what setting they go into next, these students will have experience providing direct relief, focusing through this lens.”

Herrera, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, supervises the volunteers, who use a call-in system developed by Department of Mental Health fellow John Drebinger. Franke, Herrera and Drebinger meet weekly to fine-tune the call line, factoring in feedback from student volunteers and priorities set by the county.

After the academic year wrapped up, students were able to devote more hours to staffing the line, and some graduates moved on. The summer staff of nine will be paid for their time, then return to volunteer status once the fall term begins.

Plans to further publicize the well-being line are expected to increase the volume of calls, which averaged 200 to 300 per month in the early days, team members say. They are working on expanding the service to provide text and chat support in the future.

Chloe Horowitz, a call-line volunteer who just completed her master’s in social welfare, said the value of providing a confidential sounding board for people who are struggling should not be underestimated.

“I think a lot of people hesitate to speak with the people in their personal lives that way, whether it’s a discomfort in being that vulnerable or not wanting to burden their family members or their friends, who are probably also suffering right now,” she said. “That’s what I think is so cool about the objectivity that we can bring as volunteers operating the line.

“There’s an anonymity there, but it’s also about knowing that we are trained to field calls of this kind, we’re interested in making that connection and hearing what’s going on with that caller. I hope that it will prove to be useful to people who need it.”

Social Welfare Statement on Racial Justice

The Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs recently reaffirmed its commitment to addressing racial disparities and anti-Blackness that permeate all aspects of our social fabric, including within our own department. At the impetus of our doctoral students and the Luskin Black Student Caucus, the faculty are engaged in a process of assessing the extent to which our current curriculum prepares students to engage in anti-racist social work practice. We realized that, despite related foundation and advanced curriculum objectives (i.e., engaging diversity and difference in practice; advancing human rights; and economic, social, and environmental justice), there are no explicit student learning outcomes dedicated to anti-racist social work practice. To that end, with unanimous consent, the faculty has approved the adoption of a curricular principle related to anti-racism as a professional standard.

CSWE maintains a set of nine core Educational and Accreditation (EPAS) Standards that all social work programs must fulfill, and there is a movement underway to press CSWE to create an explicit racial justice standard. Our voting to create such a standard is a part of a larger effort to build on our department’s history of advancing social justice and our commitment to model social and racial justice in our education and scholarship and service. This new educational standard will be written and integrated into our curriculum in a joint effort between faculty and the Luskin Black Student Caucus. We have also committed to hiring MSW and Ph.D. students this summer to assist with a larger curriculum review of our racial justice content.

The successful implementation of this standard will occur with a series of structural changes that will allow for a culture of racial justice within Social Welfare and the larger Luskin School. We look forward to sharing our short-range and long-range plan to address racism and anti-Blackness within social work education and our department later this summer.

Laura Abrams
UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Chair and Professor

 

8th Annual Trivia Night Is a Battle of Bits

Super Quiz Bowl — a longstanding UCLA Luskin tradition — went virtual this year due to COVID-19, but enthusiasm remained high with nearly 250 competitors participating via home computers and cellphones in a trivia night held May 28. “From this mighty group, we had 19 faculty and staff, 110 students and 119 alumni,” said organizer Tammy Borrero, the School’s director of events. “This was our highest participation since its inception eight years ago.” Individuals and groups were able to compete simultaneously in the six-round tournament while enjoying a quick home-cooked meal or sofa snack and favorite beverage, thanks to Borrero and a team of staff and faculty who served as game hosts, co-organizers and participants. All three of the School’s graduate programs and the undergraduate Public Affairs major formed creatively named teams including PhDs in PJs, Mighty MURPs and Categorial Exemption. This year’s group prize went to a combined team of urban planners and social welfare graduate students, which evened out department standings across all years of competition, according to organizers. Plans are already underway to bring the event back under the tent next year.

Team Competition Winners

First Place: Plucky Opposers (Social Welfare and Urban Planning) Hanako Justice (SW), Julia Kulewicz (SW), Sam Speroni (UP), Arthur Sun (SW), Meagan Wang (UP)
Second Place: All Coast All Stars (Public Policy) Robert Gamboa, Brian Harris, Eric Schroer, Samuel Stalls, Sean Tan
Third Place: La Croix Taste Test (Public Policy) Adam Barsch, Jess Bendit, Rosie Brown, Dickran Jebejian, and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld

Individual Competition Winners

First Place: Melody Wang, Urban Planning and Social Welfare
Second Place: Michael Busse, Urban Planning
Third Place: Nathaniel Singer, Undergraduate Program

Abrams on Setting Priorities in the Next L.A. Budget

LAist cited Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in an article about budget cuts the city of Los Angeles is facing amid an economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. At issue is the appropriate level of funding for the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD supporters say uniformed police have been expected to provide an ever-expanding array of community services, especially during the pandemic. Activists argue that law enforcement funding should not be increased while vital services go underfunded. On a conference call organized by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Abrams said, “Police officers, even when well-intentioned, are not social workers.” Becoming a certified social worker requires special training, including adhering to a code of ethics and gaining the ability to advocate for vulnerable communities, she said, adding, “These skills or training cannot be paralleled by any work in law enforcement.”

Helping Students, Teachers and Families Cope With COVID-19

Professor Ron Avi Astor and Ph.D. student Kate Watson of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare teamed up with Professor Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University to create a set of questionnaires to assess how well teachers, students, parents and others are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The questionnaires have been widely distributed to social workers, educators and psychologists at no cost. “Schools can respond better to the most pressing needs of their students, teachers and families amid the COVID-19 pandemic by hearing the entire community,” Astor told Ampersand, a publication of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Sample questionnaires, available at these links for  teachers, students and parents, may be used in conjunction with abridged versions of two books co-authored by Astor and Benbenishty: “Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence: Building a Safe School Climate” and “Welcoming Practices: Creating Schools That Support Students and Families in Transition.”  Astor and Benbenishty will also appear at a free UCLA Luskin Summit webinar on “A New Normal for Schools During the Pandemic” on Monday, May 4, at 9:30 a.m.  To register and attend the webinar, visit this link.

Here is Ampersand’s full interview with Astor:

 

Astor Honored With AERA Research Award

The American Educational Research Association has honored Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor with a Distinguished Research Award for his co-written article on the role of school-level factors in suicidal ideation in California schools, published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The article was co-written with Astor’s colleagues, Rami Benbenishty, professor emeritus at the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Ilan Roziner, professor at the Coller School of Management at Tel Aviv University. Astor holds the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare and has a joint appointment at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. He spoke about his research into suicide ideation among California students with the GSEIS publication Ampersand:

Astor on Passover in a Time of Pandemic