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Studying the Link Between Poverty and Suicides New research shows that poverty may have a greater effect on suicide rates than do unemployment or foreclosures

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Mark S. Kaplan

County-level suicide rates in the United States had a strong positive relationship with county poverty rates, while no relationships were found between county measures of unemployment or foreclosures when poverty rates were controlled, according to a new study from the Alcohol Research Group (ARG), a program of the Public Health Institute, in collaboration with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Oregon Health and Science University, Prevention Research Center and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, analyzed data over a six-year period from 2005 to 2011 that includes the major U.S. economic downturn from 2007 to 2009. The study also found that for men 45 to 64 years old, the proportion of alcohol-related suicides and poverty rates were positively associated. This working-age group was a key demographic in rising suicide rates during the recession.

This is the first study to try to unravel how different features of such a downturn affect suicide rates and alcohol-related suicides in particular. It is also the first study to suggest that unemployment’s role may not be as significant as poverty.

“Our finding suggests that the consequences of unemployment were more important than being unemployed during this period,” said ARG senior scientist and lead author William C. Kerr. “These results are consistent with what we see in countries that have strong unemployment support systems — where being out of a job doesn’t increase your risk for suicide.”

Poverty was also found to mediate unemployment’s effect on suicide rates, which suggests that policies should focus directly on reducing poverty as well as on supporting people who are unemployed.

“The analysis also draws attention to the importance of targeting suicide prevention efforts in economically disadvantaged communities and incorporating alcohol control policies, abuse prevention and treatment for alcohol misuse into such efforts,” said Mark S. Kaplan, co-author and professor in UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare.

“County-level poverty rates reflect what’s happening at an individual and family level as well as across the entire area,” Kerr added. “It speaks to a lack of resources for people who are struggling. It’s possible that some people were already at a breaking point when the recession hit — it’s difficult to know for sure. But the results do tell us that we need better mechanisms in place to help the people who need it the most.”

The study analyzed data from 16 states included in the National Violent Death Reporting System during the study period. This system links data from coroner/medical examiner records, police reports, death certificates and crime laboratories.

Support for this paper was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health under award number R01 AA021791.

‘Minority Report’ Hits Major Racial Themes Scott St. Patrick’s Luskin-sponsored performance provides a no-holds-barred look at race in America through the centuries

By Zev Hurwitz

It can be difficult to truly empathize with another community’s narrative. Tragedies and injustices toward a racial group only resonate up to a point for those not directly impacted. But true empathy cannot be felt without experiencing the narrative up close.

Scott St. Patrick and his company brought the black American experience up close to a diverse crowd of nearly 200 students and community members when they took to the stage in the Broad Art Center.

Sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, “Minority Report” is a nine-vignette journey through the black experience in America. Each act was a solo piece by one of seven actors articulating a narrative that touched on a different area of the history of black Americans.

“In Social Welfare at Luskin, we are committed to struggling with racism as a social justice issue,” Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Luskin School, said as he opened the evening. “We also acknowledge and will acknowledge tonight that the struggle has gone on for generations and continues today.”

St. Patrick, the show’s creator, led off with an extended poem that addressed some of the program’s hardest-hitting themes. St. Patrick began with an emotionally charged lament of the “epidemic of violence” against African Americans by police, which followed a montage of cellphone footage of recent acts, including the death of Eric Garner by police in which Garner could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.”

St. Patrick’s opening monologue, which slammed a system in which African Americans are predisposed to institutionalized racism toward blacks and drew parallels with the shooting of the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla, Harambe, set the tone for the following acts.

Several of the most impactful vignettes described historical instances of oppression toward African Americans — both violent and socially oppressive. Detra Hicks lamented the cyclical nature of racism toward blacks in America in a piece that linked the violent 1955 murder of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi to the more contemporary killings of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis.

“Where the hell is peripety?” she exclaimed, referring to the literary device wherein a protagonist’s misfortunes are reversed.

In between each vignette, a clip of relevant video or audio set the tone for the following act. While much of the content focused on graphic illustrations of violent injustices and systematic inequality suffered by blacks, a piece by comedian Donald George probed some of these areas with a touch of humor. He likened the 2016 presidential election to a choice between different sexually transmitted infections in the first fully humorous segment of an otherwise serious series.

Kelly Jenrette discussed civil disobedience in her piece “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” and highlighted the story of institutional repression of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Jenrette currently stars on television in the Fox series “Pitch,” which follows a fictional African American woman breaking the gender barrier in professional baseball.

In “Black Tulsa,” Marcuis Harris delivered an informative piece on how, even in instances of success for the black community, racism rears its ugly face in a violent and destructive manner. Harris’ piece focused on the destruction of a thriving Tulsa, Okla., black community, which was leveled by supremacists in a “race riot” in 1921.

Even the terminology used to describe these instances is part of the issue, Harris said. “‘Race riot’ implies equal footing,” he said, describing the overnight destruction of Greenwood. “This was terrorism.”

Jaclyn Tokos, the only non-black performer of the evening, described the various points of contention — with both blacks and whites — she has faced as a white woman engaged to a black man.

“You can’t teach someone who to love,” she asserted, following a video of boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s 1971 interview in which he explains why he would never choose to marry outside of his race.

Several performers wore attire related to their performances, though Tokos’ donning of a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt (her fiancé’s, she said) not only made a strong impact, it also reminded audiences of the times. “Minority Report” was performed at a critical time for race relations in America and to be reminded of this in an aptly named piece, “Interracial Love,” was pivotal to the message.

Tokos was followed by Kiya Roberts, who continued to preach love — between blacks. “I don’t need you, but I want you,” Roberts says to no man in particular in her vignette, “It’s Complicated…” The pursuit of love as a means of resolution to the pain between races was stressed more than once during the performances.

As the evening came to a conclusion, “Minority Report” became a “call to action,” to fight injustice and inequality with the power of love. Audience members were left with an “it’s on us” mentality and affirmation that love truly is the only way forward.

St. Patrick performed in two other acts, including the closing. In “Katrina,” St. Patrick led a multimedia-guided personal drop-in to the conditions inside the Superdome in post-Hurricane Katrina. For several days following the devastating storm in 2005, thousands of New Orleans residents were told to seek shelter at the stadium, having been promised provisions. However, the nearly all-black population housed in the Superdome went largely neglected, with few-to-no rations or supplies brought in, and horrific restroom conditions — all on top of deep emotional trauma.

In the most moving moment of the performance, St. Patrick brought the audience inside the Superdome and shared vivid descriptions of the sights and smells. “Many of you couldn’t even last one minute,” he said. Those who dared to attempt to flee to a neighboring community came across a battalion of armed guards, who blocked access to the relatively well-supplied Jefferson Parish.

As the audience absorbed the horror experienced in the days following Katrina, they were reminded of the underlying message of the evening: What ethnicity is experiencing this travesty? Would the conditions have been the same had the ethnic makeup of those inside the dome been different?

After witnessing nine vignettes of reflection, the audience is more likely to acknowledge the ugly truth that is the “Minority Report.” No. No it would not.

Read more about the genesis of “Minority Report” and why Social Welfare Chair Todd Franke chose to sponsor it at UCLA.

 

Three Decades of Devotion to Social Justice Gerry Laviña, the director of UCLA Luskin’s Field Education Program, is named Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of NASW

By Stan Paul

This year marks three decades since Gerry Laviña started doing social work. It can be a challenging job, but the director of the Field Education Program in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs says that his profession has more than returned the favor.

“Every day as a social worker I have the opportunity to be inspired … by students, colleagues, our community, other social workers and others that support social justice,” Laviña said.

For his remarkable body of work, Laviña has been named the 2016 Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The award is given by the group to professional social workers who have consistently demonstrated the core values of the NASW Code of Ethics: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, and integrity and competence.

He will be honored at the annual NASW-CA Social Work Conference Awards ceremony later this month.

Laviña began his educational and career path in social work by entering the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at UCLA in 1986, but his foundation and motivation started with lessons learned early in life.

“I come from a family whose father was an immigrant from the Philippines and mother is an immigrant from Honduras,” said Laviña, a licensed clinical social worker. “My family had a strong belief in education, and they daily reminded us of the privilege and opportunities we had — relative to others in our community and the world — and that we have a great responsibility to give back.”

Laviña has spent his career giving back in a number of roles: social worker, instructor, mentor and leader. His primary interests are working with children and families, particularly in the areas of school social work, mental health and multicultural issues.

“When I found social work terms like social justice and dignity of every human being, my family’s belief system came to life,” Laviña said.

Asked what qualities every social worker should possess, Laviña said: “Openness to learning and lifelong learning, flexibility, a willingness to meet every individual/family/community where they are, a commitment to serving those with the least resources, and a belief in diversity that is actualized in our work.”

The NASW honor acknowledges a social worker who has broad professional social work experience and has provided significant leadership in the field of social work. In addition, the Social Worker of the Year must have NASW and voluntary association experience, diverse and multicultural expertise, and have made a lasting impact on social policy, advocacy for clients and exceptional professional practice.

In UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare, Laviña is the faculty co-chair of the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) Committee; and faculty adviser for the Diversity Caucus and Latina/o Caucus. At Luskin, he also serves as the associate director of MSW education and as faculty adviser for the School’s D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative, for which he provides support and guidance to the D3 team and advises the dean on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As the project coordinator for the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) Integrated Behavioral Health Program, a collaborative effort of California social work programs and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Laviña works with second-year MSW students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and contract agencies. Prior to becoming the director of field education, he served as field liaison with many local school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, developing and monitoring student internships in school social work and coordinating the Pupil Personnel Services Credentialing/SSW/CWA program. He also has served on the local and state-wide board of the California Association of School Social Workers.

In the classroom, he has taught an advanced practice course in school social work as well as courses related to diversity. He worked for several years as a field consultant for the Inter-University Consortium program, a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and the L.A. County MSW program.

Prior to joining the field faculty in 1993, Laviña was a social worker in the Family and Child Guidance Clinic of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City, where he was program coordinator and clinician in two different programs working with emotionally disturbed children and their families. He has also served as a contract assessor for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Children and Youth Services Bureau, and as a private practitioner.

NASW also recognized Laviña for his accomplishments outside academia, including his work with community organizations that promote diversity in education, such as Los Amigos Council of Para Los Niños and Trabajadores de la Raza. He has received numerous awards, including Field Faculty of the Year by the UCLA MSW student body and the UCLA Faculty-Staff Partnership Award.

“I am energized by the dialogue in Social Welfare, Luskin, UCLA and our community around diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Laviña said. “My family has discussed these issues throughout my life, and I have professionally been working on this directly and indirectly for 30 years. While I know the struggle continues, I feel realistically optimistic about what is happening.”

UCLA Luskin Salutes the Class of 2015

UCLA Luskin celebrated the graduating class of 2015 Friday, welcoming 68 students in urban planning, 56 students in public policy and 101 students in social welfare to the ranks of its alumni.

“This is how change is made,” Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., said in his opening remarks. “It starts with a small group of people who believe.”

His words resonated with the audience of faculty, family and friends, who have watched UCLA Luskin’s graduate students develop as change agents over the course of their education.

Three students addressed the crowd during the ceremony. Ana Tapia, who graduated with a master of urban and regional planning and who came to UCLA as an undocumented student after her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1994, spoke of how her degree encouraged her to follow her dreams. Urban planners, she said, “are people who turn dreams into reality. We not only dream and plan, but make things happen.” She urged her fellow students to “go dream, go plan and go on to do great things.”

Public Policy graduate CC Song cast her cohort as the “architects of the future,” devising and deploying policies to help build equity and create a better world. She spoke of being ready to take on life after graduate school, asking her fellow students to “find the courage to seek what makes you curious, fulfilled and challenged.”

Jennifer Chou, a graduate of UCLA Luskin’s Master of Social Welfare program, spoke about the “acceptance of not knowing” when confronted with an uncertain future. Her heartfelt speech included a rendition of a verse from the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”

The invited speaker, newly installed Uber public relations executive Rachel Whetstone, brought in the perspective of a group not often mentioned on Commencement day — those who “don’t dream well.” Whetstone put herself in that category, and told the story of a career that proceeded not by some overarching grand scheme but instead progressed as a series of steps from college to internships to opportunities at various organizations.

She said her experience had taught her that hard work helps make up for the absence of a dream. “Pour yourself into your job,” she said, “even if it seems like a chore.” As she acknowledged and embraced the persona of the stereotypical overworked Silicon Valley executive, she relayed a story of a visit with a psychiastrist friend, who said something that stuck with her: “Has it ever occurred to you, Rachel, that hard work is what makes you happy?” Hard work can open up new horizons, she said, and she urged the graduating students to apply themselves to their work, “because if you don’t try, you will never, ever know.”

The ceremony was a mix of pomp and celebration, with a sense of impending change on the horizon. Dean Gilliam summed up the mood best through his quotation of, as he described it, a “classic of American Cinema,” the movie Friday.

“For most people, Friday’s just the day before the weekend,” he said. “But after this Friday, the neighborhood will never be the same.”

Debra Duardo Named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and LAUSD Student Health Director, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award

By Joe Luk

Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award, honoring her as the department’s Alumna of the Year. The award will be presented to Duardo in a ceremony on Saturday, April 20.

The Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award recognizes outstanding social work professionals who have contributed leadership and service to the school, university, and/or community, and who have otherwise distinguished themselves through commitment and dedication to a particular area of social work.

Duardo is currently the executive director of student health and human services for Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the United States. As the executive director she is responsible for the administrative oversight of support services and district programs designed to address the physical health, mental health, and home and community barriers that prevent student academic success, including student medical services, school nursing, pupil services, dropout prevention and recovery, school mental health, community partnerships, and Medi-Cal programs.

In this role she manages a $100 million budget and over 3,000 employees including directors, specialists, pupil services and attendance counselors, psychiatric social workers, nurses, organization facilitators, and healthy start coordinators.

After graduating from UCLA with a major in Women Studies and Chicana/o Studies in 1994 Duardo earned her Master of Social Welfare degree at UCLA in 1996 with a specialization in school social work. Since that time she has earned her school administrative credential and is currently completing her Ed.D. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Following completion of her MSW, Debra started her career serving as a school social worker and the Healthy Start project director at Wilson High School.

She advanced to being the LAUSD Healthy Start District Administrator. Since that time she has served as assistant principal at Le Conte Middle School, the director of dropout prevention and recovery for LAUSD, and director of pupil services for LAUSD.  Through all of these positions she has maintained her focus on the important of health and social services for children and families.

The Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award was established to honor Joseph A. Nunn, former director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA. Dr. Nunn brought leadership and service to UCLA and the Social Welfare program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for over two decades. Dr. Nunn received his B.S., M.S.W. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. After working as a probation officer for 15 years, he became a member of the field education faculty in 1980, and except for a three-year, off-campus appointment, remained at UCLA until his retirement in 2006. During his last 15 years, he served with distinction as the director of field education and, simultaneous for the last decade, as vice chair of the Department of Social Welfare, where he supervised the field education program.

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