Stepping into the world of Social Work

Monthly Archives: January 2012

An excellent decision on birth control and religious employers

English: Picture Of Ortho Tri-Cyclen oral cont...

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In the news this week is a decision to celebrate – many religious employers will be required (in 2013) to cover birth control even if the particular faith opposes it.

While some feel this violates religious liberty, it is actually an excellent decision in support of individual liberty vs employer overreach. My employer, no matter what its views, has no business interfering with my medical decisions.

Most of the individuals employed by such employers are in purely secular positions. Catholic hospitals, for example, have many many positions which are not religious in nature, such as clerical, janitorial, technical, food service. I don’t even imagine all the medical staff (doctors and nurses) are expected to belong to the church. For that reason, their employer has no right to impose its views on their private life (and there is very little more private than medication).

An important factor such employers should also remember is that birth control pills have purposes other than contraception. A well-known example is that they can help solve menstrual bleeding, pain, and irregularity problems. For my employer to limit my doctor’s decision on that score is excessive. Would they also forbid my having a hysterectomy? What if my employer believes that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession – can they forbid the insurance company to cover anti-epileptic medication? Can they deny medical care related to pregnancy if I am not married?

You might say that I accepted such terms if I accepted a hypothetical position with a Catholic employer. I disagree. If I take a position delivering meal trays, billing, or mopping floors at Providence St. Joseph, I am not obligating myself to live as a Catholic.

I tend to be fairly moderate when it comes to employer expectations of employee personal lives. As a former teacher and current social work student,  I can see how working for a religious employer would require great care in personal deportment while at work and in situations where you could be connected with your employer. But nobody other than my husband sees me take my medication every morning, and nobody other than my doctor and I get to decide what that medication is. While my employer has indeed contributed to the insurance plan which pays a portion of my medications, they do not have the right to make medical decisions on my behalf by excluding whole categories.

Perhaps those who are claiming their religious rights are violated can be comforted by seeing insurance more accurately. They are not buying their employees medication – they are paying for a particular level of coverage (usually shared between the employer and employee) and the EMPLOYEE is buying the medication. The assumption that the church is somehow buying birth control because a benefit plan covers them is absurd. It is equivalent to assuming that because my employer paid me my salary, any purchase I might make with it is still subject to their beliefs.

This has some personal interest to me, as I am seriously considering medical social work as my concentration, with the hope of working in a hospital once I am finished. An otherwise excellent Catholic hospital chain is dominant in this area, and I might have found myself applying there. I would not want to affiliate myself with any employer that would attempt to control my life and private medical decisions in such a manner.

A final question to which I do not know the answer: do these same policies that exclude birth control cover Viagra and Cialis?

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First impressions of new classes

At the end of my first week of classes this semester, I’m very positive about how things will go this semester.

So far, I’m very impressed with the instructors we have for this term and what we will be learning and doing in each course. I think I wrote a bit about what I could glean from syllabi last week, and that is pretty much all accurate. I was also very pleased to learn that we will indeed be having a take-home midterm instead of in-class.

While the instructors are not permitted to release too much information about each assignment ahead of time, our Behavior instructor did tell us that the midterm will deal with a novel, The Namesake, allowing us to buy and read the book before the assignment is distributed. It is a delightful novel about a Bengali immigrant family in the US, revolving mostly around their son. I’m not anticipating any difficulty with that assignment or any others in Behavior.

I’m a little less sure of what will be going on in the other class, which will be requiring us as individuals and small groups to develop advocacy plans for particular policies.

As far as I can tell, the worst traffic jam of the workload will be at the end of February, early March, with an assignment or two due along with the midterm. But I’ll get through!


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Product Review: Kindle Fire

I received a Kindle Fire for Christmas (by request) and thought I’d give some thoughts on it.

I wanted it most particularly for textbooks and journal articles for my MSW program. Carrying heavy books around is a bit annoying and the cost (in paper and ink) of printing out the journal articles assigned as supplementary reading had become too much. I had tried to load articles into my Ipod Touch, but it was just too small to be comfortable.

The Fire is a slight bit heavy, but not unreasonably so given its functions. Its size is just about right for the screen I need for reading. I can comfortably hold it on my knee or stomach or a table and read with my glasses on.

I was disappointed that Amazon tries to tie you into their store, rather than enabling the use of the other Android markets. But it is possible to bypass that.

One thing that really annoyed me was that the only textbook I needed to buy this semester, while promoted as a Kindle edition, was not compatible with my Kindle. But others will be in the future, I’m sure, and that’s more an Amazon issue than Kindle. I did have a textbook  bought in Kindle format prematurely (I thought it would work on my Ipod Touch) which does work, and is still needed for this semester, so at least I have one textbook on Kindle. One class is also using a popular novel for analysis for the midterm, which was also no problem on this device.

Battery life seems to be OK for my type of use, reading things, checking e-mail, and playing games off and on during the day I haven’t had to charge it until after dinner.

I’m still getting the hang of reading journal articles on the Kindle, though it is certainly much better than on an Ipod. 🙂

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How is work?

I mostly intend this blog to be about my experiences joining the social work profession, but since my current job is related, I don’t imagine anyone will care if I talk about  my position as a job coach a bit occasionally.

Things have become quite tolerable at work, despite my concerns over the first few months. I do see some serious communication issues and disagreements with my boss, but they’re far less frequent than they were at first. At the beginning of December or January, I finally became eligible for sick time and holiday pay, so that should help a bit as regards the wallet.

I’ve had the feeling in many meetings with my boss that we were speaking two different languages – nothing seemed to “click.” I do notice that as time has gone on, my boss seems less interested in “retraining” me and a little more respectful of the experience I bring to the table.

I now have 9 clients with pretty much enough authorized hours between them to make up a full time week. For anyone just stopping by, I have two clients working at an eyeglass warehouse, 6 clients in various positions at two different locations of the same home improvement chain, and one courtesy clerk at a grocery store.

The courtesy clerk is my newest; I was just assigned her in December. She has had the job for a long time and is doing a great job. She hasn’t been all that welcoming to me, to the point where I thought she was giving me the silent treatment, but my last visit we had a good talk and she expressed herself well as to what she wants from me – just one visit a week and possibly help finding a new job. Seems as if she was very unhappy about being scheduled to work most or all of the recent holidays.

My two clients at the eyeglass warehouse are doing fine. My challenge for one of them, who inspects returned eyeglass frames for defects, is that I probably couldn’t manage to do his job. I would miss too many defects! So it’s hard for me to give him feedback on quality issues. I’m a bit more comfortable making recommendations on how he can improve his productivity, but he’s a bit more resistant to that, so one small step at a time. The other employee is doing so well but welcomes my company and mentoring on a friendly level as I walk with her while she picks orders.

My clients at the home improvement stores each have their issues, but most of them are doing fairly well. Most of them at least appreciate my visiting and checking in with them a couple of times a week.

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Why Santorum is wrong even if he isn’t racist….

I listened with interest to the story of Rick Santorum’s “flub” about “mak[ing] … people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money.” He denies he intended to say “black” where my ellipsis is, so I’ll leave it to others to discuss that matter. But in my opinion, even without specifying any ethnic group, he’s wrong.

Our society is built on having a “commons” – various services and infrastructure that are paid for by all and available to all. Examples of the commons are roads, police, schools, firefighters, and many other services at the federal, state, and local level. These services take my tax money to make people’s lives better, and I happily contribute even to those from which I do not immediately benefit. For example, as a childless adult I do not have any children in public schools, but my tax money is paying for children to be educated and their lives will be better.

There are other programs where tax money goes more directly to someone in need, and I’m sure those are the programs Santorum is speaking of. These are the safety net programs – everything from food stamps to Medicare and some programs within Social Security. I’ll admit, good people can disagree about many aspects of these programs and their specific policies. I think we can also agree that the recipients of these programs need more than money if they are to become self-sufficient.

But for many folks, it is indeed money they need right now. To keep a roof over their heads, food for today and tomorrow,  the light and water bills, whatever. Yes, I pay a certain amount in taxes to support these programs, so it is taking money out of my pocket to give to these folks. While I might grumble over my tax bill, it is the cost of living in an ethical society.

The idea of living in a community where people are starving at the same time I have a full stomach and freezing to death when I am warm and cozy is anathema to me. I know it still happens, even with the programs we do have, but at least I know we are doing something about it.

There are many improvements we can make to existing programs and policies, but I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that some of my tax money goes to make someone’s life better. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of a presidential candidate who issues such a blanket condemnation of an integral part of a modern society.

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Looking forward to a new semester…

USC vs. Syracuse

Image by jeffdubyn via Flickr

On Monday, I start classes for my second semester in USC’s MSW program. I am proud of my good but not perfect achievement last semester, and am looking forward to building on that.

This semester, like last, I’ll be taking two classes that are pretty much “part two” from last term.

On Mondays, I’ll have 535, Social Welfare.

The purpose of this course is to understand the building blocks of how social welfare policy is developed and implemented in the United States; the substantive rationale for policy; the role of social workers in all areas of practice in promoting social justice; how to advocate; and the integration of practice with policy.

Understanding social welfare policy is vital to social work practice because it fundamentally affects the lives of those served by the profession. Social welfare policy defines who gets what services, resources, and opportunities, and shapes service delivery systems. For these reasons it’s essential that social workers know about the issues and choices that are embedded in various responses to social problems, guided by an understanding of the ethical responsibilities as expressed in the NASW Code of Ethics, and by the analysis of processes that lead to the formulation and delivery of social welfare policies, to more effectively comprehend the ways in which you can be instrumental in shaping policy choices.

This course builds on the substantive understanding of policy development and critical thinking skills acquired in SOWK 534, focusing attention on the analysis of selected current policy issues in key sectors of social welfare as well as in the processes and strategies of policy advocacy to redress various forms of social and economic injustice and empower less advantaged groups in our society.

SOWK 535 provides a foundation for second year, concentration-specific, policy courses (SOWK 630s) in which students apply policy analytic and policy advocacy skills to develop specific policy proposals in a particular service sector.

This class will have three primary assignments. First,  a “Brief the Mayor” examination of a particular policy and a group presentation on this issue.  What I gather is that the class or group will decide on a particular policy or change to existing policy to advocate and actually develop some sort of a plan of implementation. The second paper will be a “report back” on the status of the initial plan. The last paper will be a critical examination of what has been done during the semester.


Social Work 505 will continue “Human Behavior in the Social Environment”

Content includes empirically-based theories and knowledge that focuses on individual development and behavior as well as the interactions between and among individuals, groups, organizations, communities, institutions and larger systems. Students will also learn about human development over the life span including knowledge of biophysiological maturation, cognitive development, social relationships, and the psychosocial developmental tasks for the individual and family from adolescence through late adulthood. At each phase of the life course, the reciprocal interplay between individual development and familial, small group, community and societal contexts are emphasized. The course is organized according to the case study method to help students critically analyze how people develop within a range of social systems (individual, family, group, organizational, and community) and how these systems promote or impede health, well being, and resiliency. Thus, students will critically apply these different theories and perspectives to case studies or scenarios of contemporary situations in complex, urban, multicultural environments as embodied in the Southern California region.

Given the mission and purpose of social work, the course integrates content on the values and ethics of the profession as they pertain to human behavior and development across multiple systems. Special attention is given to the influence of diversity as characterized by (but not limited to) age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability and religion. The course makes important linkages between course content and social work practice, policy, research, and field instruction, specifically in evaluating multiple factors that impinge on functioning and converge in differential assessment and intervention.

This class will have two papers and a midterm – I think it’s up to the instructor whether to make the exam take-home or in class. I prefer the former,  of course, as I seem to do better when I’m not having to remember details as well as the big points.

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