As I understand it, social work is the pursuit of increased wellbeing for individuals and groups through direct and concerted intervention in a number of ways. The overall goal for someone in social work is to help combat social injustices and various inequalities in education, psychological awareness, and the like through determined effort and intervention on one's part (Agnew, 2004). This is typically performed through dedicated and complex interactions with those who require social work, and theories of human development and social systems and theory are used to investigate a client's social situation. After this analysis, strategies are decided upon to help improve the perceived gaps in care and welfare experienced by said client, with the eventual goal of creating self-sustaining and autonomous individuals without further need for social care.
There are significant value assumptions that are inherent to my definition of social work. First among those is the notion that all people have a right to living a safe, comfortable and happy life, to no greater or lesser degree than anyone else. This concept must extend beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other classifier; total equity and equality must be made available to all who need it. Each individual, whether they require social services or not, deserves to be treated with dignity and with respect to their worth as individuals. Whatever this definition may be for these individuals, social work must be conducted in a way that helps them meet those criteria whenever possible. All cultures and walks of life must be valued equally and treated with respect; no discrimination shall be exercised by any social worker toward any client (NASW, 2008).
Social and political action is necessary to be taken in order to deal with the inequalities that are experienced by clients in any way possible. First and foremost, social workers must be ethical servers, being at the behest of the client's needs before anything else. Furthermore, it is assumed through this definition of social work that social workers are the agents by which this change must occur, but only until such time as they are not needed. A social worker must, in the end, prepare their client(s) for being able to act and behave autonomously, without the help of social services. The goal is not to make the client dependent on the system, but to allow the system to prop them up until such time as they can do so themselves.
In order to follow along with the definition of social work as a method of ethical service designed to benefit the client and work for them regardless of circumstance or identity, a great deal must be done in order to become a competent practitioner (Reamer, 2006). Taking a general systems approach, social work can be best identified and practiced through interaction between organizations and individuals. In essence, social workers connect people in need with organizations that can help, networking to gather and administrate resources and programs that can benefit their clients substantially. To that end, extensive knowledge of organizations and interventions that are available and effective for one's clients is an essential component of social work - one must know how to help their clients, and who is available to help them.
Effective education and personal intervention in social work goals must also be accomplished in order to achieve a proper skill set for this occupation. Becoming knowledgeable about communication tactics, sociological and psychological conditions one's clients will be exposed to, and more will grant the social worker a greater understanding of what their clients go through. This will also allow them to more concretely grasp what is needed from them to help the client, as well as help them understand both their role and the client's in the social work process from a systems perspective.
A comprehensive knowledge of community structures and resources is absolutely required for social workers operating from a systems perspective; in a defined social system, there are specific intervention points that must be utilized in order to meet the needs of the client (Vickery, 1974). Toward that end, education on these resources and community structures is vital to guide the client through the environmental system they will encounter in their process. Through this knowledge, it then becomes clear exactly how the client will benefit from these interventions.
Knowledge of how humans adapt within systems is also necessary for social workers to have in competent practice; knowing their client well enough to understand how they will fare within a particular environment or intervention is a vital component of determining whether or not they fit in that context; if they do not, another resource within the system must be found (Forder, 1982). Social workers must be competent in not only knowing the environment around them and what it can offer their clients, but what the clients need and how they would interact with those environments. A social worker must operate as a facilitator for the client's journey through the proper channels in their social system to improve their circumstances and solve problems, which requires knowledge of the client, the environment, and strategies to unite the two successfully.
In Meyer-Cook and Labelle's "Namaji: Two-Spirit Organizing in Montreal, Canada" (2004), 'Two-Spirit' programs in Montreal are discussed. 'Two-Spirit' programs are defined as organizations and outreach programs created by and/or targeting people of both Indian descent and of LGBT orientation in the US and Canada (mostly falling under various definitions of mixed gender and trans roles). In this study, many challenges facing Two-Spirit individuals in Canadian society are elucidated and then compared to successful interventions and programs that have been created to combat these issues. The issue and the article itself deals with several distinct types of discrimination, which are often compounded in Two-Spirit people: LGBT discrimination, trans/homophobia, and discrimination against Native American Indian peoples.
Historically and currently, there are many power blocks to prevent Two Spirit people from achieving full and complete agency within their society. Direct power blocks include the indoctrination of Two-Spirited people for generations through the use of residential missionary schools - these institutions helped to solidify gender conformity and male-female binaries as well as heterosexual relationships; small tracts of land were allotted to married couples. As Aboriginal peoples, they also suffered from these systems, as the government and the Church conspired to intentionally teach and provide them with less, only giving them the basic skills and tools needed for subsistence farming (p. 34). Indirect power blocks are much more prevalent in Two Spirit people, and have a wide range of effects with regards to how these blocks actually stifle their equality. Many Two Spirits are "insulted, and made to feel unworthy," said to be an indirect consequence of the replacement of traditional values with binary Christian ones, in which good and evil are binary forces that must be combated (p. 32). Gender conformity is seen as a cultural norm, and as a result Two Spirit people face considerable oppression and scorn from those who subscribe to those values. In essence, heterosexism has become a substantial roadblock for Two Spirit people who still wish to have the same social standing as everyone else.
In order to address these significant power blocks, empowerment theories can be used to ameliorate these conditions and help to bring about significant improvements in the welfare and well-being of Two-Spirited people. Empowerment theory, as it is understood, is the increase of strength of individuals; in social work practice, it can be used to increase formerly-systemic problems in inequities leading from societal discrimination or disenfranchisement of their educational status, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or more. Two-Spirited people's power blocks typically stem from heterosexism and ethnocentrism stemming from their nationality and their perceived sexual orientation; these issues stem from the aforementioned Christian indoctrination of Two-Spirited peoples and the establishment of gender norms and binaries. Meyer-Cook and Labelle indicate that this has not always been the case with Two-Spirits; "communities prior to colonization were generally very inclusive and accepting of a range of sexual orientations and gender identities" (p. 31). Therefore, it is possible that this acceptance and inclusion can be found once more.
Two-Spirited people can often feel a sense of marginalization and powerlessness that stems from the use of their moniker as a pejorative; "There is often concern and resistance against the term becoming equated with sexual orientation in and of itself" (p. 31). To that end, empowerment theory must be used to reassure Two-Spirited individuals that their actions to resist these labels and discriminatory practices can bear fruit; power often comes from the expectation that a person's actions will have a positive effect on their lives. Community organizing and resources that allow for marginalized Two-Spirit people to find shelter and communion with others like them also brings about a sense of empowerment; these discriminated people no longer feel alone, and benefit from system-intensive interventions to get them the respect and agency that they deserve. Recording stories of Two-Spirit marginalization allows for their voices to be heard, and increase outreach for systemic issues in their culture (such as the spread of HIV/AIDS in Two Spirit communities) (p. 44).
Looking at the ecological systems theory, many changes have to happen at several levels to achieve real equality for the Two Spirited people. On a microsystem level, religious institutions, schools and neighborhoods have to be reached out to on a community level to increase exposure to and acceptance of Two Spirited individuals as people. Harassment must be swiftly legislated against, and outreach programs can happen on a community level to provide Two Spirited people with a voice in the community. On a mesosystem level, interventions linking church, school and family contexts to positive Two Spirit experiences will help to ameliorate the church's prior spread of heterosexist norms, and demonstrate a desire to move forward with positive portrayals and receptions of Two Spirited people in the future. A macrosystem level of change would reach out to children and policy makers to create Two Spirit-friendly legislation and initiatives for the future, in order to improve the overall culture of Montreal into one more accepting of Two Spirited people.
The case study in question is the School System scenario, in which the environment and the culture surrounding the Jena Six attacks in Jena, Louisiana. The school system has many different ecological systems environments that contributed to the culture that led to the arrest and charging of the Jena Six.
Microsystem factors of this environment (the Jena school system) include the largely white population of the school (85%), groups of friends (mostly segregated white and black groups), the football team, membership to religious groups, the families of each student, and more. Mesosystem factors of the environment include the principal of the school endorsing integration of the students and punishing those who act negatively or offensively toward black students, while the school board of education does not seem to enforce policies that would facilitate greater tolerance within the student body.
Exosystem factors of this environment include a tacit endorsement of ethnocentric policies and whitewashing of racial and ethnic problems through a general ignorance of these issues. The aforementioned school board refusal to punish students for leaving nooses on "the white tree" indicates a passive acceptance of those actions, as proper interventions to prevent them are not being implemented. Macrosystem factors of this environment include the pervasive racism present in the American South, and in American society on a general scale; in the Deep South of America and Louisiana, white-centric attitudes are still pervasive, and systemic inequalities of arrest and conviction of blacks as opposed to whites creates a uniquely flawed system that unjustly targets blacks for certain crimes (rape and assault of women, specifically).
In developing intervention strategies for the school to address the issue of racially charged attacks and tension in the Jena, Louisiana community, certain social work ethics and values have to be considered. First and foremost, the concepts of social justice and importance of human relationships have to be emphasized to those that are being served and counseled. The overall goal of these intervention strategies is to create outreach across the aisle between the white and black students and faculty, and central to that is the idea that this will lead to positive social change in the norms and cultural attributes that make racial profiling and targeting acceptable. The importance of human relationships must be identified, as the vehicle for this kind of change would be the improvement of interactions between white and black students at the school, creating a more inclusive and accepting culture there.
That being said, I do anticipate a few conflicted values and ethical dilemmas to carrying out these interventions. One of my biggest challenges would be to facilitate open communication and honest dialog with people in the community about their behavior, but they may not wish to admit that they are racist. Already, people in the community have been interviewed and stated that the town is not racist, when clearly racist policies are occurring due to this tension. In order to be able to communicate with them, I will have to make sure to make reasoned decisions with regards to intervention strategies, and make sure to maintain my own integrity - I must allow them to come to these conclusions on their own and not dictate or lecture to them in my interactions and strategies.
In facilitating resource exchange between individuals and organizations in the school system, there are many strengths that I have to work with. For one, it appears as though the principal of the school is extremely passionate about ensuring equality and positive communication between students; he wishes to encourage interracial interaction and cooperation, and works hard to harshly punish those who perform racially insensitive acts (like the noose-related vandalism). The self-perception of Jena by most as being a racially tolerant town will be conducive to parents and teachers embracing integrated community interventions in an earnest attempt to follow through on this perception of equality. There are also many community leaders who are working hard to bring about reconciliation; this allows for even more personnel and resources to offer those who would benefit from these intervention strategies.
However, there are also significant obstacles to creating positive outcomes for this resource exchange. For one, the student body may not actively engage with it in the way that is hoped; the students may either be apathetic to it or feel it unnecessary, or those students who do have animosity towards their black classmates may not be swayed by overt and obvious attempts at reconciliation, which they may negatively perceive as "politically correct." This is part of the socially toxic environment that has apparently developed in Jena, which may make it difficult to get intervention strategies to stick in the children's minds. This rejection may cause further entrenchment of these toxic beliefs, as they may now feel persecuted for what they honestly feel, regardless of how negative it may be.
In order to address these systemic issues in the Jena school system, various intervention strategies could be attempted. Community mobilization toward integrated school activities is key; the more parents and community leaders can be involved, the higher a priority these interventions can be for the community. My strategy would be to communicate with community leaders to create assemblies and outreach programs that would allow minority students a safe and discreet outlet for communicating instances of discrimination and persecution from their peers. This would allow these offenses to be communicated, and some counseling to occur for these tormented students.
Furthermore, tolerance must be severely limited for those students who do perform discriminatory acts against minorities; the board of education must be able to back the principal and other community leaders in enacting zero-tolerance policies on race-targeting behavior and harassment. Assemblies and educational outreach should be performed at schools to teach children about the effects of intolerance and racial inequality; understanding and communicating the consequences of these factors can help educate students about the real effects of behaving poorly towards students of other races. The overall goal is to minimize racist behavior and discriminatory practices against black students, both from other students and from the community. 'Beyond school' interventions could also be used to communicate school-related messages of tolerance to others in the community, thus extending this intervention community wide while keeping it centered on the school.
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