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Ben de Haan on how technology can harness change and improve lives

February 12, 2016

Technological innovation is rare in the human services field, because most service providers operate with limited resources and they are forced to choose between serving more families or investing in technology. In addition, most funding in human services comes from government sources, who rely on paper processes for accountability, writes Partners for Our Children Executive Director Ben de Haan in an opinion piece appearing in Xconomy and the UW series,The Innovation Imperative.

More specifically, social service providers lack the resources and technology to efficiently collect, analyze and report data. We know that some don’t even collect data; but for those that do, their service management systems are often outdated, closed off from other partners working with the same clients, and there’s no feedback loop that allows them to assess how and if their services are working.

The lack of data and technology tools should not get in the way of improving services for the most vulnerable children and families in our communities. If we can empower social service providers with innovative technology, tools and powerful data, services will be enhanced, which ultimately means that outcomes for children and families will be improved.

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Art exhibit explores impact of education on imprisoned men

February 9, 2016

In keeping with its mission to create and improve post-secondary education programs inside prisons, Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education or HOPE developed I Cry Out: Reclaiming Identities Behind Bars—an exhibit on display at the UW School of Social Work Gallery (first floor) from Feb.,16 to June 1, 2016. The poems, letters and visual art created by the prisoners for this exhibit illustrate the humanity and spirit for renewal of each incarcerated participant. The multi-media exhibit allows us to gain insight into what life is like behind bars and how it is altered with access to education.

A reception, also open to the public, is scheduled for Wed., March 2, from 4 to 6 p.m.

HOPE comprises a group of UW students devoted to creating and improving post-secondary education programs inside prisons. The organization supports the education of prisoners in an effort to focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution. HOPE advocates for learning behind bars as an effective opportunity for prisoners, who leave the prison system with social, legal and economic handicaps, to successfully reintegrate into society. And the data supports this strategy:

  • 35 percent of prisoners released from Washington state prisons return to prison within 3 years. Graduating from a college program decreases recidivism by 72 percent.
  • A 2009 report ordered by Washington state legislature found that for every $5,000 invested in education, $20,000 is saved from fewer costly incarcerations and use of social services.

The group raises funds and materials for education efforts and runs public events to communicate prison issues to a wider audience. HOPE established the Academic Resource Center at Monroe Correctional Center, created a scholarship, and hosts an annual panel of formerly incarcerated individuals to highlight success stories.

For more information about the exhibit, contact May Lim by email or by calling 509-270-8600.


Dean Uehara spotlights the role of scientific social work in creating change

February 4, 2016

Here’s a question for everyone who wants to change the world: Which of these innovations will have more impact on society—a first-of-its-kind experimental vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS that’s been developed by a venture-capital-backed biotechnology company, or a big-data research study from a social work scholar that identifies the role that alcohol consumption plays in the contraction of HIV/AIDS? My answer is both.

Each of these rigorous, cutting-edge and science-based initiatives has the potential to transform our society in a real and enduring way; each seeks to improve and save lives; and each attempts to enhance well being within an often marginalized community.

So, if this is the case, why are the experimental vaccine and the big data research study, which share the same humanistic objectives and social welfare goals, seen in a vastly different light? Indeed, as members of what’s been called the 21st Century Innovation Economy, we are increasingly conditioned to see high-growth technology start-ups as the solution to critical and seemingly intractable problems effectively and efficiently. And, in many instances, we celebrate these groundbreaking efforts, even as they provide entrepreneurs and investors with sumptuous financial rewards.

Study shows U.S. has greater link between low birth weight and inequality

January 28, 2016

Health disparities are common in developed countries, including the U.S., but at what age those inequities take root and how they vary between countries is less clear.

New research from the University of Washington compares the link between income, education and low birth weight in the United States with those in three comparable countries: the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Low birth weight is a primary risk factor for infant deaths and is considered a key predictor of health and socioeconomic status throughout life and across generations.

The paper, published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health, found that while low birth weight was linked to lower income and education levels in all four countries, that connection was most persistent in the U.S.

Grand Challenges for Social Work identify 12 top social problems facing America

January 14, 2016

Washington, D.C.—From mass incarceration, climate change, and an aging population to immigration, mental illness and rising income inequality, the most pressing issues facing America have something fundamental in common: the social factor. As a call to action on these and other urgent problems, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare is launching the Grand Challenges for Social Work. The Grand Challenges will promote innovation, collaboration, and expansion of proven, evidence-based programs to create meaningful, measurable progress on solving these and other urgent social problems within a decade. The official launch of the Grand Challenges for Social Work takes place today at the opening plenary session of the Society for Social Work and Research 20th Anniversary Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. with the UW School of Social Work Dean and SSWR President Edwina Uehara (pictured, right).

“Social factors contribute more mightily to the individual condition of people than any other single factor: more than disease, the environment, genetics, or technology,” said Richard P. Barth, President of AASWSW and the dean, University of Maryland School of Social Work. “Understanding and improving the way that social factors interact with other forces is critical to our future. This is why we say, ‘social is fundamental,’ and why the Grand Challenges for Social Work are so needed to drive social progress that is powered by science.” The SSWR conference includes more than 50 presentations from leading researchers and experts from around the country related to the 12 Grand Challenges.

Watch the Grand Challenges for Social Work video here.

Together, the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work define a bold, science-based social agenda that promotes individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society that fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, and offers pathways for social and economic progress. Here is a description of the underlying problems, strategies, and goals of each of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work:

  • Close the health gap. More than 60 million Americans have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.
  • Ensure healthy development for all youthEach year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge.
  • Stop family violence. Assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death. Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, break the cycle of violence, or find safe alternatives.
  • Advance long and productive lives. Throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society.
  • Eradicate social isolation. Social isolation is a silent killer, as dangerous to health as smoking. Our challenge is to educate the public on this health hazard, encourage health and human service professionals to address social isolation, and promote effective ways to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages.
  • End homelessness. During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. Our challenge is to expand proven approaches that have worked in communities across the country, develop new service innovations and technologies, and adopt policies that promote affordable housing and basic income security.
  • Create social responses to a changing environment. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.
  • Harness technology for social good. Innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to reach more people with greater impact, to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.
  • Promote smart decarcerationn. The United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars. Our challenge is to develop a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy that will dramatically reduce the number of people who are imprisoned and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.
  • Build financial capability for all. Nearly half of all American households are financially insecure, without adequate savings to meet basic living expenses for three months. We can significantly reduce economic hardship and the debilitating effects of poverty by adopting social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts; expand workforce training and re-training; and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services.
  • Reduce extreme economic inequality. The top 1 percent owns nearly half of the total wealth in the United States, while one in five children live in poverty. We can correct the broad inequality of wealth and income through a variety of innovative means related to wages and tax benefits associated with capital gains, retirement accounts, and home ownership.
  • Achieve equal opportunity and justice. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge.

Building bridges within and beyond social work
The Grand Challenges for Social Work create an opportunity for social work researchers and practitioners to collaborate widely with each other and with many other fields and disciplines, including health care, law enforcement, education, civil rights, technology, and climate science.

“For young people who are interested in making a big impact in the world, and who care deeply about social justice, these Grand Challenges are going to be very appealing,” said Darla Spence Coffey, PhD, President and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education and a member of the Grand Challenges National Advisory Board.

The UW School of Social Work played a critical role in the development of the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative. In 2012, the School co-sponsored a conference on Bainbridge Island, Washington, with several national organizations and schools of social work. It was there that Dean Uehara and faculty from the University of Washington proposed the idea of a Grand Challenges effort to capture the public's imagination, mobilize the profession, and spur breakthroughs in social work science, practice and research.

DeLong honored with 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Volunteer Recognition Award

January 7, 2016

James DeLong is the recipient the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Volunteer Recognition Award for the UW School of Social Work.
DeLong (pictured, left) first joined the UW in the late 1970s as a graduate student earning his Master in Social Work degree. Since then, he has been a practicum coordinator, a classroom lecturer, a program director and a beloved mentor for faculty, staff and students. Over the course of four decades, he has exemplified the principles that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Volunteer Recognition Award embodies.
DeLong has devoted his career to educating and supporting the education of social workers serving our most vulnerable populations. In the classroom, he has specialized in teaching courses that explore the intersections of power, privilege and oppression. He is also currently the adviser for the student-led Anti-Racist White Allies Group (ARWAG), devoting significant time and energy to help students reflect on complex racial issues. As an administrator, DeLong directed the School's MSW Extended Degree Program for over two decades. His program leadership contributed to the successful graduation of more than a thousand social workers, each committed to improving the human condition.
DeLong has been a vocal feminist and has both led and participated in many men's groups to dismantle patriarchy. His energy matches his commitment, passion and belief that we all have a responsibility to create a more just society. This commitment to addressing the legacies of colonialism, racism and exploitation can also be found in two School of Social Work endowments that DeLong and his partner, Janet, established: one for social workers committed to working with African-American communities, and one for social workers committed to working in tribal communities.
Please join us at the Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life and Legacy to honor DeLong and all the award recipients on Wed., Jan. 13, 2016, from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. at Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Lobby, Health Sciences Center.

Social work professor Jennifer Stuber joins Gov. Inslee in gun violence initiative announcement

January 8, 2016

Two University of Washington faculty members joined Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday as he announced a new initiative to reduce gun-related deaths by strengthening background checks and implementing a statewide suicide prevention plan.

Jennifer Stuber, an associate professor at the UW School of Social Work, and Monica Vavilala, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, stood alongside Inslee as he made the announcement at a mental health center in Burien. “This is a public health response to a public health crisis,” Inslee said. “Every single day, somebody in the state of Washington dies from gun violence.” Inslee’s announcement comes a day after President Obama announced expanded background checks and other measures intended to prevent gun violence nationwide.

Between 2012 and 2014, Inslee said, 665 people in Washington were killed by firearms. Almost 80 percent of those deaths were suicide, he said.

New study explores legal marijuana's impact on alcohol use

December 29, 2015

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in four states and medical marijuana in 23 states. Research on legalization policies has focused largely on how they impact marijuana access and use. But the UW team—led by School of Social Work researcher and lecturer Katarína Guttmannová—wanted to know how legalization affects the use of alcohol, by far the nation’s most popular drug. Does legal marijuana tempt pot users to consume more alcohol — or are they likely to opt for cannabis instead of chardonnay?

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