Month: February 2010

Promoting Healthy Aging

An internship program at UConn’s School of Social Work is making the world a little brighter – and healthier – for a number of Hartford’s senior citizens, while also providing future social workers with front-line experience dealing with a needy population.

The Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, a partnership of the
Institute of Living
, Hartford Hospital, and the School of Social Work, brings students working toward a master’s degree in social work into the halls, apartments, and community rooms of seven Hartford-based senior housing complexes. The students go door to door, in an effort to discuss the residents’ well being and mental health.

<p>Karen Bullock, associate professor of social work, meets with residents at Mary Mahoney Village in Hartford. Photo by Peter Morenus</p>

Karen Bullock, associate professor of social work,
meets with residents at Mary Mahoney Village
in Hartford. Photo by Peter Morenus

Minority Outreach

The program is the only one in the nation that specifically targets minority populations.

“African Americans and Latinos are the least likely populations to reach out and seek help, especially with mental health issues such as depression; and culture is a huge factor,” says Karen Bullock, a professor of social work and director of the Hartford Partnership for Aging Education. Of the 20 interns who have trained in the healthy aging program thus far, all are from underrepresented populations and many, including Bullock, speak Spanish.

“It’s critical to prepare practitioners who are representative of the racial and ethnic minority groups that make up our older adult population in the City of Hartford,” Bullock says. “As our older adult population in the United States becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, it becomes increasingly important for schools of social work and service providers to prepare practitioners to meet the needs of these older adults.”

Team Work

The program, funded by the New York Academy of Medicine, is now in its third year, and has reached more than 950 people.

Students are teamed with a licensed clinical social worker, an advanced practice registered nurse, and a psychiatrist. They spend as much as an hour with each resident, administering screenings for memory loss and depression, medicine management, and other mental health outreach services. Eugene Hickey, director of social work at the Institute of Living, organized the team of mental health professionals who provide the services of the Healthy Aging Program.

<p>Students from the School of Social Work meet with residents at Mary Mahoney Village in Hartford. From left, Erika Cruz, Lisa Figueroa, Detra Varner, and Christopher Parker. Photo by Peter Morenus</p>

Students from the School of Social Work meet with residents at Mary Mahoney Village in Hartford. Students from left are Erika Cruz, Lisa Figueroa, Detra Varner, and Christopher Parker. Photo by Peter Morenus

The students also participate in health education forums in the buildings’ community rooms, distribute brochures that describe depression and other illnesses, and provide information on health and wellness.

It isn’t an easy job.

“Some of the people are skeptical, they wonder what our hidden agenda is,” says Chris Parker, a first-year MSW student from Hartford. “People prey on these folks. They’re a vulnerable population. But when they see that we deliver what we said we would, they’re initially surprised, and then they want us to come back. I’ve never been to a place that didn’t want us back.

“I wish we could do more,” he adds. “They just don’t get a lot of service in these complexes.”

Bullock, also a Hartford resident, says that’s one of the main reasons she was interested in targeting the senior communities, all in the poorest sections of the city.

“Seniors are so in need of these services,” she says. “They’re so isolated. Many of them report that they rarely get visits from anyone, and they don’t get out. They seldom interact with other people in their communities.”

The program was initially funded through a $75,000, two-year start-up grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation. During that time, Bullock’s group was charged with developing a model for the local program and attracting continuing funding. That model turned out to be a partnership with Hartford Hospital and the Institute for Living. The continuing funding source turned out to be the North Central Area Agency on Aging, which provides annual stipends of $3,000 to each of 10 students.

Developing Skills

Stipends also allow some students to continue the work during summer.

Before going into the field, the students must learn a specific skill set, says Bullock. This includes how to problem solve, broker, advocate, and create and maintain professional relationships. They must demonstrate that they’re ready, and are put through a rigorous assessment process, including an evaluation of their interviewing skills and ability to engage and communicate with residents of diverse cultures.

“One reason this program is unique is because in most mental health programs people come to your office. You have some preliminary data and know a little bit about what’s happening with each person before you actually see them in your office,” Bullock says. “In this outreach program the students essentially make cold calls. We knock on doors. They have to negotiate, use interpersonal skills to gain rapport, and maintain professional boundaries, which precedes the interviewing. Then they have to probe in order to make good assessments, and when necessary, they also make referrals. Each student has to be knowledgeable about available services in the community so that they know where to refer people.”

They also learn about the power of collective effort.

“Every other week FoodShare comes out, and this is an ideal time for the outreach team to be in the community,” Bullock says. “A lot of the seniors will come out because it’s a chance for them to get bread, vegetables, and other basics. We can talk with them about their mood and memory as they wait to collect their groceries. We have also helped to distribute the food, when helping hands were needed. It’s a great opportunity for our students to have contact with a larger group of seniors, and it lets the residents know we’re not just there to collect data – we’re there to help.”

Ultimately, says Bullock, the training will provide an excellent base for the students who are planning to work with older adults once they graduate. And it’s a big help to Hartford’s aging minority population.

“As we prepare graduate social work students to be competent practitioners, we’re chipping away at the issues that can become barriers to mental health access,” Bullock says. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re chipping away.”
Courtesy of UConn Today
February 2, 2010 Issue
By: Richard Veilleux

Social Work Professor and Alumna Honored with Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement

School of Social Work faculty and staff beamed with pride as Professor Louise Simmons received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement at a reception on December 9, 2009. She was among three finalists in the faculty category who were present for the ceremony.

The Provost’s Awards pay tribute to members of the University community and to programs that engage the public to address critical societal issues. “I was thrilled to witness Dr. Simmons be recognized for her tireless efforts to improve the lives of those social work is committed to serve”, stated Salome Raheim, Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work.

Dr. Simmons is an Associate Professor of Community Organization and the Director of the University of Connecticut, Urban Semester Program. Her work embodies the School’s mission to promote social and economic justice and human rights. Dr. Simmons has shown exceptional leadership in creating opportunities for students to actively engage in service learning projects that promote the well being of residents in the Greater Hartford area. As Director of the Urban Semester Program for nearly 30 years, although the School of Social Work has no undergraduate program, Dr. Simmons has led over several hundred undergraduate students in service learning internships.

Dr. Simmons’ scholarly work has made significant contributions to public engagement as well. She is the author of Organizing in Hard Times: Unions and Neighborhoods in Hartford, published by Temple University Press (1994) and editor of Welfare, the Working Poor and Labor, published by M.E. Sharpe (2004).  Her most recent book, Economic Justice, Labor and Community Practice (2009) is co-edited with Dr. Scott Harding and addresses economic upheaval and growing inequality, and how people in local communities are fighting for economic justice.

Dr. Simmons has had intensive community involvement since the 1970s in the Hartford community and on state-wide issues. Her service as an active member on a number of boards with the City of Hartford and the larger Connecticut community is quite impressive. Currently, she serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, an economic rights organization; a Board member of the Institute for Community Research; a Steering Committee member of the Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs and of Citizens for Economic Opportunity and a past Board member of Community Works.  From 1991 until 1993, she served a term on the Hartford City Council with a local third party, People for Change. She also has served on the Human Relations Commission for the City of Hartford, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Hartford Women, and Mayor’s Living Wage Task Force. Currently, she continues to work on issues involved with the Hartford Living Wage Ordinance.

Adamil (Ada) Rivera, MSW ’98, accepted the 2009 Provost’s Excellence in Public Engagement Award on behalf of UConn’s GEAR-UP Program, which she directs. The program works with New Haven high school youth to foster academic success.  Simmons said she was very pleased to see a Community Organization alumna receive the award for the GEAR-UP Program, which is a testament to the impact that the School of Social Work’s Community Organization alumni have in their communities and their work.

Researchers Study the Humanitarian Support to Iraqi Refugee Populations

Researchers in the School of Social Work studying the humanitarian support to Iraqi refugee populations say the news media have largely ignored the displacement crisis, as large numbers of forced migrants and refugees have fled Iraq for such countries as Jordan and Syria since the U.S. war in Iraq began in 2003.

Since 2006 Kathryn Libal, assistant professor of social work, and Scott Harding, assistant professor of community organization have been researching the ways in which services are being provided to Iraqi refugee populations in Jordan by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), U.N. agencies and the U.S. government. They have conducted interviews in the U.S. with NGOs and human rights groups and in Jordan with representatives of organizations working on humanitarian issues.

Jordan hosts about half a million Iraqi refugees, according to the United Nations. “We thought that some of the established humanitarian organizations would have a much more visible presence there,” Libal says. “We thought they’d be providing a lot of services to a lot of refugees, but that wasn’t the case. There were few refugee camps because most of the people were urban refugees.”

The research indicates that Jordan and Syria are ill-equipped to handle large populations for a long period of time, and resettlement is not a viable option for most.

“They’re both developing countries,” Libal says. “They have their own vulnerable populations, so to absorb another large population makes it even more challenging.”

Many of the NGOs, she says, believe the President of the United States plays a key role in asserting the importance of addressing refugee and displacement needs. “They’ve said if the president doesn’t take a leadership role, it’s very difficult to get other countries to participate in the endeavor.”

Harding adds that while there is a debate in social science literature  about the role of humanitarian  groups, their research shows that these groups play a vital role: “Because of the pressure and political advocacy of these groups, U.S. policy has changed significantly and the United Nations has done more. Advocacy does work, even on a global level.”