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Posts Tagged ‘social worker’


Photo: Ann Hermes/CSM.
Leigh White and Walter Adams, behavioral health specialists, respond to a 911 call about a homeless encampment in Albuquerque. They are members of the Albuquerque Community Safety department, an ambitious experiment in policing, according to the
Christian Science Monitor.

Is there another way to do policing that actually accomplishes the goal of keeping people safe? That is the question communities have been asking themselves since the demonstrations and riots of 2020. The epicenter of that upheaval, Minneapolis, just voted against doing away with the police department altogether since no clear alternative had been proposed. Now let’s take a look at a small-scale experiment in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Henry Gass has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s early October, and perhaps the busiest week of the year in New Mexico’s largest city. … Walter Adams and Leigh White are on patrol. Their white car, stamped with ‘Community Safety’ decals, is headed for a neighborhood once known as the ‘war zone.’

“Mr. Adams and Ms. White aren’t carrying guns, though. Instead, they are armed with a trunk full of water bottles, Cheez-Its, and Chewy bars. … Before long, the first dispatch flashes over the computer screen. They have to head west.

“A few minutes later, they’re standing outside two tents pitched in the trees near a church. People walking or jogging along a nearby trail glance over.

“ ‘Someone called 911 and said there was a fire,’ says Ms. White. A man inside the tent curses back at her.

“ ‘We know better than that,’ he says. He’s been homeless for seven years, he tells them. ‘That’s what people do, call the cops,’ he adds. ‘It’s [bull].’

“ ‘We’re not here for that,’ replies Mr. Adams. ‘What happens is police get a call, and they send us.’

“Ms. White and Mr. Adams, in fact, aren’t police. What they do is not normal emergency response work nor normal police work. It’s something of a hybrid of the two – part of an experiment that Albuquerque is hoping will change public safety in America. 

‘We’re not quite sure if [everything] is going to work,’ says Mariela Ruiz-Angel, director of ACS. ‘But if we don’t get this going, [if we] try to overanalyze, we’ll never get anywhere.’

“They are members of the Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) department. Launched in August, the agency is intended to complement the city’s police and fire departments by having teams of behavioral health specialists patrol and respond to low-level, nonviolent 911 calls. 

“While it is modeled after programs in a few other cities, ACS is the first stand-alone department of its kind in the country. The initiative is still nascent – Mr. Adams and Ms. White are one of just two responder teams at the moment. But authorities here hope it will defuse the kinds of tensions between police and residents that have surfaced in cities across the country and help reinvent 911 emergency response systems, which many believe have become antiquated.

“ ‘What Albuquerque is doing is really exciting and innovative,’ says Nancy La Vigne, executive director of the Task Force on Policing at the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Police chiefs ‘almost universally say we’d love to offload these calls to other people. We need these types of models to be developed and implemented, so we can learn from them.’

“On this stop, the program makes its small mark. Mr. Adams tells the homeless man about resources available at HopeWorks, a local nonprofit. The man says he’s been there before, but never upstairs, where many of the services are.

“ ‘As long as you show commitment, they’ll help you,’ says Mr. Adams. The man says he’ll go. …

“From 2010 to 2014, members of the Albuquerque Police Department shot and killed 27 people. One of them, in March 2014, was James Boyd, a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia. … The police entered into a court-approved agreement with DOJ that October, which the department has been operating under ever since. 

“Initially, police shootings in the city decreased for several years. But more recently they have begun to rise again. … While all this was going on, New Mexico’s behavioral health system was falling into disarray as well. … Since moving to Albuquerque from the East Coast 20 years ago, Ms. White has watched as the city’s police and mental health care systems have fallen in national rankings – and wondered what she could do. …

“In many cities, calling 911 hasn’t always been the best way to get someone help. Albuquerque’s aim with its new initiative is as much to re-imagine its emergency response system as it is to reform policing. …

“ ‘The default response is to send police to a scene and hope they solve whatever is happening,’ says [Rebecca Neusteter, leader of the Transform911 project at the University of Chicago Health Lab, an initiative aimed at reforming the nation’s emergency response system]. That’s ‘really not in anyone’s interests.’ …

“ ‘By and large [ACS] is a positive move’ for policing in the city, says Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. ‘It holds the promise that perhaps someday we will see fewer armed officers interacting with people in mental health crisis.’ 

“Ms. White and Mr. Adams are having a busy morning. … Mr. Adams and Ms. White grab water bottles and snacks from the trunk. They offer them to the people in the encampments, who eye them with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. Then the behavioral health specialists ask the people if they’re connected to services, or want to be. …

“Mr. Adams approaches them with a disarming ease. He ambles up and greets the individuals like he would a stranger he’s asking for directions. It’s an unruffled approach born of his past. 

“Mr. Adams grew up in a town, Las Vegas, New Mexico, that had widespread gang and drug problems. It also was home to the state’s main psychiatric hospital. To keep him out of trouble, Mr. Adams’ father would have his son accompany him to basketball games at the hospital.

“So, starting in third grade – long before he knew about behavioral disorders – young Walter began socializing with people who were dealing with mental health issues. …

“ ‘You knew those people, you knew their name, you talked to them. So to me, it wasn’t anything new or different.’ ”

Read more about these remarkable people and about the innovative program and the people it serves at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Brian Hatton
Amir Brann, social work director of Public School 446 in New York, leads second-graders in an art exercise that helps build collaborative skills.

How many decades have we been saying that schools are asked to do too much? We bemoan the fact that teachers must often act as substitute parents, police officers, advisers on social services, and more — an endless list.

Today some schools have stopped saying that it’s not fair and have decided instead to tackle the hard reality.

Meredith Kolodner writes at the Hechinger Report (a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education), “Three years ago, when Public School 446 opened in a building where two others had failed, it inherited many of the youngest students. Among them was a second-grader who was supposed to be in fourth grade and was reading at a kindergarten level.

“The boy was one of a handful of students who had regular violent outbursts — he threw chairs and hit other kids.

“ ‘He was coming to school with a lot of stress, and he wasn’t being successful academically, so he was acting out,’ said Meghan Dunn, the principal of P.S. 446 in Brownsville. ‘Kids would rather be known as the bad kid than the dumb kid.’

“Dunn was well aware of the building’s troubled history when she agreed to open the new school in 2012, after two previous elementary schools in eight years were closed for poor performance. Dunn knew she’d be working in a community that desperately needs stability: Brownsville has the second-highest rate of student homelessness in Brooklyn and the highest elementary school student absenteeism in the city — 40 percent of its children miss 20 or more days of school per year.

“The neighborhood is the poorest in Brooklyn and also has one of the highest rates of psychiatric hospitalizations and incarcerated residents in the city. …

“So Dunn decided to try something different when she opened the school three years ago. She assumed many students would arrive with lots of physical and emotional needs, and structured the school to handle their issues in ways that regular public schools can’t. It took extra money from [Partnership With Children] and a small army of social workers, and the results are promising. The percentage of students reading at grade level climbed to 41 percent last spring, up from 32 percent the previous year, according to a widely used literacy benchmark. The number of disciplinary incidents during the same time period dropped by more than a third. …

“The struggling second-grader was immediately matched with a social worker who began seeing him individually and also met with his parents to help connect them to an outside evaluation of the boy’s possible learning issues. (Problems like ADHD and dyslexia must be diagnosed by a doctor.) To help shift his behavior, the social worker told him to write down every time he walked away from a conflict. After he avoided a fight five times, he got 15 extra minutes of basketball.

“Dunn also assigned him 30 minutes a day of one-on-one literacy help, which allowed him to improve his reading. …

“ ‘We work a lot with kids to be able to ask for what they need,’ said Dunn. ‘So kids know if you need anything, you just have to ask for an adult … if you don’t have a winter coat, we’ll find you one. When kids are acting out, a lot of time it’s because they don’t know how to communicate what they need.’ ”

More here.

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In case you missed it, there’s a new movie about using elderly people’s favorite music to call them back from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The website for Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says the movie is an “exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.”

The documentary follows “social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).”

At the Washington Post, Michael Sullivan writes, “The benefits of music to enliven and awaken the senses are not limited to those with dementia. ‘Alive Inside’ also focuses on a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and on a man with multiple sclerosis. The scenes in which they and others are shown listening to music that has personal meaning are absolutely joyous, but they also might move you to tears.

“As the movie makes clear, none of these conditions are reversible. Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.” More.

Hmmm. It seems that in addition to making wills, we should all be writing lists of the music that we have enjoyed in our lives so that people know what to play. Should I go with “Swan Lake” and “The New World Symphony” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Mary’s Boychild”? Or how about the Platters and Elvis and Nina Simone and Edif Piaf or musicals like Nine and Chess. Anything in a minor key.

I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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