China, Pandas, and Global Social Work Practice

An image of a Red Panda in the wild

My name is Jocelyn Durkay and I’m a community track student at GSSW- and I have the amazing opportunity this summer to attend a GSSW internship in China with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell.  As a participant in Professor Sarah Bexell’s International Social Development course (co-facilitated by PhD student Eric DesMarais) I had the opportunity to learn of her work at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.  Professor’s Bexell’s expertise is wildlife conservation but she also focuses on education.  Conservation education is vital because if residents near a protected area or urban residents (in Chengdu or in the United States) do not know their role in wildlife and habitat loss, they cannot mitigate or prevent further loss.  Her course also gave me the opportunity to design a development project on conservation and community development training for staff in Myanmar’s protected areas.

This research opportunity aligned with my first internship experience in China: shortly after my arrival, I joined Prof. Bexell in Beijing for Red Panda Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA), a red panda conservation planning meeting.  Red pandas are smaller than giant pandas, resembling more of a raccoon than a panda although they share the same habitat and food (see attached picture).  I was able to observe two sessions of the event, which involved 26 individuals from China, several Western nations, and Myanmar.  (Myanmar and the Chinese Yunnan province share red panda habitats.)  After designing a vision for red panda conservation, the group broke into two focus groups to explore red panda population dynamics and threats to the population.

I attended the threat breakout group sessions, which identified bamboo collection practices, poaching, road and dam construction, mining, ecotourism, and timbering as leading sources for population loss.  Attending these sessions was helpful in learning the direct implications of rapid industrial development on ecosystems and animals.  I found myself also examining the United States’ role in this habitat and wildlife loss, as China produces so many of the products that our country consumes.  Even though I live far from China, my lifestyle and consumption has a direct impact on Chinese ecosystems.  Not only am I responsible for loss that has already occurred but by continuing to live the way I do now, I am responsible for future loss that will result as the country works to satisfy global product demands.  I have already seen this in person through my initial visit to Chengdu, the industrial capital of southwest China, where visibility is measured in hundreds of feet, not miles, due to smog and pollution.  (In fact the city is constantly congested, placing into perspective the smog cloud I have seen over Denver when returning from the front range.)  Relatively young buildings are stained by pollution and the rain is acidic.  This is a city of 14 million people and I can only imagine the health consequences this generates for residents.

On a more positive note, I also had the opportunity to explore several areas of Beijing.  Our hotel was located near the 2008 Summer Olympic complex.  I visited Tian’namen Square, the Forbidden City, the summer palace, the Great Wall, and one of the Ming dynasty tombs.  While these experiences were breathtaking and enjoyable, they also provided me with historical knowledge and an understanding of current cultural perspectives.  For example, despite the large number of foreign tourists visiting the Great Wall many Chinese citizens still have limited contact with foreigners.  This is especially true as foreign visitors were restricted during the Community Revolution and subsequent years.  I had Chinese tourists ask to take their picture with me, including entire families, which was a very surprising experience.

I am excited to experience what this internship has to offer.  Next week I will be visiting a rural area outside Chengdu where 8 families have began an organic farming cooperative to attain greater control over their food and health!

Jocelyn

GSSW Associate Dean of Research Looks at Risk and Resilience

GSSW professor and scholar Jeff Jenson’s Aaron Rosen Lecture* was recently published in the journal, Research on Social Work Practice.1 In the article, he summarizes the history of research on interventions to preventing childhood and adolescent problem behavior including the shifts in theoretical orientations across the decades. Beginning in the 1980s, he argues, school-based prevention programs began to integrate social learning theory  and focused more specifically on evidence about risk and protective factors.  In one study completed by Jenson, the Youth Matters curriculum was implemented in half of the sample schools and in those schools there was a significant decrease in bully victimization and relational victimization. In a second study examining the effects of the afterschool program, The Bridge Project – a collaboration between the Denver Public Housing Authority and the University of Denver – Jenson found significant reductions in targeted risks and increases in protection factors.

These and other advances in the practice of prevention are particularly encouraging and the research can help guide practitioners in developing and offering evidence-based interventions to support youth and young adults.

*The Aaron Rosen award is an honor established by the Society for Social Work and Research and the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, honoring Dr. Rosen, with a lecture by a prominent social work researcher whose cumulative work has moved the field of social work forward in terms of integration of research and practice.

1Jenson, J. M. (2010). Advances in prevention childhood and adolescent problem behavior. Research on Social Work Practice, 20, 701-713.

Newest GSSW tenure track faculty member/scholar publishes findings on interventions to reduce cannabis use among adolescents

GSSW faculty member, Kim Bender, along with her colleagues Stephen Tripodi, Christy Sarteschi, and Michael Vaughn conducted a meta-analysis of intervention studies that were published from 1960 – 2008 which examined cannabis use treatment for adolescents (ages 12-19).1 Fifteen research studies met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis. Their results found that not only do interventions to reduce cannabis use among adolescents have a medium effect, but that the effect size of individual treatment and family treatment approaches were similarly effective. Among family-centered approaches, three approaches emerged as having larger effect sizes: Integrated Family and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Multidimensional Family Therapy, and Teaching Family. For individual approaches, Motivational Interviewing, Behavioral Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy emerged as the approaches that were most successful. The findings of this study not only contribute to the literature on evidence-based practice, but also addresses a treatment area where little intervention research has been conducted.

1Bender, K., Tripodi, S. J., Sarteschi, C., & Vaughn, M. G. (2011). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce adolescent cannabis use. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 153-164.

GSSW scholars explore cutting behavior among sexual minority youth

GSSW faculty scholars N. Eugene Walls and Julie Laser collaborated with GSSW doctoral student Sarah J. Nickels and GSSW alum Hope Wisneski to examine the factors that are associated with increased likelihood of engaging in cutting behavior among lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender youth and young adults.1 Across various statistical models, they found that female- and trans-identified LGBQT youth and young adults were at significantly greater risk of cutting than their male-identified counterparts.  Other factors associated with greater likelihood include victimization, homelessness, depression, suicide attempts, smoking tobacco, and having friends in their close friendship network who attempted suicide. The risk for the behavior appears to decrease with increased age and with having an adult teacher, social worker, or other school personnel with whom the youth can talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.

One interesting finding is that youth who were more out about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity were at increased risk of engaging in the behavior.  Since being out is typically associated with greater mental health and resilience, this finding may seem counter-intuitive. However, the researchers point out, that the impact of coming out is frequently contextual – so if youth come out in an environment that invalidates or stigmatizes their identities it would not be surprising to find such a result. More research on the topic of cutting and other non-suicidal self-injurious behavior among LGBQT youth is clearly warranted.

1Walls, N. E., Laser, J., Nickels, S., & Wisneski, H. (2010). Correlates of cutting behavior among sexual minority youth and young adults. Social Work Research, 34, 213-226.

Examination of suicide prevention efforts by GSSW scholar

In a pair of articles published recently, GSSW associate professor, Stacey Freedenthal, explores issues of suicidality in high school contexts. Given the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts among adolescents, the important of her work cannot be overstated. The first article1 – co-authored with GSSW doctoral student Lindsey Breslin – looked at teachers’ experiences with student suicidality. The majority of the teachers reported that, at some time during their teaching career, a student had disclosed either their own suicidality or that of a peer. At the same time almost one half of the teachers had never received any suicide prevention training. Those who had received training were more likely to report that students had disclosed suicidality to them and were more likely to have directly inquired about a students’ suicidality than those who had never received training on suicide prevention. Given the reality that teachers are likely the most consistently present professional in most adolescents’ lives, much needs to be done to adequately prepare them to recognize and respond to signs of suicide risk.

The second study2 found little evidence of change in students’ help-seeking behaviors after the introduction of a high-school based suicide prevention program as reported by the students themselves or by the staff at the school. The one area of improvement found was students’ self-report of utilizing a suicide prevention helpline. The study – one of only a handful of community-based evaluation studies on suicide prevention efforts that looks specifically at behavioral changes – provides a foundation on which future studies can build.

1Freedenthal, S., & Breslin, L. (2010). High school teachers’ experiences with suicidal students: A descriptive study. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 15, 83-92

2Freedenthal, S. (2010). Adolescent help-seeking and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program: An evaluation. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 40, 628 – 639.

Finding Mentorship at GSSW

Faculty and staff at GSSW are a great source of support and provide mentorship important for both my personal and professional development. Through a network of open and willing faculty and staff, I have been able to pursue my academic interests with a focus on research and collaboration. Currently, I am working on an independent study with a faculty member through which I have explored my interests in environmental justice and social work theory and practice. Not only has it challenged me in my writing and critical thinking skills, but it will also culminate in a presentation open to faculty, staff, and students at GSSW. Seeking out mentors who align with my interests and professional goals has been critical for tailoring my social work education to meet my current needs and prepare for life beyond GSSW.

GSSW Scholar publishes on animal-assisted interventions

One of the unique programs at GSSW that really sets the school apart from other schools of social work is the energy and enthusiasm around the human-animal interaction. Not only does GSSW offer a certificate in animal assisted social work practice for MSW students and a post-MSW training program, but we are lucky to have on faculty scholars and practitioners who have extensive experience in the area of animal assisted interventions. Recently, faculty member Philip Tedeschi co-authored two chapters that offer an excellent foundational understanding of animal assisted interventions as well as the ethics around incorporating animals into practice.

The first, co-authored with GSSW Research Faculty member Kate Trujillo and GSSW Dean James Herbert Williams appears in a new book, The role of pets in children’s lives: Human-animal interaction in child development, health, and therapeutic intervention.1 The chapter not only lays out the ethical considerations organizations and practitioners need to take into account when considering incorporating animals into their work, but also lays out the case for the need for evidence-based practice research in this area. 

The second chapter is co-authored by Jennifer Boggs and GSSW Faculty Member Frank Ascione and appears in the book Innovative interventions in child and adolescent mental health.2 In this chapter, different models for animal assisted interventions are laid out, along with different components in the animal assisted intervention. The chapter provides a comprehensive look at the different types of programs that exist, how animal assisted interventions are integrated into different theoretical models, and outlines the evidence of the benefits of animals in the lives of humans.

Together these two pieces provide an excellent foundation for newcomers to animal assisted interventions, and give the experienced social worker who has integrated animals into their practice an overview of the evidence for the efficacy of this work.

1Trujillo, K., Tedeschi, P., & Williams, J.H. (2010). Research meets practice: Issues for evidence-based training in HAI. In McCardle, P., McCune, S., Griffin, J. A., & Maholmes, V. (Eds.), The role of pets in children’s lives: Human-animal interaction in child development, health, and therapeutic intervention, (pp. 199-216). Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing.

2Boggs, J., Tedeschi, P., & Ascione, F.R. (2010). Animal assisted approaches to child and adolescent mental health. In Norton, C. L. (Ed.),  Innovative interventions in child and adolescent mental health, (pp. 96-124). New York, NY: Routledge.