Announcements — February 2010 Archives

February 25, 2010

School mourns loss of doctoral student

Faculty, students and staff of the School of Social Work, as well as friends of the school all over VCU, are deeply saddened at the death of doctoral candidate Robin Michele McKinney, who passed away unexpectedly on Sunday evening, February 21, 2010. A funeral service was held on Saturday, February 27th, 11:00 A.M., at Mimms Funeral Home in Richmond, VA with a post-service reception at the Scott House on the Monroe Park campus of VCU.

Funeral Remarks by Dr. Kia J. Bentley, Director

Ph.D. Program in Social Work, Virginia Commonwealth University

Robin came to us in 2007 with a UVA undergrad degree and an MSW from one of our country’s top schools, some of the highest test scores we’ve seen in our program applicants, and a long and rich practice background in health and mental health settings as counselor, case manager, supervisor, outreach worker and project coordinator. We supported Robin with our most competitive scholarships, and as you have heard, she was currently a doctoral fellow in our professional organization’s highly respected Minority Fellows Program.

Two years of rigorous full-time Ph.D. coursework was behind her, successful completion of the three-day comprehensive exam process had been achieved; Robin was traveling the country giving presentations on issues of importance to the African American community; just last semester she had totally blossomed in teaching her first course, a course in social justice; she and Dr. Dungee-Anderson were collaborating on her first senior-authored publication summarizing her research on perceptions of African American clergy about domestic violence issues; and she was in the first stages of working on her dissertation. Her chair, Dr. Liz Cramer, had just put the first round of editorial feedback on her research proposal in her mail box last weekend.

And what was she going to do? Research: to help us understand disparities as they relate to African American women and intimate partner violence. How do racism, classism, unequal access to services, and stereotypes contribute to our inadequate response to this problem, resulting in dramatically more negative outcomes for African American women, as compared to others, including more severe injuries and higher death rates ? Robin was then going to use her knowledge to propose culturally relevant and responsive solutions. So you see, Robin was poised for greatness as a scholar, teacher and leader.

Most of you know the VCU school community gathered on Monday, just hours after hearing the news, to acknowledge the unbelievable loss and to be together in community, our strength and signature.

It was clear then, and is today, that in the Ph.D. program and in the School, Robin was well-loved, a mentor to other students, and a trusted friend to staff, peers and faculty. Indeed, even I was one of Robin’s 455 Facebook friends!

Tenacious, optimistic, funny, and authentic…..we will find ways to remember Robin and celebrate, not only the difference she would have made in our field, but the difference she did make in our lives.

2009 Welcome Dinner 027.jpg

Robin McKinney with Dr. Kia J. Bentley, Director of Ph.D. Program, at 2009 Student Welcome event

Deanship Candidates Announced!

Candidates have been announced for the deanship of the School of Social Work: Dr. Timothy L. Davey, Dr. James Edward Hinterlong, and Dr. Anna Marie Scheyett. Information about these candidates as well as a schedule of campus visits for each is available at

February 19, 2010

April is VCU Alumni Month

Join the alumni associations for a month-long series of events and activities for VCU alumni. For an up-to-date listing of events, visit

Choi Defends Dissertation Proposal

Congratulations to Youn-Joon Choi, who successfully defended the proposal for her dissertation earlier this month. Her project is titled “Determinants of clergy behaviors promoting safety of battered Korean immigrant women”. Joon’s dissertation committee, chaired by Dr. Elizabeth P. Cramer, has Drs. Patrick Dattalo and Ellen Netting from the School of Social Work, and Dr. Sarah Jane Brubaker of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, as supporting members.

Alumnus Jon Singletary Named an Endowed Chair at Baylor University


Jon Singletary, Ph.D. 2003, has been named the Diana R. Garland Chair in Children and Family Studies at the Baylor University School of Social Work, an inaugural endowed position, effective June 1, 2010.

Excerpted from Baylor University News

“Our search committee advertised nationally and we received an excellent pool of applicants, but we came to the conclusion that none was as qualified as [one] of our own faculty,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work.

Singletary joined the school in 2003 and was tenured in 2009. He is an associate professor and has been the director of the School’s Center for Family and Community Ministries since 2005.

“That the chair was named for our dean, funded by a member of our Board of Advocates and others, and then filled by a current member of the faculty, I think really celebrates who we are and what we do here in the School of Social Work,” Singletary said.

An anonymous donor gave the lead gift for the Garland chair in 2005. Babs Baugh of San Antonio completed funding through a gift to the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation.

“Diana has been a hero to me since her days at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” said Baugh, who currently serves on the Schools Board of Advocates, an advisory group. “Diana’s interest in involving churches with social work is particularly wonderful and should be looked on with great anticipation by churches all over the country. She is one of the brightest stars in Baptist life.”

Singletary’s areas of research and publication include congregational early childhood education, family violence and elder care. Currently he is involved in an initiative to measure the support for family and community models of care for vulnerable children in various regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Vulnerable children are usually defined as orphans and those suffering with AIDS. For the first time, two graduate students from the school are interning in Kitale, Kenya this semester, and Singletary serves as their faculty adviser. He traveled with them in January to help the students get settled into their internship roles.

“I can’t forget that I’m part of a global community also and that those are my brothers and sisters struggling to keep their families together,” he said of his interest in this topic.

“I want to learn from our neighbors how to ask the right questions. One of the values of our profession is self-determination, and so we need to listen and learn and help our clients, or in this case our global neighbors, think through the oppressing factors and listen as they arrive at their own solutions.”

Garland appreciates the opportunity [this] appointment will provide for adding new scholarship and knowledge to the social work profession, especially in the ways it intersects with the church and faith-based organizations. “There is a real need in our profession to provide relevant research and knowledge that addresses the interface of faith and practice to pave the way for practitioners who feel called to address client needs holistically,” she said. “Baylor School of Social Work is uniquely qualified to make that contribution.”

February 16, 2010

Richmond Field Applications Due 3/7/10!

March 7

Richmond field applications due for all students B.S.W. (Junior and Senior) & M.S.W. (Foundation and Concentration) beginning field in Summer 2010 or Fall 2010

February 2, 2010

VCU Faculty member makes statement regarding Haitian orphans

When considering a response to the thousands of children in Haiti who have been displaced from their families or even “orphaned(1),” it is essential that we be cautious in humanitarian steps forward. Right now, children are being flown into the USA on humanitarian visas for medical care. For example, the Shriners Hospital of Springfield, Massachusetts has a specialty in Orthopedics and they are receiving a small number of children for care. “Once these children enter into a phase of rehabilitation, they will need temporary care with families in the USA and we are already beginning to work on that issue” said social worker DeGuerre Blackburn, Executive Director of Voices for International Development and Adoption (VIDA). Blackburn, who has been consulting with the project emphasized that DNA tests will be essential because eventually reuniting these children with their families in Haiti, whenever possible, is the number one priority. Because some of these children have uncertain identities, as is the case with major disasters, creating a DNA databank is essential in Blackburn’s opinion. VIDA is currently taking the lead in investigating the options for DNA testing and developing a strategy for this small group of children.

From this author’s perspective, having extensively researched the problems of adoption fraud even with the use of DNA in Guatemala, a process that has insurances of test reliability and validity will be essential. While VIDA’s ethical approach will work for a small group of children, there is a need for such a response nation-wide and for all of the children who arrive in the USA from Haiti.

In the big picture, tasking a third party organization with a strong information management system which has no financial interest in intercountry adoption will be critical to a step towards developing a system which has the best interests of the child at heart. This may be a government organization or even better, a reputable non-governmental organization which can quickly and assuredly set forth the process, collaborating with the private sector which can donate the tests as a part of their humanitarian disaster assistance. Developing protocol for such a DNA testing and information management system could provide valuable lessons for disaster management and humanitarian aid on a global-basis.

Such a system would insure that the best interests of the child with the primary goal of child reunification with their family or kinship group. While we may argue how to do this efficiently, the fundamental value for a systematic and ethical child welfare response is non-negotiable.

As in the case of other disasters and war, there will inevitably be individuals and groups who attempt child rescues without appropriate paperwork or clearance to do so. Already, within 18 days of the earthquake, news reports indicate that members of a USA-based faith organization have already been arrested in the Dominican Republic(2) for child trafficking. “This is no real surprise given history” states Dr. Kathleen Bergquist, Social Work Professor of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The Haiti incident even smacks of a similar incident in Chad with “Zoe’s Ark,” a French group which attempted to airlift children out of the war zone related to Sudan. In an article entitled “Operation babylift or babyabduction?” Bergquist reminds us that the individuals arrested faced charges and ultimately there was a disappointing response from the French government in terms of law enforcement(3). At the end of the day, because they really did not hold their citizens accountable for attempted child trafficking,(3) the illegal behaviors of these French citizens acting in Africa were ultimately dismissed. This leaves us to wonder how the actions of “humanitarians” engaged in private and illegal airlifts of children will be treated by law enforcement in the future.

At this time, the number of children who will come into the USA legally under humanitarian visas for medical purposes is not being reported in the press on an official basis. Obviously, the citizens of the USA stand ready to help as neighbors of the island nation. Tracking these children will be best accomplished through coding the visas under which the children will travel, identifying them as specifically for Haitian children receiving humanitarian medical aid. This can offer a way of tracking children’s whereabouts over time for the necessary monitoring. Because these visas must be renewed, the US Department of State will be able to respond to the inevitable challenges of the aforementioned DNA match in the cases of children with uncertain identities. This would be a second data point for the management information system tracking the children.

Regardless of how our policy makers handle the early stages of child rescue, it will be imperative for social workers to continue to voice caution for anyone hoping to adopt a Haitian “orphan.” Already, there are indications of scams being perpetrated with USA families being approached with the opportunity to “adopt,” and unscrupulous individuals requiring upfront fees and payments for such an adoption. With the exception of the adoptions that were already in process when the earthquake hit Haiti, there are no new adoptions at this time. Inevitably, things will change in time, but in these early days social workers must caution hopeful families and, when called to assist with adoptions, only coordinate with reputable organizations. It is important to remember that not all of those whom that call themselves “adoption professionals” have the credentials or ethical practice experience of child welfare placement, especially in the context of disaster.

From a policy perspective, the USA government will again be tasked with developing sound short-and long-term child welfare policies to ensure the best interests of the child. Because Haiti is not a Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (HCIA) signatory nation, the USA’s commitment to that international standard does not apply. As Bergquist (2009) points out, even if the standard did apply, the HCIA has inadequate guidance for natural disaster and we learned this to be true for the children of the Tsunami of 2004 which killed over 200,000, orphaning or displacing countless children from their families. As we move forward, there is a call for the development of policy which truly responds to the practicalities of disasters and the needs of children, drawing upon the technology of DNA tests and skilled database management combined with ethical social work practice.

Finally, from a psychological perspective, Dr. Judith Gibbons of the Saint Louis University reminds us that “the research literature on helping children get through crises,

including war and natural disasters, suggests that they need normalization…so, even the best intentioned shift in their environment – to a different language, culture, food, caretakers, carries with it additional stress, and a delay in psychological recovery.” Because many of these children are being air lifted in this crisis, it is essential that we consider how we treat these children in a culturally-competent manner, including involving Haitian social workers and psychologists in the process whenever possible. They can work in the child’s language and attend to the needs that Haitians understand best from their cultural lens.

For more information about the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, see the author’s website

1. It should be noted that the provocative term “orphan” is often mis-used. Often children who are without family care are called “orphans” yet they do have living relatives who are just unable to care for them due to circumstances, such as natural disasters. With proper assistance, many of these children can be reunited with their families. Also, it should be noted that there are single orphans and double orphans and this denotes the loss of one parent or both parents, respectively.

2. The Dominican Republic, the other nation located on the small island in which Haiti is found, has long been concerned about issues of human trafficking of Haitians into their small neighboring nation. Haitians have historically been trafficked into the Dominican Republic for the purpose of servitude, underscoring issues of race and economic prosperity which divide these two poor nations. For a variety of reasons, there is no doubt that the Dominican Republic is actively engaged in monitoring human trafficking and migration along their border so as to avoid their own humanitarian crisis related to thousands of Haitians fleeing into their nation.

3. See Kathleen Bergquist’s (2009) analysis of the situation of Zoe’s Ark and humanitarian assistance and child rescues in times of war and disasters. Entitled: Operation Babylift or Babyabduction?: Implications of the Hague Convention on the humanitarian evacuation and ‘rescue’ of children. International Social Work,52 (5), 621-633.

Karen Smith Rotabi, PhD, LMSW, MPH

Assistant Professor

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work

1001 West Franklin Street

Richmond, VA 23284-2027