eNewsletter — June 2009 Archives

June 10, 2009

eNewsletter – Vol 1 Issue 2.pdf

June 9, 2009

From the Dean ~ Summer 2009

Thanks to so many of you for such a positive response to our first issue of the School’s eNewsletter. We value your feedback and are working to incorporate suggestions and ideas for future issues. This issue contains some wonderful pictures from the May 2009 graduation, as well as program updates and articles on the research, teaching and service activities within the School — and, you will want to check out the photos from the Community Partners’ Appreciation Luncheon.

I’d also like to direct you to our School of Social Work Alumni Network (SSWAN) update. We are committed in the coming year to more actively connect with our alumni and provide opportunities for networking. If you haven’t done so, please check out the Facebook page for the VCU School of Social Work Alumni Network. One of the items you will see there is how you can obtain a discount on the many continuing education events being offered by the School when you become a member of the VCU Alumni Association! You can also check out the alumni page on the School’s website to get more information. In coming editions of the eNewsletter, we plan to provide alumni updates so you can see the exciting things in which our alums are engaged.

My final note is an appeal to you to consider making a donation to the School of Social Work. The economy has taken its toll on many of our scholarship funds, while at the same time the needs of our students are increasing. For more information about our various scholarships and how you can support the School, please visit the donor page on the SSW website.

Thanks to all of you who support the School in so many ways.

Ann Nichols-Casebolt, Ph.D.

Intercountry Adoption Under the Hague Convention

An interview with Karen S. Rotabi, Ph.D.

Karen Smith Rotabi, Assistant Professor, was recently appointed to the United States Hague Commission for Intercountry Adoption (ICA). This organization operates within the Council on Accreditation and oversees agency approval under the Hague Convention as per U.S. State Department requirements. Dr. Rotabi carries out this role as a part of her service activities and her research agenda includes intercountry adoption and global social work practice. She has carried out a number of agency evaluations throughout the U.S. and, as a Hague Commissioner, votes on agency accreditation. To learn more about her voluntary work and the Hague Convention, we asked her to respond to commonly asked questions:

What exactly is the Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption?

It is an international agreement, signed by approximately 70 nations, which was designed to prevent the sales, theft, and trafficking of children under the guise of intercountry adoption. The U.S. signed the instrument in 1994 and has more recently ratified the Convention. Read the Hague Evaluation to learn more about the Convention.

Is it really necessary to have such an international agreement?

With millions of vulnerable children in the world, some of whom are clearly “orphans,” on the surface it seems outrageous that child theft or sales would take place. However, the unfortunate truth is that, there have been some egregious abuses of child and family rights in impoverished countries. For example, there is the notorious case of Cambodia in which approximately 700 children were “adopted” by U.S. families and later, at the conclusion of a U.S. Federal investigation, the adoption “facilitator,” who was not a trained social worker, was sentenced to a prison term for a variety of offenses mainly related to money laundering. In the course of the investigation, she admitted to bribing Cambodian officials for the necessary paperwork that changed children’s identities. Investigators also found that families were routinely paid for their relinquishment signatures and/or were promised unrealistic long-term relationships with the children. There have been similar problems in Vietnam and Guatemala.

With so many “orphans” in the world, why would people resort to paying for children?

Fundamentally, U.S.-waiting families pay the fees that adoption agencies require and, as such, they do not see themselves as doing anything outside of the boundaries of ICA practices. However, some adoption agencies began charging extraordinary fees and this, combined with real concerns about Reactive Attachment Disorder and other problems of institutionalized children, the cost of adopting a young and healthy child, infants and toddlers, became expensive. That has been the unfortunate reality in the past decade as adoptions boomed and Americans were willing to pay $25,000+ for an adoption from very poor countries such as Guatemala and Vietnam. What started out innocently eventually got out of control with fees ranging upwards to $40,000+. Individuals without any child welfare or human services training saw an entrepreneurial opportunity–both in the U.S. as well as the sending nations–and with little controls in place, negotiations for children sometimes crossed the ethical boundaries that we have agreed upon as social work professionals. Now accredited adoption agencies must justify the fees as professional expenses which are within a reasonable range.

How does the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption prevent these problems?

Adoption agencies that engage with other Convention Nations, such as China, are required to meet a number of criteria, including financial transparency. Prior to the Convention, some agencies provided very little documentation about how the adoption fees were spent (i.e. how much was spent on medical care, food, professional expenses) and some families received an invoice with little to no explanation. Some families also found that they were expected to engage in bribery on the ground when securing final paperwork and this must have been a very distressing experience. Of course, this was not the case in all adoptions as many have been perfectly legitimate and appropriate, but adoption fraud has become a serious problem.

Of course, Guatemala has been mentioned and Vietnam is also an example where child abandonment processes have been questionable–there also appear to be some emerging problems in Ethiopia. New requirements for financial transparency and clearly stated expectations for how money is handled is a step forward when dealing with Convention nations. Unfortunately, Vietnam has only begun to enter the Hague Convention and they are now closed to the U.S. for adoptions due to irregularities. Ethiopia is not a Convention nation and, as such, the rules do not apply to those adoptions. Because Ethiopia is largely unregulated there has been a rush to organize adoption programs there and, it goes without saying, that the risks of problems there are real given the sheer number of vulnerable children and families in the very poor African nation.

Is it realistic that the Hague Convention can really stop bribery and adoption fraud?

It is unrealistic to think that the Convention can stop all adoption fraud, but it has set “rules for engagement” that hold people accountable for their professional activities. Adoption agencies cannot be accredited without appropriate human services professionals. Also, prospective families are now trained for engaging in foreign nations, including the risks at all levels of the adoption (child development, health, and legal processes), and the Convention has lifted the bar in terms of expectations. All of these new requirements should curb the most egregious cases of abuse and adoption fraud.

In your role as an Agency Hague Evaluator and a Hague Commissioner, what have been your most valuable lessons?

I have seen a range of practices from one of the largest agencies in the country all the way down to a small agency that was being run from a “spare room” in the adoption agency director’s home. I’ve seen some excellent practices as well as very concerning problems, such as the variability of home study quality. I am struck by the largely unregulated nature of intercountry adoption work prior to the Convention and I’m relatively impressed by the progress made under the new regulations. The major problems that I see ahead are related to the nations that the Convention does not cover, such as Ethiopia, as well as some poorly defined criteria within agency accreditation. For example, “professional fees” are required for transparency but there is no prescribed range for what is considered ordinary or acceptable. As such, I’ve seen agencies that are still charging large fees continue to operate without the accountability that I would have expected. For example, a handful of U.S.-agencies and attorneys are sending U.S.-born children overseas to European nations and some of those organizations are charging exceptionally high fees. At some point, we have to ask, what is the threshold for child sales of our own children?

Finally, I have been astounded by the functioning of boards of directors for small agencies. This work is risky and the liabilities are great. However, many board members that I have interviewed are fueled by their passions while being largely naive about the risks. Training of agency boards and insuring that boards are functioning as a directive and healthy organizational body is an area for improvement.

To read a recent analysis about the reform process in Guatemala, Dr. Rotabi’s work can be accessed in SocMag, the Social Work & Society Magazine

Teaching Innovation and Support Through Faculty Learning Circles

Kia J. Bentley, Professor and Director of the Ph.D. Program

Member, VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence Advisory Council

For many years in the late 1990′s, around eight faculty here at the School of Social Work gathered every month under the leadership of Dr. Joe Walsh to share experiences in the classroom, both our successes in reaching students and, well, the other attempts. Sometimes we read articles together; sometimes we shared handouts; once we brought in a provocative speaker; but mostly we told teaching stories. The stories were about things like student self-disclosures, grade inflation, building trust and safety, managing content versus process, and nurturing critical and reflective thinking. There were no written goals or strategic plans for the group, no annual reports due on our activities. Indeed, no one told us we had to meet. We wanted to. Teaching was clearly central to our respective identities and all of us wanted to not just be competent, we wanted to be inspirational. We all aspired to facilitate learning transformations in our BSW, MSW and Ph.D. students, and the group helped us with that. At the time, we were only semi-cognizant of the fact that we were what had come to be called a “teaching circle,” or now called a “learning community.” There was a bigger picture about what we were doing.

Now a decade later, VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) has taken the idea of teaching circles and communities to a new level, sponsoring numerous interdisciplinary groups across campus. They describe their “faculty learning communities” (FLCs) as a place where “immersion,” prolonged exploration,” and “active, collaborative, and self-guided exploration” of an issue can happen. Each FLC has unstructured, informal dimensions, yet the CTE also has expectations about outcomes and products. The explicit goal of an FLC is for participants to improve their own teaching practices but also improve teaching across the University by disseminating what is learned with wider audiences. For several years, participants were given an honoraria of $1,000 to spend toward group and individual projects, teaching materials or other products.


Intellectual Curiosity: A Summary from My Doctoral Brown Bag Presentation

Sarah Kye Price, Assistant Professor

When I was a community social work practitioner, I had the opportunity to be curious about many nuances of my client’s lives: their capacities as well as their challenges. Sometimes, I found my own intellectual curiosity stimulated when so many different clients with so many different lives started to express or experience some of the same things. For example, after spending several years in direct practice with older adults, I became curious about the number of older adult women that I saw for grief and bereavement issues that voiced lingering, intense emotions related to pregnancy and childbearing losses that had occurred decades earlier in their lives. Sometimes, they had never spoken to anyone regarding the loss, except their spouse. Their expressions of grief during spousal bereavement seemed uncharacteristically intense, and they would express a commonality of the earlier loss of a child being now intimately connected with the death of their partner in a parental loss that society had not acknowledged. Through these experiences in my professional social work life, I had become quite intellectually curious.

This curiosity first created a desire to focus my practice around bereavement response to perinatal loss and infant death.


O’Connor & Netting’s Organization Practice: A Guide to Understanding Human Service Organizations

A Review by Monica Leisey, Ph.D.

It would not be unusual for an organization practice book to present numerous organizational theories, nor would it be unusual for such a book to assert that critical thinking is an important component of macro social work practice. What one would not expect to find in an organizational practice book, however, is a focus on self-awareness, complexity, and the acceptance of paradox. These three principles are exactly what the authors of Organization Practice: A Guide to Understanding Human Service Organizations assert is needed in order to practice effectively in human service organizations.

The most impressive aspect of this book is that the authors chose to present the complexity of social work organization practice over a more simplistic description. A practice guide, this is not a theory book intent on explicating and giving instructions about how to implement various theories. This book provides a framework useful for thinking about how to be a social worker at the organization level, moving towards the incorporation of difference and diversity as an avenue towards social justice both within the organization and in the organization’s relationships with the greater community.

Using a heuristic borrowed from Burrell and Morgan (1979), the authors challenge (future) practitioners to consider the importance of their own understanding of the world, including their values, how they know the world, and their need for structure, and the influence of that self-awareness on their practice style. The heuristic, divided into four paradigms, warrants multiple types of organizational structures and processes, each uniquely situated and appropriate for the goal of the program, project, and/or organization. There is no inherent privilege asserted to any of the paradigms as each provides benefits and challenges. The goal is to be able to identify which paradigm is more fully expressed and to be able to use that knowledge efficiently and effectively.

Once the paradigm heuristic is described, each individual paradigm is explored from an organization practice perspective, including theoretical perspectives and practice standards. The combination of the conceptual with the practical will assist both the novice and experienced practitioner grapple with the day to day decisions and trials expected at the organization level. This combination also encourages strategic and tactical thinking in the planning and implementation of projects and programs.

While it is expected that each reader will find a paradigm within which she or he feels at home, the authors encourage readers to figure out how to operate from a multi-paradigmatic perspective, recognizing that within organizations it is possible to have numerous perspectives and paradigms in existence at one time. Developing the self-awareness and critical thinking necessary to navigate such paradoxical realities is the focus of this extraordinary book.

Organization Practice: A Guide to Understanding Human Service Organizations

Las Mujeres de Las Pamillas (The Women of Las Pamillas)

International Study Abroad, May 2009

Ten years ago Hurricane George swept across the Dominican Republic and caused devastating damage throughout the country. The community of Las Pamillas in the Hato Mayor region suffered severe losses as homes, schools, stores and roads were destroyed. Families who lost homes moved into the church for temporary shelter. A poor community to begin with, the destruction caused by the hurricane was catastrophic for Las Pamillas. After the hurricane, a group of women organized and went to the government to request help to rebuild their community. The government listened and sent officials to the community to assess the needs. The government responded to the situation by sending trucks of cement, wood, and labor to begin the process of building new homes. The women assisted in the construction work and continued organizing to find group and community solutions to the challenges of rebuilding their community.

Having lived together and cooked together in the weeks following the hurricane, the women formed a strong bond. They represented different ages and levels of education, some had children, most were single, and most were heads of their households. As the houses were rebuilt and they returned to their homes, they realized the value of their living together in promoting the common good for the community but they no longer had a place to meet. They dreamed of building a community center where they could meet as a group and hold classes to receive training and learn vocational skills for small entrepreneurship projects. They went door to door gathering support to ask the government for land for a center. The government granted the women’s group a piece of land, although it was the site of the refuse dump. After working to clear the land, the women began the foundation for their Center. When a new government came into power the land was sold to a buyer who wanted to develop a cock fighting enterprise. The women objected and the government sent in trucks to destroy the foundation that had been started. The women staged a protest, burning tires in the streets, and cutting off transportation into the community. They marched to the governor’s office and presented the legal papers that proved their ownership of the land. The government backed down.

Since then, the Womens Group has continued as a strong force in the community. They have organized additional groups in the surrounding areas, elected officers, and established goals. The Center is still under construction. The overall mission of the group is to create a Center that will enable the women to help themselves and their community. One of the women officers has gone outside of the community to participate in training in community organization and leadership in order to develop skills to apply to the group. Another woman, who is the Secretary of the Group, is married to a baseball player who pitches for the Pirates team in America. They have used their resources to open their home as a gathering place and they have started a baseball training camp for some of the young men in the community. The women have named their group the Asociacion de Juana Saltitoba, after a famous woman who fought along with men in the Dominican War for Independence.

Last week our Study Abroad group spent four days with the women, working together on the construction of the Center, conducting workshops on leadership, team building, and budgeting, and receiving cooking lessons in a variety of Dominican cuisine. During a session on Goal Setting, the women made collages that portrayed their dreams for the Center. Their visions reflected a bustling center of activity where women would meet and small businesses would be housed. The images illustrated dreams of sewing machines for a doll making venture, computers to advance computer literacy, and equipment for a hair and beauty salon.

At the end of our time together in Las Pamillas, we gained an understanding of the power of community organization and community building through a group of committed women. It was evident that these women were held in high respect for uniting their community in the challenges of rebuilding after the destruction of a hurricane. Beyond rebuilding, they held a view for the future to develop a vital and thriving community through economic and social development. The degree of closeness and the passion they share are the strengths behind realizing their goals. The women of Las Pamillas, las mujeres de Las Pamillas, are an inspiration and model for overcoming adversity through mutual support and strong leadership that empowers people to meet the needs and challenges of developing a strong community.


Students at the Don Bosco School for Girls in the Dominican Republic with School of Social Work students Caroline Kaschak, Kristin Lennox, Joy Brock, Kelly Fredrickson, Samantha Newton, Andrea Coye, and Assistant Director of Field Instruction, Randi Buerlein


School of Social Work students working at the construction site of the Womens Center in Las Pamillas, Dominican Republic. (From left) Kristin Lennox, Kelly Fredrickson, Andrea Coye, Randi Buerlein, Director of Field Instruction, Dr. Tim L. Davey, Lydia Davey, Deybi Prado (from the host organzation), Stephanie Wohnlich, Joy Brock, Caroline Kaschak and Samantha Newton.


Samantha Newton and Kristin Lennox taking a break from the construction work as Tim Davey looks on


Samantha Newton and Kristin Lennox make puppets with the children in a rural community school


SSW students work with the children in the community school


Tim Davey & Randi Buerlein on break !

Faculty, Student and Alumni Publications

March ~ May 2009

Adams, K.B., Matto, H.C. & LeCroy, C.W. (2009). Limitations of Evidence-Based Practice for social work education: Unpacking the complexity. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(2), 165-186.

Corcoran, J. (2009). The Depression Solutions Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger

Farmer, R.L. (2009). Review of Recovery from Disability: Manual of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Psychological Medicine, 39, 695-697.

Jones, J.L, MacMaster, S.A., Rasch, R.F.A., Cooper, R.L. (2009) The Experiences of African American Male Commercial Sex Workers At-Risk for HIV: Accessing Outreach Services. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 21(1-2).

Mogro-Wilson, C., Strolin, J., & Matto, H. (2009). Methodological Issues for University Collaboration with a Rural Latino Community and Substance Abusing Population. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 9(2), 204-214.

O’Connor, M.K., Netting, F.E., & Fabelo, H.E. (2009). A multidimensional agency survey.
Administration in Social Work, 33(1), 81-104.


Fifth Annual Community Partners’ Appreciation Luncheon

132 folks attended the 5th Annual Community Partners’ Appreciation Luncheon in Richmond on May 1, 2009. This annual event is one way in which the school shows its appreciation to our partners throughout the community. Dr. Cathy Howard, Vice Provost of the Division of Community Engagement, delivered an inspiring keynote address, “Building University-Community Partnerships”. The Samuel S. Wurtzel Community Agency Partnership Award was given to William Byrd Community House and Ms. Marge Boynton was awarded the Amy Rosenblum Field Instructor of the Year Award. Additional Field Instructor Awards were given to Lynn Anderson and Donna Nunnally.

Click 2009 Field Office Brochure.pdf for a printable copy of the current brochure.


Keynote speaker, Dr. Cathy Howard


The Samuel S. Wurtzel Community Agency Partnership Award is given to William Byrd Community House. Receiving the award from Dr. Tim Davey are Margaret J. Friedenberg, President of the Board of Governors, and Executive Director L. Robert Bolling


Ms. Marge Boynton is awarded the Amy Rosenblum Field Instructor of the Year Award by Dr. Tim Davey


Lynn Anderson receives Field Instructor Award from Dr. Tim Davey and Shanza Isom, Coordinator of Field Instruction


Donna Nunnally is presented with Field Instructor Award by Mrs. Randi Buerlein, Assistant Director of Field Instruction, and Dr. Tim Davey


Dr. Jaci Miller, Field Department Administrative Assistant Lila Garlick and Dr. Amy Rosenblum at the Appreciation Luncheon

Graduate Student Research Symposium

The fifth annual Graduate Student Research Symposium was held April 21, 2009 with more than eighty graduate students taking part. Sharon Foreman-Kready, GSA Symposium Chair, and committee facillitated the day-long event. Read The View article and see more symposium photos in the GSA Photo Gallery.


Sharon Foreman-Kready, GSA Symposium Chair

Linda & Poster.jpg

Poster presentation by Linda Love, A survey research project examining VCU’s MSW alumni knowledge of the current civil commitment legislation § 37.2-80, with Dr. Holly C. Matto at the 2009 Graduate Student Research Symposium

Jessica & Poster3.jpg

Jessica Jagger with poster, Why are children being restrained? Understanding current practice issues to develop targeted restraint reduction strategies