Certificate in equity-minded practice
I am thrilled to be part of the team that is leading this new certificate program at Salem State University’s School of Social Work along with Drs. Lisa Johnson and Yvonne Ruiz. This course was specifically designed for child protection supervisors and managers at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.
This page provides a description of the current course, presents the learning objectives, describes the modules and shares a number of the case studies used in class sessions. We will be adding a new module on child protection practice with LGBTQ+ youth, caregivers and foster parents in the next iteration of the program.
We draw from the paradigm of equity-minded practice in social work education to conceptualize this certificate program, which will support DCF supervisors and managers’ development of knowledge and skills integral to critically culturally competent, intersectional, and anti-oppressive practice (Johnson, Slayter and Simmons, 2021-In press). Equity-mindedness is the perspective or mode of thinking and practice exhibited by practitioners who call attention to patterns of inequity in client processes and outcomes (Council on Social Work Education, 2020). These practitioners take personal as well as institutional responsibility for the success of their clients, and critically reassess their own practices through engaging in reflectivity and reflexivity (Schön, 1983; 1987). Practitioners in this mode are intersectionality-conscious and aware of the social and historical context of oppressive practices in child welfare and ancillary systems.
Our certificate program honors the need for social workers to be aware of a range of social identities, including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, disability, sexuality, socioeconomic status (SES), and immigration status.
At the completion of the certificate program, participants will be able to:
- Explain how their social identities inform their child welfare practice
- Use data to identify inequitable processes and outcomes by social identity statuses
- Discuss influences of various child welfare practices on processes and outcomes related to social identities
- Exercise agency to contribute to equitable processes and outcomes for clients and colleagues of all social identities
- View practice contexts and relationships as influenced by dynamics of privilege and oppression
- Self-monitor interactions with clients and colleagues of different social identities
Program Description, Schedule, Content Delivery
The program will address three areas within the larger framework of equity-minded practice in child welfare.
- Addressing Disproportionality and Disparity in Child Welfare (weeks 1 – 4)
- Reflexivity and reflectivity as tools for anti-racist practice
- Critical cultural competence, intersectionality, cultural humility, and anti-oppressive practice as frameworks for child welfare supervision and practice
- Using data to understand and address racial and ethnic disproportionalities
- Exploring policy mechanisms at the mezzo and macro levels that influence disproportionality and disparity in child welfare processes and outcomes
- Disability and Child Welfare (weeks 5 – 8)
- Learning about disability identity and culture for empowerment of clients
- Identifying and confronting ableism in child welfare practice
- Understanding the social and medical models of disability to inform practice
- Subverting the personal tragedy theory of disability
- Embracing disability justice principles for empowerment-oriented practice
- Becoming disability competent in child welfare practice
- Child Welfare Practice with Immigrants and Refugees (weeks 9 – 11)
- Cultural responsiveness to the multiple psychosocial challenges of immigrant and refugee populations in child welfare practice
- Integration of various approaches to working with immigrant families and children that build upon ecosystems theory, empowerment, strengths-based and collaborative perspectives to child welfare services
- Respect the unique cultures, values, and ethical codes of practice that apply to working with immigrant and refugee individuals, families, and communities
- Competently manage the ethical dilemmas specific to working with immigrant and refugee populations.
- Child Welfare Practice with LGBTQ+ Youth, Caregivers and Foster Parents (weeks 12 & 13)
- Improve understanding of LGBTQ+ identities and to build skills for working with LGBTQ youth and their families
- Best practices with LGBTQ+ parents/caregivers
- Best practices with LGBTQ+ with foster parents
- Managing homophobia in the workforce
- Capstone Experience (weeks 14, 15 & reunion visit)
- Conceptualize and design a project for unit/team/cluster
- Workshop idea with faculty mentor and team-mate
- Present plan to the large group
- Implement plan in area office & report back on experience at reunion
The program will consist of a 15-week online seminar series held twice per year (November-May and May-August). Participants will engage in either bi-weekly or weekly, 90-minute synchronous Zoom meetings from 6 – 7:30 p.m. (day of week TBD) and approximately 90 minutes of asynchronous coursework (e.g., online exercises, discussion posts, and assessments) for a total of three hours and 15 minutes of learning per week. Participants will also be expected to read or view course-related materials in advance of synchronous meetings. A total of 60 CEUs will be available through the SSU School of Social Work.
Certificate program instructors will be drawn from the full time and adjunct faculty of the School of Social Work. Below are the three faculty who will teach in the program during the November 2021 – May 2022 session:
Lisa Johnson, MSW, PhD is an associate professor of social work and has served as interim dean and BSW program coordinator. Dr. Johnson has practiced in both the child welfare and healthcare fields and worked with complex systems for non-profit development and community organizing. Her research and scholarship interests encompass child welfare; diversity, equity, and social justice; workforce development; disability studies, and social work education. From 2009 to 2014, she coordinated the Massachusetts BSW Child Welfare Scholars Project, which supported the education and professional development of students dedicated to practicing in the field of child welfare.
Yvonne Ruiz, MSW, PhD is a professor of social work, is currently serving as Chair of the School of Social Work, and has served as MSW Program Coordinator. She teaches courses in human behavior in the social environment, and social work practice, with specializations on Latinx, immigrant, and refugee populations. Dr. Ruiz has clinical experience in medical social work, community mental health, and behavioral health. As a bilingual and bicultural social worker, Dr. Ruiz integrates equity, anti-oppressive, and social justice approaches in her teaching, scholarship, and practice.
Elspeth Slayter, MSW, PhD is a professor of social work who identifies as a member of the disability community. Dr. Slayter has practiced as a social worker in child welfare, public criminal defense, juvenile justice, disability and education settings. Her equity-focused research and consulting centers around disability, race, and ethnicity in the addiction and child welfare service sectors. She is the co-author of a theoretical practice model that integrates intersectionality, anti-oppressive practice and critical cultural competence frameworks for application to social work with the disability community.
In summary, currently, no other post-master’s certificates offered to DCF supervisors and managers in MA focus on equity-minded child welfare practice. This certificate program can support an increase in culturally responsive, anti-oppressive, and equitable practices in child welfare. Also, the online modality allows outreach to potential participants across the Commonwealth.The online nature of this certificate program will also foster cross-office collaboration between supervisors and managers, something that was very popular during the first iteration of this certificate program.
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CASES USED FOR IN-CLASS LEARNING (All were written or prepared by Elspeth Slayter & Lisa Johnson)
The Yana case
Yana is an 18 month old with suspected intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as cerebral palsy who has trouble feeding. She is diagnosed as failure to thrive, and her medical team has recommended that she get a feeding tube inserted in her stomach. Yana’s parents, Rogelio and Ofelia, disagree about what to do about this. Rogelio is in support of getting the feeding tube. Ofelia is not in support of getting the feeding tube, due to her religious beliefs. She is a Seventh Day Adventist. She states to the medical team that she believes God’s will should play out as it is meant to play out. As a result of this situation, child protective services has become involved and an investigation has led to the case being substantiated. The parents are already in a parenting class for children with special health care needs. The baby is in the hospital, awaiting a court order for the feeding tube, something Ofelia and her attorney will be opposing on religious grounds. Rogelio and his attorney will be supporting the order for the feeding tube. The Department needs to take a position on the feeding tube as well as to make a plan on how to best support this family moving forward.
The case file reads as follows:
Rogelio and Ofelia are Mexican immigrants from the Oaxaca region, where they grew up together. Rogelio is a bit older than Ofelia, and was friends with her older brother when they were growing up. Rogelio is an American citizen, but Ofelia is undocumented. Ofelia is a soft-spoken, light-skinned Latina who is open about the fact that she came across the border without papers. She had also quickly revealed that she experienced significant trauma during her border crossing journey, leaving her with a physical disability for which she uses a cane. The investigator notes that emotional trauma is likely also an issue. Ofelia works under the table as a chambermaid in a small hotel in the city center and leaves Yana with a member of her church during her working hours. Rogelio is a gregarious and outspoken person. He works in construction and is a member of a union. He has dark skin, and lets you know right away that he is no stranger to racism, something he noted to the worker that “Ofelia doesn’t understand.” He was also clear in his view that he expects that the Department will probably treat him the same way, with a racist attitude. The investigator notes that Rogelio takes an almost paternalistic approach in his relationship to Ofelia, and she seems to defer to him in most things. Her refusal to go along with the feeding tube recommendation seems to be an aberration in their relationship, and it is causing great strife between them, which was apparent in the interview. As the investigator spent more time talking with the couple, it became clear that Rogelio has threatened Ofelia with calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) due to her undocumented status, if she did not agree with the feeding tube. He has also apparently told her he will not make good on his promise to marry her and make her a citizen if she does not agree to the feeding tube for Yana. The couple is at a standstill.
Question posed to the group: Discuss your role as a manager/supervisor in helping your team understand the complexities and considerations related to an intersectional approach to practice in one or more of the following areas: working relationship with the Yana case or another family, including community resources, program policies, or larger contextual issues.
The Odean Jeanclaude Case
Scenario: You are a supervisor for the Department of Youth Services, the juvenile justice authority. Your unit specializes in cases that are co-involved with the child welfare system (the Department of Children and Families). Your worker comes in for supervision with a new case. Here are the details:
Your worker was on court duty today in Brooklyn, New York, and was just assigned a new case. She tells you that the DYS attorney had surprised her and had wanted her to come to meet a new client. Odean had come into the attention of DCF as well because once he was brought in on a juvenile case for the stabbing, the school filed a 51A (possible abuse/neglect case) on his caregivers for not following through on the mental health counseling that they had recommended, or for following up on a referral for special education services. Odean was headed off to a residential treatment center due to his violent act, which he had admitted to. He will be receiving a sentence consisting of animal-assisted therapy for at least a year, but the court wants to know if he can finish out his sentence on probation while living with this family (his maternal aunts) instead of spending another year in the residential treatment center. Your worker will be monitoring the case and assessing whether the family is engaged in Odean’s treatment process so they will be able to support him for a return to the community.
Your worker reports the following scenario: “Odean Jeanclaude sat before me with a huge grin on his face. He is eight years old and talking a mile a minute. He is a petite young man with jet black skin and a big afro that seems out of proportion to his slight frame and his age. He wears a “Black power” t-shirt and with a wide grin on his face, asks you how you like it “as a White person.” Odean clearly enjoys engaging in conversations with everyone, he is a charmer, asking all kinds of interesting and intelligent questions and making a great deal of interesting commentary on everything around him in the courthouse interview area. But he is very young, his feet do not touch the floor from the chair he is sitting on. You can hardly believe that this bright, intelligent and engaging child is the child that is accused of brutally stabbing another child in the hand with a fork in the elementary school cafeteria while yelling racist slurs such as “White honky motherfucker,” but you have confirmed that it is indeed the right child.
Further, your worker reports as she interviewed Odean, she learned that he lives with his two maternal aunts, Jensoie and Dansile, who are identical twins. The worker reports that Odean said “They’re not so smart, you’ll see, but they can cook mighty good – you know – Tassot kabrit, Joumou, diri ak djon djon – stuff White people don’t know about whether they want to eat.” “Oh,” he says, “you also pretty much gotta use sign language to talk with them., but not your sign language, our sign language. I mean they can speak but they hard to understand because they Deaf.” Your worker also learn that the aunts are more comfortable in Haitian Creole than in English. You go on to learn that Odean is fluent in sign language – but that it is a Haitian dialect of sign language. You note that this is not the standard American Sign Language that the court interpreters or office interpreters use. Your worker reports that in returning to talk of his aunts, Odean mentioned that he has been with his aunts since birth because “my mom’s a crackhead and has twelve other kids out there somewhere.” You learn that Jensoie and Dansile are also caring for three other of Odean’s older siblings, all of whom appear to still be in the aunts’ custody. You learn that Dansile stays home with the kids, and Jensoie works “cleaning in an office. ” The aunts are also supported emotionally and financially by a large group of extended family members and friends from their Haitian community. You surmise that they are first generation Haitian immigrants who, you are guessing, fled due to political instability, or perhaps the recent earthquake. You surmise that members of the younger generation that support the family are very involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and support the Black power movement and that this has influenced Odean.
Your worker tells you that before she could complete the interview, she and Odean were called into the courtroom for the hearing on his placement at Green Windows, the residential treatment center that specializes in animal assisted therapy. In the small, crowded courtroom, your worker jockeyed for space along with the Department’s attorney the guardian ad litem, their social worker and attorneys and social workers for each of the twin aunts. Your worker reported that no sign language interpreters were present as the hearing commenced, and that Jensoie and Dansile’s attorneys did not request them or address their absence. Your worker reports that she pointed out the problem to the Department’s attorney, explaining that they speak Haitian sign language not American Sign Language and the issue was raised with the Judge who fumes about why nobody brought this to her attention. Jensoie’s attorney reportedly said “We requested an interpreter, but they are not here and also, we have had very little chance to be able to communicate with our clients due to the language barrier. We also don’t think they understand very much anyway, you know.” The Judge was reported to have said “we are at our statutory limitation on how long we can wait with placement so this hearing has to go forth today, we can’t postpone it, can we communicate in writing with these people? I know it will slow things down but we have to get things done. The least we can do is communicate with these caregivers.”
You learn that a Haitian Creole interpreter was brought in to write notes to Jensoie and Dansile. The rest of the hearing was done via quick notes scrawled on legal pads shared with the aunts, who may or may not have understood what was going on. Tempers were apparently flaring due to the slow speed of the hearing and all of the cases waiting in the waiting room outside. The judge allegedly told the aunts’ attorneys “just make sure your clients understand that they have to support the therapeutic process in order to have a chance at reunification with Odean, they must make all the visits and comply with the clinicians guidance at Green Windows.” You note that what the interpreter writes down is a lot shorter than what the judge seems to have said. Your worker says she is pretty clear that the Aunts didn’t fully understand what is happening or where Odean was going. Further, she notes that she felt the aunts were anxious and seemed to be getting angry. The judge ordered your to do a home visit with Jensoie and Dansile within 7 days in order to assess their capacity to participate in the therapeutic process.
Your worker goes on to tell you that what she experienced next was awful and hard to talk about. She says that she noticed that Dansile was watching her during the proceeding. She also noticed that Jensoie and Dansile were the first out of the courtroom and were waiting by the door as she exited the room. As she and the others file out of the courtroom, she walked up to the aunts to introduce herself while she had the interpreter. Before she knew what had happened, Dansile had grabbed several strands of her hair and had said (in very difficult to understand English, due to her speech impediment and accent) “Beware! You took our son!” Jensoie and Dansile then stormed out of the courthouse despite your worker’s efforts to engage them. This does not bode well for the start of the working relationship. The interpreter said to your worker, “she plans to do voodoo on you with those strands of your hair, watch out if you believe in that.” You debrief with your worker, who is visibly shaken. She states “I mean do I even really need to do this assessment for real? Don’t we just terminate parental rights based on disability and the inability to cope? I mean can these women who can’t even communicate well really manage a kid like Odean anyway, really?”
Questions posed to the group: As a supervisor, how will you support your worker with the following:
- Assisting the worker in being reflective and reflexive about any potential bias related to ableism targeted to the caregivers she/he/they may have with or without being aware of it
- Addressing the structural ableism present in the case situation
- Providing culturally competent and responsive case practice with both Odean and the family
- Addressing your worker’s relationship with Odean around race
- Addressing any potential trauma experienced by the worker as a result of the hair incident
- Addressing any safety issues for the worker related to the hair incident
- Anything else you think is important
The de Sousa family case
Your worker is assigned a medical neglect case in which Joseph de Sousa , aged 12, is the identified client. He has juvenile onset diabetes and his parents are charged with not managing his diabetes well. The case was called in by Joseph’s primary care physician after Joseph was admitted to the hospital due to going improper management of his medicine. Your worker notes that his sister Ana, aged 10, also lives in the house, and has not been attending school during Joseph’s hospitalization. The family are first generation Portuguese immigrants from the Azores islands and have pictures of their island Faial (Links to an external site.), on the wall of the apartment. Notes from the response team indicate that the parents, Alphonse and Maria, seem “slow” and your discussion with the workers reveals their views that the parents are considered “not the brightest lights.” Further, the notes indicate that Ana behaves “like a parentified child.”
Joseph is being held in the hospital and your worker is tasked with assessing the home to determine if he can return to the home under supervision of the Department instead of being placed in foster care. The response team has already determined that Alphonse and Maria are estranged from their families, so there are no kinship resources available for placement. In your worker’s telephone call with Alphonse to arrange for the home visit, they notice that he has a hard time keeping the chosen date and time clear in his head.
When your worker arrived at the door of the de Sousa’s apartment, they noticed a stench emanating from behind the door. As they entered the apartment, which was dark due to plywood boards being nailed over all of the windows, they noticed that cockroaches were scattering everywhere across the floor. The worker reported trying for a friendly tone as they casually asked about why the plywood has been nailed over the windows. The mother, Maria answered “to keep the bad people out.” When the worker asked whether bad people have been in the house, Maria said “they have not, but they easily could be, just watch the news. We know how to protect our children” The worker reported that their eyes began to adjust to the dark room as they engaged in conversation with Alphonse, Maria and Ana. Votive prayer candles with religious imagery are burning in several parts of the room. Your worker notices that some of the symbols on the candles come from the Pentecostal church, suggesting a possible source of emotional support for the family. Your worker also reports reports that each member of the family seems to be un-showered, with significant body odor.
Your worker tells you that Ana was the person who welcomed the worker to the home and guided them through the house to show each room. The house was in significant disarray, and was extremely dirty, with empty liquor bottles gathered in one corner of the bedroom. They report seeing several dead mice as they walked through the apartment. They report that there are only two beds in the apartment. Ana is reported to have said “Daddy and I sleep in one, and Mommy and Joseph sleep in the other.” You make a note to have your worker explore this further as soon as possible. Ana is also reported to have commented that her family “lives in humble conditions but loves one another very much, just ask our minister.” Ana also shared that the family attends a local Pentecostal Church which your worker knows to be one that involves high stakes snake bite faith testing. Upon further conversation, your worker learns that the family is closely connected to the church, which consists of Azorean immigrants, and it sounds as though this is in lieu of a family connection.
Your worker reports that once she began talking to Alphonse and Maria about Joseph, the love they have for their son was readily apparent. When asked about what they know about Joseph’s health condition, they provided a basic, but clear statement of what diabetes is all about. Your worker reports that at one point, Maria excitedly grabbed her hand at one point and drew her over to the kitchen, saying “I know just what to feed Joseph to keep him well, I’ll show you!” She had then opened the refrigerator which was stuffed with approximately 30 packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. “You can’t do deep frying for Joseph!” Maria said proudly, “you have to do it the healthy way! I learned it at my Saturday class at the hospital.” With some coaxing from your worker, Maria had explained that she was part of a Parent to Parent (Links to an external site.) support group to learn how to best support children with special health care needs. Your worker tells you, though, that Alphonse interrupted the conversation saying “Maria, I still want my Peri Peri Chicken deep fried with the crunchy batter on the outside like we used to do – I don’t care what Joseph needs, I’m the father of the family and I should get the food I want!” Your worker also tells you that Ana was mortified at this exchange and tried to distract her father.
In reviewing the situation with the Alphonse and Maria, your worker got them to agree to the idea of a cleaning service helping them to regain control of the apartment. They refused the idea of working with an in-house family coach. They also refused to sign release forms for you to speak with the Parent to Parent program nor would they allow the Department to get in contact with their minister. They seemed in shock at the idea that Joseph might not come home to them when your worker explained that the court would be making a decision about what will be happening regarding his discharge, reportedly stating “we are his parents, we get to decide what happens to him after all. We don’t want you in our lives anymore after today – you are nothing but trouble!”
As you listen to your worker, you think that while you can see some promise in Alphonse and Maria’s parenting capacity, you will end up making a recommendation for placing Joseph in temporary foster care as you do not think he will be safe at home. As it turns out, the court barely listens to your worker’s recommendation because the Judge states that she doesn’t think any parent with intellectual or developmental disabilities has the right to parent given all the termination of parental rights statutes that exist for that diagnosis across the country. Decision in hand, you and your worker sit with the family outside the courtroom and try to help them take in what has happened, although they are clearly not really interested in sitting with either of you. “I hate you!” Aphonse says to your worker, a dark-skinned Latinx/Hispanic woman, “this is all your fault.” This is a challenging way to begin the next few weeks’ work in which your worker will have to engage the family on getting the apartment cleaned up, as well as build on the family’s capacity to support Joseph’s dietary and medical needs. Once back in the office, your worker vents her frustration at “always having to work with these retarded parents! Why are they allowed to have babies anyway? It’s so irresponsible! They come to this country and now they are going to live off the system!”
Fast forward six months. Other than an industrially-cleaned apartment that now has the plywood removed from the windows, your worker hasn’t made much progress with Alphonse and Maria. She has confirmed that both parents have a diagnosis of intellectual and developmental disabilities. They take a lot of time to work with on her monthly visits, the waiting list for the parenting class for parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities is a mile long and your worker really doesn’t know what else to do. To make matters worse, Joseph has been placed an hour and a half a way in a medical foster home – the closest one available. To their credit, the family makes their weekly visits like clockwork, navigating the subway, train and a bus to get to the foster care agency in a different county. Things seem to be humming along with everything going well enough- Joseph is healthy, the visits are fine, the house is clean – you think “we just need to get the parents some services and everything will be fine enough – good enough parenting, right?” And then disaster strikes. You get a call in the office one afternoon from the foster care agency – Alphonse, Maria and Ana have kidnapped Joseph from their visitation room during their weekly visit. You are certain that they will be found soon – how far could they go? Indeed, they are soon found in their home apartment. When asked why they took Joseph from the visit, they were allegedly told “It is the Festas do Espírito Santo*, he can’t miss the parade, it only happens once a year! We kept telling the worker, but she didn’t listen to us.”
*Each year in Portuguese communities, especially those with an Azorean background, there are held Festas do Espírito Santo (Festivals of the Holy Spirit). They involve a parade with some dressed up paraders carrying baskets of bread on their heads, the crownings of queens of the festivals and a community meal in each community. Prominently displayed during each festival is a crown topped with an image of a dove. This festival is usually held on Pentecost Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter, but could be held on any Sunday between Easter and Pentecost Sunday.
Questions posed to the group: As a supervisor or manager, how will you support your worker with the following after the initial meeting and initial court date?
A) Assisting the worker in being reflective and reflexive about any potential bias related to ableism she/he/they may have with or without being aware of it
B) Addressing the structural ableism present in the case situation
C) Assisting the worker in being culturally competent and responsive case practice with the family
As a supervisor or manager, how will you support your worker with the following after the abduction situation?
D) How will you be alert for ableism NOT to be a factor in this situation?
As a supervisor or manager, how do you incorporate the principles of disability practice in your work related to this case situation?
E) Community inclusion
G) Nothing about us without us
H) Circles of support
I) Dignity of risk
How does this case situation further inform your thinking about data–what you have access to, what you might need, and how it could be utilized in your practice as a supervisor/manager?
The Ji-tae Kwok Case
A worker delivers a new case to you across your desk saying “here’s some more weirdo parents.” You begin reading the report before you have to assign it to one of your workers. Ji-tae, is a 6-year-old Korean American boy who, according to his parents, had an earache, and was seen at his primary care physician’s office. His doctor quickly diagnosed otitis media and talked with Ji-tae’s parents about treatment. You note that Dr. Pittman also inquired about a wound on Ji-tae’s face, which his parents attributed to self-harming behaviors, but this does not appear to be followed up on.
Ji-tae’s behavior troubled Dr. Pittman far more than his inflamed eardrum. Ji-tae reportedly did not make eye contact or respond to her questions. Ji-tae flinched whenever she approached him, cried out in fear when she peered in his ear with an otoscope, and hopped up and down, shaking his hands compulsively, several times during the visit. When Dr. Pittman questioned Ji-tae’s parents about his behavior, they told her he had been diagnosed with autism at age 4. His development, they reportedly said, was delayed. Dr. Pittman also reported that both parents appeared to have autistic-like behaviors as well.
Dr. Pittman asked what treatment Ji-tae’s parents had sought for him for autism, and the parents’ answer shocked and upset her. They were members of the autism self-advocacy movement (Links to an external site.) and believed that Ji-tae’s condition was simply an example of neurodiversity and was not pathologic. They clearly cared for their son very much, attending to him carefully during the clinic visit and telling Dr. Pittman how they home-schooled him after the public school system failed to meet his social and educational needs. They noted that they accepted Ji-tae just as he was and were determined to provide him with lifetime care by any means necessary.
The report went on to say that Dr. Pittman viewed Ji-tae’s situation differently than the parents. She stated that she knew that with proper therapy and medication his condition could improve considerably—but only if treatment were begun as soon as possible. She worked at a nearby autism clinic, where Ji-tae could probably qualify for long-term treatment such as ABA therapy. When she mentioned this to Ji-tae’s parents, they were adamant that they wanted nothing to do with it and mentioned that they had read in Today’s Parent that ABA therapy was abusive (Links to an external site.). They were steadfast in their belief that Ji-tae’s condition required absolutely no medical or behavioral intervention. Dr. Pittman described the parents as rigid and hard to communicate with despite her training from the Massachusetts-based May Institute on autism (which has a guide on communicating with adults with autism (Links to an external site.)).
Dr. Pittman had encountered many adult patients with culture-based opinions about their health problems that she found hard to understand, but this was the first time she’d disagreed so fundamentally with parents about a situation that she believed would harm their child by limiting his future opportunities. She fought the urge to reprimand them for what she considered their neglect of his debilitating developmental problem. She did not at all see neurodiversity as a culture. Viewing their treatment of Ji-tae as child endangerment, she felt she was justified in calling in a 51A. The case was substantiated, but Ji-tae remains in the home under supervision of the Department. None of your workers have specialized training in practice with the disability community, and you are not sure who is best suited to get the case.
Questions posed to the group: As a supervisor or manager, how will you support your worker with the following after the initial meeting and initial court date?
A) Understanding how the models of disability play out in this case (social and medical)
B) Delivering disability culturally competent and responsive case practice with the family
As a supervisor or manager, how could you incorporate the principles of disability practice in your work related to this type of case situation?
C) Community inclusion
E) Nothing about us without us
F) Circles of support
G) Dignity of risk
Case adapted from Moon (2010) (Links to an external site.)
The Sada Gonzalez* case
Last week, you were introduced to a set of basic guiding principles for practice with disabled people in your Chapter 1 reading (see that reading here). Read this case as a group and answer the questions at the bottom of the case as a team.
- Community inclusion
- Dignity of risk
- Nothing about us without us
- Circles of support
Summary: Sada Gonzalez is a 21-year-old woman who has a developmental disability. She gave birth to Daya, and two days later DCF removed the baby from Sada’s custody while she was recovering from childbirth in the hospital. Ms. Gonzalez lives with her parents, who do not have developmental disabilities. Her parents have continually intended to provide her support in parenting her child. Ms. Gonzalez’s mother, Kaya, quit her job to provide full-time support for Sada and Daya.
Information about Sada Gonzalez’s developmental disability: Due to Sada’s developmental disability, she requires repetition, hands-on instruction, and frequency in order to learn new things. She has difficulty reading and following oral instructions, and explains that she learns best visually and through practice.
Information about Sada Gonzalez’s life: Sada lives with her parents in rural Massachusetts. Sada volunteers for an organization in her community matching families with donated clothing and household items. Sada is finishing a few courses in a special education program in her high school in order to obtain her diploma. Mostly, Sada aspires to parent Daya – to teach her to hike and fish. Sada has realistic expectations and acknowledges that it would be difficult to care for Daya on her own, and fully recognizes that she needs the assistance of her parents.
Removal of Daya Gonzalez by DCF: While Sada Gonzalez was in the hospital, recovering from giving birth to Daya two days earlier, DCF received a report containing allegations of neglect stating she “was not able to comprehend how to handle or care for the child due to the mother’s mental retardation.” Investigators said she had difficulties holding and feeding Daya, and that she had to be reminded by an investigator to burp the baby and clean spit out of the baby’s mouth. Sada was uncomfortable at changing the baby’s diaper. Sada forgot to feed Daya during one night shift. Sada explained to the investigators that she could not read an analog clock, which is why she had trouble remembering when she last fed her daughter. Sada also reported that she started keeping a journal to track feedings.
The Grandparents’ plans to support Daya and Sada Gonzalez: Kaya Gonzalez, intended to assist Sada with parenting Daya. DCF was concerned because the Gonzalezes had been involved with the agency in the 1990s, although all services to the family were closed based on the Gonzalez’ cooperation and successful completion of a service plan. No current or recent safety concerns were noted and ample baby supplies were in the home. The Gonzalez’ family-supported parenting plan involves Kaya and Samuel Gonzalez obtaining guardianship and responsibility for making educational, medical, and other significant decisions, while Sada would live in the home and learn how to care for her daughter with her mother’s assistance. However, DCF decided to place the baby in a non-kinship foster placement.
Reasons for non-kinship foster care placement: Sada was “unable to recognize, comprehend and react to the demands of an infant. . . . The concerns are there are no services in place. . . . [Daya] needs to come into foster care at this time. There are concerns with [Sada’s] ability to meet the basic needs of a newborn child.” DCF also noted that Sada and her parents had a previous history with DCF and that she has “serious developmental delays.”
Sada’s early visits with Daya: Sada had some difficulty with feedings, diaper changes, and transitioning Daya between people. DCF also noted that Sada walked away from the changing table on a couple of occasions, during supervised visits. Since that time, Sada has participated in numerous parenting classes and her parenting skills have improved significantly.
Interventions from DCF: Over the next two years, DCF provided basic supports and opportunities to Sada while she sought to reunify with Daya. Visitation was set at once per week for one hour, despite Sada’s request for more frequent visits. Visits were supervised by DCF outside of the family home. DCF would not permit Kaya Gonzalez or vocational support caseworker specializing in work with parents with disabilities to assist/teach Sada for most of the visits. The frequency of visits was reduced to once every other week after seven months, when DCF changed Daya’s permanency planning goal from reunification to adoption. Sada participated in and successfully completed DCF-sponsored parenting classes.
Late assignment of a parent aide: Sada agreed with DCF’s requirement for her to work with a parent aide during her visitation with Dana to learn and utilize effective parenting skills. A parent aide is a trained individual who provides support and strengthens parenting skills. However, DCF failed to provide Sada parent aide services for more than eight months and only provided these services after it already decided that Sada would not be fit to parent Kaya and changed the goal to adoption. Even after the parent aide was secured, DCF limited the parent aide’s participation to the last thirty minutes of Sada’s visits with Kaya. The parent aide was otherwise tasked by the agency with teaching Sada parenting skills using a “life-like” doll.
Daya’s treatment by her foster parents: Numerous safety concerns were noted in Daya’s pre-adoptive foster care placement. In two years, Daya received a black eye, bumps, bruises, scrapes, burnt hands on two occasions, and was left unattended on a kitchen table when she was only a few weeks old.
Answer these questions about the guiding principles:
- How does this case relate to the principle of community inclusion?
- How does this case relate to the principle of self-determination?
- How does this case relate to the principle of dignity of risk?
- How does this case relate to the principle of nothing about us without us?
- How do “circles of support” factor into this case?
- How does this case relate to the principle of interdependence?
- Do you see ableism manifested in this case? If so, in what ways?
- How would you have approached supervision or management of the workers/teams in this case?
*This case is based on the Sara Gordon case