UT School of Social Work

Social workers took the phrase “we support our troops” to the next level at the Military Social Work Conference, hosted by the UT School of Social Work, where more than 150 behavioral health practitioners and educators gathered Thursday through Saturday.

Social work professor Allen Rubin said he organized the conference after co-editing the “Handbook of Military Social Work” and developing UT’s first military social work course last fall.

One panel on Friday discussed what methods work best in teaching students different treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders common in the military and veteran populations.

Participants discussed dealing with issues such as large class sizes, as well as using role-play, evidence-based practices and direct work with military personnel, veterans and their families.

“I’m seeing a change in my students,” Rubin said. “They’re recognizing the sacrifices that are being made by our military personnel and their families, and I’m seeing a lot of movement among our students now toward this field of practice.”

Rubin said because the number of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq will overwhelm the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is
important to equip civilian social workers and community behavioral health providers with the knowledge needed to work with the military and veteran populations.

“I think it’s a community and societal responsibility,” said Eugenia Weiss, co-editor of “Handbook of Military Social Work.”

The current war is different from others partly because the enemy often uses civilians to carry out acts of terror, leading to more severe psychosocial problems for members of the military, Rubin said.

“Unlike any other war in our history, military families and military personnel are virtually the only people being asked to sacrifice for this war,” Rubin said.

Common stressors for military families include constant relocation and multiple, frequent deployments, Weiss said.

After the military personnel come home, they are hypervigilant because the combat zone offers no clear enemy. This takes several months of readjustment, which is difficult for service members and families, Weiss said.

All social workers, regardless of their area of practice, will encounter clients associated with the military, so it is important to understand the field, said Liz Nowicki, director of professional development.

Rubin said because of these significant needs, the School of Social Work is considering hosting this conference annually.

An increased need for bilingual health care workers in Central Texas prompted a Texas organization to donate more than $2 million to the UT School of Social Work to attract bilingual students into the school.

The St. David’s Foundation, which invests proceeds from St. David’s HealthCare for the Central Texas community, granted the School of Social Work these funds to bring in more bilingual students to work with Texas’ growing Hispanic population. The bilingual program grant is the largest grant in the school’s history. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work, said this grant is thinking ahead in terms of what the Texas population is going to need in the future by making social workers available to Spanish-speaking families.

“This is an extraordinarily generous decision by the St. David’s Foundation,” Zayas said. “We have a tag line at the school that says ‘For every one social worker, thousands of families will be touched."

This award will distribute $10,000 each year to ten master’s students in the bilingual scholars program, which trains students who intend to work with the Spanish-speaking population in Central Texas to provide mental health care services. In addition to the more than $2 million award, a $50,000 grant was given to fund masters’ degree students in the Gerontology Resources and the Aging Community in Education program who are working with older adults. Ten students will receive $10,000 the first year, and five students in their second year.

Social work professor Michael Lauderdale said a large part of Texas’ population is Hispanic and it is important to know how to serve this group by understanding their language and culture.

“This grant will certainly affect the kinds of students coming into social work,” Lauderdale said. “I am hopeful that this funding will bring students in that have a background in that area and want to work with this population.”

Roberto Rodriguez, senior program officer for Healthy Living and Healthy Futures at St. David’s Foundation, said the endowment at the school builds upon an initiative initially funded by the Hogg Foundation to provide scholarships to bilingual social work students.

“We are pleased to partner with the UT School of Social Work to create in perpetuity significant scholarship support for bilingual students who can provide care to an increasingly diverse population in Central Texas,” Rodriguez said. “We believe this scholarship support is an important strategy for recruiting more qualified students into the field of social work by lessening the economic barriers to their graduate studies.”

Rodriguez said St. David’s Foundation also funds many behavioral-health-providing agencies in the community, many of which rely on licensed clinical social workers to provide cost-effective mental health services to populations in need.

“Many of these agencies serve a large Spanish-speaking population, and we have often heard from them about the need for more bilingual social workers to best serve the community need,” Rodriguez said.

More than 200 volunteers gathered at the UT School of Social Work on Sunday before breaking into groups to conduct the annual Travis County Homeless Count.

Volunteers met at the headquarters where they were assigned to teams and to a section of the county that they surveyed on foot. This year, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a homeless advocacy group, divided the Austin area into 25 sections.

Volunteers returned the data to headquarters Sunday, but the coalition will not know the final number until today. Last year, volunteers counted more than 800 homeless people throughout the greater Austin area, although the number has been as high as 2,000 in
previous years.

“We need accurate data to let the federal government know we need funding,” said Dawn Perkins, a volunteer coordinator with homeless advocacy group Front Steps.

The Austin Area Homeless Coalition, which evolved into the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, started the Travis County Homeless Count in 1994. The coalition brainstorms ways to decrease the number of homeless people in Austin and ways to improve the lives of homeless people, said Rick Rivera, chair of the coalition’s count and survey committee.

The definition of a homeless person is not limited to someone living on the streets, but anyone without permanent housing such as individuals living in cars. Although coordinators instruct volunteers not to distribute money or food, they do distribute articles of clothing, typically socks or gloves.

“It’s important for community members to be engaged and to actually see those that are homeless,” Perkins said.

According to the Travis County Homeless Count website, the homeless count has three main goals — to get an annual count of people living on the streets, to provide local service providers with statistics and to get the community involved.

Most importantly, it is about community education and identifying the scope of the issue, Rivera said.

Rivera said community involvement is vital to the process because volunteers primarily conduct the count. The volunteers survey many different areas of Travis County ranging from urban to rural, from downtown to the greenbelts.

Barbara Rush, who has volunteered for the past three years, said she took her 16-year-old son with her the first year she volunteered.

“It gave him a very different view of who the people are who are homeless,” Rush said.