September 10, 2012

May I Sit Down? Safety vs. Dignity Engaging Clients during ACT Home Visits

At Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), social workers provide mental health care to clients both in the office and in the community. During the hours of 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, the ACT Ypsilanti team travels to the homes of 7-12 clients each day to provide at home care. During this visit, social worker provides Am eyes-on medication and observe the client set-up his/her medication in a med box up to the next time s/he will be visited. The social worker also conducts a mental status exam and inquires about whether the client needs any resources or assistance. The whole visit lasts approximately 10-15 minutes, and for the entirety of the visit, the social worker remains standing, while the client often sits.

Current ACT written policy states that the social worker should remain standing as a personal safety precaution (ACTA 2011). Other similar safety precautions involve keeping the client’s door open, and standing between the client and the door. These written policies are in place to protect the social worker from potential violence. Unwritten policy states that the social worker should remain standing so as not to contract bed bugs (White 2012). While this unwritten policy may not be true for all ACT teams, it is one that is viewed with great importance by Ypsilanti ACT team. The threat of bed bugs residing in seat cushions and cloth fabric, or even carpet causes much distress to the Ypsilanti team, and the team takes great precautions to remain standing with pant legs rolled up.

The issue of a standing social worker first came to my attention when conducting a home visit. The client, who often presents with labile affect, yelled “just come in. You people never sit down, so let’s go to the kitchen”. For a social worker to remain standing while having a fifteen minute conversation with a seated client is controversial because of the research that has been conducted on the importance of being on the same level as clients. Although safety concerns are valid, standing while clients sit may not be conducive to helping clients. Even though written and unwritten policy states that the social worker should remain standing during home visits, standing causes a disconnect between the client and social worker because it creates a power dynamic in which the social worker is superior to the client.

Although there is already a power dynamic in place when a social worker visits a client’s home, this power can change based on the type of interaction between the individuals. In fact ACT strives to alter the power relationship between the helpers and help-seekers through home-based treatment. Home based treatments allow clients to continue to reside on their own and give them back independence over their lives, empowering them and allowing them to maintain dignity. This is based on the mission of ACT which is “to promote, develop, and support high quality assertive community treatment services that help improve the lives of people diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness” (ACTA 2011). With a mission statement promoting the improvement of those with mental illness, it seems clear that empowering clients to be independent would be one way to achieve this mission.

One of the best evidence-based practices for improving relationships between case workers and clients during home visits is for the social worker to act as a guest and allow the client to act as the host (Muir-Cochrane 2000). By acting as a guest, the social worker relinquishes power and gives it to the client, creating a more balanced relationship. This can be especially helpful for clients who have an alternative treatment order (ATO), and do not want treatment, and who find having a social worker at their home to be invasive. In a study of nurses who conducted home visits, Muir-Cochrane (2000) found that acting as guest in a client’s home made a profound impact on the client’s mental health because it shifted the power dynamic and empowered the client. The client felt that s/he had control over his/her home and life. However, acting as a guest also involves sitting down when invited to by the client. Similarly, clients could choose not to ask workers to sit down, and by having control over this decision, there was a more evenly balanced power dynamic between the worker and client.

Other research has also discussed the importance of being at the same eye level as a client. Lawrence-Weiss (2010) has found that regardless of the client’s age, one of the most effective ways to assist a client in building self-esteem is to speak to them at eye level. Lawrence-Weiss suggests that if a client stands, then stand; if a client sits, then sit, kneel, or bend over because this allows a client to feel validated. Furthermore, speaking to a client when not at eye level can induce frustration at not being truly heard or understood. It creates an unbalanced power relationship in which the social worker is superior to the client.

Standing while a client sits may also have important cultural implications that lead a client to feel inferior to the social worker. According to Cultural Competency Guides, it is important when working with clients of other cultures, that the social worker shows utmost respect for a client (Saldaña 2001). It further states that a client may not be as engaged in treatment if s/he perceives social distance between self and the worker. It seems that by communicating on different planes, and not maintaining the same eye-level, that the client may suffer as a result of a worker’s unwillingness to meet him/her at eye-level.

Based on the research, it seems painfully obvious that clients greatly benefit from having a social worker sit down to speak to them when they are also seated. This lends to the question, why don’t social workers just sit down if it’s so important? The answer is unfortunately, personal safety. Although Sadock and Sadock (2007) maintain that the amount of crimes committed by the mentally ill are not statistically different than those of the general population, other sources provide different statistics. Trainin Blank (2006) provides statistics that reveal that “51.3% of the sample reported feeling unsafe in their jobs. Nearly one-third have experienced some form of violence, including verbal abuse... Nearly 15% reported at least one episode [of violence] in the field”. Crime among the mentally ill is viewed as more dangerous than the general public because of the perceived randomness and lack of an understandable motive. Because of these safety concerns, practitioners are encouraged to take great caution when conducting home visits.

Although ACTA (2011) policy states that social workers should remain standing, Trainin Blank (2006) encourages social workers to remain at eye-level with clients to de-escalate clients. Other home visit procedures also state that sitting in a hard-backed chair may be beneficial (Multiple Program Worker Guide 2011). It does discourage sitting on cloth seats but states that this is due to the possibility of sharp objects being hidden beneath the cushion, rather than bed bugs. The guide also states that before sitting down or entering the home, the social worker should observe the surroundings for safety concerns and cleanliness.

Another important consideration is the National Association of Social Worker’s (2008) Code of Ethics. For example, NASW code 1.01 states that “Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well¬being of clients”. If a client is not engaging in treatment because of an uncomfortable power dynamic in which the social worker is perceived as superior and imposing him/her self on the client in the home, then it seems as though the social worker would not be meeting the first standard in the code of ethics. Because a client’s wellbeing comes first and foremost, social workers need to consider the possible implications of standing while a client sits and critically analyze if this is hindering the client’s treatment. Secondly, under 4.05, it states, “social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties to interfere with their professional judgment and performance or to jeopardize the best interests of people for whom they have a professional responsibility”. Unpacking this standard is more problematic because of it begs the question, would fear of bed bugs or fear of personal safety fall under the category of psychosocial distress? If a social worker assesses the client as they enter the home and finds that the client does not seem threatening or agitated, there are not visible weapons, and the house is not overly unclean, is it then an irrational fear and personal psychosocial distress which causes the social worker to remain standing despite the safe surroundings?

In the end, the simple decision about whether to sit or stand when working with clients is actually much more complicated and requires a great deal of thought because it significantly impacts the power dynamic between the client and social worker, which then impacts the client’s level of engagement with the social worker. Being a social worker, and following the NASW code of the ethics means making the client the primary priority, which means that social workers may be placing themselves in risky situations from time to time.

While ACT home visit policies state that the social worker should remain standing for the duration of the home visit, current evidence-based practices show that this may not be the most conducive way to work with clients. ACT needs to review current evidence-based practices and adjust written policy in order to follow the NASW code of ethics and provide the best possible services to clients. Safety for social workers still needs to be a concern, but there are ways of assessing risk that can be incorporated into new policy. For example, assessing a client’s mental status and observing the surrounding area for cleanliness and potential weapons can be the determinant for whether a social worker should sit down (if the client is sitting) or remain standing. Respect should be the utmost priority, especially since the social worker is in the client’s home, so it is also important to ask if you may sit, if the social worker typically remains standing.

Clients are most engaged and thus receive the best treatment when social workers show respect to clients and ‘get on their level’, so that the client and social worker have good eye contact, and so that there is not an unfavorable power dynamic. One way to measure client engagement is to observe the length of time spent at a client’s home. On the ACT Ypsilanti team, the length of time is closer to 7 minutes on average, rather than the full 15. Changing one simple interaction, from standing to sitting with a client, can make a huge difference in a client’s recovery and mental health maintenance. Sitting with a client will also encourage conversation and the client’s level of engagement. While social workers need to maintain personal safety, it seems that the positive aspects of sitting outweigh the risks, so long as the social worker is able to assess the condition of the client and the home.


ACTA (2011). Mission statement. Assertive Community Treatment Association.

Lawrence-Weiss, S. (2010). Do you meet your child at eye level? Early Childhood News and Resources.

Muir-Cochrane, E. (2000). The context of care: Issues of power and control between patients and community mental health nurses. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 6, 292-299.

Multiple program worker guide #19. Home Visit Guidelines, 63. 2011.
NASW (2008). Commitment to clients. Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.

NASW (2008). Impairment. Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.

Priebe, S., Watts, J., Chase, M., & Matano, A. (2005). Processes of disengagement and engagement in assertive outreach patients: Qualitative study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 187.

Sadock, B. J., & Sadock, V. A. (2007). Scizophrenia. Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10, 484-485.

Saldaña, D. (2001). Cultural competency: A practical guide for mental health service providers. Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

Trainin Blank, B. (2006). Safety first: Paying heed to and preventing professional risks. The New Structural Social Worker.

Posted by desolada at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

Assertive Community Treatment: Beneficial for Taxpayers or Clients?

With the creation of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), many benefited from this new and evidence-based approach to community mental health. ACT provides a much different and progressive type of service than an inpatient facility; it offers community-based, at home care for clients with severe and persistent mental illness. Through ACT, social workers provide mental health care to clients both in the office and in the community. During the hours of 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, ACT teams travel to the homes of 7-12 clients each day to provide at home care. During this visit, social worker observes clients take AM medications and observes the client set-up his/her medication in a med box up to the next time s/he will be visited. The social worker also conducts a mental status exam and inquires about whether the client needs any resources or assistance; the whole visit lasts approximately 10-15 minutes. In the afternoon, staff involves clients in different support groups such as co-occurring groups, shopping groups, and walking groups. Staff also uses afternoons to see clients in the office and assist clients with miscellaneous appointments and needs.
Although ACT provides clients with unique and necessary services, research studies show that while ACT does prevent hospitalizations, the program does not significantly increase quality of life or reduce symptoms. Although clients benefit from not being hospitalized unless absolutely necessary, this is more of a fiscal improvement than a mental health improvement. Client care should be more focused on symptom reduction and quality of life if it is truly client based. This lends to the question, if ACT is truly an evidence-based approach to improving mental health, what can be done to improve this service so that clients receive the best possible care?

Mental health care has greatly improved over the past few decades, but has recently reached a point where social workers follow the norm of practices rather than using more progressive, evidence-based practices (Mechanic 2008). Although the main focus of these programs is “recovery, community integration, and making services consumer and family centered”, client’s lives are not significantly improved by programs like ACT. For example, in a study of the ACT program in Japan, clinicians found that clients in the program had decreased hospitalizations but no symptom reduction. These findings are similar to data collected in the United States. However, in Japan, clients were given a quality of life interview (QOLI) at 2 weeks and then again 12 months later. Through this survey, Horiuchi et al. (2006) found that clients in ACT in Japan had increased quality of life but that they had decreased family contacts which were a predictor of rehospitalization. In the study, “it was assumed that satisfaction with family relationships indicates an unmet need for care among this population”. Clearly, more research must be conducted to determine the connection between quality of life and family contacts.

One of the major benefits, but also potential pitfalls of ACT, is that ACT policies are much looser than in other organizations (Powell, Garrow, Woodford & Perron). Social workers are able to make street-level decisions about how often clients are seen, what services or resources clients may be offered, and what type of therapy to use during interventions. This amount of freedom may seem like a huge bonus to working in an ACT setting, but it may be the reason that the program does not increase quality of life and symptom reduction. If social workers are able to have that much freedom, they may not be choosing evidence-based therapies when working with clients, or they may not have the proper certifications to be qualified for different types of interventions. This creates an unequal dynamic among staff members as some staff may use different techniques than others.
Although it was previously believed that clients with severe and persistent mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, would not benefit from therapy, researchers have recently challenged these assumptions. It seems that once a client is stabilized, therapy is beneficial in increasing medication compliance for longer periods of time, and therapy increases quality of life (Zygmunt, Olfson, Boyer, & Mechanic). Much research has been conducted on individual types of therapy and how they may be implemented by ACT, but no single researcher has compared the major types of therapy and found a perfect solution as to which, if any, to implement into the ACT model.

One important component to increased quality of life lies in medication adherence, because clients who refuse medications experience distressing symptoms. Zygmunt et al. reviewed literature about the necessity of medication adherence for clients with schizophrenia, stating that 50% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia will stop taking medications within a year after first discharge (2002). Once clients have stopped taking medications, they will experience increased risk of relapse (3.7% greater than compliant clients), and symptoms can negatively impact quality of life. Researchers then researched psychosocial techniques and therapies for improving medication compliance. Zygmunt el al. did find that programs such as ACT were more effective, as was motivational interviewing, because each focused on behavioral training. Findings suggest that clients will be more compliant when given concrete instructions and problem-solving strategies. Behavioral training was effective because clients were provided direct feedback for compliance.

Based on the results of the study, it seems evident that evidence-based practices such as CBT and DBT might be paired with the ACT model to increase quality of life and reduce symptoms because both types of therapy are rooted in behavior. Pinninti et al. (2010) have researched the benefits and difficulties of utilizing CBT in an ACT program. First and foremost researchers maintain that medication compliance is critical for ACT clients, but that CBT and training can improve client’s functioning and reduce symptoms because it provides skills training and helps clients improve coping skills for dealing with their mental illness. Pinninti et al. believes that “the improvement in functioning included interventions, such as helping clients make appropriate life decisions, improving social and leisure skills, and dealing with barriers to employment”. However, data suggests that CBT in an ACT setting does not seem to be beneficial for clients who are being treated for substance use. Contrary to Zygmunt et al. (2002), Pinninti et al. (2010) found that there was no correlation between CBT and medication compliance. They also did not find a correlation between CBT and hospitalizations, but this may be due to already reduced rate of hospitalizations because of the ACT model.

Another potential behavioral model that might be beneficial in an ACT program is DBT. While DBT is primarily utilized for clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), any clients who suffer from emotional dysregulation may also benefit from this type of therapy. While ACT focuses primarily on Axis I conditions, in recent years, data suggests that 26% of clients have a co-morbid personality disorder (Burroughs et al. 2012). Furthermore, “ACT programs appear to lack a theoretical framework for addressing the behavioral concerns typically associated with clients who are diagnosed with personality disorders”. Although Burroughs et al. discuss the lack of framework for clients with personality disorders; it also reflects the more general lack of framework which is associated with ACT in regard to symptom reduction and quality of life. Researchers suggest that using DBT in an ACT program can be beneficial to clients because this type of therapy helps clients regulate emotions, impulsivity, and parasuicidal behavior. It also would be easy to implement into the structure of the program because staff are available 24/7 as is also required by DBT training. Also, staff is already used to seeing clients with increased needs, and would be able to reinforce the client’s skills training when they are providing services to the client in the community. Not only that, but “ACT has the staffing infrastructure necessary to implement DBT with an average ration of staff to clients of 10:1”.

Although it seems as though there are many benefits to implementing the DBT model, there are some serious considerations as well. Problems include the cost and time commitment of becoming certified to practice DBT. For ACT to implement DBT, all staff would need to be trained, and the training is quite expensive at $2400 per person for a 7-day training seminar (Burroughs 2012). Another concern is that there is a high rate of turnover for ACT employees, so the county would need to pay to certify every new employee. Overall, the cost-benefit ratio makes agencies second guess implementing this type of intervention.

The final type of therapy suggested by Zygmunt et al. is motivational interviewing (MI). While this was originally created for clients who use substances, the techniques can be adapted to other Axis I diagnoses as well (Miller 2012). The theory behind motivational interviewing is that clients are stuck in a pattern in which change is difficult and they often do not see a need to change. Clients may also not view themselves as having a problem, which is quite common among schizophrenics, and is often the reason that clients stop taking medications. Based on this, the premise of motivational interviewing is for the client to recognize the reasons for and importance of change. An importance difference between this type of therapy and others is that there is no certification required to use MI. Also, the resources are free on the website, and there are online training modules that staff can use to become proficient. The only potential pitfall of MI is that because there is no certification, staff may be practicing the technique without proficiency.

It is also worth mentioning, that similar to MI, small scale efforts to improve client’s quality of life and symptom reduction can also be implemented. For example, Lang et al. (1999) found that the more engaged clients were involved in creating their treatment plan, and had higher quality of life. The reason for this is that clients sometimes values differed from that of the psychiatrist in the surveys. Clients found pride in smaller scale improvements that clinicians did not notice as much.

In research conducted by Zygmunt et al., researchers found that behavioral therapies and motivational interviewing proved to be effective ways of reducing client’s symptoms and improving quality of life. Within behavioral therapies are DBT and CBT. It seems thus reasonable that if ACT were to implement an evidence-based therapy model, it be CBT, DBT, or MI, as these are also considered in some circles to be three of the five most utilized forms of treatment (Adlaf 2012). Due to the exceedingly high cost and the large amount of training in DBT, this can be ruled out as a formal treatment method.

However, some of the skills associated with it, such as validation and emotional regulation, can be used. Also, because the data on CBT suggests that it does not help as consistently when paired with ACT, and also because it has not proven to be helpful with substance users, it should be ruled out as well.Overall, motivational interviewing appears to be the best approach to working with clients in ACT settings. Both substance users and clients with other axis I diagnosis can benefit from the skills training in MI. MI is also a better option because it is easier for clinicians to become proficient in MI than for other therapies, and also it has no costs nor special certification.


ACTA (2012). ACT model. Assertive Community Treatment Association. Retrieved March 1, 2012.

Adlaf, A. (2012). Syllabus. Interpersonal Practice with Adults.

Burroughs, T., & Somerville, J. (2012). Utilization of evidence based dialectical behavioral therapy in assertive community treatment: Examining feasibility and challenges. Community Mental Health.

Horiuchi, K., Nisihio, M., Oshima, I., Ito, J., Matsuoka, H., & Tsukada, K. (2006). The quality of life among persons with severe mental illness enrolled in an assertive community treatment program in Japan: 1-year follow-up and analyses. Clinical Practice Epidemiology Mental Health, 2, 18.

Lang, M. A., Davidson, L., Bailey, P., Levine, M. S. (1999). Clinicians’ and clients’ perspectives on the impact of assertive community treatment. Psychiatry Services, 50, 10: 1331-40.

Mechanic, D. (2008). In mental health and social policy: Beyond managed care. Pearson Education, Inc: pp.xi-xvi.

Miller, B. (2011). MI basics. Motivational Interviewing. Retrieved March 10, 2012.

Pinninti, N.R., Fisher, J., Thompson, K., & Steer, R. (2010). Feasibility and usefulness of training assertive community treatment team in cognitive behavioral therapy. Community Mental Health., 46, 4, 337-41.

Powell, Garrow, Woodford & Perron: Policy Making Opportunities for Direct Practitioners in Mental Health and Addiction Services. Mental Health Policy. Retrieved March 1, 2012.

Zygmunt, A., Olfon, M., Boyer C., & Mechanic, D.(2002) Interventions to improve medication adherence in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry, 159, 10. 1653-64.

Posted by desolada at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2011

The Effects of Familismo on First Generation Latino Adolescents

When families immigrate to the United States, they are often hopeful and excited to start a new life. However, many face problems and pressures at both the personal and societal level. Each person must make conscious decisions of what new activities to engage in and how much s/he should immerse her/himself in the dominant culture. Acculturation, which is the retention of native customs and life style and the adaptation to a new culture, can cause personal and familial stress as the family changes at different rates and has different ideas about how much they should immerse in a new way of life and whether or not they should hold onto or relinquish native customs (Phinney et al. 2002). Acculturation is particularly stressful for first generation adolescents as they struggle to fit in with peers who may be of the dominant culture, but also because adolescences is time in which people explore who they are.

In recent years, the amount of Latinos entering the United States has increased drastically. The negative stigma of illegal immigration is affecting the Latino population as a whole, and race and socioeconomic status has everything to do with it. Little is said about the Canadians or Irish entering the United States illegally. This is likely due to the fact that Canadians are privileged in being Caucasian, and English speaking. The Latino population is one of the most oppressed groups and is often discriminated against in the United States.

Living in the United States as a first generation Latino adolescent can be a particularly difficult experience, as this group of immigrants must face discrimination each day at school for uncontrollable factors such as race and socioeconomic differences. However they also face language barriers and differences in family structure. As this population reaches puberty and face a time of great personal change, they face many societal pressures while wrestling with the question of how much to adapt and conform to society while also holding onto their own customs, culture, and beliefs.
Acculturation can be positive because it leads to feelings of belonging in one’s society, but it can also lead to alienation from family and community and it can lead to increased pressure to fit in with peers. For example, research by Adam et al. (2007) found that highly acculturated Latino teens were more likely to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age, followed by Caucasian Americans, and then less acculturated Latinos.

Family Structure based on Familismo

According to Altamirano (2011), one unique cultural concepts in the Mexican community include the idea of familismo. Familismo is the importance of family cohesion, and is often tied to machismo, which is a patriarchal family structure and a belief in traditional sex roles. Families that are less acculturated tend to place more importance on the familismo. Her research also indicates that a lack of acculturation can be utilized as a protective factor for the family because it minimizes the negative consequences of acculturation. Some of these negative consequences include dating violence (Galvan et al. 2007), suicidal behavior(Goldston et al. 2008), substance abuse (Okamato et al. 2009) and teen pregnancy (Adam et al. 2007).
Familismo is considered to be one of the positive factors in Latino families because parents are more involved in the children’s lives and often require their youth to bring friends and partners home for their approval (Altamirano 2011). This family involvement keeps adolescents accountable and encourages them to rely on their family. Familismo also instills the idea of helping other members of the family and the importance of being an accountable and productive member of the family (FAADA RADAR 2011). Familismo places importance on respect, honesty, and making decisions together for the benefit of all family members.

Research by Aretakis (2011) also suggests that first generation immigrants have more academic success than second and third generation counterparts. While this may seem to be a paradox, the role of familismo and a strong family foundation facilitated academic achievement. Aretakis attributes this to the family’s idea of the American Dream and a better future, which is why many people immigrate to the United States. Families who told their adolescent stories about their own school struggles had even greater academic efficacy. This collaboration between parents and youth enhances the views and tightens the bonds between family members.

The concept of the familismo tends to slow down the process of acculturation in the dominant society because members of the family are more often relying on each other than their peers. However, this concept is usually tied to machismo. Based on the culture, history, and Catholic faith of Latinos, most families follow this form of patriarchy within the family (FAADA RADAR 2011). The idea of the father or eldest male being the head of the household leads to stigmatized sex roles as the male becomes the sole decision-maker and the bread-winner. The role of the wife is to listen to her husband and takes care of the home and children. While machismo has positive aspects, such as the father striving to be the best possible father and husband and providing for his family, it has negative outcomes as well. For example, machismo is related to less help-seeking behavior and a belief that males are superior to females. This idea of male superiority can sometimes lead women to keep silent about abusive relationships or feelings of inferiority and lack of control.
The Problem of Acculturating at Different Rates within a Unit
When asked about desires for the future, less acculturated youth related their wants and needs tied to familismo (Altamirano 2011).

More acculturated teens tended to deviate from the familismo values. In less acculturated families, the familismo is a strong ideal in which the family strives. However, problems arise within families and couples when one person begins to acculturate at a faster rate than the other. And there does seem to be trends in rate of acculturation. Findings by Phinney et al. (2002) suggest that first generation males who were less educated maintain the most traditional sex roles and attitudes for machismo when compared to later generations. Also, women who were more acculturated held more egalitarian sex role beliefs. Galvan et al. (2007) suggests that as families continue to reside in the United States, they face more and more acculturative stressors.
These acculturative stressors include family acculturation conflicts (such as gender roles) and conflicted ethnic identity. Adolescent Latino immigrants begin to observe their non-immigrant peers and notice the different types of family structures and relationships, and they start to question their own families and selves. This questioning can often lead to conflict within the home. This in turn leads to identity questions, such as: Who am I? Am I an American? Do I have a voice in my family? Should I?

Life can get even more complicated when the female begins to acculturate at a faster rate than her male counterpart. Much dating violence between adolescent Latino couples occurs when the female begins to acculturate and achieve independence, because the male feels that this is an attack of machismo (Altamirano 2011). Also, disapproval of dating violence and reporting dating violence was more common among highly acculturated Latinos compared to those who were less acculturated. Also, females who acculturate faster than others report feelings of hopelessness and suicide ideation because of the stress of adapting to an individualistic society when coming from a familismo upbringing and the stress of different rates of acculturation within the family (Goldston et al. 2008).

This phenomenon occurs when females begin to observe non-immigrants and realize that the female can attend college, begin a career, and attain success just like a male. These new ideas seem like an attack to the male, because in machismo, the male is central and necessary. So, if a woman no longer needs a man, then he often feels worthless and unappreciated, leading to stress within the family. This can also cause unrest within the familismo because there may be two dominant people in the family, and the others may not be accepting of this change.

There are also many adjustment discrepancies between parents and adolescents when someone in the family begins to acculturate more quickly than others. According to Goldson et al. (2008), Latino youth often face structural and cultural barriers when trying become a part of dominant society. Non-immigrant peers may not socialize with Latino youth based on language differences, racism, or parental views of associating with oppressed populations due to stereotypes based on illegal immigration. Structural barriers may include inability to obtain legal, medical, or financial assistance if a family is undocumented, and difficulty keeping up in schools that do not offer bilingual education. It is also difficult for Latino families to obtain family therapy to work through problems because many therapists do not take familismo into account and counsel clients in ways that include this important way of life. Also, the father may have feelings of loss of machismo and pride at needing outside assistance and resent the counseling.

Why is this Important for Social Work?

Understanding the acculturation of first generation Latino adolescents is absolutely necessary in today’s society. As the amount of Latino families entering the United States increases each year, it is important for social workers to understand how Latino immigration is unique because of the unique cultural beliefs of this population. Many Latino families may resist seeking help and be resistant to therapy once there because of loss of pride. Latino families pride themselves on familismo and taking care of the families problems within the family. Outsiders are not welcome in the familismo, so seeing a social worker would already be viewed a personal failure to members of the family. Social workers need to take this into consideration and assist the family in working through and solving their own problems instead of giving advice and attempting to place themselves in the shoes of family members.

It is also important for a social worker to observe the family’s view of machismo. Since many families place the father or eldest male as the dominant person in the family, it is important for social workers to recognize this and respect it. It is not the social worker’s role to acculturate the family and change their dynamics and beliefs. Social workers should certainly help the family communicate with one another and promote equality, but it is imperative that the social worker respects the family’s values of machismo in order to maintain respect and trust with the clients. Machismo has positive implications, such as pride and looking out for the family by the dominant male, so these strengths can be enhanced through therapy instead of trying to break down the family’s structure and views.

Finally it is important for social workers to be able to observe how acculturated each family member is when working with them. Members of the family will be facing different stressors based on their level of acculturation, so the best way to assist is to learn who is moving at quicker paces than others. This information, along with information about acculturation, can be shared with the family in order to open communication between members. This will help parents and children learn what each other is experiencing and can strengthen their familismo bond while also allowing each member to be a part of the dominant society, if that is their desire. Family is important, and if a social worker can help a family to realize that they can acculturate but also maintain familismo, then the family will be able to benefit from each other’s care and companionship but also feel like they fit into dominant culture as well.
The Biopsychosocial Dimension

As in most aspects of social work, the issue of familismo on first generation Latino Immigrants can be viewed from the Biopsychosocial dimension. The biological approach is relevant as Latino adolescents deal with many health care issues. According to Cepeda (2010), Latino males are three times more likely than white males to contract HIV, and Latino females are five times more likely than white females. Cepeda suggests Latinos are in great health when they first immigrate to the United States, but their health declines after acculturation. This is often due to substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and obesity. These issues in the Latino community are based on the familismo and machismo views of taking care of everything within the family and relying on the father-figure instead of an outside source. Research shows that there is often less help-seeking (medically) in less acculturated adolescents. An adolescent’s knowledge that s/he may not be able to receive adequate health care due to the previously mentioned factors, along with immigration status and a possible lack of documentation and language barriers, can be a great stressor for the adolescent and the family.

Similarly, less acculturated Latino adolescents are also less likely to seek help for Psychological issues. Once again, the reason for this is often due to the familismo and machismo. However, many adolescents face great psychological stressors. Much stress is caused by the question of identity, the family structure, and how much to acculturate. Based on the stress that Latino youth face, this is the second highest group to engage in suicidal behavior (Goldston 2008). Clearly, social workers need to find new ways of helping the Latino population and to do so in a way that incorporates familismo.

The social dimension is more difficult to address at an individual level. Current immigration policies in the United States make obtaining Medical and Psychological care difficult, but they also affect other social aspects as well. For example, many schools do not have strong programs for Spanish speaking students and require that they quickly learn English in order to engage in school work rather than integrating Spanish into the curriculum. Taking large amounts of time to learn English takes away from learning other subjects and often leaves students behind in lower level classes. If students are highly acculturated but are in lower level classes, they will likely engage in other activities that encourage substance abuse and sexual intercourse at a young age. As mentioned previously, this is not the case for less acculturated adolescents. This may negatively or positively affect females who are less acculturated. They may place less importance on school because their aspirations are not as high because of machismo views, or they might do very well in school because of the support from home based on familismo. Nevertheless, policies such as forcing social workers to report undocumented immigrants negatively affect many Latino families.


Living in the United States as a first generation Latino immigrant is difficult for a variety of reasons. Youth, who are already searching for their identity, must now add the role of immigrant and minority to their perception of self. Latino youth face discrimination based on race, language, and customs such as familismo and machismo. They have more difficulty obtaining biological, psychological, and social assistance because of their customs and the oppressing policies that the United States enforces. Acculturating has both positive and negative effects on the individual and the family, and it is quite difficult to mediate between family members because of different views on acculturation and how that affects familismo. Social workers need to become more knowledgeable about Latino culture in order to support the family and help them mediate their own way without forcing acculturation or dismissing their customs. There is so much social turmoil being raised in the media and by oppressed populations in recent weeks, that now is the time for change.  


Adam, M. B., McGuire, J. K., Walsh, M., Basta, J., & LeCroy, C. (2007). Acculturation as a predictor of the onset of sexual intercourse among Hispanic and white teens. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41,5.
Altamirano, B. (2011). Effects of acculturation and gender of Mexican American teen’s perception of
dating violence prevention programs. Arizona State University Libraries.
Aretakis, M. T. (2011). Immigration, acculturation, and academic attitudes and performance among Latino adolescents.
Cepeda, E. J. (2010). Latino acculturation: A paradox that points to the health system’s failings. The Oregonian.
FADAA Radar (2011). Just the facts. Regional Alcohol and Drug Awareness Resource. Accessed October 17, 2011.
Galvan, D. B., Malcarne, V. L., Castaneda, D. M., Hokoda, A., & Ulloa, E. C. (2007). An exploratory study examining teen dating violence, acculturation and acculturation stress in Mexican-American
Adolescents. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 14,3.
Goldston, D.B., Molock, S.D., Whitbeck, L.B., Murakami, J.L., Zayas, L.H. & Hall, G.C. N.
(2008). Cultural Considerations in Adolescent Suicide Prevention and Psychosocial Treatment.
American Psychologist 63: 14-3.
Okamoto, J., Ritt-Olson, A., Soto, D., Baezconde-Garbanati, L., & Unger, J. B. (2009) Perceived discrimination and substance use among Latino adolescents. AM J Health Behavior, 33, 6.
Phinney, J. S., Flores, J. (2002). Unpackaging acculturation: Aspects of acculturation as predictors of traditional sex roles attitudes . Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33, 3.

Posted by desolada at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

Children Lose When the Government is Involved

Last week, tragedy struck Ann Arbor, Michigan. Seven year old, Cecilia Lewis suffered not only the death of her biological father, Jeremy but also has been removed from her other parent, Taylor, and placed in foster care. Cecilia had spent her whole life with her Jeremy and Taylor, and both Taylor and Jeremy were both adored by the community. Jeremy was the principal at the local high school and an avid member of church, and Taylor was a social worker who created an afterschool program for disadvantaged youth. However, their elevated status in society could not help their situation. Taylor and Jeremy were not legally married, so Taylor did not have any legal rights over Cecilia.
If Taylor had been a woman, she would have maintained custody and been granted all of the legal rights that married partners are granted when having a child, even if she and Jeremy were not married. However, because the couple live in a state where same-sex marriage is illegal, and since Taylor is a man, not only does he lose out on those rights, but young Cecilia does too.

Second parent adoption, a process in which the partner of the biological parent is granted joint custody of a child, is a complex process regardless of who is attempting to adopt a child. However, homosexual couples face even greater challenges than most. Current policies are unclear as three states in the nation (Arkansas, Mississippi, and Utah) prohibit same-sex adoption, and the statutes for other states are vague. This vagueness allows for bias, discrimination, and personal beliefs of the organization to make the decisions about who can adopt. For example, 47 states allow a single male or female to adopt, and only 10 states clearly state that joint adoption is legal.

The United States needs a federal law that allows same-sex couples to participate in second-parent adoption because it is the child who feels the negative effects of current policies. Some of these important benefits that homosexual families do not receive are that the children cannot use the adoptive parent’s insurance, social security, or inheritance, nor can they be treated in an emergency room without the biological parent present. The most important benefit that the children are denied is the right to live with their second parent if the biological parent dies.

The problem is that currently, adoption agencies are essentially deciding whether the couple’s character and morals adhere to that of the reasonable man. And herein lies the crux of the matter; the adoption process is too subjective. The definition of morality is abstract and viewed quite differently by different people. Religious institutions may view homosexuality as immoral and may deny a homosexual couple the right to adopt a child based on these beliefs. But this is the United States, where all are created equal. For a country which preaches the importance of equality, there is a large population who are discriminated against, and a change needs to be made. Only a federal law can erase the subjectivity that is oppressing homosexual couples and denying them equal rights to their children.
One of the main arguments against same-sex adoption is that a child is negatively impacted by homosexual parents. But this is fabrication. Research, by Stacey & Biblarz (2001), shows that just because a parent may be homosexual, there is not a difference in sexual preference when compared to the children of heterosexual parents. Sons of homosexual males tend to be less sexually adventurous and chaster than the sons of heterosexual couples, and children living with homosexual parents may act in less gender stereotypic ways.

Another important factor to consider is the mental health of the child. Once again, research indicates that contrary to popular belief, there is no significant difference in the level of anxiety, depression, or self-esteem in children living with homosexual parents, compared to heterosexual parents. Also, homosexual parents often have greater synchronicity in their parenting techniques that lead to more harmony within the home.
Children need psychological and legal security. Children cannot control the type of family that they are born into and should not be discriminated against and punished for the type of family in which they are raised. This is a federal issue, as it is evident that there is much gray area and discrimination in each state, and it is children who are suffering because of it. We as a country need to vote to make legal changes in order to help these children.

Alissa Bleecker
1st year MSW student
University of Michigan School of Social Work
Striving to insure equality for all children.
Word Count: 746
To be sent to “The New York Times” because, as the paper describes, this is a Federal issue, and the New York Times is well respected national publication.

Holmes, O.W. (1929) The reasonable man. Supreme Court, 150-151.
Huss, M. T. (2009). What is Forensic Psychology? An Introduction. Forensic psychology: research, clinical practice, and application. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 5-6.
Johnson R. (2008). Where is gay adoption legal? Gay and lesbian adoption. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
Kennedy, R. (2005). Lesbian and Gay Families: The changing and unsteady legal and social environment. Social Work Practice with Children and Families: A Family Health Approach, 165-182.
Knowles, D. (2010). Florida gay adoption ban overturned, but three states still restrict it. Aol News. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. J. (2001). (How) Does the sexual orientation of parents matter? American Sociological Review, 66, 159-183.

Posted by desolada at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

The Undeserving Poor: A Comparative Analysis of Welfare Policy in 1601 and 2011

As America has continued to develop as a country, its social ideologies have continued to change as well. The first major welfare reform in the United States occurred in 1601 and was known as the Elizabethan Poor Law. This law began a new way of thinking about poor people as it characterized them as either deserving or undeserving. Based on these stratifications, different types of assistance were given. Since 1601, much has changed, but the philosophy of a deserving and undeserving poor has remained. The idea of an undeserving poor has posed as an interesting problem in both 1601 and today. The government has struggled with the questions such as: what kind of welfare and how much welfare should the government provide? And the greatest question of all is: has our poverty policy really changed over the last 400 years?

After the reformation occurred, Queen Elizabeth I established the Church of England and much changed in society, including poor laws. In the 1500s, there had been rampant inflation which caused more poverty than ever, and people did not know how to react to it (Hanson 1997). They even had outlawed begging. According to Bloy (2002), the poor had previously been cared for by the church based on the 7 corporal works of mercy. Beginning in 1552, new laws began to form regarding the poor and were consolidated into one bill; it was known as the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601. Some of its provisions included that the poor must register at the parish, money could be raised for the poor by the justice of the peace, a poor law tax and a job entitled overseer of the poor were introduced (2 people were elected for this unpaid position each Easter and they would calculate how much money the poor needed, collect the taxes, supervise the poorhouses, and distribute resources), and the poor were categorized. Jansson (2009) suggests that these categories included: those who would like to work but could not based on climate or lack of jobs (deserving poor), those who were too old or ill to work (deserving poor), and those who were able to work but would not (idle poor).

During this time, the idle were humiliated and whipped in the streets and placed in workhouses and poorhouses to help them learn (Bloy 2002). The able-bodied were given outdoor relief, in the form of money and clothes, and they continued to live at home. The ill and elderly were placed in almshouses, hospitals, or orphanages. The children of the poor were often given to others to learn a trade and become an apprentice. There were many differences in how the parishes enacted these laws because there was no one to enforce the law. For example, if the parishes lacked funds and could not provide for the poor, then the county was required to provide relief (Jansson 2009). This law was a huge change because it gave the government the responsibility for the poor instead of the church. This law also encouraged family members to care for their poor.

Criticisms of the law included that the taxes were based on land, so not everyone paid as much in taxes (Bloy 2002). It helped the commercial and industrial citizens because it didn’t take personal or moveable wealth into consideration. According to Hanson (1997), one of the reasons for change in philosophy about the poor in the 1600s was the move from the idea of collectivism to individualism and self-reliance during the time period.

Although the Elizabethan Poor Law was English legislation, the ideas of the importance of individualism and self-reliance were carried across the ocean to the new colonies that would soon become the United States. Because of the increasing importance of individualism, it makes sense that the stratifications of a deserving and undeserving poor would dominate the characteristics of those living in poverty.
The qualifications for the deserving and undeserving poor are currently similar to those of 1601. While in 1601, the qualifications for the deserving poor accounted for age, illness, climate, and lack of employment opportunities, current views of the deserving poor based on current welfare reform simply account for if the person is able-bodied (Hanson 1997). Today’s view of poverty, based on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF,) does not always take into account whether a person is able-minded or able-cultured because of growing-up in poverty. Although Social Workers recognize that poverty is an “institutional structure that denies equal opportunity to the lower classes, often exacerbated by racial discrimination”, the majority of the population does not recognize this as an important factor as a cause of poverty (Hanson 1997). Also, just as the poor in 1601 were mocked through whippings, the poor today are portrayed in a negative fashion and often ignored or spoken of with disdain.

Current legislation is based on the PRWORA which is largely based on work requirements and an idea of self-empowerment through work (Administration of Children and Families 1996). Working families are allowed time-limited assistance that includes child support funding and medical coverage. Each state is also given bonuses for helping families find employment. With this act, families must work after receiving two years of assistance. Single parents must work 20 hours per week during the first year and two parent families must work 35 hours per week. Families are given one year of transitional help through Medicaid, and mothers are exempt from working if they have a child under the age of one or if they have a child under the age of six and cannot find childcare. Also, families can only have cash assistance for up to five cumulative years. After that, states can provide state funds or non-cash assistance. The state assesses individual’s skills and helps families to formulate a plan. The legislation also enforces child support laws with state to state registries and harsh penalties which include seizing assets for parents who are not paying child support.

Another welfare reform, TANF, was passed in 2006 that accounted for the same values as PRWORA (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008). TANF is responsible for administration of programs and social security. States are given funds to implement their own welfare programs as they see fit. It replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Job Opportunity and Basic Skill Training (JOBS), and Emergency Assistance (EA) in the PRWORA. Similar to PRWORA, the main focus of TANF is to help families attain self-sufficiency. The mission of TANF is to create welfare legislation, present this legislation to the director, oversee the programs implemented by the organization, and to provide leadership.

Welfare legislation continues to change, and recently the welfare reform act of 2011 was introduced. This legislation builds on PRWORA and now requires families who use food stamps to work or prove that they are trying to find work. This act was created as a way of helping families empower themselves by becoming independent without government assistance (The Caucus of House Conservatives 2011). According to Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, cash assistance has been misused in the past and needs to return to a transitional program that leads working families toward self-sufficiency (Luke 2011). Snyder also discussed the problem of able-bodied people taking advantage of the welfare system and staying on it for up to 14 years. Based on the concern of people taking advantage of the welfare system, he signed legislation that will enforce a 48 month cap on cash assistance. However, Snyder says that the affected families will “receive extended job and housing placement assistance for three months…and funds are targeted toward those recipients who need a helping hand while they find employment” (Luke 2011).

Similar to the Elizabethan Act of 1601, Snyder’s new bill categorizes the deserving poor as those with disabilities and people who are elderly, at least 65 and with little social security (Luke 2011). And although, Snyder also provides exemptions for those suffering from domestic violence, he does not account for the current lack of jobs due to outsourcing and de-industrialization, nor does he account for factors such as climate, which are important for employment opportunities such as farming and construction, which are seasonal. Criticism of current welfare reform also includes that the new legislation does not take into account people who are suffering from mental or physical illnesses (Deparle 2009).

Another important difference between the 1601 act and today’s welfare reform is who is providing the assistance. In 1601, the federal government gained control of assisting those living in poverty, where the churches had previously cared for the poor. Current welfare reform gives the federal government control of food stamps, while the states maintain the cash assistance programs (Deparle 2009). Because of this, the number of case loads in each state can be a great determinant in the amount of funding that families can receive.

Although there are many similarities between current welfare reforms and those of 1601, one of the most drastic differences lies in our perception of the effectiveness of these reforms. For example, the poverty witnessed in 1601 was a new concept, as the population had currently been organized around a Feudal system in which serfs were cared for by their masters. Although the serfs may not have owned land, their needs were met by the families in which they worked. The concept of poverty in 1601 was a direct result of the end of the Feudal system, and the churches and government struggled to find appropriate ways to assist these needy families. It is shocking that 400 years later, the government still does not know how to account for families living in poverty. Although there are new statistics of people being taken off of welfare rolls, it is only because they no longer qualify for assistance. It does not mean that they no longer live in poverty. Just because the government changes the definition of poverty, it does not mean that there are less people suffering.
Not only is it shocking that policies have remained the same, but it is also shocking that the government still stratifies populations of people as deserving an undeserving. The underlying assumption that the poor are lazy and do not want to work is a misled idea that has hindered the welfare state for hundreds of years and needs to be challenged.

Although it seems obvious to Social Workers, the general public needs to be educated about the causes of poverty and the underlying structures that make it impossible to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. The greatest problem in fighting poverty both today and in 1601 is that the poor are not heard. Their voices are not often represented in a political vote, and because of this, lobbyists for the wealthy are able to better the outcomes for the wealthy (Hanson 1997). According to anthropologist, Oscar Lewis, poverty is difficult to overcome because it is its own culture. People are born into it and grow up with a certain mentality based on an unprotected childhood, psychological distress, feelings of inferiority, and family stress. Neither in 1601, nor today, are these factors beings accounted for within the welfare system. In 1601, when welfare was new, it is more acceptable because of a lack of knowledge about poverty. However, in 2011, this excuse is no longer acceptable.

In order to help those living in poverty, the welfare system needs to be reformed. Instead of having a reluctant welfare system, the United States needs to adopt a generous welfare system that actually takes into consideration the needs of the poor. Creating laws which prohibit corporations from moving their businesses out of the country will create jobs, and enforcing a higher wage will prohibit exploitative behaviors of corporations. Finally, cash assistance should be given out more abundantly and with longer time constraints because finding a job is more difficult than the government likes to believe. With these reforms to the welfare system, the lives of many will improve significantly. It is time for change. It is time to actually help families in poverty.

Administration of Children and Families. (1996). The personal responsibility and work opportunity reconciliation act of 1996. Fact Sheet. Accessed October 7, 2011.
Bloy, M. (2002). The 1601 Elizabethan Poor Law. The Victorian Web. C:\Users\Lissie\Downloads\tbglenn_91811_144915The_1601_Elizabethan_Poor_Law (2).mht. Accessed October 7, 2011.
The Caucus of House of Conservatives . (2011). Welfare reform act of 2011: The most effective welfare benefit is the one that leads to a job. Accessed October 7, 2011.
Deparle, J. (2009). Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off. The New York Times. rss&pagewanted=all. Accessed October 10, 2011.
Hanson, F. A. (1997). How Poverty Lost its Meaning. The Cato Journal, 17, 2. Accessed October 7, 2011.
Jansson, B. S. (2009). Fashioning a new society in the wilderness. The Reluctant Welfare State,7th ed. 64-65.
Luke, P. (2011). Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan welfare system returned 'to its original intent' after signing law putting tighter 48-month limit on benefits. Accessed October 10, 2011.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). About TANF. Administration for Family and Children. Accessed October 10, 2011.

Posted by desolada at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

A Depressed Community and the Struggle for Transformation: Albion High School


Ever since industry began to leave Michigan, Albion has suffered economically. Many families moved to find work, while others began working two to three jobs to provide for their families. As the town lost industry and residents, many other businesses began to close and the population continued to dwindle. These factors, along with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education legislation, have posed great threats to Albion High School. During the last 10 years, Albion did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) most years which led to severe funding cuts that were further exasperated by losing so many students to school of choice in the nearby towns of Marshall and Homer. Socially, as students left the district, Albion High School flipped its minority/majority population. After closing the middle school and failing to meet AYP once again in 2010, Albion had the choice to either close the school or transform it based on a three-year education plan. Choosing to transform the school, the school also received a federal $2.7 million grant which was spent on professional development during the summer, an instructional mentor, and after school tutoring, among other facets. Recommendations for Albion High School to further improve include implementing sustainable programs, increasing staff cohesion, partnering with community organizations to create student programs, meeting the annual budget, and enhancing instructional techniques based on Best Practices.

Introduction to Albion

The geographic community of interest is Albion, Michigan, which is located in southern Michigan on the Kalamazoo River. Once a booming and prosperous city, particularly back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Albion was highly industrialized. It was filled with many manufacturing companies, including those for automobiles, iron, steel, and glass.

This time period is coined as “the golden-era in Albion’s history” (Passic 2006). Albion was also named an ‘All American City’ in 1973 by the National Civic League (Latent Dirichlet Allocation 2011). The population grew from 10,406 in 1950 to 12,749 in 1960 (Passic 2006). This growing population could not be met fast enough, resulting in a housing shortage. Neighborhoods, schools, and community businesses and services were expanded to meet the growing needs of the community. However, this period of prosperity ended with the closing of factories starting in 1975. Lost jobs and unemployment led to empty houses and emptying schools. This current community of Albion resembles an empty shell of its past. According to the US Census of 2010, Albion’s current population is 8,616.

The racial background of the population is 63.6% Caucasian, 29.9% African American, 2.2% mixed Caucasian and African American, and 5.8% Latina/Latino. Albion is considered an impoverished community with 12% of families living below the poverty line and with home values half the national average. Due to the conditions surrounding this community there are a plethora of social issues. In this community profile, the specific problem of focus is the failing educational system in the area. The problem came into view when Albion Senior High School was rumored to be closing, following the actual closure of Washington Gardner Middle School in 2010. Due to funding from a large federal grant, the school is no longer in danger of closing. However, the quality of education is in question as Albion High School has been on the state’s list of “lowest achieving schools” three years in a row, and the student population and graduation rate is continuously decreasing.

There are a number of diverse factors contributing to the current state of the high school and its students. Therefore, the population of focus is middle and high school aged youth (grades 7th-12th) residing in the city of Albion. The community and its citizens continue to suffer due to high unemployment, low salaries, and the suffering quality of education. If the problems affecting the educational system can be determined, then solutions can be made, and the circle of low-achievement can be broken.

Social and Economic Factors

Albion High School’s problems are intertwined with the social and economic plights of the community.What is most telling is the data from students (ages 5-17), as this provides the highest group who has experienced poverty in the last 12 months. Therefore, the students are directly influenced by economic hardships and the school has to provide more programs and services to accommodate the needs that result from poverty. The second biggest group is that of the 25-44 age group, this is relevant in that the parents of students attending school are also faced with the adversity of poverty. The school, therefore, has to make certain accommodations and confront the challenges that go along with having such a high population in poverty, which drains resources and funding. This high amount of poverty in turn also affects the amount of revenue to be gained from taxes that can in turn be used for the district public schools.

Not only does the school have to deal with issues of poverty in terms of its students, it also has to accommodate for decreased funding. As the chart below demonstrates the district has been suffering from decreased amount of total revenue for the last three school years.Due to the financial hardships of the district, many students began to leave. The 2006-2007 District Annual Report notes that between September 2004 and September 2006 38% of students transferred to other schools in Michigan, the second highest reason for exists was 28% and that was the population of students who graduated or received their GED. This data compiled with the decreasing amount of enrollment alerted the schools to a trend that would threaten whether the high school could remain open.

In an effort to better understand what population is actually leaving the school a comparison of the racial break down of the school district with that of Albion High School is helpful. The two pie charts are almost the inverse of each other. Due to the fact that there is such a high population of whites in the school district, but not at Albion High School, it seems like the population opting to attend other high schools is the white population. The trend seems clear, black students are staying, while white students are leaving, indicating white flight and potentially some underlying racial issues.

However, when interviewing ‘Mrs. Smith’ (source wishes to remain anonymous), a teacher working with Albion High School for over 25 years, she repeatedly commented that the students leaving to attend other schools is a socio-economic issue and not a racial one. Although, she admitted there has been a majority-minority flip within the school, she believes that the school is losing a significant number of more affluent black students too.

The high percentage of students leaving Albion High School as well as the flip in minority and majority populations can be better understood by analyzing specific policies that have affected the school for the past ten years. With the creation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, education began to change throughout the United States. Although NCLB was created to support struggling students and decrease achievement gaps, many schools have actually been threatened because of new policies implemented by this new legislation (U.S. Department of Education 2005). NCLB bases a school’s success on the standardized testing that takes place annually and is measured by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Each year, the state sets the achievement bar, which is the percentage of students that must pass the exam in order to meet AYP. Also, 95% of any minority group and special education students must pass the exam to meet AYP. In Michigan, the exam at the high school level is called the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and is distributed during Junior Year. If a school fails to meet AYP, they are given a warning, and there are penalties for every subsequent year that AYP is not met which may include funding cuts, students being allowed to go to a school of choice, school transformation, or closing the school.

Political and Policy Context

Although the goal of NCLB was for schools across the country reach 100% testing scores by 2012, many schools have struggled to meet these high standards and have suffered drastically due to the policy. Albion High School is one of the schools most impacted by NCLB in Michigan and has been continuously listed in the bottom 100 Public Schools in Michigan (Wheaton 2011). NCLB has been a great threat to Albion High School and the students that attend the school. As the school continued to fail to meet AYP almost every year since 2001, the school lost both their funding and also lost many students to schools of choice such as Marshall High School and Homer High School.

After closing Washington Gardner Elementary School and moving the 7th and 8th grade students to the high school in June 2010 and failing to meet AYP once again in spring 2011, the school was given the choice between attempting a three-year transformational model or closing the school. With this new opportunity for change, the school chose to try the transformation, which was facilitated by a $2.7 million grant (School Improvement Grants). This money along with the new education plan has provided opportunities for teachers to attend professional development seminars, for the school to hire a new teacher, to pay for a tutoring service to work with students after school, and for an instructional coach for teachers (Smith 2011).

With the hope of this new opportunity to improve the school and help students succeed, the staff began the current school year with much enthusiasm (Smith 2011). According to Smith, the teachers are one of the school’s greatest strengths. Another important strength is the enthusiasm of the students and members of the community. When walking through the school on a Sunday during alumni weekend, many students were eagerly decorating the hallways of the school. Upon walking through Albion High School, it is clear that the school is very well cared for, and that students are motivated to be there, even on a Sunday. The all around motivation of people living in Albion along with the new education plan, and other strengths such as after school tutoring and advanced programs for students such as ATIP and the math and science center will hopefully make the difference for the students and Albion High School itself in the upcoming years.


In order to improve the educational environment and rate of achievement at Albion High School, it is proposed that the school think strongly regarding the implementation of sustainable programs so that these programs can continue to operate once the school ceases to receive the three years worth of federal grant money. Sustainable programs would include professional development seminars that educate teachers about Best Practices that can be implemented within the classrooms. Also, the stability of the school could be improved by reducing the turnover of important leaders in the district and the high school such as the superintendent, the principal, and the teachers. This will also improve the cohesion between staff members.

Cohesion should also be extended to the students. Programs for joint participation amongst staff and students could facilitate this process. By learning to work together outside of the classroom, the environment and relationships between the staff and students could change for the better and add to the further success of students, and maintenance of the student body population. Similarly, community outreach to organizations such as faith-based organizations and Double Vision Recreation Center can be utilized to create after school programs for students. A final recommendation is for Albion to make the necessary changes to meet the annual budget.


Albion Public Schools Annual Report 2005-2006.
Albion Public Schools 2006-2007 District Annual Report.
Albion Public Schools District Annual Education Report 2007/2008.
American Fact Finder. (2010) Profile of general population and housing characteristics. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved: October 1, 2011.
The Annual Education Report 2003-2004.
Latent Dirichlet Allocation (2011). Albion, Michigan.,_Michigan.html. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
School Improvement Grants Grant-LEA Application 2010.
U.S. Department of Education (2005). Introduction: No child left behind. Retrieved: October 9, 2011.
Wheaton, B. (2011). Update: Albion High School is on state’s low achieving list for second year in a row; principal optimistic progress is ahead. Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Posted by desolada at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

A Comparative Analysis of Two Communities

The two communities to be compared are Barton Hills Village, Michigan and Albion, Michigan. These two communities differ greatly in median family income, with Albion at $37,399 and Barton Hills Village at $219,063. Albion is a community of 8,616 located in southern Michigan (American Factfinder 2010). The median age is 28.1 years old with a population of 46.6% female and 53.4% male. Racially, the population is 63.6% Caucasian, 29.9% African American, 5.8% Latino, and 2.2% mixed race. 42% of people living in Albion have graduated from high school and 8.9% obtained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. Albion is considered an impoverished community with 12% of families below the poverty level and 55.5% as homeowners.

Barton Hills Village provides a stark contrast to Albion. The median age is 53.7 years old with a population of 48% male and 52% female. Barton Hills Village is home to an 88.1% Caucasian, 1% African American, and 6.8% Asian residents. 97.5% of residents completed high school and 83.5% have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. No one in the population is below the poverty level, and 93.5% are homeowners.

Based on the demographics, problems facing Albion include high poverty levels and low education rates. Barton Hills Village is quite different in that there is no poverty and high rates of home ownership and education. The racial breakdown between each community is also vastly different in that Albion is racially diverse and Barton Hills Village is overwhelmingly white. The demographics indicate that there may be fewer job opportunities in Albion because of the low education levels. Also, due to the elevated age and racial breakdown, it seems that Barton Hills Village is a highly segregated community.
Upon entering Barton Hills Village, one immediately notes that this is indeed a separate community from Ann Arbor. The streets leading up to the village work to contain the small community as a secluded sector, cut off from the rest of Ann Arbor. A sign posted along the entrance warns “No Thoroughfare”, letting others know this is a private community. Signs posted with addresses on the entrance for each street are displayed keeping unnecessary street traffic to a minimum. One only uses those streets to get to these assigned houses. Immediately upon entering the vicinity, residents are welcomed in with lush green forestry on all sides. The houses hide behind the trees, found only after long driveways that separate the home into its own world. Each house is secluded within its own property; one can barely see the neighbors through the trees. It offers a privacy not commonly seen within the suburbs. There are no sidewalks and no way for one to travel around besides driving down the twisting roads. “Speed tables” pop up to keep drivers from going too quickly, and the roads have beautifully manicured flower medians. On a given day, six or seven houses have landscaping trucks parked out front, maintaining the aesthetic perfection.

Within the community are several tennis courts that featured women in full tennis gear engaged in play at 11am on a Thursday morning. Barton Hills Village also offers paid access to the country club that sits proudly within the middle of the community. For a mere $31,000 one-time fee and a $6,000 annual fee, members have access to a sauna, gym, golf course, and fine formal dining within the clubhouse. Dress code is enforced strictly; some rooms cannot be entered without a suit jacket. Workers within the country club are friendly and accommodating, greeting one as soon as they walk in the door.

A realtor and member of the country club, however, was not as welcoming. While proud to be a member, she was notably skeptical and defensive to questions about her community. She was quick to comment that she would have lived there, but it used to consist of mostly older residents. When starting a family, it seemed unpractical to live in a place that lacked sidewalks for children to ride their bikes and play. Now, however, she calls it “very diverse” in that both younger and older families reside there. After passing on the information, she was quick to leave the interview without even so much as a goodbye.

The town hall nestled within the community is brand new, clean, and very white-and-beige. There are handicapped parking spots and handicap-accessible bathrooms, demonstrating how Barton Hills Village tries to accommodate all. Indicating an emphasis on privacy and maintaining barriers, the lone woman working there has to open the sliding glass window in order to acknowledge those walking in. Despite the physical wall which created a hierarchy between the visitors and herself, she was helpful in offering a town newsletter and answers to any questions.

Albion presents a very different picture. It was more spread out, with potholed roads and a general dreariness. Driving into town requires passing numerous run-down, dirty, and closed businesses. The downtown area has seen better days and instead boasts only a handful of stores still open. Then one comes onto the Albion college campus, and the shiny bright white buildings and large student housing contrast against the otherwise seemingly depressed community. All the resources and stores in the area are near the campus community, showing signs of a town that is functioning fully around its college campus.
Upon leaving campus again, the visitor is greeted with small houses, a lack of resources, and buildings falling apart. While the government housing is small, it is clean. There are signs posted throughout warning the residents to call in any suspicious activity, and cameras around letting passersby know their actions are being recorded. There is a small playground with a few swings for the children to play, and on a Sunday afternoon a couple of children no older than seven were playing alone without supervision. There are no flowers, no speed bumps, and no landscaping trucks in sight. Nearby, an abandoned schoolhouse gleams with its shattered windows and walls falling down. A home for many homeless and a place where drunk college students visit, it is slowly falling apart and sits as a definite eyesore within the area.

These communities differ exponentially in the types of environment in which people are surrounded. While Barton Hills has flowers, forestry, and privacy, Albion has small yards, houses cramped together, and broken down buildings. The contrast between the two communities is a clear example of stratification as described by Massey (2007) in that there is obvious “unequal distribution” among different classes of people, meaning “differential access to scarce resources”. While landscaping trucks maintain yards and flowers within Barton Hills, there are scarcely yards to enjoy within neighborhoods in Albion. Due to the division of people into different social categories, those who do not fit into the prestigious categories created are not invited in. Reliable means of transportation, like new cars, means that Barton Hills Village residents can live in a secluded community and still be able to travel to work at the nearby hospital or business. This is an example of an opportunity allocated and hoarded by those with the power to do so (Massey 2007). By keeping membership dues high at the country club, it keeps the boundary high and the risk of interacting with those in a different strata low. This is further explained by Massey’s (2007) idea that if “social boundaries can be made to conform to geographic boundaries…than the fundamental process of stratification becomes considerably more efficient and effective”. By enforcing dress codes and signs, it is clear that one must be part of the group in order to even enter the community, and therefore keeps the resources and social capital confined in this community as opposed to another, such as Albion.

Furthermore, the lack of diversity within a community such as Barton Hills Village may be explained by the power of the realtors. As discussed in Massey (1993), discrimination may impact racial makeup of a population as black home-seekers are sometimes “met by a realtor with a smiling face who, through a series of ruses, lies, and deceptions, makes it hard for them to learn about, inspect, rent, or purchase homes in white neighborhoods.” The homes in Barton Hills Village are all maintained by one single real estate company, and one realtor within that company. This realtor is also a member of the country club as mentioned earlier. As someone who describes a “very diverse community” as being composed of both young and old people, it begs the question of how much of her own prejudices are impacting the community. She was rude and skeptical of outsiders coming in the form of well-dressed professional graduate students, implying that she may be that way to others as well.

Furthermore, some of the greatest differences between the communities can be observed in the social institutions available. The educational systems within the town are one of the most evident aspects of the wealth distribution in each neighborhood. Children who live in Barton Hills Village attend either the Ann Arbor Public Schools (Skyline High School) or private schools, such as Greenhills School. When speaking with the realtor about the school system in Barton Hills, she stated that while some students attend Greenhills School, it is not necessary to attend private school because Ann Arbor Public Schools have a great reputations for high achievement. Educational outcomes differ significantly from Albion which has been listed as one of the worst performing schools in Michigan during the last two consecutive years (Wheaton 2011). The Albion school district has not only performed poorly but lost funding because of it and had to close Washington Gardner Middle School in 2010. The closure was due to this lack of funding and decreased amount of students (leaving the district to attend the school of choice in Marshall or Homer). During an interview with a teacher at Albion High School, “Ms. Smith” described that although the Albion school system has been suffering, teachers and administrators are enthusiastic that change is coming. With a new transformation plan and a $2.7 million federal grant for the current school year, teachers are excited to work towards a brighter future for the students.

While the communities differ greatly in the quality of education, both communities have many churches. Albion has roughly 30 churches (Lanoue 2009) and Barton Hills Village’s local community of Ann Arbor has nearly 50, with nearly all of the churches in both areas based on Christianity (Info MI 2006). There are differences, however, in how the churches are utilized in each community. In Ann Arbor, the churches are seen primarily as a place of worship, but in Albion, they are centers of the community. Because Albion does not have many recreational programs or educational funding for such programs, the church is seen as a place for students to come to spend time after school. For example, in an interview with Kids at Hope leader, Mr. Bonner, he described his program which takes place at the First United Methodist Church in Albion. While involved in the program, students do homework, receive mentoring, and play games after school. Both Pastor Williams of the Methodist Church (Caucasian) and Pastor Williams of Grace Temple (African American) believed that the churches were great resources for all community members for both recreation, faith, and educational programs for adults.

Other recreation programs in the Albion community include Double Vision Recreation Center. Set in a small building downtown, the recreation center has pool tables, computers, and study space and hopes to open a roller rink in the near future. This is much different from the available activities in Barton Hills. The Barton Hills Country Club provides many recreational activities for both children and adults. At the club there is swimming, golf, tennis, and many events that occur year round (although there are typically more in the summer). Also, it is noteworthy that their primary activities are those which have been historically segregated, such as blacks and whites swimming in separate pools and golf being a predominantly white sport (Wolch et al. 2005).

For those unwilling to pay the fee or if community members are looking for other types of recreation, nearby Ann Arbor has many other activities, such as a movie theater, concerts, football games, bounce houses for children, YMCA, museums, and much more. And while both communities have libraries, bowling, trails, and shops, the quality of these differs greatly between Albion and Barton Hills Village. Those in Barton Hills are cared for and utilized extensively, while in Albion they are run down or closed, small, and largely attached to the college, making them less accessible to the community. It seems that this may be largely due to the general trends of concentrated poverty decreasing the amount and quality of social institutions (Wilson 1996).

In speaking with community members in Barton Hills Village, it was difficult to entice people to describe challenges to the community. The only negative commentary was that there were no sidewalks along the winding roads, which made it difficult to visit neighbors or walk through the community. Personal observations include a lack of public social institutions within the neighborhood, (although community members may view this as a strength to keep the less affluent out) and a lack of diversity. In Albion, the challenges were more apparent. Between the lack of funding within the school district and a very small and rarely used recreation center, Albion is lacking in social institutions.

As for how the social institutions meet racial needs within the community, once again, Albion is lacking. Over the last 10 years, Albion High School has lost nearly 100 students per year creating a minority/majority flip, indicating that the needs of Caucasian families are not being met within the school system. Similarly, all of the youth who attend Kids at Hope are African American. It seems that most of the efforts in the town are being utilized by the African American population. In Barton Hills Village, there is no diversity. Wealthy Caucasian families seem to feel that their needs are being met by isolating themselves in a community where they do not have to associate with people of less affluent means or different races.

One of the reasons that Albion has continued to suffer since 1975, while other affluent communities (like Barton Hills Village) thrive is because there is a culture of poverty in Albion that is continuously reproduced due to policy (Schneider & Ingram 1993). Current welfare policies still account for an idea of a deserving and undeserving poor which is reproduced in low income communities, like Albion, which leaves them at a great disadvantage. Meanwhile, communities like Barton Hills Village are able to reproduce wealth through strong education systems, social and economic resources, and tax cuts.

Whereas poverty is nonexistent in Barton Hills Village, poverty is common in Albion, where 28.2% of the population is below the poverty level (American FactFinder 2005-2009). The economic disparity in these two communities can largely be attributed to the high unemployment, low education, and deindustrialization experienced by Albion. Barton Hills Village residents are mostly employed in educational, health, and social services—occupations that general require high levels of education. However, Albion continues to rely heavily on manufacturing as its primary source of employment. Interestingly enough, Albion also relies heavily on educational services, health care, and social assistance for its population’s employment, but this may be a result of Albion College’s presence in the community (American FactFinder 2005-2009). The fact that manufacturing jobs have decreased as deindustrialization has occurred and more jobs have been sent overseas as a result of globalization, makes Albion an at risk community for high unemployment. As Wilson explains, “fundamental structural changes in the new global economy, including changes in the distribution of jobs and in the level of education required to obtain employment, resulted in the simultaneous occurrence of increasing joblessness and declining real wages for low-skilled workers” (1996). Albion, without appropriate educational supports, suffered greatly from this collision of threats. However, a community like Barton Hills Village, with the available educational resources and the lack of high job loss was not as impacted by deindustrialization.

Additionally, Johnson’s theories of capitalism are clearly demonstrated in Albion. As manufactures had to keep up with cheaper prices as a result of globalization, they had to continue to maximize their profits. As Johnson explains, this leads to exploitation of the workers as they continue to accept lower wages because they have no alternative (2006). The basic system of capitalism locks communities like Albion into a cycle of poverty, where exploitation is commonplace.

In terms of political systems, Albion and Barton Hills Village also differ greatly as well. Barton Hills Village is a part of the Township of Ann Arbor and yet it maintains a certain amount of independence from Ann Arbor. In a way, Barton Hills Village is able to hoard opportunity even from the affluent suburb of Ann Arbor. Barton Hills Village is able to regulate its own private roads, control the waterways and streams within its boundaries, “to enforce all police, traffic, sanitary and other regulations in conflict with general law,” as well as other powers (Barton Hills Village Charter). These give Barton Hills Village the benefit of better sanitation and roads, but most importantly it allows residents to have autonomy and privacy. Barton Hills Village is able to use their unique position to reap the benefits of being a part of Ann Arbor Township and also hoard the opportunities that being a village allows them.

Barton Hills Village residents are highly invested in their community and take their autonomy seriously. In a recent election for the Board of Trustees (the governing board for the village) and for the maintenance corporation, there was a 42% and 60% voter turnout respectively (The Barton Bulletin September 2011). This is high compared to the voter turn-out in national elections and demonstrates how important these positions are to residents. Yet, when reading through the Barton Bulletin as to what the committees actually do, a lot of time seems to be spent enacting ordinances and maintenance with regard to lawns or property. An article from the Ann Arbor Observer notes that Barton Hills Village residents place a high value on environmental issues and spend significant funding to this end (Kane and Shackman 2005). However, it seems more likely that considerations are not so much environmental and rather, are more focused on maintaining high property values. Most of the June 2011 section of the Barton Bulletin was dedicated to “healthy lawn care,” in an effort to “encourage residents to follow best management practices for maintaining a healthy lawn while also protecting the environment and watershed.” Though the Bulletin is careful to frame this in terms of an environmental issue, it is clear from the instructions that follow that most of the concern is on aesthetics. In a way this regulates the community and keeps out undesirables, who may not take care of their property and therefore, drive down property prices. This idea is discussed by Massey (1993) who noted that the white stereotyped belief that “blacks do not keep up their homes” lead to many whites not wanting an integrated neighborhood. This emphasis on lawn care also presumes that residents are wealthy enough and have time enough, or more likely can hire a landscaping crew, in order to comply with the best practices. Therefore, exclusivity is maintained even within the community—ensuring that residents both have the means to own a home and maintain it in the “proper” way. In this way, even Barton Hills Village’s political system works to eliminate undesirables from its population.

Albion’s political structure is very different from that of Barton Hills Village. Instead of a Board of Trustees, the government features a mayor and representatives from each district (Resident’s Guide to City Services). In this way, in theory, all of Albion’s population should be represented in the local government. Little time is spent on discussing ordinances or lawn maintenance, as lawn upkeep matters little when so much of the town’s homes are in foreclosure or abandoned. Whereas, Barton Hills Village has few subcommittees, Albion has many ranging from the Board of Review to the Housing Commission. The political systems of these two communities mimic the communities themselves. Albion has a large system and focuses on trying to represent the entire population. Barton Hills Village, however, enforces privacy, exclusivity, and supports opportunity hoarding.

Barton Hills Village and Albion are two very different communities. The wide division of wealth and employment in these two communities can be attributed to capitalism. As discussed, capitalism leads to stratification with those who hold the means of production exploiting those who do not. This stratification expands to, as Massey explains, opportunity hoarding and exclusion (2007). Barton Hills Village maintains their opportunities by isolating themselves from the rest of the greater Ann Arbor community. Its roads are private, its properties expensive to buy and maintain, and membership to its social institutions (specifically the country club), even more expensive and creative of a culture that outsiders cannot access. This opportunity hoarding contributes to the high segregation in Barton Hills Village. It is predominately white and inhabited by those who have higher education, demonstrating a trend in how segregation is no longer exclusively racial, but also based on class and education level.

The disparity in wealth in Barton Hills Village and Albion demonstrates the high level of inequality capitalism creates. Whereas, communities like Barton Hills Village have access to better education and resources and are therefore able to attain jobs that are stable and come with a higher paycheck, Albion’s lack of resources leaves residents in low-skilled, unstable, low-paying jobs. The exploitation of the manufacturing industry keeps Albion’s residents in constant flow in and out of poverty. The economic failing of the community negatively impacts everything from home prices to the educational system. Segregation is also visible in Albion, specifically within the minority/majority flip that has occurred between the district population and the high school population. Though it appears that mostly white students are leaving, it is unclear whether this is exclusively white flight, since many teachers report that African American students with higher socio-economic status are also leaving the community. This too, supports the trend that segregation is now not exclusively based on race, but also class.

The underlying cause of all of these discrepancies between Albion and Barton Hills Village continues to be capitalism. The idea that everyone can succeed is blind to the fact that many are coming from an entirely different starting point, way behind the front lines. Those who are exposed to high amounts of hoarded resources will be able to go to the top schools in the state and continue to perpetuate the cycle of high income and success. Likewise, those whose parents struggle to keep a job in a desolate area and are attending schools that are losing funding are not on the same simple path. Capitalism, which fosters opportunity hoarding and exploitation, which in turn creates segregation, poverty, and inequality, can be seen in the lack of unemployment rates and poverty in Albion and in the private lives of those hidden behind the trees and winding roads of Barton Hills Village.

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