Saturday, 8 December 2012

Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice in Mental Health (Anish Alex MSW, RSW)

Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice in Mental Health

Current mental health approach in Canada is a shift from the traditional mental health services to a community based Psychiatric rehabilitation (Steele, et al., 2007). The guiding philosophies of community mental health rehabilitation are empowerment, competence and recovery. This approach is a combination of ecological and progressive system models. There are various theoretical perspectives in the social work practice in a community mental health rehabilitation setting such as developmental theories, personality theories and practice theories. Generally practice theories are predominantly used such as psychodynamic theories, cognitive-behavioural theories, humanistic theories, and postmodern theories.
    A conversion of conceptualized anti-oppressive perspective into real life and values of practices required a connection between theory and practice in the area of community mental health. Even though postmodern theories are being used; the overriding perspective in the ground of mental health is a bio-psycho-social model (Diaz-Granados et al., 2010). As an anti-oppressive social work practitioner I have to define my theoretical understanding about the fundamentals of anti-oppressive practice like egalitarianism and social justice. The principles for specific practice behaviour and relationships that minimize power imbalances and promote equity and empowerment would help me to practice an anti-oppressive social work among mental health consumers (Larson, 2008). As Larson (2008) explains, during the psychiatric intervention, worker needs to develop a service plan component includes treatment plan, vocational service, peer support and life skill training in full participation with the service user.
     Jennifer Martin (2003, as cited in Larson, 2008) suggests that anti-oppressive practice stands for social justice and criticizes the current social relations which are promoting social injustice especially in social work practice. Anti-oppressive practice basically addresses power imbalance and promotes change in the power relationship. This practice includes a self reflection, understanding of the oppressor and oppressed and critical evaluation of entire intervention process in terms of nature of relationships between worker and client (Larson, 2008). It also include a set of behaviours’ and /or skills of the practitioner in harmonious with specific clientele circumstances.
        A clear and conscious consideration of my social location will perhaps helps me to avoid the reproduction of ‘power over’ relationship with my clients; it also reinstate the connectedness with the client problem. Critical self reflection includes a critique on our own assumptions, values and believes (Hickson, 2011).  As Fook & Askeland (2006) describes critical self reflection is the manifestation of critical theories and it is the reflection through the lens of critical thinking (as cited in Hickson, 2011). I believe that critical self reflection is an approach to personal as well as professional practice to integrate or reintegrate and make sense of own believes and assumptions. Progressive practice on the ground of critical and postmodern theories are possible in various social work fields including mental health, in spite of the dominance of medical model. Social work profession with its theory, practice and research and with a holistic approach needs to develop a primary alternative to mainstream mental health approaches (Morley, 2003).
     A study conducted by Arboleda-Flórez & Stuart (2012) found that stigmatization degrades the value of people with mental illness. A social and professional support system need to be created to support mental health consumers and provide proper services. Anti-stigma approach needs to be practiced in all levels of mental health services. Social workers can be a strong partner in the initiative of anti-stigma practice and do advocacy for equitable treatment for service users from the mental health service system as well as from the society. Moreover social worker should be aware about own behaviour that could reproduce stigmatization (Steele, Dewa, & Lee, 2007).  Educate general public about the myth and misconception about mental illness; also resist and protest the negative representations. I think anti-stigma initiatives will not only help the service users but also increase the credibility of social work profession (Arboleda-Flórez, & Stuart, 2012).
     I found that mental health field in Canada have some dominant construction of social work practice and limited space for progressive thoughts. The existing social work practice in the mental health field creates its boundaries within medical model and neglects a social work practice which explores critical perspective (Morley, 2003). Critical social work helps people to understand the dominant ideology discourse and relocate subjectively in to that discourse. It will empower people to reconstruct their socially constructed identity and engage in social change process. However, this process will possibly enable people to challenge the existing dominant ideologies and deconstruct the social status quo order.
     As a social worker, I think it is my responsibility to assist my clients to deconstruct the dominant discourses which are maintaining social orders and power relations. From a critical point of view, I understand the need for raising consciousness about structurally oppressive factors which are influencing the use of mainstream mental health services through my social work interventions with service users and communities.
  An equitable distribution of the mental health service sector requires more targeted inclusionary strategies and beneficial approaches. We must strengthen the link between need of assistance and use of mental health services. In addition, it is important to develop a comprehensive policy to promote the use mental health services among those who are marginalized and in need of assistance. The influencing factors for mental health service use and determinants are varied in various studies; the common themes are stigmatization, lack of role in the treatment process, power imbalance, culture and lack of knowledge about the system. An approach with an anti-oppressive perspective can make changes in mental health service sector. A critical approach in mental health field is inevitable to make the field more accessible to general public. I think multiple approaches can bring mental health as a priority area in social policy discourse. According to Larson (2008) anti-oppressive social work practice in mental health field faces numerous challenges. An alternative thought from the existing dominant “marginalized and pathologies” (p.44) model can make significant changes in service user’s life. Above all, though this framework is truly motivating the social work professionals especially those who are just out from the universities, the existing dominant system in the mental health field is not supportive (Larson, 2008) thus it is important to fill the gap between theory and practice. 
Anish Alex MSW, RSW
Arboleda-Flórez, J., & Stuart, H. (2012). From Sin to Science: Fighting the Stigmatization of Mental Illnesses. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry, 57(8), 457-463.
Diaz-Granados, N., Georgiades, K., & Boyle, M. H. (2010). Regional and Individual Influences on Use of Mental Health Services in Canada. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry, 55(1), 9-20.
Hickson, H. (2011), Critical reflection: reflecting on learning to be reflective, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 12(6), 829-839.
Khandelwal, S. K., Jhingan, H. P., Ramesh, S. S., Gupta, R. K., & Srivastava, V. K. (2004). India mental health country profile. International Review Of Psychiatry, 16(1/2), 126-141. doi:10.1080/09540260310001635177
Larson, G. (2008). Anti-oppressive Practice in Mental Health. Journal Of Progressive Human Services, 19(1), 39-54. doi:10.1080/10428230802070223
Morley, C. (2003). Towards critical social work practice in mental health. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 14(1), 61–84.

Understand Terminologies for Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice (Anish Alex MSW, RSW)

Understand Sociological Terms for Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice  
Assimilate: The process of absorbing something. This term also refers to the forced integration of Aboriginal peoples into the dominant (European-Canadian) culture. Assimilation was an explicit policy of the Canadian government and is exemplified in a speech by Duncan Campbell Scott, superintendent of Indian affairs, to a parliamentary committee in 1920: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem. .. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department ..."1
Assimilation: Assimilationist assumptions reflect the male-dominated European culture that embraced Christian ideologies, biomedical practices, and capitalist aspirations, and that supported the introduction of the reserve system.2
Colonial: The period of European colonization during which colonizing groups assimilated and subjugated Indigenous peoples of North America (and other countries). Intent on appropriating land and resources in the name of their homelands, the colonizers utilized processes including settlement, physical force, and legislation to gain ownership.3
Colonialism: 1. a policy of acquiring or maintaining colonies. 2. derog. This policy regarded as the esp. economic exploitation of weak or backward peoples by a larger power.4
Doane and Varcoe (2005) talk about attending "to the ways in which colonization has shaped and continues to influence families around the globe. Through colonial rule, many cultures have had to cope with the imposition of Christian-European family norms and with the values of their colonizers... A postcolonial perspective further directs us to challenge the ways in which colonialism is enacted through theory and question the use of theories based on Eurocentric norms as a basis for our practice with families in multicultural societies."5
Loomba (1998) states that: "Colonialism was not an identical process in different parts of the world but everywhere it locked the original inhabitants and the newcomers into the most complex and traumatic relationships in human history... colonialism can be defined as the conquest and control of other people's land and goods... it has been a recurrent and widespread feature of human history."6
Colonization: Most often refers to the process of European nations in geographic, economic, social and political expansion beginning in the 15th century.
Culture: In the Collaborative Curriculum, culture is not confused with nor confined to ethnicity, race or nation. Culture is not seen as an object; there is no such "thing" as culture and therefore culture is not a "thing" that groups of individuals have (Allen, 1999). Rather, culture is created. Culture is a dynamic lived experience that happens between people, and culture is always in process. As a process that happens between people, culture is a relational process (Stephenson, 1999; Doane & Varcoe, 2004). Culture is a process and set of signifying practices through which meanings are produced and exchanged (Hall, 1997) and inextricably mediated by historical, social economic and political processes (Anderson & Reimer Kirkham, 1999).
Culture is always perspectival (Allen, 1999), meaning that culture is always viewed from a particular perspective — no one can stand outside of their own values, beliefs, attitudes (all of which can be thought of as "cultural") to view difference. Thus it is essential to begin understanding culture and context by interrogating our own perspectives." (part 2, p.31)
Cultural Awareness: According to Papps, cultural awareness "is a beginning step toward understanding that there is difference."7 Cultural awareness involves observing people's different activities and how they go about doing them. It does not usually involve looking at the political, social, and economic characteristics of difference or at one's own experiences or relationships to these characteristics.
Example: A health care worker noticing that people with ethnic backgrounds different from the mainstream culture may not eat the hospital meals prepared for them is an example of cultural awareness in practice.
Cultural Competence: Cultural competence describes "skills, knowledge, and attitudes to safely and satisfactorily deliver culturally sensitive, culturally appropriate, and culturally competent service."8  CulturalCare is critical to meet the complex culture-bound health care needs of a given person, family and community."9 
Cultural Sensitivity: Cultural sensitivity involves the recognition that the lived experiences of all people include aspects similar and different to our own and that our actions affect other people. It involves getting to know and understand other cultures and perspectives. Culturally sensitive approaches acknowledge that difference is important and must be respected.
 Delgamuukw: The Supreme Court of Canada decision on the claim to Aboriginal title and self-government made by the Hereditary Chiefs of the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en Nations of B.C. Decisions were made on a number of important issues surrounding Aboriginal land claims, including the admissibility of oral history as evidence, the nature of Aboriginal title, the test for proving Aboriginal title, and infringement of and extinguishment of Aboriginal title.15
Diversity Training (Cross-cultural Training)
Workshops or other educational sessions provided by an organization to increase the ability of its workers to serve people from different cultural groups. In health care, the goal is to assist health care providers to deliver "culturally sensitive" or "culturally competent" care. Many times, however, diversity training is based on a limited view of culture as a list of behaviours and practices associated with different groups. Such a view does not help providers to see themselves as bearers of "culture," nor does it address the power relations between them and their patients/clients or the effects of racism on the health of many peoples.
Dominance: A state in which one view prevails over all other views. If unexamined, the dominant view may perpetuate a situation where there is undue influence and power over an individual or group of people. Patterns of dominance can, over time, be internalized as societal norms, values, and behaviours that lead to submission and oppression of people due to differences of culture, age, history, income, class, gender, or occupation.
Ethnocentricism: The process of viewing one's own culture and/or ethic background as superior or the default position as to the way the world should be.16
Inclusionary Othering: Usually seen as the opposite to exclusionary othering, which uses power in relationships for "domination and subordination". Inclusionary othering is a constructive, positive process to connect with people through their differences and uses power in relationships for "transformation and coalition building".17
Internalized Colonialism: Persons within the colonized group unconsciously adopt the world view, cultural stereotypes, and cultural practices of the colonizer. As a result, dominant cultural values, beliefs, social structures, and power structures are perpetuated and reinforced, including racism and sexism.
Internalized Dominance: People in the dominant culture come to see the effects of colonization as normal or natural and are unable to see their privilege. They assume that everyone shares their view of the order of things, including stereotypes of colonized peoples and the view of history as written by the colonizers.
Internalized Oppression: Occurs when colonized individuals internalize positive messages about the dominant group and negative messages about themselves and their cultural group. This integration of negative stereotypes results in feelings of inferiority, shame, and self-hate, which then underlie the development of patterns of self-destructive behaviour.18
Intersectionality: The intersection of ethnicity, race, class, gender, age, ability, sexual/affectional orientation, physical size, etc., in the lived experience of individuals, which is influenced by the simultaneity in time and/or place of these factors. In other words, it is "people's exposure to the multiple, simultaneous and interactive effects of different types of social organization or oppression in which they are located" — a person's social location. (Source: Joan Gillie, 2004; quote T. Rennie Warburton, 7 October 2002).
It can also be expressed as: "People with disabilities, like women, people of colour and poor people, have their lives constructed to a large degree by how society values their participation" (HSD 464 Course Manual, Introduction to Disability Studies, School of Social Work, University of Victoria, p.116).
The idea of intersectionality makes more sense if you think about the historical, social, economic, and political context of someone's experiences of health and is integral to a postcolonial framework that is intent on giving voice to marginalized experience — in this sense intersectionality refers to the intersection of supposed "oppressions" in the lived experience of individuals and/or groups. Some do not see it as a "layering" of oppressions — It is possible to visualize intersectionality more like an oscillating net or web where there are many spaces/shapes for renegotiation and resistance. Also, think about how individual/group differences/similarities are related to the "primary organizing principles of a society [such as family system, legal system, education system, etc.], because those principles locate and position groups within a society's structures of opportunity and power." (Quote from T. Rennie Warburton, 7 October 2002).
Carol McDonald referred to intersectionality as the "distance from centre" (centre being the place of privilege)19, while Colleen Varcoe has referred to it as "multiple difference" that can intensify experiences of discrimination.20 Also, in relation to viewing of intersectionality as "distance from centre," see the definition of marginalization found below.
Marginalization: The process of establishing and maintaining a social division of people where the dominant group is considered the norm, or the "centre," and non-dominant individuals or groups are considered to exist outside the centre, at the "margins." Those who exist at the social, political, and economic edges of society do not have the same access to life opportunities that members of the dominant group have.21
Neo-colonialism: Refers to current processes of colonization that maintain social and political structures, institutions, and practices that differentially privilege members of the dominant group.22
 Objectification: The process of viewing or relating to persons in a way that depersonalizes them. When people are objectified, they cease to be thought of as living, thinking, and experiencing individuals (subjects) and instead, are seen as things that can be studied, measured, manipulated, and acted upon (objects). When things such as culture and health are objectified, they are treated as static and universal phenomena which can be reduced to a list of items to be measured and manipulated.
Power Relations: Individuals have different abilities to exert control and influence in situations or relationships. Many power relations exist within our social, economic, and political structures and institutions. Power and control are often hidden or unwritten and are usually vested in members of the dominant group.
Privilege: A system of unearned freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages, and access afforded members of the dominant group in a society. This is usually taken for granted by individuals as they are taught not to see it.23
Race: "... a socially constructed phenomenon based on the erroneous assumption that physical differences such as skin color, hair color, and texture, and facial features are related to intellectual, moral or cultural superiority. The concept of race has no basis in biological reality and as such has no meaning independent of its social definitions."24
 Racialization: "The term racialization has been adopted to emphasize the process whereby populations have been socially constructed as races, usually based on real or imagined cultural, physical and/or genetic attributes. Referring to racialized groups and racialized minorities focuses on the social processes by which people come to be classified as racially different and under what historical circumstances. It also implies that these humanly created practices can be changed." (T. Rennie Warburton, SOCI 335 class notes, 9 September 2002, University of Victoria)
Racism: The use of genetic or biological background as a basis for assumptions about individuals or groups. In racism, racialized groups are seen as different from other individuals or groups and are treated differently through daily practices.25
Social Location: The groups people belong to because of their place or position in history and society. All people have a social location that is defined by their gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location. Each group membership confers a certain set of social roles and rules, power, and privilege (or lack of), which heavily influence our identity and how we see the world.
Oppression and Domination
Gil (1994) points out the importance of understanding oppression, domination, and social injustice when he states...the conditions that cause people to seek help from social services are usually direct or indirect consequences of social, economic, and political institutions, and... the profession of social work is ethically committed to promote social justice. Insights into oppression and social justice, and into ways of overcoming them, are therefore essential aspects of the foundations of social work knowledge (p. 232)
Oppression can be somewhat simply described as “the domination of subordinate groups in society by a powerful (politically, economically, socially, culturally) group” (Mullaly, 2002, p. 27). Domination, also somewhat simply defined, is “the ability for one social group to systematically control, manipulate, and use other people for its own ends” (Goodman, 2001, p. 13).
Frye (1983) points out the centrality of group membership in discussing oppression and domination.
If an individual is oppressed, it is by virtue of being a member of a group or category of people that is systematically reduced, molded, immobilized. Thus, to recognize a person as oppressed, one has to see that individual as belonging to a group of a certain sort (p. 8).
Oppression and domination are best understood, not as static concepts, but as relational ones. This means that oppression and domination are embedded in the relationships that exist between individuals, social groups and classes, or between entire societies (Gil, 1994, Mullaly 2002). Bishop (1994) maintains that these relationships of oppression and domination are rooted in societal values of separation, hierarchy, and competition and contends that we must struggle to actualize competing values of connection, equity and co-operation
Privilege: In a now classic essay, Peggy McIntosh (1988) provides a metaphorical definition of white privilege as “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks” (p. 31).
Bell (1997) refers to this weightless knapsack as ‘structural privileges’ and contends that those of us in dominant groups learn to look at themselves, others, and society through a distorted lens in which the structural privileges they enjoy and the cultural practices of their group are represented as normal and universal. The privilege of dominant groups is reinforced in both language and material practices (p. 12).
Yee and Dumbrill (2003) maintain that an understanding of privilege is essential to anti-oppressive practice. They quote Wildman and Davis (1997).
Domination, subordination, and privilege are like three heads of a hydra. Attacking the most visible heads, domination and subordination, trying bravely to chop then up into little pieces, will not kill the third head, privilege. Like a mythic multi-headed hydra, which will inevitable grow another head if all heads are not slain, discrimination cannot be ended by focusing only on subordination and domination (p. 317).
While cautioning us against essentializing, Goodman (2001) describes people from privileged groups as sharing a general lack of consciousness of their privilege, of denying and avoiding knowledge of oppression, and of carrying an unrecognized sense of superiority and entitlement. 
Multiple Expressions: Oppression and domination are evident on multiple levels of social interaction: personal, cultural, and institutional (Adams, Bell and Griffin, 1997; Thompson, 1993; Mullay, 2002). Oppressive and dominant relationships are expressed through a variety of social constructs, including, but not limited to, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, and ability. While there are commonalities among these various forms of oppression and domination, each expression has a unique form and experience. An anti-oppressive stance resists the idea of a hierarchy of oppressions and understands that all forms of oppression and domination are interconnected. Furthermore, such a stance recognizes that individuals are complex and multi-faceted, and may, at differing times, be the oppressor or the oppressed.
Race: Thompson (1993) concludes that race is “a socially constructed way of categorizing people on the basis of assumed biological differences” (p. 17). He emphasizes that “the biological aspect of this social division is used as a justification for discrimination and inequality” and that “racial categorisation involves not only difference but also implies relations of superiority/inferiority” (p. 17) which is the basis of racism.
Henry, Tator, Mattis and Rees (1995) define race as a “category used to classify humankind according to common ancestry and reliant on differentiation by such physical characteristics as colour of skin, hair texture, stature, and facial characteristics (p. 328). They then define racism as a social system in which one group of people exercises power over another group on the basis of skin color’. It is ‘an implicit set of beliefs, erroneous assumptions, and actions based on an ideology of inherent superiority of one racial group over another, and evident in organizational and institutional structures and programs as well as in individual thought or behavior patterns’ (p. 10).
Bishop (1994) describes racism as a social/political/economic system and states “Racism is oppression based on colour. The term can be used to include oppression based on language or religion, but I have used other terms for these – language-based oppression, religious oppression, and anti-Semitism” (p. 135).
The resultant advantages of racism for the dominant racial group is referred to as white privilege which Wijeyesinghe, Griffin and Lowe (1997) define as “the concrete beliefs of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society which whites receive, unconsciously or consciously by virtue of their skin colour in a racist society” (p. 97). Examples of racism include the expression of ‘humour’ with a racist or ethnic theme, the high level of incarceration of Black and Native persons, or the ability of the Minister of Indian Affairs to nullify the Last Will and Testament of Native Canadians. Alternatively, examples of white privilege include personal care products that label white skin tone as ‘nude’ or ‘flesh’, the certainty that cultural figures such as Santa Clause and Jesus Christ will be represented as being members of the dominant racial group, or the over-representation of white men in politics and business.
Bishop (1994) distinguishes between sex and gender.
Sex refers to the physical characteristics of a person which makes him or her male or female. Gender makes a person male or female through a whole collection of socially defined traits – appearance, attitudes, roles, preferences, work, and so on. A patriarchal society has rigid definitions and is disrupted when a person of one sex displays the gender traits of the other sex (p. 130).
Goodman and Schapiro1997) offer the following definitions.
Biological sex refers to the physiological and anatomical characteristics of maleness and femaleness with which a person is born. Gender identity refers to one’s psychological sense of oneself as male or female. Gender role refers to the socially constructed and culturally specific behaviour and expectations for women (femininity) and men (masculinity) (p 115).
Dubois and Miley (1996) state that, “sexism is the belief that one sex is superior to the other” (p. 154) and include Robertson’s (1987) view that sexism is “based on the deeply ingrained view that gender characteristics and sexual inequalities are rooted in the natural order” (as cited in Dubois & Miley, 1996, p. 154).
Goodman and Schapiro (1997) specify that sexism is “the cultural, institutional, and individual set of beliefs and practices that privilege men, subordinate women, and denigrate values and practices associated with women” (p. 117).
Rasberry (1991) provides an examination of male privilege.
As a male, I am a full-fledged member of the patriarchy – an automatic representative of the socially constructed, male dominated hierarchy. Membership affords many luxuries, some subtle, some not so subtle. It allows me access to power, wealth and privilege in ways that I am only beginning to recognize (p. 6).
Examples of sexism include the sexualized terms used to refer to women, a lack of recognition of women’s unpaid labour, or violence against women. Examples of male privilege include the tendency of male students to speak more than female students, the accepted expectation that a man will not change his name upon getting married, or men’s ability to walk down the street alone with sense of personal safety.
Sexual-Orientation: Bishop (1994) defines sexual orientation as “a person’s emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction to people of their own or the opposite sex” (p. 135). The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth Project (1996) defines heterosexism as “the assumption that everyone is heterosexual. It is also the assumption that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural way of being”.
Similarly, Griffin and Harro (1997) define heterosexism as “the individual, institutional and societal/cultural beliefs and practices based on the belief that heterosexuality is the only normal and acceptable sexual orientation (p. 146). They discuss the distinction between heterosexism and homophobia stating that homophobia is “the fear, hatred, or intolerance of lesbians and gay men or any behavior that falls outside the traditional gender roles” (p. 146).
Peggy MacIntosh (1988) conceives of heterosexual privilege as the daily ways in which married persons are made “comfortable or powerful” and provide “supports, assets, approvals, and rewards to those who live or expect to live in heterosexual pairs.”
Examples of heterosexist privilege include using exclusive language such as husband or girlfriend, the failure of many companies to extend “spousal” benefits to same-sex partners, and the legislated privileges granted to heterosexual people. The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth Project (n.d.) illustrate such privilege: “I can put a picture of my partner on my desk, bulletin board, locker etc., at work without fear of harassment, exclusion, or firing” and “I do not have to change my words when I talk about my partner so that other people won’t know that she/he is my partner
Ability: We tend to think of ability or disability as biological or medical states of being. However, Wendell (1996) reminds us that “neither impairment or disability can be defined purely in biomedical terms because social arrangements and expectations make essential contributions to impairment and disability, and to their absence” (p. 35). She extends her position in defining disability as “any lack of ability to perform activities to an extent or in a way that is either necessary for survival in an environment or necessary to participate in some major aspect of life in a given society” (Wendell, 1996, p. 23).
Oliver (1996) expands upon the social construction of disability when he defines disability as “all the things that impose restrictions on disabled people ranging from individual prejudice to institutional discrimination” (p. 33). Oliver firmly rejects an individual or personal understanding of disability and states “it is not individual limitations, of whatever kind, which are the cause of the problem but society’s failure to provide appropriate services and adequately ensure the needs of disabled people are fully taken into account” (p. 32).
Rauscher and McClintock (1997) define ableism as “a pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people who have mental, emotional, and physical disabilities” (p. 198). They expand
Deeply rooted beliefs about health, productivity, beauty, and the value of human life, perpetuated by the public and private media, combine to create an environment that is often hostile to those whose physical, emotional, cognitive, or sensory abilities fall outside the scope of what is currently defined as socially acceptable (p. 198).
Examples of ableism include inaccessible public buildings, unusable transportation systems, and segregated education. Examples of ability privilege include the certainty that theatres and entertainment venues will provide comfortable and convenient seating arrangements and knowing that my favourite books will be available in an accessible format
Class: Seabrook (2002) defines class as the “division of society into unequal strata or groups. The differences between them express social relationships and constitute the social identity of the members of each group” (p. 14).
For Bishop (1994) class is “not simply a matter of income, but of power” and determines a person’s ... “access to resources, of say in the political system, even of say in their own lives” (p. 128).
Yeskel and Leondar-Wright (1997) define class as “relative social rank in terms of income, wealth, status and/or power: (p.238). They define classism as the institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential values to people according to their socio-economic class; and an economic system which creates excessive inequality and causes basic human needs to go unmet (p. 238).
For Day (1989), classism is “prejudice against the presumed immorality of those in lower economic classes – beliefs that they are lazy, unmotivated, immoral, promiscuous, stupid, or incompetent” (as cited in Dubois & Miley, 1996, p. 153).
Seabrook (2002) discusses class privilege and states:
Privilege in every society spins myth to legitimize its power or its monopoly over resources. Ruling castes or classes perpetuate themselves by a mystical appeal to antiquity, lineage, divine sanction or ‘breeding’, which justify their right to rule (pp. 21-22).
For Swanson (2001) ‘poor-bashing’ is integral to classism. Poor bashing is evident
when people who are poor are humiliated, stereotyped, discriminated against, shunned, despised, pitied, patronized, ignored, blamed, and falsely accused of being lazy, drunk, stupid, uneducated, having large families, and not looking for work (p. 2).
Examples of classism and class privilege include belief that certain work is beneath one, that everyone could eat well if they just budgeted properly, higher and higher university tuition fees, and the criminalization of street youth and homelessness.
Age: Robertson (1987) defines ageism as the “belief that one age category is in some respects inferior to other categories and that unequal treatment of them is therefore justified” (as cited in Dubois & Miley, 1996, p. 156).
Focusing primarily on discrimination of the elderly, Thompson (1993) define ageism as a “tendency to devalue older people and overemphasize the negative aspects of later life” (p. 17). He further emphasizes how age is a “significant dimension of the social structure” (p. 18) which greatly affects the “distribution of power, status and opportunities” (p. 17) in our society. He also acknowledges that many of the issues around ageism apply to children as well.
Age privilege refers to the benefits and rights afforded individuals by a “social/ economic/political/ideological system” (Bishop, 1994, p. 126). Bishop (1994) suggests that at any particular age we may experience both privilege and discrimination, depending on the social situation.
One example of ageism is the practice of mandatory retirement. Age privilege is apparent in the media as individuals who fall within the target age demographic can be certain that the majority of television programming will be directly relevant to them or feature personalities approximately their own age or stage of life.
Knowledge as Multiple: Anti-oppressive theory is rooted in an epistemology that invites the expression of multiple and varying truths about society and social relationships and gives rise to the concept of “different ways of knowing” (Belenky et al., 1986; Bruyere, 1998; Cairns et al., 1998; Chan and Dilworth, 1995; Collins, 1991; Ellsworth, 1989; Giroux, 1992). “No one group or individual possesses the theory or methodology that allows it to discover the absolute truth about other people’s experiences. What is required is an organizing framework that allows different perspectives on the truth to be held” (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995, p. 11). In rejecting the possibility of unitary or ‘master’ truths such an epistemology is in potential conflict with some traditional professional practices such as diagnosis and assessment processes, which encourage practitioners to discover the ‘one best professional truth’. Furthermore, such an epistemology frequently conflicts with our desire to learn the ‘right’ answer and the ‘right’ way to practice. Anti-oppressive practitioners must therefore be able to work effectively within a context of contradiction, uncertainty, and multiple understandings of reality. Anti-oppressive theorists understand that ‘reality’ can vary as a result of differences in social and material conditions and develop the skills needed to recognize and support variations in clients’ ‘ways of knowing’.

Power: The concept of power is an essential element of anti-oppressive theory and is seen as “integral to social problems and solutions” (Fisher, 1995, p. 199). Power is traditionally thought of as a commodity that is unequally distributed and used as a mechanism of domination over others. However, anti-oppressive theorists challenge this conception of power as a possession and, similar to the understanding of oppression, see power as relational, or as something “people use and create” (Fook, 2002, p. 52). Starhawk (1987) distinguishes between power over, power with, and power from within. Collins (1991) presents a view of power as an internal creative force or mobilizing energy and therefore sees power as infinite and self-determined. 

Diversity, Difference and Identity: The term diversity has become a buzzword with a variety of connotations and synonyms (Goodman 2001, 4)”. The word “difference” is one of these synonyms.
... ‘difference’ is increasingly used in academic and common discourse,[but] its meaning is not at all clear. Difference is generally understood to refer to a broad and ever expanding set of particular groups or categories such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, class, and physical or mental ability. The defining features of ‘difference’, as a general concept, however, remain ambiguous ( Stainton and Swift 1996, 76).
Identity can be understood as “the social self that is named and experienced. Identity is socially constructed and includes social positions such as gender, race, and sexuality” (Ristock and Pennell, 1996, p115).
Anti-oppressive understandings of difference and identity are evolving, primarily as a result of the challenges posed by post modern theorists. However, no matter how they are conceived, there is an agreement on the centrality of these concepts for effective anti-oppressive practice. This centrality is reflected in the education of social work students.
A belief that ‘mainstream’ social workers need to be educated about groups different from themselves has emerged over the last three decades. This belief has become to be reflected in social work education through a proliferation of courses dealing with the experience of being ‘different’ from the mainstream population and discourse. Beginning with the idea of ‘class’ difference in the 1960s and expanding into areas of gender, race, culture, age and physical and intellectual ability, the number and variety of such courses have grown rapidly in the 1990s. (Stainton and Swift, 1996, p. 75)
In an attempt to ensure equality social workers sometimes deny difference. While well intentioned, this approach, which Dominelli (1988) refers to as a ‘color blind approach’ has oppressive implications. These include a denial of the personal implications of difference, practice approaches that are culturally inappropriate, and a denial of the impact of oppression and domination. At the same time, there are dangers ignoring commonalities and in reifying difference, which can potentially lead to dichotomous thinking that results in oppositional categories. As Collins (1998) states “defining one side of the binary by the absence of qualities or characteristics of the other side afford(s) one side normality and relegate(s) the other to a deviant, oppositional other” (p. 146). 
Self Awareness and Reflexivity: There are multiple understandings of self awareness within the social work literature (Kondrat, 1999; Miehls and Moffatt, 2000; Schon, 1983; Sheppard, Newstead, Di Caccauo & Ryan, 2000; Taylor and White, 2001). At a very basic level, self awareness means being able to listen and fully attend to social interactions. At a slightly more complex level, self awareness entails an examination of one’s own values and prejudices to see how they may be affecting one’s work. Moving the process even further, a reflective self awareness asks workers to consider how there social location or identity influences who they are an how they relate to clients. Finally, a stance of critical reflexivity prompts workers to ask how their actions may be reproducing or desconstructing structures of oppression and domination (Kondrat, 1999).
Sheppard et al (1998) provide a description of such critical reflexivity in practice:
The reflective practitioner, in practical terms, is one who is aware of the socially situated relationship with their client(s) i.e. with a clear understanding of their role and purpose; who understands themselves as a participant whose actions and interactions are part of the social work process; who is capable of analyzing situations and evidence, with an awareness of the way their own participation effects this process; who is able to identify the intellectual and practice processes involved in assessment and intervention; who is able to do so in relation to the nature and purpose of their practice ( p. 767).

Action: Awareness and analysis are necessary, but not sufficient, components of anti-oppressive theory and practice. Action directed towards change is also essential. Whether referred to as practice guidelines, objectives, or strategies, suggestions for action are consistent with social justice theory.
Coates (1993) describes five practice guidelines: (a) maximize supports from the client’s environment, (b) help people reflect on their personal/political situation and develop their own plan of action, (c) maintain accountability to the client, (d) help modify existing structures and/or build support systems/counter systems, and (e) promote the development of personal skills that increase peoples’ ability to deal with their environment.
Moreau (1993) delineates five practice objectives: (a) materialization, (b) collectivization, (c) defense, (d) increasing the client’s power in the worker client relationship, and (e) increasing the client’s power via personal change.
Carniol (2000) identifies five strategies: (a) reconstructed social work counseling, (b) alternative social services, (c) social action groups, (d) working with unions, and (e) coalition and social change movements. Although expressing themselves differently, all of these authors direct social workers to take action to promote both personal and structural change to improve the lives of clients. It is understood that actions may be limited by the political and social context of services and that strategies for taking effective action within such contexts must be developed (Fook, 2002). 
Anish Alex MSW, RSW

Friday, 7 December 2012

Homeless Youth in Canada:A Critical Analysis (Anish Alex MSW, RSW)

Homeless Youth in Canada: A Critical Analysis.
     Homelessness is a socio-economic condition, resulting from poverty and shortage of low-priced housing. World economic recession and increasing globalization intensifies the effects of poverty and produces distressful living conditions, and a pathway to homelessness. Miloon Kothari (as cited in Finley & Barton, 2003) argued in his speech to UN Human Rights Commission on April 2001 that, the negative impacts of globalization expands the economic disparity between groups, nationally and internationally. As a result, people are suffering with inadequate or unsafe housing and poor living conditions worldwide. I argue that, homeless youth and youth living in distressful living conditions are at risk. The risk factors are identified as poverty, difficulties associated with the family system, age, lack of education, race, disability, gender, lack of employment opportunity and instability of housing (Panter-Brick, 2004). Organizations with an anti-oppressive perspective can build a respectful and secure environment for marginalized homeless youth in Canada (Karabanow, 2004).
Key words: Homelessness, Poverty, Structural oppression, Youth, Canada, Anti-Oppressive perspective, 
Homeless Youth in Canada - A Social Problem

     The growing number of homeless youth in Canada includes different ethnic communities. A single outline is not possible to articulate this social problem; rather a range of profiles are required.  Reasons are various and complex. A study conducted by Miller, Donahue, Este, & Hofer, (2004) found that living conditions, poverty, problems in the family, unsatisfactory education, thrive for independence, lack of life permanence, day to day activities,  interactions with other group and  peer group hanging out are the general causes of homelessness and/or street life. Homelessness itself is not a social problem rather it is the most observable and inflated manifestation of poverty. In the study Miller et al., (2004) explored that the depression levels among street youths are alarmingly high. They are more vulnerable to dual substance abuse, alcoholism, infliction of self destruction and expose to violence. Casavant (1999a, as cited in Miller et al., 2004) explains that as a coping strategy this young population engaging in crimes and prostitution. Miller et al., (2004) cited Baron & Hartnagel (1998) described the pressure from the peer group, longer street life and experience of violence can be leads to a violent behavior among street youth.
     Though the reasons for homelessness differs the situation obscure the base problem that is poverty (Panter-Brick, 2004). The vicious cycle of poverty affects youths in different ways. Due to the economic disadvantage of the family and the complexities of global economic recession creates innumerable educational issues and inadequate food and facilities; and forced many youths to leave education and home (Finley & Barton, 2003). Due to lack of education and work experience, these young people find difficulty to get an employment opportunity, which again leads to poverty. The research by Miller et al., (2004) reveals that, even though many homeless youth in Canada engaged in some kind of survival jobs, the income is insufficient to meet their independent life expenses. As a result, these people fail to continue their education and are forced to do more than one minimum wage jobs.    

     There are many systemic barriers contributing to this social problem. The youth living in a homeless situation are oppressed by “so-called democratic society”; and considered as unequal members of the society (Finley & Barton, 2003); even though many of them are scapegoats of various interlocked oppression. The shortage of low-priced housing, a clean space to rest and study, demand of the schools, and lack of school supplies and permanent address (Finley & Barton, 2003) are barriers which directly or indirectly intensifying the issue. Insufficient financial/welfare assistance, crowded and inconvenient shelters, inadequate food and ineffective services (Miller et al., 2004) are the non supportive systems which creates negative environment.

Social Work Intervention - An Anti-Oppressive Approach

     Multidimensional social work practices with an anti-oppressive approach includes “locality and social development, dynamic participation, structural analysis of the condition, consciousness raising and social action” (Karabanow, 2004) are required to tackle this social problem. The reasons for homelessness among youth are varied, a successful intervention should focus on existing problems of street involved youth as well as identify the structural reasons contributing to this problem  Global society fails to deal with the growing urban poverty created by capitalism and globalization (Finley and Barton, 2003). The society and its various sub systems including schools are not considering the experience of a child or youth living in distressful urban poverty. A “culturally responsive science practice” (Finley and Barton, 2003) can make sense of youth in urban setting.  

    An area need to be addressed is the existing child welfare system; many street involved children and youth had prior experience in foster care, it shows the inadequacies of institutionalized child care system (Karabanow, 2004). Studies reveal that youth those who are in shelters have a long history of receiving welfare. In addition, these youth experienced numerous placements and long medication strategies, which create emotional detachment towards the service providing system (Karabanow, 2004). Karabanow also explained that long time institutional life produces street involved youth by implanting “learned helplessness”.  Current crowded shelters are producing ‘negative environment’ (Miller et al., 2004) and creates barriers to develop themselves. Most of the shelters are rooted in classic charity or religious oriented. A youth oriented alternative system can provide more humanistic services.  In the discussion, Rothschild-Whitt (1979) presented the concept of a parallel informal alternative system which can reduce “rational-bureaucratic” authority and provide immediate services in a flexible way (as cited in Karabanow, 2004).

     Changing current barriers faced by the street youth consist of a number of stumbling blocks, which need to be addressed. Financial factors pulling them back from proceeding beyond their problems. Welfare system or current financial assistance programs are not sufficiently helping them from at-risk situation. Funding for education and affordable housing is a remaining challenge (Miller et al., 2004). Apprehension of seeking assistance and taking action is the result of fear, generated from negative organizational experiences. Organizations should improve the quality of their services. Anti-oppressive approaches such as making awareness about injustice and structural forces, realization of power and diversity, structural modification in the organization (Karabanow, 2004) and sensitive services can make fundamental changes in youth’s lives (Miller et al., 2004). Raising awareness among employers and job providers are also important. Absence of sufficient education contributes to limited employment opportunities. Alternative education and job training will help homeless youth to attain a good job (Miller et al., 2004). Above all, early family intervention is the preventive technique to reduce distressful living conditions. Providing different range of programs and services to support families and protect youth at risk can make changes (Hick. 2009)

   Throughout this paper I was trying to deal with major structural problems associated with homeless youth in Canada. The common themes are poverty, lack of affordable housing, problems in the family and structure of the current arrangements (Miller et al., 2004; Panter-Brick, 2004; Finley and Barton, 2003). An anti-oppressive perspective of this circumstance is that political, economical and social factors propel youth to distressful life. Meaningful interactions and raising consciousness can develop a process of “recognizing, discovering and reconstructing the individual’s past and present, and future orientations” (Karabanow, 2004). As Karabanow (2004) refers, active participation of street youth, grass-root level social development programs, and a structural analysis of the problem (Mullaly, 2007) can make a social change in the area of marginalized homeless population in Canada.
Anish Alex MSW, RSW


Finley, S., & Barton, A. (2003). The power of space: constructing a dialog of resistance, transformation, and homelessness. International Journal Of Qualitative Studies In Education (QSE)16(4), 483. Doi:10.1080/0951839032000099499

Hick, S. F. (2009). Social work in Canada: an introduction. Toronto, ON: Thompson Educational Publication.
Karabanow, J. (2004). Making Organizations Work: Exploring Characteristics of Anti-oppressive Organizational Structures in Street Youth Shelters. Journal Of Social Work4(1), 47-60. Doi:10.1177/1468017304042420

Miller, P., Donahue, P., Este, D., & Hofer, M. (2004). The experiences of  being homeless or at risk of being homeless among Canadian youth. Adolescence, 39(156), 735-755.

Mullaly, B (2010). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege (2nd ed). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

Mullaly, B (2007). The New Structural Social work (3rd ed). Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Panter-Brick, C. (2004). Homelessness, Poverty, and Risks to Health: Beyond at Risk Categorizations of Street Children[1]. Children's Geographies2(1), 83-94.