To finish up with our social work celebration, we traveled to The Ohio State Universitythis week and got the chance to sit down with the Dean of the College of Social Work, Dr. Tom Gregoire. Dean Gregoire PhD. has been a member of The Ohio State University’s faculty for 22 years, spending the past ten of those in the Dean position. Prior to this, though, he was an academic; after receiving his bachelors at the Marymount College of Kansas, he went on to receive his masters and studied substance abuse treatment. He took a look at how practices were changing and thought we needed more research on the matter, taking it upon himself to earn his Ph.D. so he could complete these examinations himself. He has taken his affinity for research with him throughout his professional career, as we cannot work in the absence of evidence. There are over 30 faculty members at Ohio State dedicating their entire careers to finding the best ways to treat clients as they don’t want people to fund them if they have no evidence to support their claims. Despite this, he feels like there will never be a time to stop studying as nothing is ever going to work perfectly; he is proud of all of the innovative research being done as it is community-based and he encourages all agencies to be more focused on this type of evidence. Above all, we are willing to experiment and advance the science.
Looking to those in the social work profession, Gregoire feels that to be successful, social workers need to be able to network. Having the ability to collaborate, create teams, and think about circumstances differently than others goes a long way when paired with the knowledge of evidence and successful interventions. With limited resources, you have to do things that work. This can require some courage since they commonly work in the cracks that vulnerable people are entrenched in. These social workers can help make a difference in creating one community by knowing that it simply isn’t enough to solve people’s problems. Sometimes, they need to think about one’s personal experiences and take on the roles and biases that create these problems in the first place. Dean said that we live in a world where two people could have all of the same characteristics and live in different communities, causing both people to ultimately have totally different experiences.
When evaluating the profession as a whole, Gregoire feels that the biggest challenge surrounds lack of resources; there is not enough money being invested in vulnerable people, and this causes social workers to wonder how they can become more creative. They have to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and then implement them in interdisciplinary ways. In the next five years, he sees this lack of resources shift. Now more than ever he is seeing a lot of private donations supporting smaller agencies, and this may push resources closer to the client. Very few people can have all of their care needs met in one building, so making resources more readily available to those in need, where they actually need them, is key. From creating internships and jobs in community locations like public libraries in homeless camps to accompanying the people on visits to ensure the well-being of those in the home, he says that we need to begin meeting people where they are.
Looking to the opioid crises we are immersed in, Gregoire says that they are at ground zero with the substance abuse crisis. Many rural communities are now plagued by addiction, with over 100,000 grandparents raising their grandchildren on account of parent drug abuse. 20% of these caregivers are under the poverty line, and this creates a generational problem as the trajectory usually sees the children of those struggling with untreated addictions simply following in their caregiver’s footsteps. At Ohio State, there is a substance misuse minor for social work students, allowing them to specialize in how to treat those with addiction as a whole, rather than the problem alone. When he looks at how his college is operating, his vision surrounds maintaining community involvement. When the curriculum was redesigned 10 years ago, 300 people from the practice community combined their knowledge to create a continued community partnership and ignite creative problem solving. He wants to ensure that they are educating the student as a whole, enabling them with the survival skills and protections given to fireman and policeman. He also teaches financial wellness to his students as he realizes that higher education does not come cheap. He does a lot of scholarship fundraising to ensure that students who want to commit to helping others do not take a vow of poverty. States across the country are now spending less than ever before on education, and this can cause many students to make huge sacrifices. The school has 32% of first generation undergrads and he celebrates them for taking a chance on themselves, changing their family for generations. He hopes to raise money for all of his students that can follow them into the community, aiding those committed to working in low income areas.
Connecting to Alvis, Gregoire has been involved with our nonprofit for over 12 years. He first visited our facilities for a research project. He says that Alvis’ services are phenomenal as we work with challenging situations. He admires our dedication to those discarded in the community and our commitment to shifting thought processes in order to improve quality of life. He knows that the College of Social Work and Alvis share an understanding of what it means to be helpful to others, holding the same values surrounding dignity, justice, and fair opportunity. Internships are integral to social work student’s training, and they offer great opportunity to grow, develop core values, and prepare to work for vulnerable populations. Through Alvis, interns gain this invaluable experience. He left us with a great quote he feels is applicable in today’s political climate; he says that it’s easy to look at the news and feel depressed or that we are heading in the wrong direction. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to say that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bent towards good.” We thank him for taking the time to sit down with us and shed light on this amazing profession.
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.