Friday, September 3, 2010

Compliance or Innovation: Choose One

Wonder why the lockstep 'compliance' mentality of so many grants -- the endless timetables and workplans and logic models -- rarely results in innovation? This video by Dan Pink offers some critical insights. Listen up, funders.

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Unalloyed Good Thing? Not Necessarily

As volunteer managers and nonprofit leaders know, the limiting factor for volunteer impact is NOT a shortage of volunteers, stipended or not. Instead, the limiting factors are the capacity of nonprofits to deploy them effectively, and the unusability of untrained, ill-prepared, temporary volunteer workers. ~ Blue Avocado, on the 'sacred cow' of volunteering

So true. That's why we just produced The Hidden Workforce, a toolkit and promising-practices report for child- and youth-serving agencies considering starting, or hoping to improve, their volunteer programs. We believe that 1) it's foolish to squander resources, and the volunteers are a resources; but that 2) if you don't manage volunteers correctly, you'd be better off without them. In other words, you have to train them and manage them like you would staff. The benefit? After that, they're free. Better yet, they bring all kind of offbeat skills and perspectives that can enrich the work you do.

Check out the toolkit.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Changes in DSM Prompt Controversy

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will not be published until 2013, but the discussion about the proposed changes to the new manual is already animated. The DSM V has been released in draft form by the American Psychological Association (APA) and for the first time the drafting committee is accepting public feedback on the latest adaptations. And feedback is what they are getting, both positive and negative.

One major proposed change is to create ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ and eliminate separate diagnoses for conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome. Instead, individuals will be diagnosed on the Autism spectrum, which Asperger’s will fall under. This proposed change has elicited many responses from the Asperger’s community, according to a recent NPR story.

"The intent is to try to make the diagnosis of autism clearer and to better reflect the science," says Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center. Lord is part of the group that decided to consolidate autism-related categories, including Asperger's.

But the change is going to be hard for some people with Asperger's, says Michael John Carley, executive director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership in New York and author of Asperger's From the Inside Out. "I personally am probably going to have a very hard time calling myself autistic," says Carley, who was diagnosed with Asperger's years ago. Many people with Asperger's take pride in a diagnosis that probably describes some major historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, Carley says. Under the new system, those people would represent just one extreme of a spectrum. On the other extreme is "somebody who might have to wear adult diapers and maybe a head-restraining device. This is very hard for us to swallow," he says.

The change makes a lot of sense, says Roy Richard Grinker, an anthropologist at George Washington University who has studied autism in various cultures. Eliminating the Asperger's diagnosis won't mean that people in that category will lose access to services, Grinker says. That's because "almost anybody with an Asperger's diagnosis also could qualify for what is called autistic disorder," he says, adding that the change could make it easier for some parents to get help for a child with Asperger's. Right now, states including California provide services to children with autism but not those with Asperger's, Grinker says. "So removing Asperger's really removes what is a false barrier to parents getting care for their kids."

(Hear the story at:

Another proposed change is the addition of 'temper dysregulation with dysphoria' (TDD), a category created to prevent a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children who don’t meet all the criteria but warrant some type of treatment. Again, this proposal has been met with mixed reactions.

“Temper dysregulation with dysphoria is proposed to prevent misdiagnosis of children who have bursts of rage and can be moody, anxious and irritable. Such children are often diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and treated accordingly, sometimes with powerful medications. The diagnosis of bipolar "is being given, we believe, too frequently," said Dr. David Shaffer, a member of the work group on disorders in childhood and adolescence. In reality, when such children are tracked into adulthood, very few of them turn out to be bipolar, he said.”

(See article at:,0,2650262.story)

But others worry that kids with normal temper tantrums will be labeled as TDD, which can cause serious ramifications. Critics argue that [TDD] would only compound the problem of over-treatment. “They are close to treating the children like guinea pigs. I think that's appalling and outrageous," said Christopher Lane, author of "Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness." "The APA should be moving to prevent such controversial practices, not encouraging them, as it is doing here." (See article at

The APA committee is taking feedback on the proposed changes until April 20th through the website We also want to know what you think about the proposals. Will TDD cut down on children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which has seen an exponential increase in recent years? Will the elimination of Asperger’s syndrome as a separate diagnosis help more children get treatment?

~ Mindi Wisman, NEN Research Associate

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Personal Perspective on the Multi-generational Family

The March 28 Into Practice bulletin included an item on a recent Pew study on the growth in the number of live-in extended families (The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household). Reading it, I was brought back to my own family experience. Growing up in the late '60s and '70s, my family was part of the 27% who lived in a multigenerational home. We had my great aunt, my grandparents, my parents, and my four siblings living in our home in southwestern Pennsylvania. The house often felt very crowded, there were challenges getting along, and there were times I longed to be an only child, but most of the time, I enjoyed the experience of having different perspectives and viewpoints on the world.

My maternal great aunt lived in our home off and on throughout my entire childhood. She was an independent woman with very strong views, which she expressed at any opportunity. She and my mother shared this character trait and tended to be on opposite ends of most topics; this made for interesting conversations in which I readily participated. As I interacted with my peers in school, I realized early on that I had a very different view of the world than they did. I remember comparing my perspective on the political scene, government in general, human rights and environmentalism to the perspectives, or lack thereof, of my peers. After all, how many nine-year-olds wanted to discuss the political wrangling happening in DC or the impact of industry on the health of our planet? These are the kinds of discussion I had with my great aunt, a conservative republican and my mom, a moderate democrat. Even at nine, I was a proud liberal democrat. I owe my political activism, then and now, to my mother and great aunt and the conversations we had.

My grandparents moved in when they began having health problems. They needed support to take care of their basic needs in this last chapter of their lives. I was very aware that my grandparents were dying and they came to our house to be with family and to be taken care of. As my grandparents moved along this last journey, I participated in their lives; I listened to their stories about their lives and I told them what was going on in my life. These were challenging times and they certainly helped shape my life. My interactions with my grandparents further separated my experiences from my peers. I understood very early that life is finite. This led me to analyze risks in a way that was very different from my peers. My friends would often say things like 'you only live once' and I would reply 'yes and it is up to us to make sure we have lived well.' I certainly took my share of risks, especially in adolescence, but they were not impulsive risks but rather calculated risks.

I know my great aunt and grandparents experienced both the benefits and challenges of living in a multigenerational family. The study mentions some of the benefits of multigenerational homes, especially for older adults. But I feel compelled to emphasize the benefits young people can experience in the multigenerational household. Some of the benefits I value from my multigenerational household experience include an active involvement in politics and social justice. I am comfortable with entire human life span, including the aging and the death process, which I experienced as a gift to be shared. I have a tendency to think about history and look to history to apply lessons to current situations; this comes from that story telling of lives past. There was a lot of adult/youth interaction and a lot of family time. While I struggled making valuable adult connections in my community, I knew I had them in my family.

Our society is moving back to a way of living in the world together that used to be the norm and it is important that we as service providers understand the special impact the multi-generational lifestyle has on the entire family. There are any number of ways we can help families adjust to the multigenerational household so they can benefit from the experience. Many families will struggle with this adjustment without support, especially if the move towards a multigenerational household is due to economic issues, legal or custody issues, or other stressful circumstances. Families may need help dealing with the circumstances that led to them becoming a multigenerational household. Families will need to establish boundaries, particularly around income and budgeting, parenting, and household expectations. They may need to gain an understanding of the different ways the generations think, perceive the world, and communicate. At the very least, we need to help families navigate the tricky task of keeping the peace while meeting their needs. These are interesting times.

~ Cindy Carraway-Wilson

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Earthquake Here at Home

The literally earth-shattering crises in Haiti and Chile have begun to strike me as a metaphor for the crisis -- smaller but with devastating effects of its own -- hitting our social service system. I feel this way because every conversation I'm having with agency directors these days sounds the same: They're laying off staff, cutting programs, and trying to feel their way into whatever new types of services their state is now prioritizing. One director wrote us: "We have closed four of our five residential facilities and have laid off 60 people, with more coming; our last program looks like it will go in July, leaving only the homeless work, which we have to fundraise for to break even. No more receptionist or human resource person, and the other support people will be gone soon. The board has cut all retirement contributions, no raises, COA won't be renewed. Not much fun here." Not much fun indeed.

If there is opportunity in this crisis, many agencies are struggling to find it. NPR listeners got an earful yesterday about the very real consequences of cutting child abuse programs, but of course we in the field already know all about them. What about the former clients of closed programs? Are they miraculously improved and back on their feet? And will our staff themselves be soon joining the ranks of the needy? Yes, I know -- we should appreciate that we are not in Haiti or Chile. And indeed we're nothing like those countries, not really. Here in the U.S., we have the infrastructure, though presently under-supported; we have the resources, though presently misappropriated; and most importantly we have the know-how to do much better than we currently are. So I, for one, am living for the day that we bring all of these capacities into some sensible alignment.

Melanie Goodman, Executive Director

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's a Micro, Micro, Micro, Micro World

You’ve heard of microeconomics and micro-organisms, but how about micro-volunteering? We uncovered the trend while doing our own research on volunteering (we'll have a toolkit available soon, targeted to child- and youth-serving agencies).

What is micro-volunteering, exactly? It's emerged over the past few years as a way of melding today’s technology and need for instant gratification with the desire to make a difference. Organizations like The Extraordinaries and Kiva are leading the way in this new idea of how to affect change. From a recent article:

The Extraordinaries delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. Through The Extraordinaries, you might be able to use your smart phone to: translate a foreign-language document into English, add identifying tags to photos and videos for a museum, give advice to a college applicant, snap a picture of a pothole that needs patching and zap it to the proper authorities or spot a rare woodpecker for the Audubon Society., a microlending site, allows people to easily lend money to the working poor. So far, some 520,000 people have loaned more than $80 million to people in 184 countries, according to Kiva's reports. Using PayPal or a credit card, a visitor to the Kiva website can loan a struggling entrepreneur in a developing country $25 or more. The organization says the money is usually paid back within a year. (Read about it

Micro-volunteering or micro-giving also played a significant part in the relief efforts for the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti. The American Red Cross collected $22 million of its $103 million dollars recently given for Haiti from text-message donations—an unprecedented amount. The micro-volunteering trend has also attracted media attention from CNN and Time.

It's hard to argue against micro-volunteering (though some experts do, saying that it panders to the commitment-phobic by making real change seem easier than it is), but, since the trend's here, we're more interested in how the direct-service world can make use of it.

Can positive change come from such brief outpourings of support? Or, is this an over-simplification of the hard work that is needed by volunteers to affect real change in the world? Is this trend here to stay? If so, how can agencies utilize it to benefit their clients and organization?

Friday, February 12, 2010


"It is the first randomized controlled study to demonstrate that an abstinence-only intervention reduced the percentage of adolescents who reported any sexual intercourse for a long period," according to a statement by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where the study's lead researcher John B. Jemmott III is a professor.

The news last week about an abstinence program finally working - working! - has astounded and discomfitted many in our field. Does it mean the right was ... right?

As with all studies, you have to dig deep to really find out what was really going on. Connect for Kids has done a good job at doing that. And it turns out that the abstinence progam being studied was far from the traditional, moralistic variety. And there's news in that for everybody - for people in our field, who want to decrease the incidence of teen pregnancy and risky sex, and for those who championed abstinence-til-marriage approaches, which warned (absurdly) that sex before marriage was "likely to cause psychological harm.'

Is there a middle way? Say, 'sex only when you're ready'?