Lowcountry Social Work Connections Spring Conference

Photo by Christina Morillo via Pexels

While the coronavirus has put life on hold across the globe, the issues that affect the well-being of individuals, families, groups, and communities that still require the attention of social workers remain urgent and unabated.

The University of South Carolina College of Social Work is organizing the Lowcountry Social Work Connections Spring Conference, which is “to provide networking opportunities, offer an affordable way to earn high-quality social work CEUs, and spotlight alumni of the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina,” said Dr. Margriet de Zeeuw Wright, Charleston Site Coordinator at the Lowcountry Graduate Center (LGC) and Clinical Associate Professor.

Slated for the LGC, that conference has been postponed until a new date is determined in the months ahead. The six CEUs provided by the conference will still be central to the agenda. We thought it would be useful to preview the conference so that interested individuals are ready when life returns to normal and the conference is rescheduled at the LGC.  At present, the North Campus is closed through May 15th, as all classes in all programs have been put online through the end of the Spring Term to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

The low-cost event – just $50 ($25 for students) – provides networking opportunities, lunch and four esteemed speakers on urgent topics of the day. They are:

Susan Shankle, MSW, LCSW
Using the Code of Ethics as Your Guide

Carroll Foster, LISW-CP, MAC – Behavioral Health Consultant, RLC Behavioral Health Alliance
Making Peace: Complex Clients, Complex Systems of Care

ChristaBeth Turner, LMSW – Program Director, Doors to Freedom
The Realities of Human Trafficking and a Survivor’s Journey to Freedom

Dr Brittany Bryant, LISW-CP — Assistant Professor, MUSC College of Medicine
Treating Co-occurring Substance Use and Mental Health in Adolescents

Turner is the Program Director at Doors to Freedom, a home for survivors of sex trafficking. In her presentation, Turner will discuss the facts about human trafficking — how, where, and to whom it happens. Turner will also discuss survivors’ journeys to freedom and the strategies our organization has learned are successful in helping survivors of this population.

Turner says people are often shocked to discover that girls as young as 10 are victims of sex trafficking and that it’s happening right here in South Carolina. Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, cites Charleston as a human trafficking hotspot and found 23,078 individual survivors nationwide in 2018, a number it says vastly underrepresents the scope of the issue.

Perpetrators may be a family member or someone posing as the victim’s boyfriend or father. There are many red flags that could indicate someone is being trafficked – all of which will be discussed in full at the training. A few red flags to watch out for with clients are gang involvement; running away; high-risk sexual behavior; and talk about adults providing shelter, food, and money to them while on the run. 

Doors to Freedom provides a safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to experience a transformed life. The program consists of three phases: 1) a 6-8-week assessment phase during which residents acclimate to their new home and its expectations; 2) a change phase during which girls work towards a variety of goals. This phase can last as long as a year. 3) During the final transition phase, the staff and the resident establish a therapeutic transition plan to ensure her success as she reintegrates into society.   

The organization has a private, accredited school on site for the girls where they receive individualized instruction based on their needs in the classroom. “Progress in education can be a huge confidence builder for them,” Turner says.

Turner says social workers should meet survivors where they are. “They might not recognize they were trafficked or identify as a victim. It is important to first build trust and rapport with survivors due to the manipulation they have experienced in their life. They have been taken advantage of and struggle with building trust with helping professionals.” These girls desire relationships with others but don’t always understand how to have healthy relationships or what healthy relationships look like. 

The University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work, of which Turner is an alumna, offers undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree programs, equipping the next generation of professionals with the skills they need to serve the greater good. The 60-hour MSW program from the University of South Carolina is taught locally at the Lowcountry Graduate Center.