Literary Corner: Five Picks from the COA Community
Chances are you’ve read something important today -- an updated policy, funding proposal, client case records, a quarterly report, or perhaps a few informative blog posts -- but can you remember the last book you read? Books are a valuable tool for professional and personal growth; many social service organizations encourage staff to increase their knowledge and stay engaged with trends in the field by organizing book clubs, establishing office libraries, or allocating professional development funds for book purchases.
Where should you start? Luckily, we have a few great recommendations from our well-read stakeholders -- books that inform, inspire, and can influence your work. Whether you’re looking for a book to read during your lunch break, your next (and well-deserved) vacation, or maybe even for a staff development event, check out these great picks from COA’s community:
The Body Keeps the Score
Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD
In The Body Keeps the Score, leading psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk draws on extensive research and experience, and uses the stories of numerous trauma survivors to illustrate how traumatic stress causes persistent physiological alterations to the body as well as the brain. The physical and mental health outcomes he identifies -- which include compromised capacities for trust, self-control, and pleasure, as well as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders -- demonstrate that trauma is a major public health issue. Van Der Kolk, who is a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute, also uses the book to explore innovative alternatives to drug and talk therapy to promote recovery and healing, including neurofeedback, mindfulness, and play.
This book was recommended by Ramona Conrad-Cooper, Vice President at MCBH Children and Family Ministries, a COA accredited organization, who heard Dr. Van Der Kolk discussing trauma experiences on a podcast. The Body Keeps the Score has been informative as her agency prepares to implement a trauma-informed model.
Ramona’s take away from this illuminating book: “The importance of understanding how trauma affects the brain and new ways that we can respond to clients. It is really going to be a paradigm shift for our agency to focus more on connection with clients and less on correction.”
Ramona’s favorite quote:
“If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.”
Three Little Words
Written by a young woman who spent nine years in foster care, Three Little Words is a memoir that not only illustrates author Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s childhood experiences as she is bounced between 14 different placements, but also offers insightful criticisms of the child welfare system and highlights its connections to the pervasive social challenges of substance abuse and poverty. Three Little Words has been hailed as a must-read for social workers, foster and adoptive parents, and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and is praised for drawing the reader into young Ashley’s perspective, being separated from both her mother and brother at just four years old and subsequently being moved from one foster home to another, with caregivers ranging from nurturing to indifferent, negligent, and abusive. In addition to being a writer, public speaker, and advocate for child welfare reform, Rhodes-Courter is the founder of the Foundation for Sustainable Families.
The book was recommended by Erin Hall, CEO of the Palmetto Association for Children and Families, a COA sponsoring organization. Erin heard rave reviews about Three Little Words from a co-worker and decided to give it read after learning that the author would be a speaker at a national family visitation conference. She appreciated that the book helped her see aspects of the child welfare system from a different perspective.
Erin expressed, “It’s a powerful reminder of what foster care looks like from a child’s perspective and a very good look at foster care as a child grows up and becomes an adult. Ashley’s book made me question a lot of systematic processes and the way we work with kids. In the book, she asks several times -- ‘why is it that the state has money to pay foster parents to care for me but doesn’t have the money to take care of my mom?’ I think that’s worth discussion. What are we doing to actually help parents? We need to see our work from a different vantage point. Sometimes we need to stop and read a novel instead of research and white papers.”
Out of Harm’s Way
In Out of Harm’s Way, which was released just this year, author Richard Gelles addresses the shortcomings of the child welfare system by identifying four critical areas -- deciding who is the client; decisions; the perverse incentive; and aging out -- and proposing a blueprint for reform in each that he believes would end the cycle of tragedy, outrage, and complacency, and lead to lasting improvements. Some of the solutions he offers are controversial, but they stimulate important discussions around serving parents, predictive analytics, funding streams, and supporting youth who transition out of care. Out of Harm’s Way is a follow-up to Gelles’ previous book, The Book of David, which was instrumental in the passage of the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act. Gelles is an expert on domestic violence and child welfare, and is a chair at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, Director of the Center for Research on Youth and Social Policy, and co-director of the Field Center for Children’s Policy Practice and Research.
This book was recommended by Zoë Hutchinson, Director of Business Development at the Council on Accreditation. She started reading Out of Harm’s Way after COA released new standards for public agencies and child welfare to better understand the influences of public policy and reform and its impact at the client level. The book helped her to connect to COA’s mission and highlighted the important day-to-day work of the agencies that COA accredits.
Zoë said, “The book is helping me understand all of the stakeholders involved in the CPS process, removal and permanency planning and the common fail points/challenges along the way. It is also helping me better understand the interdependencies between public and private agencies. The author does a good job of detailing the different obstacles for effective services within a public agency child welfare system - the resource constraints, the funding and public policy side. The author also reviews different reform strategies that have been used - lawsuits, leadership changes, etc. and why they are not effective. There is also a good overview of the history of child welfare policy and the intentions behind those policies.”
Knowledge is Beautiful
Data journalist and information designer David McCandless demonstrates the art of data visualization, in Knowledge is Beautiful, transforming information into visual narratives that convey facts, their context, and their relationships in a relatable way to make data. The book not only illustrates how infographics make data meaningful, but also explores how visuals can reveal new, unexpected insights and hidden connections. McCandless is the founder of the blog Information is Beautiful and is also the author of The Visual Miscellaneum.
This book was recommended by Emily Brush, Digital and Creative Communications Specialist at the Council on Accreditation. She was seeking to maximize her visual communication skills and incorporate visual narratives throughout her work. She found Knowledge is Beautiful to be an educational and inspirational guide through the visualization process as COA works to better use the data that it collects.
Emily commented, “Knowledge is Beautiful is a testament to the power of data visualization. McCandless presents information that is so complex and abstract that it can only make sense when presented visually and literally turns knowledge into aesthetic beauty. There's so much information out there and missed opportunity for using data creatively. For example, David McCandless will take two separate unlikely paired data sets that together tell you something incredible about the way the world works. Each infographic is layered with data, and much of the data is reused throughout the book to present a different idea. It's a wonderful and entertaining reminder that knowledge is endless, and that new knowledge requires surrendering to an open exploration of potential causes, consequences and relationships.”
Dr. Carl Hart
In this unique and award-winning memoir, neuroscientist Carl Hart examines his own journey -- from growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he was involved in petty crime, drug sales, and drug use, to becoming a leading researcher on drug use and addiction and Columbia University’s first tenured African-American faculty member in the science field -- and uses it to reflect on the social and psychological factors behind substance use disorders. High Price speaks to neuroscience, poverty, and race while it deploys both empirical evidence and personal narrative to debunk the persistent myths about crime, drugs, and addiction that have been central within the anti-drug movement and to our current drug laws; the book is widely praised for its compelling combination of science, memoir, and public policy. Hart is a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Columbia University.
This book was recommended by Isabelle Leventhal, Standards Associate at the Council on Accreditation. She was excited to read Hart’s memoir because he is a leading authority on substance use and an outspoken voice on drug criminalization and race. Reading High Price has given her new perspectives of human behavior and a deeper and more compassionate understanding of the complicated nature of substance use disorders.
Isabelle noted, “Carl Hart is a leader in both the research and the national conversation of our understanding and treatment of substance use disorders, and he does an excellent job of laying out how the psychological and social factors that contribute to substance use disorders. This book does an excellent job of using the memoir narrative to talk about neuroscience in an easy and accessible way as well as issues of class, race, and societal pressures.”
Isabelle’s favorite quote:
“Indeed, a great deal of pathological drug use is driven by unmet social needs, by being alienated and having difficulty connecting with others.”
We hope that you found these recommendations both informative and inspiring, and a big thanks to everyone who contributed to this post by completing our literature survey!
Did any of these recommendations pique your interest? Have you read any other great books lately? Let us know in the comments below!