The Oscars and Being a Social Worker

National Association of Social Workers California News
February 20, 2015
By Cheryl Blankenship Kupras, MSW, LCSW

With the Academy Awards fast approaching, I was thinking about the wonderful movies I have been able to see over the past year. Not only have I seen some of the box office top bills, but have also been able to see some fabulous independent films as well as my personal favorite—documentaries.  One of these documentaries was On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery, by filmmaker Sheila Ganz.

Driven by the desire for custody of their children, five mothers struggle to overcome addiction in a gender responsive residential treatment program. Their intimate story reveals experiences with domestic violence, inter-generational family issues, prostitution and incarceration. On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery interweaves the women’s three year journey to transform their lives through self-sufficiency and new found pride with drug laws that impact mother and child, and will inspire hope for recovery.  For trailer and info go to

Watching this film, I reflected on my 20-plus year career as a professional social worker and how policy and practice in this arena has ebbed and flowed through the decades. I started my social work career in a perinatal substance abuse program in a rural, minimum base allocation county in California in the early 1990s when “crack babies” and fetal alcohol exposure were high priorities in California and funding and support followed.

I then went to work at a large county’s public hospital where social workers were very involved in developing standards for referral of substance using mothers and exposed children to the child welfare system.  Prior to moving to administration/quality improvement where I just completed a program evaluation of my county’s perinatal substance abuse program, I worked in an addiction medicine clinic that served opiate dependent, pregnant women who in some states are being prosecuted for engaging in treatment and taking a medication that is the gold standard.

This movie spoke to me as a social worker not only about the importance having quality treatment programs and treatment professionals (many of whom are hopefully social workers), but the role that social workers and advocacy can shape policy and practice. I hope that you will watch the trailer and consider how this topic is addressed in your county and what you may do to advance treatment available.