Social Work Course Spotlight: Practice with Culturally Diverse Populations

Limestone College Social Work

Ever notice how it’s easier to understand and have compassion for someone if you can relate to what he or she is going through?

Social workers work with individuals from all walks of life. And while relating personally to all of their clients is simply impossible, having the skills and training to be sensitive and mindful of differences associated with one’s background — whether cultural, racial, religious, social or economic — helps social workers serve more effectively.

Students at Limestone majoring in social work take SW 209 – Practice with Culturally Diverse Populations to learn about culturally sensitive practices that consider the differences and similarities of various populations. This course provides a theoretical foundation from which students can develop differential assessment, intervention skills and build their cultural competence.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice, the term, cultural competence refers to “the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each.”

Cultural competence is an essential skill for social workers and according to NASW standards social workers are required “to strive to deliver culturally competent services to their increasingly diverse clientele.”

A research brief published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation offers the following example to help explain cultural competence in social services agencies.

Upon hearing that a local community agency offers low-cost, high-quality childcare, a Hispanic mother decides to visit to get more information. When she finds brochures in only English and staff with whom she can’t communicate in Spanish, she leaves before the translator is called for fear that some official may ask her difficult questions.

A culturally sensitive approach may have included a number of adaptations to this program such as translating program brochures in Spanish and hiring Spanish-speaking staff.

However, it’s important to remember that cultural competence extends far beyond language. NASW offers other examples of how social workers can utilize culturally sensitive practice in a variety of situations: international adoptions, by helping new parents grasp the cultural background of the child they adopted; in working with African Americans to make use of existing ties with the faith community; in working with Asian Americans while being mindful of cultural expectations for privacy; and in helping persons with disabilities, or people from various religious backgrounds or people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender experience the world around them.

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