In response to the needs of growing immigrant populations in the United States, social service agencies are developing culturally appropriate interventions and recruiting bilingual and bicultural practitioners. While few studies have explored social work practices with immigrant children and families in the child welfare field, very little is known about the experiences, perceptions, and practices of child welfare social workers who are immigrants themselves. This study applies the socioecological framework to identify strengths and challenges among immigrant social workers at different system levels. Fourteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with ethnic Chinese immigrant social workers who work or have worked in a family supportive service program in New York City. Findings from this study reveal that, at the individual level, immigrant social workers expressed the following advantages: 1) engaging families through emotional connections, 2) being a role model for families, 3) performing as a mediator between parents and children, and 4) being open-minded to different cultures. They also experienced challenges such as 1) unfamiliarity with Chinese subcultures, 2) power imbalance with clients, and 3) clients' resistance. At the agency and community levels, immigrant social workers were likely to 1) provide culturally appropriate services and 2) become a cultural broker for colleagues within the agency and for other professionals in the larger community. Particularly, immigrant social workers were building a community with available and accessible services for diverse groups. But they encountered agency and community discrimination and/or exploitation and felt insecure about their jobs due to their immigration status. Implications for practice and future research were discussed in order to improve professional development and working environments of immigrant social workers, as well as to enhance the quality of service delivery to immigrant children and families.
Children and Youth Services Review – Elsevier
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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