By 2050, one-quarter of the U.S. population — nearly 100 million people — will be of Latino heritage.1 As the Latino community grows, so does the need for social workers whose education and training have prepared them to serve diverse communities.
“To be effective social workers working with populations of different cultural backgrounds, it is important to practice cultural sensitivity and humility,” says Dr. Jessica Benito, DSW, LCSW. “We must approach every individual with respect for their stories, background and experience.”
Benito, a visiting professor in Chamberlain University’s online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program, says that while each client’s circumstances are different, there are shared experiences. Within the Latino population, issues may include “immigration, cultural isolation, English as a non-native language, acculturation and trans-generational change.”
“These experiences make Latinos especially vulnerable to psychosocial issues including poverty, substandard housing, poor health, trauma, exposure to violence, substance abuse and low educational attainment,” she says. “Amongst Latinos there is a large subset of undocumented individuals who face even greater challenges.”
Benito offers three key skills you can use to enhance your cultural awareness for working within the Latino community:
1. Understand heterogeneity among Latinos.
“In effective work with Latinos, social workers must practice asking before assuming. Assumptions can quickly break or halt the development of a working alliance as the client may feel unseen, unheard, unimportant,” she says. “One area where it may be easy to make assumptions lies in the pooling of individuals under the label ‘Latino.’”
Latinos in the U.S. have roots in a wide variety of countries. These include Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile and El Salvador. And each of those countries has its own customs, foods, vocabulary, holidays and cultural history.
“It may be helpful for us to categorize individuals at large when we are trying to practice effectively through awareness of similarities in language, values and customs. But overall, the Latino population is far from homogenous,” she says.
“Amongst Latinos, it can be taken with disrespect that someone assumes an individual is from a country they are not simply because they speak Spanish or identify as Latino. There is a lot of pride carried for the specific culture of each country. Effective social work practice will allow for understanding of the richness and pride in the individual’s culture of origin.”
2. Practice with humility.
Cultural sensitivity requires social workers to be conscious of the cultural issues that affect their practice, Benito explains. But how they go about increasing their cultural awareness is key.
“Practicing from a culturally sensitive perspective implies that social workers are not only aware of differences, but they practice around them with respect and acceptance. No judgment. They strive to understand differences from an emic, within culture, perspective,” Benito says.
“In becoming aware of the differences between the social worker and the client, and between different clients of Latino heritage, the practitioner can choose to practice from a position of humility. Humility in this sense refers to an attitude and demeanor of learner, not teacher, when it comes to the influence and impact of culture on a client’s experience,” she says.
3. Recognize shared values.
Amid the heterogeneity of the nation’s Latino community, there are also shared values, Benito says. Knowing about shared values can help social work practitioners build stronger, more effective partnerships with their clients.
“As I’ve recommended, it is always best to ask instead of assuming. But once we have confirmed that a client partakes in a shared value, we can use this knowledge to inform our practice,” she says.
“For many Latinos, the values of family, collectivism and communal integration are very important. Especially for Latinos who are newly arrived, undocumented or first-generation immigrants. These values are often important in their country of origin and can be carried with them as they build community in the U.S.”
For example, Latinos may live in areas among other Latinos of similar national backgrounds, where they can establish small businesses, community centers and restaurants that share their commonalities, Benito says. Within families, there is often a strong sense of loyalty to one another and to the families back in their country of origin, she says.
“This helps social workers to understand that close, intimate, personal relationships are highly valued and honored. It may be helpful in building a working alliance with the client for the social worker to consider incorporating warmth into their approach, and the appropriate use of personal disclosure.”
Become a Culturally Sensitive Practitioner
“Faculty in graduate social work degree programs agree that preparing MSW students for work with Latinos is important,” Benito says. “As curriculums adapt to changes in the population, social workers must stay abreast of the knowledge and skills needed to ensure effectiveness with diverse clients.”
Chamberlain’s Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program can help prepare you for the heterogeneity of a 21st-century social work career.
Chamberlain’s online MSW program gives you the option of focusing your studies by choosing one of three specialized tracks: Crisis and Response Interventions, Trauma, and Medical Social Work.
Your MSW degree program will also include a practicum, where you’ll use what you’ve learned in a real-life social work setting.
The online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). CSWE accreditation means the MSW program provides the knowledge and skills you need to become a social work practitioner. It also means the principles of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded in the program.2 And, earning a degree in a CSWE-accredited program academically prepares you to pursue licensure.
If you’d like to earn a master’s degree but aren’t sure you have the time, you may find the flexibility of Chamberlain’s online MSW program makes it possible. With coursework available 24/7, Chamberlain’s online program gives you the opportunity to earn a degree while balancing your personal and professional activities.
An MSW degree can help prepare you to work within diverse populations to help empower all people to live healthier lives. Find your path to serving the greater good, with greater cultural sensitivity, by earning a master’s in social work online.
Chamberlain University, an accredited institution, offers bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and certificate programs in nursing and healthcare professions. With a growing network of campuses and robust online degree programs, Chamberlain continues to build on more than 130 years of excellence in preparing extraordinary healthcare professionals.
By Chamberlain University
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