Racial and Ethnic Competency Are Key Social Work Components

Social Workers Are Called to Include Cultural Competencies in Their Practices

Success in social work practice requires cultural competencies, such as racial and ethnic acumen. In order to provide effective services for clients, social workers must have an understanding not only of the cultural values, beliefs and practices of their constituents, but also their own biases about those of other ethnic backgrounds. While race and ethnicity do not define the entirety of an individual, they are a component in understanding a person’s world view. Social workers better aid their clients when they are competent in understanding that world view.

The topic of ethnic and racial competency receives robust treatment in the latest issue of Social Work published by NASW Press. Three articles specifically focus on racial-ethnic issues:

  • Spirituality often plays a role in a client’s recovery, but a social worker’s knowledge of spiritual values may not include knowledge of Native American spirituality. In “Spiritual Assessment and Native Americans: Establishing the Social Validity of a Complementary Set of Assessment Tools,” David R. Hodge and Gordon E. Limb make a case for adapting client assessment techniques to reflect the spiritual world view of Native Americans. Furthermore, they point out that “spiritual competence” is an active process involving the social worker’s awareness of his own world view, an awareness of the client’s world view and the design of strategies that are appropriate to the client’s outlook. They also point out that spiritual competencies should be developed for each Native culture.
  • Elderly immigrant populations, however, must deal with a very different life situation. Kyoung Hag Lee and Dong Pil Yoon discuss a particular set of struggles in “Factors Influencing the General Well-Being of Low-Income Korean Immigrant Elders.”  Language barriers and a sense of dislocation can bear on the sense of well being among these elders, and lead to anxiety, depression, and health problems. The authors argue for several strategies to aid elderly Korean immigrant clients, such as language competency not only for social workers, but also for the US-raised relatives of these elders. Furthermore, the authors mention the close connection Korean elders often have with their churches, and how this connection can be fostered for further client benefit.
  • We are becoming more accustomed to tailoring client care to the client’s ethnical-racial background—but what about multiracial clients? “Multiracial Competence in Social Work: Recommendations for Culturally Attuned Work with Multiracial People,” by Kelly F. Jackson and Gina M. Samuels argues for more culturally attuned practices with multiracial people. The authors point out that a multiracial client’s self-awareness and identity require a social worker’s acknowledgement of this cultural duality, and of the social worker’s own presumptions about race and ethnicity. The social worker needs to understand the unique situation of the client, and factor the client’s self-identity into designing strategies for care.

Additionally, this issue of Social Work includes a variety of helpful articles on mentoring, human services and management.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with 145,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

NASW Press is a leading scholarly press in the social sciences. It serves faculty, practitioners, agencies, libraries, clinicians, and researchers throughout the United States and abroad. Known for attracting expert authors, the NASW Press delivers professional information to hundreds of thousands of readers through its scholarly journals, books, and reference works.


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