Latino Social Workers Face Challenges and Opportunities

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I had the pleasure of addressing Latina/o social workers last week during their conference at New York University. The theme of the three-day event was sí se puede generally translated as “it can be done,” or to borrow candidate Barack Obama’s campaign theme: “yes, we can.” It was a gathering of scores of social workers both in the Kimmel Center for University Life and many others participating via the livestreaming provided by Univision Contigo. Sponsored by the Latino Social Workers Organization (LSWO) and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH), the conference focused on numerous social challenges facing Latinos and finding ways to mobilize the knowledge and skills of social workers to develop solutions.

LSWOThe conference leaders were Adrian Delgado, the founder and president of the LSWO, and my friend and colleague Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, CLAFH director and professor at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work who I met during my studies at Columbia University where he was an assistant professor. Vincent was recently selected as a Presidential Leadership Scholar and featured in the New York Times for his work with Latino and black fathers in the Bronx. In 2015, he was inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). They brought together academic scholars, accomplished state and local government officials, practitioners, students—all sharing the common interest of energizing Latino social workers.

The social problems facing Latino communities are common in other communities however the experiences of many Latinos in the United States are unique because of language and culture differences. Many Latinos must deal with an unwelcoming and sometimes menacing system of immigration laws and regulations that threatened to break up families.  Children born in the United States are citizens but often their parents are not.  Providing care for the entire family can be challenging. Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, is a national expert and has written a book on the trauma that comes with separating families.  He attributes the strain as a factor in high rates of attempted suicides among Latina adolescents.

Critical to meeting the challenges of a growing Latino population is having enough social workers prepared to provide quality services.  The U.S. Latino population has grown from 14.5 million in 1980 to 55 million in 2014, about 17.4 percent of the total population. According to a 2006 National Association of Social Work (NASW) workforce study, less than five percent of social workers self-identified as social workers based on 2004 data. However, not enough has been done to recruit and train Latino social workers in order to keep up with population growth.  In 2013, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) found Latinos accounted for less than 10 percent of master’s level social work graduates. More needs to be done to expand the ranks of Latino social workers.

Latino VotingI shared with conferees about our social work Voter Empower Campaign that will officially launch in the coming weeks and how they can be catalysts in unleashing the enormous untapped Latino voting power. There are about 25 million voting age Latino citizens in the United States.  There were 23 million eligible Latino voters at the time of the 2010 elections. Of those, approximately 11 million were registered to vote (less than half). Slightly more than 6.6 million actually voted—about 29 percent. Social workers can help to increase the participation of Latino voters but it will take more than Latino social workers. It will take a multi-ethnic effort—a new rainbow coalition, if you will—that could change the dynamics of American politics and rebalance the economic scales towards a more egalitarian society with adequate resources invested in building human capital.

The Latino Social Workers Organization will be convening another forum October 13-14, 2016 at the University of Illinois-Chicago in collaboration with the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) and continuing education support through Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW). Calls for proposals for panel discussions and workshops will be open until June 15.  The U.S. Census projects the Latino population to grow to 31 percent of the nation’s population by 2060. Now is the time to be preparing more Latinos and more culturally-competent social workers to service the growing Latino population.

The post Latino Social Workers Face Challenges and Opportunities appeared first on Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Latino Social Workers Face Challenges and Opportunities was originally published @ Charles Lewis – Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy and has been syndicated with permission.

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