An Educational Model for Child Welfare Practice with English-Speaking Caribbean Families

By Carten, Alma; Goodman, Harriet | Child Welfare, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

An Educational Model for Child Welfare Practice with English-Speaking Caribbean Families


Carten, Alma, Goodman, Harriet, Child Welfare


Implemented in New York City, the Child Welfare Fellowship Project is an international collaboration between social work educators in the United States and Jamaica, the West Indies, the public child welfare agency, and selected community-based agencies. This model educational program prepared selected Masters of Social Work (MSW) Fellowship students for exemplary child welfare practice with English-speaking Caribbean families by providing enhanced programs designed to support culturally competent skill development and a preventive approach to child welfare practice. These educational enhancements, combined with academic course work, increased professionalism, self-efficacy, and culturally competent skill development among participants and averted foster care placement for families seen over the duration of the project.

Immigrants and refugees are a growing segment of the U.S. population. Despite their diversity within and among different populations, they all cope with stress associated with the immigration experience, which may affect their involvement with the child welfare system. Some families confront financial insecurity as they endeavor to establish an economic foothold in cities of resettlement. After the 1996 welfare reforms restricted their eligibility to certain benefits, immigrants have diminished access to essential services (Capps, 2001; Ku & Fix, 2000). Families whose child rearing norms differ from those of their new country may experience conflicts resulting from shifting family roles and parental expectations as they confront economic hardship and immigration stress (Carten, Rock, & Best-Cummings, 2002).

Social work has had a historic interest in the plight of immigrants; it is the acknowledged discipline with the necessary professional competencies for effective child welfare practice. Social workers in cities where new immigrants tend to settle are in a unique position to promote culturally competent interventions that support families as they confront linguistic, cultural, and other barriers.

This article reports the experience of the Caribbean Child Welfare Fellowship Project (CCWFP), a collaboration between the social work programs of New York University, the University of the West Indies, and the New York City Administration for Children's Services. Developed to respond to the rise in child protective service reports involving children of Caribbean descent, the project was designed to prepare MSW graduates for exemplary practice with anglophone Caribbean families immigrating to the United States.

Background

The "melting pot" theory, which served as the philosophical underpinning for U.S. immigration policy until recently, assumed that new arrivals would lose their cultural distinctiveness and assimilate into the dominant culture. This view is giving way to multiculturalism, which values the preservation of distinct cultural identities and suggests that new immigrants enrich American culture. This concept is consistent with the strengths perspective approach to social work, as well as the field's respect for diversity, the uniqueness of each individual, and self-determination. Moreover, these core values serve as anchoring principles for the development of culturally competent practices with immigrant groups.

The rationale for CCWFP was based on current demographic, professional, and practice trends that have implications for the education of social workers in complex urban environments. These trends include an increase in English-speaking Caribbean families emigrating from the West Indies, a growing preference among child welfare professionals for a culturally sensitive service model easily accessible to families in the neighborhoods in which they live, and reinvestment in a professional and stable child welfare workforce through partnerships between public child welfare officials and social work educators.

The Anglophone Caribbean Immigration Experience

Reforms in U.

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