Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants

Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants

Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants

Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants


Social work practice with refugees and immigrants requires specialized knowledge of these populations, and specialized adaptations and applications of mainstream services and interventions. Because they are often confronted with cultural, linguistic, political, and socioeconomic barriers, these groups are especially vulnerable to psychological problems. Among these problems are anxiety, depression, alienation, grief, even post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as biological concerns stemming from inadequate or underutilized medical services. Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants is the first book to offer a comprehensive guide to social work with foreign-born clients that evaluates many different strategies in light of their methodological strengths and weaknesses. Part I sets forth the context for empirically based service approaches to such clients by describing the nature of these populations, relevant policies designed to assist them, and service delivery systems. Part II addresses specific problem areas common to refugees and immigrants and evaluates a variety of assessment and intervention techniques for each area. Maintaining a rigorous empirical and broadly pan-cultural approach throughout, Miriam Potocky-Tripodi seeks to identify the most practical, "best practices" to meet the various and pressing needs of uprooted peoples.


This book had its genesis in the late 1970s when I was in high school, although I didn't know that at the time. My younger brother and his friends had gotten into some trouble with the law, and as part of his juvenile diversion program, the entire family, consisting of us two siblings and our parents, was court-ordered into family therapy. As it turned out, this became one of the worst experiences of my young life.

Every week we piled into the family car and dragged ourselves to these sessions. We would shuffle into the office and seat ourselves in a row, with my brother and me on the inside and our parents on the outside, my mother on my side and my father on my brother's. The sessions were conducted by two co-therapists, a man and a woman. When I was asked to speak I invariably began by complaining that I didn't understand why I had to be there, since it was obviously my brother who had the problem.

If the reader has a knowledge of family systems theory, he or she has certainly identified some “red flags” at this point: the physical distancing of the parents at opposite ends, with the children creating a literal buffer between them; the alignment of parents with children along gender lines; and the presence of the family member who serves as the “scapegoat.” But, how did this family get to this point, and what did these therapists do about it?

Some ten years earlier, my family had come to America as refugees from what was then Czechoslovakia. Could there possibly be any connection between this experience and what was happening now? Apparently, the therapists didn't think so, if they thought at all. Basically, they seemed pretty bewildered by what confronted them: a mother who didn't speak English after ten years of living in the U.S.; a son who refused to speak Czech and therefore did not speak with his mother at all; a daughter who continually trans-

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