Academic journal article Social Work

Are Culturally Sophisticated Agencies Better Workplaces for Social Work Staff and Administrators?

Academic journal article Social Work

Are Culturally Sophisticated Agencies Better Workplaces for Social Work Staff and Administrators?

Article excerpt

What is the effect of cultural and ethnic content on the quality of service delivery? Content in ethnic sensitivity, competence, and cultural awareness in the human services has dramatically increased, with the work in cultural content directed to two major social welfare audiences. The first audience is human services staff, and the content consists of texts on working with ethnically and culturally diverse clients (Boyd-Franklin, 1989; Davis & Proctor, 1989; Lum, 1992; McGoldrick, 1982; Sue, 1990; Thyer, 1992), in-service training manuals on cultural competence, and theories explaining personal and professional cultural competence (Jenkins, 1980, 1981; Jenkins & Morrison, 1978; Orlandi, 1992). Human services agencies and organizations constitute the second audience. Here, many organizational self-study assessments of cultural competence exist and are endorsed or mandated by various licensing and accrediting entities (Child Welfare League of America, 1990; Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989; Northwest Indian Child Welfare Association, 1991; Roberts et al., 1990).

"Cultural sophistication" is a simple structural term that efficiently summarizes the multidimensional nature of cultural and ethnic content (Orlandi, 1992). This concept outlines three themes that persist across cultural content and reflects "typical objectives of competence training programs" (Orlandi, 1992, p. 297): cognitive development (knowledge and information about cultures), affective development (how people feel about cultures), and skills training (how to effectively interact with staff and clients of other cultures). The cultural sophistication framework can be used to examine both the professional strengths of staff and organizational responses to ethnic and cultural issues in service delivery. Therefore, the term "cultural sophistication" will be used throughout this article.

Advocates of cultural sophistication assume that exposure to cultural content results in more effective service delivery and a more comfortable organizational climate (Proctor & Davis, 1983), but evidence to support this assumption is quite limited (Jayaratne et al., 1992). At the organizational level, outcomes of cultural sophistication might include developing and implementing nondiscriminatory policies and procedures regarding hiring, community involvement, and service delivery. Relevant agency self-study materials endorse these prescriptions (Child Welfare League of America, 1990). However, no published information reports whether these changes are perceived by direct service staff or whether they result in progressive service delivery policies and practices within the organization.

At the direct service level, outcomes of cultural sophistication could focus on improved service effectiveness. In one of the few reports examining this relationship, Jayaratne et al. (1992) found that over 90 percent of both white social workers and social workers of color reported themselves as very or somewhat effective in dealing with problems of clients of color. However, the relationship between exposure to social work education relevant to people of color and perceived effectiveness with these clients was far stronger for white social workers than for social workers of color: "White social workers - not African-American, Latino, Native American, or Asian-American social workers - seemed to be the primary beneficiaries of the cultural emphasis in schools of social work" (Jayaratne et al., 1992, p. 112). Although this finding is intriguing, it reveals a very limited picture of the service impact of cultural sophistication. The study described in this article provides a pioneering contribution to the work on assessing the effect of cultural content on service delivery and social work staff.

It was not possible to assess the direct effect of agency cultural sophistication on clients with the available data set. However, the work in total quality management (Connors, 1993) allowed an expansion of the notion of agency clients to include agency staff. …

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