Academic journal article Field Educator

A Qualitative Study of BSW Students' Cultural Competence Preparedness to Uphold Client Dignity

Academic journal article Field Educator

A Qualitative Study of BSW Students' Cultural Competence Preparedness to Uphold Client Dignity

Article excerpt

Every academic year, social work undergraduates enter Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs in the United States. The curricula at undergraduate schools of social work typically teach theories and practice regarding cultural competency skills essential for treating clients with respect and upholding their inherent dignity. Dignity is an especially critical idea that may be difficult to parse. Klein defined dignity as "a phenomenon including two aspects: guarding one's self-respect and accommodating the self-respect of other" (as cited in Chan, 2004, p. 228).

Hicks (2013) developed a two-segment, theoretical model of dignity to help people understand the role that it plays in their lives and relationships: "The Ten Essential Elements of Dignity" and "The Ten Temptations to Violate Dignity." Most pertinent to this study are the ten elements of dignity: (a) acceptance of identity, (b) inclusion, (c) safety, (d) acknowledgment, (e) recognition, (f) fairness, (g) benefit of the doubt, (h) understanding, (i) independence, and (j) accountability. These specific ten elements provide an assembly of dignity-enhancing skills with matching cultural competence skills. These are outlined in the two practicum courses' syllabi as outcomes for the junior-level BSW students at the public college and school of social work where the study was conducted (see Appendix 1 for these elements with explanatory material). As articulated in the course syllabi, the knowledge-based instruction given to the students included such learning objectives as social work professional values and skills, as well as how to recognize systematic inequality with emphasis on social justice and cultural diversity. The alignment of the ten elements of dignity with cultural competence skills contribute to the context of practice and the courses' learning objectives.

Cultural competency is a concept that encompasses the ability to uphold someone's dignity. Lum defined cultural competency as "a set of knowledge and skills that a social worker must develop in order to be effective with multicultural clients" (as cited in Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2012, p. 25). Indeed, according to Teasley, Baffour, and Tyson (2005), cultural competence is so important to the profession that the Council on Social Work Education has mandated social work educational programs to emphasize it at all levels. Hall and Lindsey (2014) similarly underscored the importance of social workers engaging in practice behaviors that fully account for the social justice mission of the profession. This need for social justice is especially crucial when social workers, even those engaging in direct services, are working with historically vulnerable and oppressed populations.

Schools of social work traditionally have explored within the curricula the importance of dignity as a cornerstone concept for culturally sensitive practice. They either develop specific course work that directly addresses culturally competent practice or they have included the subject in courses that focus on other topics. Social work instructors often use course assignments as a baseline measurement to determine students' preparedness for culturally competent practice and their abilities to respect and uphold the dignity of clients. Such course assignments may provide some sense of whether social work students are able to comprehend theory and apply it to praxis. However, while classroom instruction and practice in cultural competence should translate to the field practicum, there is a lack of evidence that classroom social work instructors have succeeded in helping nascent social workers develop cultural competence and dignity-enhancing skills. The ability to master skills in the classroom is different from applying them in a field practicum, yet the latter undoubtedly is reliant on the former.

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine BSW students' preparedness for culturally competent practice that indicates respect for clients and demonstrates dignity-enhancing skills. …

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