Social Work Programs

September 20, 2011

Social Work With Immigrants

Filed under: social work with immigrants — Tags: — admin @ 2:07 pm

social work and immigrantsDepending on what area of the country social workers are employed, social work with immigrants is becoming increasingly common. No matter if social workers are employed by local or state government, hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, social services, or other places of employment, it is highly likely that a social worker will work with an immigrant family within his or her career. In areas such as South Florida, there are many various ethnicities, but still there can be a great deal of isolation, discrimination and adjustment issues.

While many immigrants have assimilated well into the American culture and environment, others struggle to cope with an extremely different culture, perspective, language, and way of living. Social workers must be patient, compassionate, and understanding of these difficulties even when it appears very challenging for people to overcome the barriers standing between them and a normally-adjusted life. One of my clients is from Vietnam and has had a number of problems due to school bullying


One very common issue social workers are forced to deal with is how to handle situations in which undocumented immigrants are involved. In general, social work is a profession that is concerned with the ways immigration policies affect the lives of clients, and recognizes that not all social policies are necessarily socially just as well.

Social Work And Immigrant Relationship Building

Often clients may be mistrustful of social workers because they are afraid that they will be reported to government officials if they disclose their immigration status. Social workers can help these clients and families feel more comfortable by establishing a trustworthy relationship and stating upfront that the social worker’s intent is not to get the family in trouble, but to help them find the help they are seeking. It is helpful for social workers to keep themselves informed about immigration law and their ethical responsibilities to clients.

For many social workers, frustration with working with immigrants occurs when it becomes clear they are not privy to the same services that US citizens are. For example, immigrants may not have access to Medicaid or public welfare due to their citizenship status. Federal legislation does not allow non-US citizens to receive food stamps, child care assistance, or other benefits. Unfortunately for immigrant families, who are often lack financial resources, this puts them under additional pressure to secure employment and resources.

Social workers should also be sensitive to the role children are asked to play when working with immigrant families. Children often learn language more quickly, and become more exposed to culture through school, and therefore are expected to translate for their parents or older family members. However, it is important to understand that this puts children in a parental role, which may alter the dynamics within the family and put children under more stress than they are able to take on.

One approach that has well for my client from Vietnam is to have his father in some of our sessions. This helped his father to see that my client needs more support at home due to feeling very isolated in school. His dad also was able to speak with the teacher and have his child’s seat moved which was helpful in getting my client away from the class bully. We also worked on improving his confidence in speaking and decreasing his self-consciousness about his language skills by after-school tutoring help.

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