There are many issues to take into consideration for the social worker when in the process of offering the best possible services to families. For a student who plans to enter the field of social work, there are important matters that must be understood and planned for. Because of the diversity that social workers encounter in terms of clients' ethnicities, and the need for sensitivity, thoroughness, and full professionalism for all clients, it behooves a student entering into this field to learn all he or she can about the emerging realities that are out there. The need for competence and awareness has never been greater than today in this field. Hence, this paper focuses on those high quality practices that help support families.
The Literature -- Family Support and High Quality Practices
Through his referencing of a quote from The New York Times author Evan Imber-Black explains that "immigration panic" has pushed the debate about fair treatment of immigrants and immigration laws "far out into the desert of extremism" (Imber-Black, 2011, p. 129). Indeed, Imber-Black is troubled by the recent "draconian" legislation enacted in Arizona, which makes it a felony for any individual to "…provide transportation, shelter, or employment to an undocumented immigrant" (p. 129). The author notes that in America during the last few decades the sentiment too often has been to "attack…those who are different" and to attempt to generate "mistrust, even among documented immigrants" (p. 130).
Because of these anti-immigrant dynamics, and the tensions towards minorities, family therapists, social workers and researchers that seek "new knowledge to help families build better lives" are in great need, Imber-Black asserts. The need to "take action on the side of social justice" and to "listen collaboratively" to clients in order to "secure local knowledge" is great, Imber-Black explains.
Social workers have been challenged by the recent immigration debate, according an article in the peer-reviewed journal Social Work (Furman, et al., 2008, p. 283). Hence, in order to be certain they are offering high quality practices social workers need to stay focused on families and children, Furman explains. In fact the past few decades have seen social workers "moving toward an increased alignment with the medical model" which zeros in on "pathology and disease," Furman continues on page 283. Given this trend, empowerment and advocacy have been taking a back seat in the social work milieu; as evidence, Furman asserts that there has been "a decline in the number of social work programs" that offer "macro practice sequence," and there have been a dearth of available jobs in the advocacy component of social work (283).
Among the stumbling blocks for the social work field is the fact that social workers are lately confronting "many ethical dilemmas" based on recent legislation that places restraints on the "manner in which social workers can provide services to undocumented Latino immigrants" (Furman, 283). How does a competent, well-trained social worker decide between his or her professional ethics and legal mandates that are clearly discriminatory against immigrants? That is the question of the hour, according to Furman. The author references the fact that many communities in the United States are feeling the "negative economic effects of punitive anti-immigrant ordinances. The point here is that the social worker is obliged to carry out his or her duties to provide support for families and children notwithstanding restrictive, ethnic-based laws against potential clients.
Furman reports that Riverside, Pennsylvania has become something of a "ghost town" due to the "exodus of many immigrant residents" resulting from anti-immigrant legislation passed in that county. More recently an anti-immigrant law in Alabama has caused a huge migration of immigrants out of the state. The sponsor of this bill in Alabama, Senator Scott Beason, claims the legislation is the "biggest jobs bill for Alabamians that has ever been passed" because -- as Beason claims -- immigrants "depress wages and take away our jobs" (Beaulier, 2011). Professor Scott Beaulier (head of the Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University) responds to Beason's assertions like this: "…When I look at [Beason's] claim -- from a strict economic consequences point-of-view -- it's one of the most absurd claims I've ever heard" (Beaulier, p. 1). In fact, Beaulier continues, immigrants do not create unemployment, they actually "…contribute positively to job growth by lowering the costs of production for business owners, expanding output and expanding the number of options available to use in the marketplace" (pp. 1-2). Immigrants, professor Beaulier contends, "both legal and illegal, are a force for good" (p. 2).
Furman worries that this trend will be hurtful for Latino immigrants, and moreover, the restrictive laws being passed in states create "numerous ethical challenges for social workers who provide services in public agencies" (284). Typically, given the restrictive law in Arizona, a social worker who is giving attention to a domestic violence or child protection issue will be required -- "compelled" -- to ask for the citizenship status of their clients before the clients can receive service, Furman writes on page 284. The law and the constraints associated with the law, is a risk to families and children, and in fact undocumented people may become very reluctant to even seek help from social service agencies in fear of being jailed or deported (Furman, 284).
Restrictive immigration laws strike an arrow into the heart of social justice, and there are ripple effects that social workers also need to contend with. For example, Spanish-speaking parents in Alabama are reporting that their children are "…facing more bullying and taunts at school since Alabama's tough crackdown" on illegal immigration (Associated Press, 2011). The head of the Alabama Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, Thomas Perez, said that he is hearing "…a number of reports about increases in bullying incidents" that are linked to the new anti-immigration law (AP). So, the Justice Department has set up a bilingual phone hotline in Birmingham, and a special email account, for parents to report bullying in schools based on the biased new law.
In situations like this, the social worker must be intent on offering high quality practices to support families in Alabama and elsewhere. Understanding the political ramifications, and making moral, ethical choices that lean toward the client in need should be the parameters that a social worker takes into account.
The recent anti-immigration laws that have been passed certainly put stress on immigrants, including those who are citizens and those that are not yet citizens. But a social worker must also be cognizant of other family stressors, to be in a position to provide high quality practices. In the book Direct Social Work Practices: Theory and Skills, the authors explain that a "family stressor" is "anything that provokes change… such as boundaries, structures, goals, roles or values…" (Hepworth, et al., 2009, p. 230). There are normative stressors, and non-normative stressors, Hepworth goes on.
Normative stressors are those that result from "inadequate communication skills," or factors such as "racial or economic discrimination" that can marginalize a family. How families are able to cope with stressors determines how fully functional families can be notwithstanding the challenges they face in everyday life. Families that are receiving welfare support face stressors that social workers should be aware of. That is because a family receiving welfare is viewed (in many instances) as "lacking in personal responsibility" and also that family can be seen (in a biased sense) as being "outside the boundaries of acceptable societal standards" (Hepworth, 231). Moreover, a welfare family is also viewed by outsiders as "chaotic, drug-involved, and prone to engaging in irresponsible and risky behavior," Hepworth continues (231). These stressors can add up to cause great worries and can snuff out otherwise positive events in family life -- which is another pivotal reason for a social worker to provide the high quality practice that is called for.
Valuing Position & Family / Children Issues
As for a valuing position within the genre of social work for families with children, it would be wonderful if a social worker could create value in the household by coaxing the man of the house -- within the client-social worker relationship -- to share in the housework and parenting with the mother in the house. Professor Donald Collins notes that wives spend about 1.5 hours "more each day than their husbands, including part-time jobs, housework and child care" (Collins 2009, p. 363). Moreover, that amounts to "…an extra month of 24-hour days per year" which places a burden on the mother. Only 20% of husbands share "equally" in the areas of childcare and housework, Collins continues. While women's roles have changed (they work in the community more than they used to work), but the roles that males play "seem to have remained static" (Collins, 363). Hence, "gender sensitive social work" -- well thought out and approached with sensitivity to family pride and tradition -- must be a matter of empowering women to assume "greater control over their lives," and part…