Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16373 Human Rights Engagement and Exposure: Two New Scales and a Challenge to Social Work Education

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 4:00 PM
Independence B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jane McPherson, MSW, MPH, LCSW, Doctoral Student, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Background:  The National Association of Social Workers explicitly endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the United Nations considers social work a "crucial" human rights profession.  How do these international commitments translate to U.S. social work?  Are U.S. social workers engaged as human rights professionals?  Does U.S. social work education prepare students to act as human rights professionals?  This presentation details the development and initial validation of two unidimensional scales, Human Rights Engagement (HRE-SW) and Human Rights Exposure (HRExpSW), which were devised for use with U.S. social work students and social workers in the field.  The 25-item Engagement scale asks social workers to rate 1) their endorsement of human rights principles as articulated in the UDHR, 2) their perception of the relevance of those rights to social work practice, and 3) their personal application of those principles in social work practice.  The 11-item Exposure scale asks social workers to assess their familiarity with human rights principles, including the UDHR, and the contribution of their social work education to that knowledge. 

Methods:  Following content validation by an eight-member panel of experts, the survey instrument, including the hypothesized Engagement and Exposure scales, was piloted on a nonprobability sample of 283 social work students in spring 2011. To assess construct validity, the instrument also included the Human Rights Questionnaire-Equality subscale (HRQE; Diaz-Veizades et al., 1995), the Social Dominance Orientation scale (SDO; Pratto et al., 1994), and the newly-created Human Rights Behavior Index (HRBI).  The HRBI assesses specific behaviors, including donating money, signing petitions, and recruiting friends for human rights activities.  Data analysis examined sample characteristics, as well as evidence of content validity, reliability, factor structure, and construct validity.

Results:  This sample, similar to social work students in the U.S., was predominantly female (83.4%) and white (67.8%), and it ranged in age from 18 to 60 (M=24.2; SD=7.6). The Cronbach's alpha for the Engagement scale was strong at .89 (SEM = 1.71), and within range for a new measure at .73 (SEM = 2.65) for Exposure.  Exploratory factor analysis suggested no cross-loadings between the two constructs.  Confirmatory factor analyses indicated good model fit for both scales:  Engagement, χ2 /df = 2.4, CFI = .94, TLI= .94, RMSEA = .075, SRMR = .066; and Exposure, χ2 /df = 2.4, CFI = .93, TLI= .90, RMSEA = .072, SRMR = .053.  All construct validity evidence supported accuracy of primary constructs, with moderate effect sizes:  for Engagement, the HRQE (r2 = .23), the SDO (r2 = .42), and the HRBI (r2 = .23); and for Exposure, a single-item indicator (r2 = .32).  As hypothesized, education was not a significant predictor of Exposure.

Conclusion: The Human Rights Engagement and Exposure scales can be used to evaluate human-rights knowledge and attitudes among social work students and professionals.  Educators can employ these scales to evaluate human-rights course content and its effect on students, while researchers can use them to explore levels of human rights engagement among professional social workers and evaluate our identity as a human rights profession.