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

16472 African Immigrants In Transition: The Power of Social and Community Capital

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:45 AM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hugo Kamya, PhD, Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Abbie K. Frost, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Purpose: This study explored the challenges African immigrant older adolescents/young adults (ages 18-23) experienced as they made the transition of adjusting to the US and moving from adolescence to adulthood. The research aim was to gain an understanding of: (1) challenges that parents, community leaders, and older adolescents/young adults identify, and (2) supports (social, community, and cultural capital) for this transitional process.

African immigrants represent one of the fastest growing groups in the US (Carroll et al., 2007). While research has focused on cultural transitions/adaptations (Ajrouch & Kusow, 2007), links between pre-immigration experiences and mental health (Scuglik et al., 2007), there is little understanding about experiences and supports needed for African older adolescents/young adults. Transition into adulthood is culturally constructed, with a focus on identity issues that reflect major adult roles and tasks (Arnett, 2000). Research highlights the importance of parental relationships and social connections within immigrant communities (Walsh et al., 2005). In what ways do African immigrant communities' strengths (social and community capital) facilitate positive transitions? How can we build upon the strengths of trans-cultural capital (Triandafyllidou, 2009) in our work with immigrant communities?

Method: Research included three sample groups: (1) community leaders [n=6], (2) older adolescent/young adults [n=40], (3) parents [n=16]. Since the meaning and role of social and community capital can vary across communities (Holland, 2010), the sample was drawn from two African communities in a large Northeast urban area. Three data collection strategies were used. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with community leaders to gather information about their immigrant community's social capital, (i.e., norms, obligations, expectations and network relationships) and transitional challenges. Using this understanding, five focus groups with older adolescents/young adults were conducted to understand challenges they have experienced and what family, community or personal supports have been helpful to them. Addressing potential gender differences related to the meaning and use of social capital (Dion & Dion, 2001), similar numbers of males & females participated. Finally, two focus groups of African immigrant parents were conducted to gain their perspectives on challenges and supports.

Transcriptions were thematically analyzed with the software NVivo. Themes across interviews (community leaders) and focus groups (adolescents/young adults) were reviewed for conceptually, clustered matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Narrative analyses (Padgett, 2004) were conducted with community leader interviews to understand the cultural elements of social and community capital that support adolescent/young adult transitions.

Results: Several themes were identified: young adult transitional experiences were unique and similar to adult community members; support was multiple-sourced; supportive role of advocacy and capacity-building; protective factors of hope and a sense of a future. Consistently present was the importance of spiritual beliefs, immigrants' faith community, and the integration of services within a faith-based model.

Conclusions & Implications: Results highlight immigrant community strengths, underscoring the social and community capital contribution for African adolescent/young adult immigrants. The meaning and role of social and community capital differed across African immigrant communities. Common to both was the role of spiritual beliefs and the power of approaches that use a faith-based model.

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