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

54P Factors Associated with Ethnic Minority Human Service Utilization: A Community and Organizational Analysis

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Catherine M. Vu, MPA, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Julian C. C. Chow, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Welfare, Berkeley, CA
Purpose: Vital services to vulnerable populations around the country are being cut in order to reconcile budget deficits. While these cuts are detrimental to all recipients who utilize human services, they disproportionately affect ethnic minority populations. The disparity in human service access between ethnic groups presents a problem that can be mitigated by community-based organizations (CBOs). Often contracted by local governments to provide human services to low-income populations, CBOs are usually located in the communities they serve and are familiar with the obstacles and needs of service users. In addition, CBOs typically sponsor a variety of events and activities to promote community-building and social support. As a result, CBOs can provide human services that are responsive to the needs of low-income ethnic minorities in a supportive community setting.

Despite the significant role of nonprofits in service provision for ethnic minority populations, there is a lack of empirical evidence on how community and organizational characteristics can influence the utilization of human services by ethnic minority groups. While community theories provide a framework for where ethnic minorities locate and organizational theories help explain how organizations respond to their environment, the literature is limited in discussing how both can be inter-related to one another. Moreover, the relationship between the theories has not been empirically studied. This study aims to fill this gap in the literature by examining the role of community based organizations in ethnic minority service utilization within the context of the communities in which they are located.

Method: Merging cross-sectional data from the Los Angeles Nonprofit Human Services Survey (2002) and the 2000 Census, a two-level dataset was created to examine the organizational characteristics and community characteristics associated with ethnic minority service utilization. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to analyze separate models for the major ethnic groups. A two-level random intercept model is used because it was hypothesized that the mean proportion of ethnic clients served in organizations varied by zip code, specifically due to differing socioeconomic characteristics. The merged dataset yielded 309 organizations in 151 zip codes of Los Angeles County.

Results: Results suggest that organizations with ethnic board and staff members that reflect the diversity of the client population are more likely to engage minority clients across ethnicities. Beyond these organizational variables, significant organizational and community factors vary across ethnic groups. For example, while staff size and type of service are significant factors associated with Hispanic client service utilization, these were not significant for African Americans or API clients. Furthermore, the intraclass correlations for each ethnic group varied, suggesting that the use of a multi-level model was appropriate for some ethnic groups (i.e. Hispanic, rho=.593) and not as much for others (i.e. African Americans, rho=.095).

Implications: These findings support the notion that agencies should assess how their organizational and community characteristics impact the utilization of services by ethnic minorities depending on their target population. In addition, the study highlights the need to study organizations within the context of their communities to increase human service engagement among ethnic minority groups.