Session: Challenges in Offering Social Services to the South Asian Community (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

17 Challenges in Offering Social Services to the South Asian Community

Thursday, January 11, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Independence BR B (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Race and Ethnicity
Sameena Azhar, LCSW, MPH, University of Chicago, Samira Ali, PhD, University of Houston and Vithya Murugan, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis
According to 2016 Census data, Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority in the United States. South Asians constitute the second largest ethnic minority among Asian Americans. Yet mental and sexual/reproductive health services are seldom catered toward this community. The goal of this roundtable is to (a) review the current state of mental and sexual/reproductive health services for South Asian American communities, (b) examine the barriers South Asian Americans experience when accessing mental and sexual/reproductive health services in Chicago, Houston and New York City/New Jersey, and (c) offer recommendations to strengthen social services for this community. We will review social services offered in the context of South Asian women's organizations, mental health services, and sexual/reproductive health services.

South Asian women's organizations (SAWO) emerged in the 1980s in response to the growing awareness of violence against women in the South Asian community. To highlight the obstacles service providers face in reaching South Asian women and families, twelve in-depth interviews were conducted with services providers from SAWOs in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Service providers discussed common forms of abuse that their clients have experienced, highlighting economic deprivation, social isolation, and threats of deportation. Providers shed light on the particular vulnerability of recent immigrant women who experience cultural barriers, limited geographic mobility, and weak social networks.

Mental health services constitute a second form of social service offered to the South Asian community. In suburban Chicago, very few agencies offer social services in South Asian languages with culturally competent practitioners. Three case studies will be presented to highlight the obstacles commonly faced by South Asian clients. The first case will be that of a 73-year-old South Indian immigrant man with alcohol dependence. The second case will be that of a 38-year-old North Indian woman, who experienced intimate partner violence. The third case will be that of a low-income Pakistani family with seven children, who request financial assistance. With each case, the social and cultural facets of offering social services to South Asian communities will be highlighted, namely linguistic barriers, stigma around seeking mental healthcare, and the inability to access public benefits because of documentation status.

A third form of social service offered to the South Asian community is sexual/reproductive health services. To date, a conceptual model that integrates culturally sensitive and sex-positive elements among this population does not exist. A conceptual framework could assist in better understanding sexual health through a sex-positive lens. The Sexual Health Model has the potential to inform culturally sensitive practice and aid in the development of sexual health services for the South Asian diaspora.

In sum, our roundtable offers insights into improving evidence-based social work practice that serve the South Asian American community. Barriers to accessing mental and sexual/reproductive health services include scarce funding, lack of coordination with other systems of care, and stigma regarding the discussion of issues, such as intimate partner violence, financial problems, mental health, and sexuality, outside of the home.

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