Abstract: Interpersonal, Professional, and Political: The Engagement of Social Workers from Minority Groups in Policy Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

43P Interpersonal, Professional, and Political: The Engagement of Social Workers from Minority Groups in Policy Practice

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hani Nouman, PhD, Lecturer, School of Social work, Israel
Faisal Azaiza, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Israel
Guy Enosh, PhD, Assoc. Prof., University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Background and purpose: The strengthening of the neoliberal economic worldview, which advocates minimal government intervention in solving social problems, causes serious harm to groups with limited social power. In Israel, this is true especially in the Arab society, which faces overt and covert discrimination in relation to resource distribution, political power, and accessibility to information and services. In light of this reality, Arab social workers in the public welfare services are required to engage with and influence social policy that will reduce inequality and ensure social justice and equal accessibility to basic social resources. However, the potential challenges awaiting Arab social workers who engage in this activity might influence role perception of involvement in policy shaping processes and their actual involvement in policy practice (PP).

The present study examined Arab social workers’ perceptions of their role regarding their engagement in policy practice. In particular the study examined institutional and personal hurdles as well as opportunities, which influence the engagement of social workers belonging to a national minority group in PP.

Methods: In this study, qualitative methodology was used, including individual in-depth interviews with 54 social workers from the Arab minority in Israel. All had qualified from academic institutions in Israel and were employed in public welfare agencies in local authorities of Arab and mixed (Jewish–Arab) communities in Israel. Potential interviewees were identified from the official record of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services listing certified social workers. Potential participants were sampled through a process of multidimensional purposive sampling intended to ensure heterogeneity of gender, religion (Muslims, Christians, and Druze), and types of communities in which the social workers were employed (by size, location, treatment population). The author of the article approached all the social workers in the departments sampled for recruiting participants in June, 2018. The response rate was 90%. Most of the participants (76%) were women, participants' ages ranged from 23 to 55 years, and their professional seniority ranged from one to 28 years.

Findings: The Arab social workers showed an ambivalent perception of their role in relation to their engagement in policy practice in light of gaps between their culture of origin and their Western professional socialization, and in view of their perception of institutional obstructions on the local-political and political-organizational levels. A strong national-political identity alongside previous positive personal experiences in the policy arena was found to contribute to involvement.

Conclusion and implications: Findings indicate that Arab social workers’ engagement in policy practice is a complex issue. The professional perception of involvement in a policy arena that is deeply rooted in universal Western culture, poses a conflict for the social workers with collectivistic orientation. Nonetheless, they seem to understand the importance of their involvement in policy practice and in being open to undergo a process. Therefore, the importance of developing culturally sensitive training and supervision is highlighted, and its contribution to promotion of engagement by minority social workers in policy practice.