This study evolved from a workforce development opportunity provided to BSW and MSW students through the CARESS grant. The CARESS grant was funded by the Baltimore City Department of Health in an effort to:
- increase STI, STD as well as pregnancy awareness and prevention within this population;
- decrease the potential for risk-taking behaviors often associated with STI, STD and unplanned pregnancy;
- increase sustainable community partnerships and community engagement focused on addressing STIs, STDs and unplanned pregnancy; and
- provide workforce development opportunities for future sexual health advocates, researchers and educators.
The researchers explored how workforce development experiences influenced the perceptions of students surrounding sexual health and social justice.
Methods: Using a qualitative approach, four focus group questions were posed to a purposive sample of nine BSW students and one MSW student (N=10) who were associated with the CARESS grant over the course of two years. The sample included eight females and one male all ranging in ages 21-40. Six participants had work experience in/or related to healthcare.
Guided by Grounded Theory, focus groups discussions were transcribed,and data were analyzed in a three-way approach including data reduction, data display and participation verification checks.
Results: Findings indicated that students gained awareness of the need for collaborative efforts that focused on heightening and providing sexual health resources that are age-appropriate, incentivized, inclusive of community partners, and steeped in an awareness of self-worth. Students were also able to connect sexual health to issues of social and racial justice, and noted that increasing knowledge surrounding sexual health was a vital component of social justice.
Conclusions: Findings imply that social workers must be trained to address issues related to sexual health from a social justice perspective, particularly related to communities of color. In addition, policy makers must work to provide incentive-based guidelines to prepare the next generation of sexual health leaders. Finally, subsequent research should be conducted that considers the impact of sexual health preparation and work in communities of color. This would provide a more detailed narrative and direction surrounding preparation for a new cadre of sexual health advocates.