Abstract: The Time Is Now: Training Social Work Students As Immigrant Allies (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Time Is Now: Training Social Work Students As Immigrant Allies

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Tatiana Villarreal-Otalora, LCSW, Ph.D. Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Jane McPherson, PhD, MPH, LCSW, Assistant Professor & Director of Global Engagement, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background: Many of the 44 million immigrants now living in the US —especially those who are undocumented—are vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination, and poverty. This vulnerability has only deepened in recent years with the rise in anti-immigrant policy, rhetoric, and violence; increased workplace raids; and expedited deportations. To prepare social workers to work effectively and ethically with immigrants at this complex historical moment, the authors developed and piloted the Preparing Social Work Students as Immigrant Allies (PSWSIA) training.

Method: The authors used a cohort quasi-experimental study design to collect data from all MSW students enrolled in a required first-year course (N = 84): an intervention group, which received the initial training (n = 42); and, a comparison group, which did not (n = 42). Participants were in their mid-to-late twenties (intervention group: M = 27.45, SD = 1.29; control group: M = 25.74, SD = .93) and predominantly Caucasian (64%).

Data was collected via a paper-and-pen survey at three-time points: baseline, immediately post-training, and three months post-training. The survey (56 items total) included the Social Workers as Immigrant Allies Scales developed by the authors to measure self-rated immigration knowledge (α = .723) and practice confidence (α = .651); ordinal-level knowledge-based questions regarding the rights of individuals with various immigration statuses; one item asking about student's beliefs regarding immigrants and discrimination; and a sociodemographic questionnaire.

Statistical significance was set at a 95% confidence rate, p < .05. T-tests were used to test for statistically significant differences between the participants’ knowledge, confidence, and beliefs before and after the intervention, as well as in comparison to the control group.

Results: At baseline, the intervention group reported a higher level of perceived knowledge (M = 3.03, SD = .14) than the control group (M = 2.62, SD = .13), t(81) = 2.15, p = .03, and reported more relationships with immigrant individuals. T-tests revealed an increase in all the outcomes measures for students in the intervention group: perceived knowledge, t(37) = -10.77, p < .001; actual knowledge, t(37) = -11.21, p < .001; practice confidence, t(37) = 10.16, p < .001; and beliefs, t(37) = -1.96, p = .05. These knowledge and belief changes were retained at 3-month follow up, and the intervention group continued to have higher scores on all outcome measures than the comparison group: perceived knowledge, t(75) = 9.07, p < .001; actual knowledge, t(68) = -12.69, p < .001; practice confidence t(68) = -4, p < .001; and beliefs t(68) = 2.10, p = .054

Conclusions and Implications: It is social work’s ethical responsibility to promote social justice and inclusion for immigrants living in the United States. The PSWSIA training has the potential to catalyze such ethical social work engagement with this vulnerable population. Initial results from this training were promising enough that we trained all first-year MSW students at our Research I university. The project exemplifies how social work educators can develop and measure interventions that equip social workers with the skills needed to address urgent social issues.