Abstract: The Impact of Bilingual Social Workers Who Are Not Bicultural in Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

305P The Impact of Bilingual Social Workers Who Are Not Bicultural in Child Welfare

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Vania Buck, Master's, Social Worker, California State University, Chico, CA
Background and Purpose: In child welfare, families with limited English proficiency are entitled to language services under federal law. To meet this need, child welfare agencies rely on interpreters, language lines, and bilingual social workers who meet the need to provide language services to families. Yet monolingual families still face inequity in services compared to their English-speaking counterparts. Specifically, counties hire bilingual individuals without prioritizing other social identities such as race, ethnicity, and cultural background. A lack of bicultural background may contribute to the miscommunication and misunderstanding of cultural differences among families who are monolingual in Spanish and who are typically from a Latinx background. This research fills a gap in understanding the impact of bilingual social workers who are not bicultural on monolingual families involved in the child welfare system. The purpose of this research was to explore the importance of child welfare social workers who are bilingual and bicultural when serving families who are monolingual in Spanish.

Methods: This paper reports on findings from an exploratory study on the experiences of bilingual child welfare social workers in California. Thirteen bilingual social workers participated in a virtual semi-structured interview and shared their experiences as English and Spanish-speaking social workers in their public child welfare agency. Participants were recruited through a purposive and snowball sampling method and selected according to inclusion criteria. The interviews were recorded, transcribed through Otter.ai, and cleaned by the researcher. The researcher conducted a content analysis, and further triangulated the data and utilized peer debriefing to mitigate researcher bias. Qualtrics was used to collect and analyze demographic data.

Results: Findings of the qualitative study suggested differences in the expressed need for bilingual social workers who are also bicultural in child welfare agencies. Across the region, participants in the northern region of California shared their negative experiences with bilingual social workers who were not bicultural that led to poor outcomes with families who were monolingual in Spanish. Participants in southern California did not share the same concerns as those in northern California, potentially due to the rate of bilingual and bicultural social workers in this region. Being a bicultural social worker is vital to understand how to appropriately serve families who face systemic barriers, racism, discrimination, and who have historical trauma that directly impacts engagement with government systems in the United States.

Conclusions and Implications: If bilingual social workers in child welfare agencies are not only bilingual but bicultural, then monolingual families may receive more appropriate services which will lead to better outcomes among Latinx families. Public child welfare agencies should take into consideration the importance of hiring bilingual social workers who are also bicultural when serving Latinx families to ensure equity in services and to meet the needs of the whole family. This research has implications for the importance of cultural differences between workers and clients in child welfare agencies. Child welfare must make changes in agency practice and policies when developing plans to provide language services to families who are not proficient in English.