Abstract: Towards an Effective Model of Working with Immigrants Who Are Child Welfare Involved: Promoting Innovative Collaborations and Systems Involvement (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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407P Towards an Effective Model of Working with Immigrants Who Are Child Welfare Involved: Promoting Innovative Collaborations and Systems Involvement

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kristina Lovato, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Megan Finno-Velasquez, PhD, LMSW, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
Sophia Sepp, MSW, MPH, Program Manager, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Robin Hernandez-Mekonnen, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work, Stockton University, New Jersey
Background. Over the past two decades, U.S. immigration policies have become increasingly punitive, with consequences for immigrant children and families including the daily threat of potential deportation or family separation. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this vulnerability. With now over 80.3 million cases confirmed in the U.S. (CDC, 2022), COVID-19 levels a new threat to millions of immigrants who were already afraid of seeking resources and excluded from COVID relief options. Social service providers, including child welfare agencies, face unique challenges in serving immigrant communities, due to immigrants’ fear and lack of eligibility for services as well as systemic service delivery barriers. Children in immigrant families are at increased risk for child welfare system involvement due to these issues. This study aims to address the following research question: how have child welfare agencies and community partner organizations addressed service access and engagement of immigrant families to navigate the impediments imposed by COVID-19?

Methods. This study used a qualitative research design to explore how child welfare agency representatives and community organizations who serve immigrant families involved in the child welfare system have experienced service provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. Semi-structured, one-on-one interviews were conducted via Zoom with n=31 child welfare agency representatives and community partners serving immigrant families across 11 states. Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Data analysis followed a thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Open coding was used to break down the data into smaller codes that could stand alone for categorizing and to detect repeated patterns. The repeated patterns were then sorted into concise categories to assist in identifying emerging themes, creating a manual codebook with definitions of each theme and sample quotes from transcripts.

Findings. Results revealed that child welfare agency staff and partner organizations established unique collaborations to serve the needs of immigrant families during the pandemic by: 1) using funds to purchase food, provide phones, assist with paying utilities, and meet other family basic needs; 2) promoting greater access in service delivery by offering immigrant families’ flexibility in time of convenings, flexibility of space, virtual/remote sessions, and through the use of promotoras/health promoters; 3) enhancing engagement by drawing upon trusted and vetted community leaders, faith-based support networks, and by collaborating with additional legal service support networks to serve clients’ time-sensitive legal and basic needs; 4) engaging in successful public health campaigns, developing community resource lists with partner organizations, and promoting local resources to assist families identify safe resources.

Implications. Findings from the study highlight the responsibility that child welfare agencies have to work within collaborative networks to meet the needs of immigrant families amid the pandemic to enhance connection, access, and engagement with needed services. Implications from this study identify individual, organizational, and policy level strategies that can be implemented to improve service provision to promote equity and inclusion of immigrants in child welfare practice and throughout community-based service delivery. Implications have potential for strengthening community responses via child welfare agencies and other service providers to mitigate the damage to immigrant families during COVID-19 recovery.