Abstract: The Forgotten Human Services Sector: Leadership Narratives of Immigrant- and Refugee-Led Community-Based Ethnic Organizations (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

The Forgotten Human Services Sector: Leadership Narratives of Immigrant- and Refugee-Led Community-Based Ethnic Organizations

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jaclyn Kirsch, MSW, PhD Candidate, The Ohio State University
Shambika Raut, MA, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Yesenia Alvarez Padilla, MSW, BSW Student, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Arati Maleku, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background: Community-Based Ethnic Organizations (CBEOs) led by immigrant/refugee leaders play a vital role within the human services landscape. Literature documenting the crucial roles of CBEOs suggest that CBEOs have been instrumental in assisting immigrants and refugees navigate crucial human services in new spaces, provide culturally responsive services, and mitigate service gaps unfulfilled by mainstream human services systems. Despite the crucial role of CBEOs as mediators between the local human services systems and immigrant and refugee communities, they face persistent legitimacy and survival challenges, including gaining access to funding opportunities and sustainability of CBEOs. Further, research on the role of CBEOs remain sparse and fragmented. Our study explored barriers and facilitators of CBEO leadership and functioning to garner a comprehensive understanding of the perceived role and position of CBEOs in the context of the larger human services environment. We used a multidimensional framework by incorporating institutional theory as an overarching lens within political economy and critical perspectives to broaden our understanding of the multiple factors affecting CBEO functioning within the political, economic, and oppressive structures that affect the functioning and legitimacy of these organizations.

Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit immigrant and refugees who served as leaders of CBEOs (N=7) in a midwestern U.S. city that has seen a large influx of immigrant and refugee resettlement in the last 10 years. The CBEO leaders participated in 60-to-90-minute in-depth virtual interviews that explored participant perceptions of leadership as an immigrant/refugee leader, the role of CBEOs within the larger human services landscape, and the impact of COVID-19 on CBEOs. Study participants represented diverse nationalities (Bhutan, Mexico, India, Russia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia), gender (Men= 3, Women= 4), leadership and displacement experiences. Grounded theory approaches of theoretical sampling and coding— open, axial and selective— were used to analyze the data using Atlas.ti and NVivo software.

Results: Four major themes highlighting the barriers and facilitators of CBEOs and their role and position in the context of the larger human services environment emerged from our study: (1) perceived role of CBEOs in immigrant/refugee services; (2) CBEO challenges in the human services environment; (3) inclusion versus exclusion in the HSO network; and (4) CBEO position: a way forward for human services. Findings reiterated precarious funding provision, non-renewability of grants, restrictive immigration policies, and a competitive atmosphere within the human services landscape that limit the capacity of CBEOS to best serve their communities.

Conclusion: The human services environment is constantly interacting with the social, cultural, economic, and political environment—crucial conditions under which CBEOs operate. Our study highlights that the position of immigrant and refugee-led CBEOs within the larger HSO network reflects the ongoing exclusion and marginalization of immigrant and refugee experience in the United States and around the world. Findings reaffirm the abilities of CBEOs to work across populations, issues, and geographic locales. Recognition of the meaningful role of CBEOs will not only help strengthen human services, but also foster an inclusive and equitable human services sector.