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June 2013Vol. 14, No. 5Social Worker Attitudes Toward Immigrants

As the immigrant population in the United States has consistently increased over the past decade, so has the likelihood that social work practitioners will provide services to immigrant children and families. Practitioners' attitudes toward immigrants and basic knowledge of immigration may shape the quality of services provided. Additionally, a practitioners' poor knowledge and attitude toward immigrants can leave children, parents, and families feeling powerless and vulnerable when seeking services. A study in Social Work Education: The International Journal examined the relationship between practitioners' social work education and their attitudes toward immigrants and general knowledge of immigration.

The authors targeted the top 10 States with the largest overall increases in the foreign-born population and surveyed 1,032 social workers who had completed a B.S.W. and/or a M.S.W. Eight multiple-choice questions tested participants' general knowledge of immigration, including the number of legal and undocumented immigrants in the nation, immigrant population characteristics, and immigrants' eligibility to access public benefits. Open-ended questions asked workers about their personal and professional interactions with immigrants. Questions about workers' education centered on whether their training or coursework addressed the following:

  • Practice with immigrant children and families
  • Immigrants' eligibility for public welfare benefits
  • Immigration policies

The study indicated that although most practitioners had some coursework on working with immigrants, it had no impact on their attitudes toward immigrants or basic knowledge of immigration. However, findings showed that coursework on immigration policy had an impact on practitioners' positive attitudes toward immigrants. The authors also conducted an extensive literature review and noted that a practitioner's level of knowledge about a vulnerable population predicted his or her attitude toward that same population. The study's results indicate a need for schools of social work to expand course focus beyond immigration practice to include immigration policy.

"Linking Practitioners' Attitudes Towards and Basic Knowledge of Immigrants With Their Social Work Education," by Rupaleem Bhuyan, Yoosun Park, and Andrew Rundle, Social Work Education: The International Journal, 31(8), 2012, is available for purchase: