Cultural Perceptions about Child Maltreatment among Caribbean Immigrant Master's-level Social Workers Practicing in Child Welfare Agencies in the United States
Social workers are an instrumental part of the child welfare system as they work to ameliorate conditions that place children at risk. The perceptions of social workers are crucial because these professionals are at the forefront of the decision making process that determines whether parental behavior is child maltreatment. Yet social workers are from different cultures and bring their own biases, values, and beliefs to their working relationships, which may influence their professional judgments. Informed by the theories of symbolic interactionism and cognitive integrative perspective, this qualitative research study examined the influence of culture on the perceptions and decision making of 13 Caribbean immigrant masters-level social workers who worked in child welfare agencies in Washington, DC, and Maryland. The study used a purposeful sample of professionals who were raised in five Caribbean countries, with values and norms distinctly different from American societal ideals related to child rearing, child disciplining, and child maltreatment. Grounded theory methods of constant comparative analysis yielded three core themes, which emerged from categories that consisted of subsidiary contributing factors and narrative strands. The first core theme emphasized the importance of extended family and the greater community in supporting the expectations and norms of Caribbean cultures. This first theme emerged after analysis of participants` perceptions of child rearing and disciplining in the Caribbean, based on personal childhood experiences. Through examination of post-migration professional experiences in the United States, the second core theme emphasized the participants` needs for clarity and their emphasis on context in professional work. The final theme, which emerged from investigating participants` perceptions of the impact of their culture of origin on their current decision making, suggested that early cultural experiences influenced professional decision-making of these social workers, particularly related to their decisions regarding child maltreatment. The findings from this study indicate a need for specialized training for master`s level social workers from diverse cultural backgrounds in their work involving child maltreatment issues.
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