Initial first impressions
Bill and his mother are African American. They are heterosexual and identify as Christian. Mom and Bill have not attended a church service or activity for a long time. Bill is not an easy child to take care of. He acts without thinking, he cannot stay still for five minutes, he is rebellious, and talks back to his mom. He does not have friends at school or at home. Bill’s mother is depressed. She does not have a job, a high school education, or any job skills. Her chances of securing a job are low. She hates being dependent on her boyfriend but her options are limited, which makes her feel trapped. She feels lonely since she has very few friends with whom she rarely meets or communicates. Also, she does not have close ties with her family members. Bill’s mom consumes alcohol to drown her problems and when Bill acts up, she takes her frustrations out on him.
I have a personal conflict with how Bill’s mother treats her son. I advocate for reasonable punishment to correct a child’s behavior. However, I understand there is a fine line between discipline and child abuse. Bill’s mom has a very low tolerance for his behavior, which makes her use physical punishment. Any punishment that leaves bruises or causes emotional harm is considered child abuse. I have seen children who have been severely abused by their parents or guardians and heard about child deaths caused by child abuse. Therefore, I have strong feelings against child abuse and people who abuse children. I also have a problem with the boyfriend. He is not doing anything to stop Bill’s mother from hitting her son. He probably does not take care about Bill since he is not his father. It is wrong of him to condone child abuse which is happening right before his eyes. Everyone has a moral duty to report abuse. In my opinion, witnessing child abuse and not reporting it is the same as abusing that child yourself.
Factors to be considered
One of the factors that should be considered when determining the underlying issue is the client’s customs and beliefs. Black parents are twice as likely as white parents to hit their children (Maguire-Jack et al., 2018). There is a cultural belief that hitting a child is the best way to teach them appropriate behavior. This could be the case with Bill’s mom. She might have been brought up believing that parents have the right, if not the duty, to mete physical punishment on misbehaving children. Given her lack of basic parenting skills, it is unsurprising that she does not know alternative ways to teach appropriate behavior.
The client’s low socio-economic status is also an important factor to consider. Poverty itself does not cause child abuse and neglect but it is one of the leading contributory factors (McLeigh et al., 2018). Financial struggles in the family increase stress levels thus increasing the risk of child abuse. There is a link between poverty and ethnicity. In the U.S., poverty rates are higher among ethnic minorities than the majority white population. Ethnic minorities have faced racial discrimination throughout American history. They have fewer economic opportunities and lower education levels which cause a vicious cycle of poverty.
The next step
Before I start working with this family, I need to ask myself if I have adequate knowledge about the client’s culture. Do I know about the client’s values, norms, and traditions that affect how they think or behave? Being well-informed on the the client’s culture can help me be more considerate and to communicate with her in a culturally competent manner. I also need to examine my unconscious biases and prejudices that might influence my attitude towards the client. I have done a self-reflection and realized that I have a negative attitude towards parents who abuse their children regardless of the underlying issue. If I cannot see past the act itself, it would be difficult for me to develop a sound intervention plan that will address the root cause of the problem. When a professional’s judgment is clouded by their biases, they cannot explore all alternatives to come up with a solution that works best for the clients.
Importance of cultural competence when working with clients
Cultural competence goes beyond tolerance to include recognizing and respecting diversity (Danso, 2018). Gaining cultural competence does not mean that you have to understand every nuance of the other person’s culture. This is an impossible task. However, one needs to remain open to new cultural ideas, ask questions when they need clarification, and respond carefully. Cultural competence is embedded into the ideals of social work practice. One of the ethical principles outlined in the NASW Code of Ethics is to “Be respectful of every person and mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity” (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). Cultural competence helps social workers navigate the cultural differences between them and their clients so they can provide quality services. Also, cultural competence increases client’s satisfaction. This encourages them to seek crisis management services.
Danso, R. (2018). Cultural competence and cultural humility: A critical reflection on key cultural diversity concepts. Journal of Social Work, 18(4), 410-430.
Maguire-Jack, K., Cao, Y., & Yoon, S. (2018). Racial disparities in child maltreatment: The role of social service availability. Children and youth services review, 86, 49-55.
McLeigh, J. D., McDonell, J. R., & Lavenda, O. (2018). Neighborhood poverty and child abuse and neglect: The mediating role of social cohesion. Children and Youth Services Review, 93, 154-160.
National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Read the Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English