A group of colleagues in a conference

Ensuring Our Social Work System Is Able To Meet The Needs Of the Fastest Growing Demographic in the US: Hispanics

Author: Lauren Katulka

In 1980, 14.6 million Hispanic people called the United States home. By 2011, America's Hispanic population had swelled to almost 52 million. Studies suggest that by 2050, 102.6 million Americans, or almost a quarter of the population, will have Hispanic heritage. That makes Hispanic people the fastest growing demographic in the United States. So how can America's social work system meet the demands of this growing group?

Improve Education for Social Workers

Around 90 percent of social work academics in the U.S. agree that preparing students to work with the Hispanic population and their particular cultural sensitivities is important. In fact, the National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics dictates that cultural competence is an important element of social work. Yet, just 40 percent of faculty members believe their students are adequately prepared to deal with the cultural needs of the Hispanic population. This research suggests there's a significant divide between what a Master of Social Work and other related programs should teach students.

While there are commonalities between Hispanic citizens, it's important that they are not considered as a homogenous group. While the majority of America's Hispanic population hails from Mexico, migrants from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba and Colombia are also represented. Incan, Spanish, Mayan, Caribbean and Aztec backgrounds make this group even more diverse. A program-wide approach taking into account these differences must be considered to help social workers deal with the Hispanic population in the workplace.

Offer Services in More Languages

Table full of different nation's flags
Image via Flickr by Texas Military Forces

More than 37.6 million Americans ages five or older speak Spanish at home, making the language much more widespread than any other non-English dialect in the United States. While many Spanish-speaking Hispanics also speak English, nine percent admit they don't speak English well, or at all. These people are the ones most likely to utilize the social work system, so it's essential that they can communicate with its representatives.

In 2009, Merrell Foote of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health told "The Daily Texan," "There is no available data to quantify it, but we know from our anecdotal reports and research studies that have been done over time that there really aren't enough social work providers in Texas or nationally to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking populations."

If the needs of Hispanic Americans speaking the most common non-English language aren't being met, it's clear that those speaking Portuguese, French and indigenous dialects like Quichua and Aymara are also not being properly served. Improving the pay conditions for multilingual social workers may help social work providers attract and retain staff that can properly assist the Hispanic community.

Consider the Family

America's welfare system is one that emphasizes the individual. This is at odds with the Hispanic culture, where individuals commonly put their family's interests ahead of their own.

For example, it's common for the American welfare system to place an individual in the first available job that comes along. This may not suit a Hispanic person if the role will have them working odd hours, forcing them to neglect personal responsibilities. Considering the needs of the Hispanic family unit is essential for meeting the needs of this growing group.