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How the Hispanic Population Has Changed Social Work

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The Hispanic population reached 55.4 million in 2014, an increase of 1.2 million from the previous year. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States, and are the largest ethnic minority in the nation.1

This fast-growing population is affecting the social work field as a whole. Here are three ways the Hispanic population has changed social work over the past 20 years:

Stronger emphasis on culturally competent services

As the Hispanic population grows, the demand for culturally competent social workers increases.

For social workers to provide services, they must understand their clients’ culture. The Hispanic population is made up of a diverse group of people with varying geographical, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Just as backgrounds vary, so do dialects. It’s important to understand that subtle changes in words or body language can represent different meanings for different groups.

Also, in Hispanic culture, family priorities often take precedence over individual needs. The presence or lack of a strong family structure can influence the level of social services needed, and social work may require more group interventions than is needed with other cultures.2

Creating a trusted relationship

While every social worker tries to create trusted relationships with clients, it is especially important when working with the Hispanic population.

A growing amount of research shows the Hispanic clients are more likely than white patients to feel a provider has judged them unfairly. That uneasy feeling may cause some Hispanics to hesitate to seek assistance from social workers. That underscores the importance of social workers being sensitive to Hispanic culture so that patients will trust them.3

In addition to hesitations in seeking assistance, language barriers can create confusion about paperwork, appointment times and treatment plans. Social workers should take extra time to explain some of the bureaucracy that’s involved, and reiterate any instructions with which the client should follow through. Doing so contributes to a long-term, sustainable relationship.

Diverse methods to reach and educate Hispanics

In the past 20 years, a focus on how culture affects social work has become evident. The term “culturally competent” didn’t become part of the health-care vocabulary until the 1990s4, but now, it’s commonplace. The approach is an integral part of social work education and clinical application.

Social workers have also had to explore new methods to reach a culturally diverse population. To inform Hispanics about existing services, for example, social-service agencies have changed their marketing efforts. Publications that were once printed only in English now have a Spanish version, information is distributed at gathering places, and social media has become a platform to advertise the availability of social workers.

The coursework in the online Master of Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University offers a unique perspective on the role social work plays in the Hispanic culture. The program is one of only three degree programs in the country with a focus on serving Hispanic families and children. If you are interested in learning more about it, please visit the program’s website.


  1. US Census Bureau.
  2. Social Work Practice with Latinos.
  3. Social Work Practice with Latinos.
  4. Patient Centeredness, Cultural Competence and Healthcare Quality.

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