How culture affects social work!!!

I have been AWOL the past couple of weeks, or has it been months??? I apologise to my loyal readers but I always try for this blog to remain relevant. That means I can only write when the material I have pertains to social work and my experiences with it. That sometimes can be a difficult task as I have to be in the right mind space to be creative. Having said that though, I am happy to be back!!!

Today I want to write about how social work fits into different cultural contexts. In other words how do we do work with clients from different cultural backgrounds? I attended the social work forum this month where the topic “A constructivist approach to the help-seeking process of clients:A response to cultural diversity”( Mo-Yee Lee a Master of SW, CSW and Phd holder) was presented. It was a very good research done on various clients of different cultural backgrounds in the Asian community and comparing with the Western culture. It led to me to thinking and making comparisons in my own work context with the clients I meet. This is what I call putting learning into practice….*proudofmyself*.

My serious look. Check my instagram for more pics @jusgee_gee

So I used to think a child in need is just a child in need nomatter where they come from as in which country or what language they speak or their religious affiliation. In the course of the past two years I had an increase in the cases of Zimbabwean children who were found in need of care in Cape Town. I often wondered how this was happening but anyway as I started comparing with the South African, Congolese and Angolan children I had on my caseload; I realised there were differences in the way the helping process takes place. I realised that culture plays a big role in determining what kind of intervention is most appropriate for each child. Each case is therefore looked at individually and holistically which is one of the main components of social work itself

How the child from Zimbabwe perceives her problem will be different to how the Congolese child would view hers. Furthermore how they both perceive to solve the problem will depend on what they were brought up to believe and makes part of their culture. So what makes sense in one culture will not necessarily make sense in the other culture.Let me go deeper with an example…

A 12 year old Zimbabwean child is found on the street after running away from home. After an interview she explains that she made her aunt whom she was residing with in South Africa angry and she got a hiding. The child perceives her problem to be the fact that she made her aunt angry and not the fact that aunt physically abused her or used corporal punishment as a way to deal with a problem teen. This is because child strongly believes that there is nothing wrong with adults hitting you if you did something wrong, this is part of Zimbabwean culture. ”A good hiding with a belt straightens a naughty child.” So in this case trying to get said child to open a case of assault will not be the desired solution and it will cause tension with the client. She will not want to tarnish the family name and it really is not abuse according to her…  

*not real case, just illustration*

So you see the predicament the social worker faces. The law in South Africa is clear on corporal punishment. The South African child would readily open a physical abuse case and accept placement in safe care until matters are resolved with family. It is therefore clear that problem identification and solutions depend on the cultural context. In order to provide a good intervention it becomes important for the
social worker to listen carefully to the client’s description of the problem and hearing the value systems not imposing their own. This encourages an open mind and a willingness to learn about cultural diversity.

Congolese families are very close knit and they normally solve their problems amongst themselves in their community groups. It is not uncommon to find a Congolese taking in a destitute child just because they are from the same country. Their sense of community stretches to the children calling each and every adult aunt or uncle and one would think they are all related. Maybe they all are in a way and their solidarity is admirable. Nigerian communities we all know that their problems seldom reach social workers or any official authorities if they can help it. They are a very self-sufficient cultural group. Some people believe in spiritual solutions to social problems. Again it is not uncommon to hear a parent offering prayer or a prophet as a solution to a social problem. It is all up to what the client believes to work for them and that is what they will gravitate towards.

In conclusion there is no one size fits all social intervention. There are variants of factors that can make it work for one group and not the other. It is good practice to negotiate which is the best for each individual client.

Below are pictures of me speaking on cultural day at Ons Plek Projects for Girls. I was wearing a form of Zimbabwean cultural dress, my face painted in the form of Xhosa cultural make-up.

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