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A commitment to cultural competence and understanding social diversity is a crucial part of being a professional social worker, according to the National Association of Social Workers' code of ethics. Since social workers help people from all walks of life, they need to be aware of and able to work through their own prejudices and biases to be effective in their roles.
Immigration is one of the key diversity issues faced by social workers in the United States. With changes to legislative policies that can make it more difficult for people to enter the U.S., social workers must step up to fight for human rights and work to promote social justice. Social workers work as policy advocates and providers of direct services in a variety of settings to help immigrants, refugees and their families. Yet according to the NASW, they often can't get access to needed resources due to certain laws and policies.
Ethnicity and Race
Race is still one of the key issues people think about when it comes to diversity, according to social care and criminal justice trainer and consultant Linda Gast, one of the authors of "Mastering Approaches to Diversity in Social Work." Race and issues of ethnicity impact social workers on multiple levels. For example, they might work with clients with racial or ethnic backgrounds different than their own and feel unable to choose words that reflect cultural competence. Or they might work on a larger scale and try to promote racial harmony among groups through education or other activities.
Social workers often help people affected by poverty. Poverty in itself isn't a diversity issue. But other diversity issues, such as immigration or ethnicity, can impact it. For example, the NASW highlights the case of a refugee from Bosnia who doesn't speak English and has few financial or material resources. Poverty might drag him down if social workers and other social services professionals can't provide assistance.
Social workers often face issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. On a broad scale, the NASW has established the National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, which works to develop, promote and monitor programs that affect the LGBT community as a whole. But on a smaller scale, social workers also make a difference in the lives of LGBT individuals, couples and their families. For example, they might work in advocacy organizations or counseling associations with LGBT individuals who face problems that can affect their well-being.