In what ways does the ecological perspective support culturally sensitive social work with Hispanic families?

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An ecological perspective is interdisciplinary and draws on the scientific study of the ways that living organisms interact with their environments and with each other. In social work, this holistic perspective addresses a variety of communities and the individuals in them, keeping in mind the large number of institutions, organizations, and locations in which people are often involved. Family, school, church, employers, the military, the legal system, foreign community of origin, and social services are among those in which an individual could simultaneously be engaged.

Social workers can effectively apply an ecological perspective in attending to the reciprocal quality of exchanges between humans and environments, rather than seeing any relationships as one way (often top-down). By aiming to understand how people fit into these varied organizations and communities at any given moment and over time, social work can both improve direct interaction with clients and help shape relevant policy.

Several aspects can be directly relevant to Hispanic families. In multi-generational, extended families, some members are likely to have closer links to a foreign country of origin, including a number of types of immigration status. Language issues may also affect interactions between parents and their children's schools. While Latin Americans practice a number of religions, overall a high percentage of U.S. Latinos are Catholic, so addressing their involvement with a community church could enhance provision of services.

Different layers of community, government, and legal environments may only come into contact through a particular individual or family. Social work, in understanding the connections on an abstract, systemic level as they shape the individual's environment, can help bridge those gaps. Greater awareness of the many-layered involvement of Hispanic family members—such as specific arenas where interpreters are needed but not provided—will also increase clients' confidence that their full situation can be addressed.

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