Student Question

Why is it important for human service agencies and providers to be educated in issues of diversity? What can this understanding contribute to the agency? How does this understanding of diversity issues improve assisting those in need?

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The blanket term "Human Services" usually refers to fields such as social work, counseling, sociology, psychology, and children's education. In the vast majority of cases, the highest demand for a human services professional's expertise will be among people from lower socioeconomic classes, such as children in the care system, children of lower income and single parents, the unemployed, and those with substance abuse issues. Another demographic likely to feature highly in the working life of a human services professional will be immigrants and asylum seekers, largely because these people will often have escaped traumatic situations and be in need of counseling, as well as safe housing and other areas where a social worker might provide assistance.

Unfortunately, there is a high level of overlap between those in lower socioeconomic classes and those who represent some kind of minority—for example:

1. Racial minorities—many people who will require the services of human services agencies will be, as noted, immigrants or asylum seekers with different cultural backgrounds. There is also a higher proportion of low income and formerly incarcerated people among non-white populations. These people may have been brought up and educated within the dominant culture, but may represent religious minorities or otherwise diverge from the cultural norm.

2. Gender minorities—there is a high level of homelessness, unemployment, and substance abuse among members of the transgender community, largely due to discrimination and the likelihood of trans people being rejected by their families and social support systems.

3. Sexual minorities—suicide rates are highest among gay and bisexual youth, meaning that these youths will frequently require human services professionals. Gay and bisexual people are also incarcerated, abused and made redundant at a higher rate than heterosexuals.

These are only three examples, but we can see immediately why human services professionals should have an understanding of diversity. It is highly likely that a human services professional will see more diversity in his or her working life than outside of it. As such, it is important that the professional should have an understanding of the particular problems facing those they are seeking to help. This might include:

1. Education and training about LGBTQ issues—the professional should be able to understand what psychological challenges the client is facing. They should also understand the discrimination faced by the client in daily life in order to be able to counsel them adequately and relate to their situation.

2. Religious and cultural sensitivity training—particularly where clients are immigrants, already feeling out of place in a new dominant culture, it is important that the professional should not do anything which is discourteous in the client's context. This means understanding religious differences, such as the strictures upon Muslim women in terms of how they should interact with men. It also means that professionals should take it upon themselves to understand the culture the client has come from, so as to appreciate any difficulties that are happening in terms of adapting to a new culture.

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