social work program to help Southeast Asian community
to a strong community need, Sacramento State has launched a program to train
social workers to work specifically with ethnic groups in the Southeast Asian
The program, believed
to be one of the first of its type, will help social services agencies better
provide needed services to Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mien and Laotian families
in the Sacramento region.
trying to break down the barriers to social services,” said Serge Lee,
the professor of social work who created the program. “Many in the community
are not accustomed to seeking help for private, family matters. They have needs
in the areas of health, mental health and education, and many times don’t
know where to turn.”
Lee said that few
social workers have knowledge about the culture of Southeast Asians, many of
whom are immigrants or refugees. Better-trained social workers who have a thorough
understanding of the Southeast Asian community would provide a vital link, said
Lee, a noted social work researcher who is believed to be the only person of
Hmong descent to have earned a doctorate in social welfare.
To reach more Southeast
Asian families in need, Lee has put together Sacramento State’s new Southeast
Asian Focus Cohort Master’s Degree Program in Social Work, which he hopes
can be a model for other communities with large Southeast Asian populations.
Nineteen students, most of who are already employed with social services agencies
but are seeking a master’s degree and want to work with Southeast Asian
individuals and families, are currently taking the classes as a group, also
called a cohort. The classes, which began last fall, cover subjects such as
human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy, and social
work practice with diverse populations with emphasis on Southeast Asian content
Lee said the program
grew out of the concerns from three area agencies: the Hmong Women’s Heritage
Association, the Asian Pacific Community Counseling program and Asian Resources,
Inc. The agencies, along with Sacramento County mental health officials, felt
that something needed to be done to provide better training to social workers
to address the needs of individuals and families in the Southeast Asian community.
About 70,000 people
in Sacramento County make up the Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mien and Laotian
communities, according to the 2000 Census.
Over the course
of the three-year program, the students also must take 18 specialty seminar
sessions that allow them to more fully explore the historical and cultural background
of Southeast Asians. The students learn about the life-changing experiences
of groups escaping from their native country, becoming refugees in other countries
and ultimately settling in America and the Sacramento region.
“In order for social workers to gain a better understanding of the experiences
of Southeast Asians as they are assimilating into the mainstream of American
society, the students need to understand how individuals and families got where
they are and how they are adjusting to life in the United States,” Lee
One part of the
program, Lee said, will help the social work students better understand Southeast
Asian youths, who often balance the cultural expectations of their parents and
those of American society. “Southeast Asian youths and adults look at
themselves and the environment around them, and wonder who they are among these
differing cultural values.”
Lee said one negative
outgrowth is that gang membership is perceived as a new and enjoyable culture
for some Hmong youths.
The social work
students will also learn things they won’t find in a social work textbook,
Lee said. Slapping someone on the back may be considered taboo, especially in
a Buddhist family. And “yes” doesn’t always mean yes. “Southeast
Asians place high value on harmony and may tell the American what they think
the American wants to hear rather than their true feelings,” Lee said.
This fall the social
work students will begin working in the field in agencies serving the Southeast
Asian community. They are expected to receive their master’s of social
work degrees in spring 2008.
California State University, Sacramento Public
6000 J Street Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 (916) 278-6156