In response to Charlotte’s increasingly diverse and rapidly growing Latino population, School of Social Work lecturer Roger Suclupe is bridging the gap between advocacy, outreach, and critical perspectives on social work policy through a new graduate course, Social Work Practice with Latino Communities.
From 2010 to 2015, the Hispanic population in Mecklenburg County grew 14.8 percent, bringing Hispanics to 12.7 percent of the total population. It’s troubling, Suclupe suggests, that even though the Hispanic population has been growing at this rate for a long time, they still struggle to find services within their community.
For issues like mental health, where a stigma and lack of awareness already exists, the problem often isn’t that the Latino community doesn’t want or seek providers, but that the providers don’t speak Spanish. For the School of Social Work, this course aims to address the growing need for culturally competent workers.
“We need social workers who are not only prepared to work directly with these populations, but are aware that there is an overall lack of services, providers, and helping professionals that cannot speak the language or understand the culture,” said Suclupe. “This is where Camino fits in.”
The Camino Community Center in Charlotte offers physical and mental services primarily to the Latino community and has collaborated with UNC Charlotte to establish community-based outreach programs. Students in the course will work with Camino members to locate services, programs and agencies around North Carolina and gain real experience in connecting individuals and families to resources in the community.
Out of the 16 students in the course, only five are Spanish-speaking; however, out of those five, none are native speakers. “It’s great that we have linguistic allies in the class. But the students who don’t know Spanish are even more important because they lack language communication,” said Suclupe. “They have a desire and passion to be involved in the community, and this course exposes them to the actual difficulties and struggles that both the agency and Latino community face.”
For graduate student Caitlin Matthews, the course is already forging connections into other professional work. As a social work intern at Behavioral Health-Charlotte, Matthews mainly helps adult patients in the inpatient psychiatric unit find services for once they are discharged from the hospital. Many of her Latino patients do not speak English, and in turn, she faces the difficulty of a limited budget for translating services.
“I can rarely find an organization or program that is truly beneficial to Latino patients due to the lack of Spanish-speaking individuals and lack of cultural experience with the Latino community,” said Matthews. “I see this lack of care and investment in Latino communities, and I took this class because of the great need for social practice within Charlotte.”
A major portion of the course is dividing students into groups for the three pillars of policy affecting the Latinos: the education system, health and mental health, and immigration. The ultimate goal is for the groups to work with an agency and develop a service project that leaves an imprint on both the agency and Latino communities around NC.
“The first meeting we had with Camino last week was an eye-opening experience,” said Matthews. “The work Camino is doing for the Latino community is breathtaking, and I’m eager to help this vulnerable population.”