Social Work Task Force Would Serve Charlotte Latinos

Monday, March 14, 2016

A pair of UNC Charlotte social work master’s students have unveiled a plan to help provide mental health services to Charlotte’s underserved Latino population.

MSW students Laura Pierce and Cameron Rifkin presented the plan at the UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference after being selected as UNC Charlotte’s participants.

The proposal would create a task force of clinical professionals to partner with agencies and community groups to provide affordable, culturally competent mental health services to Latinos in Charlotte. Agency partnerships would allow the task force to include non-licensed MSW students under the supervision of a clinical supervisor, lowering costs and providing valuable on the job experience for future social workers.

While many students would welcome that opportunity, the primary catalyst for the project was recognition of a compelling need.

“The Latino population is booming in North Carolina, particularly in our communities, because of this, we have tailored our efforts to best address issues affecting our neighbors, Rifkin said, “I believe, as social service professionals, we have a duty to address issues in our area first and foremost.”

Pierce, Rifkin’s teammate, emphasized the significance of adaptability in the field.

“We as social workers understand it's important to continuously be upping our game and improving our standards as well as practices so we can meet the needs of an ever-changing population and society,” she said.

Latino access to mental health is indeed an emerging issue in Charlotte, according to Professor Roger Suclupe, the team’s faculty advisor.

Charlotte’s Latino population is one of the fastest growing in the state. Newly arrived immigrants who work in demanding industries like construction or tourism can be put a risk for mental health issues, according to Suclupe.

“The hours are long and the work can be physically demanding and sometimes, depending on life circumstances, the work can be emotionally tumultuous which can lead to difficulties in other areas of life.  Sometimes there is also little to no time to address the emotional and mental health needs of Latino families.”

When Latino individuals and families do seek help, they often have to speak through a third-party to communicate with a qualified social worker.

"This ‘translation triangle’ can often build a wall and sadly solidifies the misconceptions about mental health support and increases the stigma that already exist among the Latino community about therapy and supportive services,” Suculpe said.

Pierce and Rifkin’s proposed task force would address this by traveling to “schools, shelters, hospitals and wherever else needed to not only interpret, but provide clinical and culturally-minded support,” according to the proposal, which appeared at the social entrepreneurship conference in February.

The conference provides an annual forum for students across the state to present business plans to address social problems facing North Carolina and its communities. The MSW students provided a financial, social impact and implementation analysis in the proposal. Ventureprise, a UNC Charlotte startup initiative, provided strategic support and helped the students write a business plan.

Rifkin said working on the project provided a different perspective than previous experiences as an MSW student.

“This was a great learning opportunity to become more familiar with the potential of business-oriented social work. This type of creative thinking provides a crucial perspective for applying and adapting social work for the real-world”

The competition was a valuable lesson in translating ideas into action, Pierce added.

“Not only did I gain further insight into the business aspects of social work and social change but I also learned more about what it takes to increase awareness about a social topic and market it with a viable solution that people can understand and support.”

Suclupe, the faculty advisor, said the team performed beyond expectations.

“From the beginning, Laura and Cameron were committed to taking a leap of faith and venturing outside of the box of what most people think about social work.  Entering an entrepreneurial competition was definitely a first for our School of Social Work; however, it made so much sense to challenge our students to research, discuss and connect social change with entrepreneurship opportunities.”

by: Wills Citty