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USC and Taiwan social workers extend global reach with cultural exchange training program

  • Practice

A 20-person delegation of administrators, clinical supervisors and licensed social workers from the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF), the private charitable organization that delivers child and family services for the government of Taiwan, joined faculty at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work for a three-week intensive training and cross-cultural exchange on the USC campus. Led by Suh Chen Hsiao, associate teaching professor and director of practicum education for USC Social Work, and a Taiwanese native, the customized immersive educational experience was designed to deepen the understanding of American social services systems, provide exposure to the latest evidence-based practices, and provide direct learning from Southern California child welfare agencies and social services community organizations.

“International global social work practice is really cross-track, cross-learning from each other,” Hsiao said. “Not only us teaching them, but also us receiving from them. This is a mutual academic exchange. Not only conversation, theory, practice or policy, but providing that holistic perspective on how we each view the social work profession through our cultural lenses.”

As the pioneering social work agency in Taiwan, and a supervising agency for social work student internships, TFCF seeks to be the trailblazer in moving social work forward within their country and culture. They are very interested in creating a more distinct social work identity in Taiwan that offers specialization in certain social work theories and practices, as well as expanding practice from their current child welfare mezzo social work practice to both individual micro level and influencing policy through macro practice. They are particularly intrigued by the scope of social work practice in Southern California.

“Social workers in Los Angeles are more diverse and innovative than what I saw in New York,” said Yang-Chung Lin, department head of TFCF’s Administration Department. “They are doing interprofessional and interdisciplinary work in a variety of different settings. It’s highly creative.”

Expanding the definition of social work in Taiwan

TFCF was originally founded using the U.S. child welfare system model which has been the basis for their delivery of services for the past 50 years. The core of their work is supporting children and families, providing individual services as well as capacity building for anti-poverty. A visit to the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services to meet with administrators and social workers there was of particular interest, specifically the individuals who supervise the MSW student interns and workforce development programs.

Interdisciplinary practice is another area of social work where growth is needed in Taiwan. The TFCF group worked with Teaching Professor Margarita Artavia, who specializes in both interprofessional education and cultural humility, and holds a joint appointment with the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at USC.

“Interprofessional education, cultural humility and collaboration break down walls and build bridges,” Artavia said. “I was able to share with the TFCF group the potential for applying social work practices in diverse settings that are not yet common in Taiwan, while also learning much from them and building a cultural bridge.”

Among the immediate takeaways for the TFCF delegation during their visit was the intentional implementation of evidence-based and trauma-informed social work practices, which was emphasized by every agency and social services organization they visited. TFCF is eager to bring their expanded knowledge of social work practice back to their country and continue to evolve their systems to operationalize what they have learned at USC.

Viewing shared issues through a different cultural lens

Part of the customized immersive training prepared for the TFCF group was a focus on how the U.S. social work system addresses some of the emerging social issues facing Taiwanese society, including immigration, relationships with indigenous tribes, and LGBTQ+ policies and cultural attitudes. The latter is a relatively new topic in Taiwan, and in many ways the country is experiencing an unusual path toward LGBTQ+ rights and cultural acceptance. A visit to an LGBTQ-focused substance use treatment center, where they met with a client who shared their story, helped expand their understanding of issues facing this population.

“It’s interesting for us. Our policy is moving very fast and the government recognizes LGBTQ people, but our society is not ready for that,” Lin said. 

Another rising issue facing Taiwan is relationships with its 16 indigenous tribes. While the overall population of the island nation has decreased in recent years, the population of its indigenous peoples has increased, shifting social dynamics and creating tension. Assistant Teaching Professor Robert Hernandez, who has experience working alongside indigenous communities and elders, provided an opportunity for the TFCF group to have meaningful discussions focused on best practices for helping indigenous people preserve their own culture while operating within the Taiwanese system.

“Culture is not static, it is a dynamic protective factor,” Hernandez said. “Culture ascribes meaning to life experiences and allows one to become visible. I shared with the Taiwan group the working philosophy of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention agency in the world, of ‘I see you.’ Not as being under watch or surveillance, but as in you are my other and I am you. Which derives from the Myan tradition of lak 'ech — ‘I am you, and you are me.’”

In order to build on the synergies of common global social challenges and the sharing of the experiences and approaches unique to cultures outside of the U.S., on the final day of the three-week immersion the TFCF social workers provided cross-cultural training for a panel of USC faculty and community partners, including LADCFS about Taiwanese systems and social work programs. Their presentations included not only their domestic work to support children and families but also their work with increasing immigrant and indigenous populations and their international work outside of Taiwan.

The TFCF group hopes to build on their experience at USC with a follow-up immersion next year for advanced social work training, broadening horizons even further and cementing the role of social work in the fabric of their society.

“As the first agency in Taiwan to hire professional social workers, TFCF is leading the profession for their country,” Hsiao said. “In their sessions at USC, they were exposed to all the diverse areas that social workers can practice and they gained a conceptual understanding in evidence-based and trauma-informed practices. The TFCF group plans to continue the partnership with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work next year to deepen their learning and enhance social work practices and capacity building in Taiwan.”

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