Latino immigrant families often face significant barriers in becoming involved in their children’s education due to common cultural biases and misunderstandings and language barriers. Moreover, limited evidence suggests that the ways in which Latino immigrant families engage in their children’s education may not be recognized and valued by schools, which operate within mainstream cultural values. As a result, effective outreach and engagement practices specifically for Latino parents, particularly recent immigrants, are not presently well understood. To that end, the purpose of the present case study is to explore and evaluate the strategies used by an elementary school to involve its Latino immigrant parents into their children’s education. Focus groups with parents and interviews with key school staff revealed three ways that the school has broken through cultural and language barriers to encourage their families to get involved: building trust, clearly communicating with families in culturally sensitive ways, and empathizing with families and their needs. These findings are discussed in light of implications for social work practice.

Key Take Away Points

  • Creating a school atmosphere that encourages trust, communication, and empathy can encourage parents to get involved in their children's education
  • Cultural competence among staff members can help support diverse families

Author Biography

Madison G. Huber-Smith, MA, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, has been working with the Latino immigrant population in the Kansas City Metro Area intermittently for the past decade. This includes the research she completed to receive her master’s in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Kansas, in which she conducted participant observation and interviewed Latino immigrants and directors and board members of a local Latino immigrant nonprofit to assess the effectiveness of its services. She has also conducted interviews and focus groups in Spanish for a public health research team from the University of Kansas Medical Center as part of a program evaluation. Currently, as Curriculum Development Coordinator at the Center for American Indian Studies at Johnson County Community College, she develops culturally-tailored curriculum for students from another marginalized US population: Native Americans. Her research and teaching interests include applied methodology, immigrant and refugee populations (specifically Latinos), and the nonprofit organizations that serve them.

Anne Williford, PhD, Assistant Professor, received her doctorate in Social Work from the University of Denver in 2009. Her research interests include understanding characteristics associated with bullying and peer victimization among children and adolescents, and identifying strategies to prevent such behaviors in school settings. Her dissertation research focused on identifying correlates of physical and relational aggression and victimization among low-income, Latina girls in middle school. She received my MSSW from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 and worked as a clinical and community level social worker with diverse populations, including children and adults with developmental disabilities, adults with mental illness and chemical dependency, and children and youth participating in primary prevention programs. She teaches courses on community and organizational practice, advanced advocacy practice, and research methods at the MSW level and clinical practice and policy courses on working with at-risk, aggressive, and anti-social youth at the BSW level.