Domestic and International Perspectives in Social Work: Refugees and Unaccompanied Minors

Students in SOCW 330/561 gain global perspective of refugee crisis through service learning project

How are social workers engaging with and serving refugee families and unaccompanied minors?  Are there Greek social work practices applicable to a US context and vice versa?  How do Greek social work students prepare to work with a vulnerable and highly diverse refugee population?  On the surface, the US-Greek responses to the influx of refugees appears quite different, but underneath the political and economic noise, and through a social work lens, are they?

University of Illinois School of Social Work students are currently exploring these questions through service learning experiences in both Champaign-Urbana and Athens, Greece.  Partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in direct and indirect service provision in both countries facilitates a cross-cultural, social work service provision learning experience in which students have the opportunity to grapple with the challenges and rewards of working with refugees.

In Greece, social work students are working in four small groups, each of which is assigned to a different NGO and/or department serving refugees.  Student experiences range from building relationships with refugee children while their parents receive services to conducting a needs assessment of a new refugee family.  Students shadow and interview Greek social workers in order to gain a better organizational picture of service delivery, as well as learn how social workers manage heavy, traumatic stories.  Through these experiences, the refugee crisis is personalized and brought to life, revealing the limits of systems, but the social work commitment to look beyond challenges and seek the best for their clients and communities.