229232 Putting Census data to work: Educating social workers and community practitioners to use community data sources to inform practice

Monday, November 8, 2010

Diana Ray, MSW , School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Although social work education provides future practitioners with a grounding in systems theory, emphasizing a “person-in-environment” perspective, it gives few opportunities for students to apply their knowledge beyond the “micro” and “mezzo” systems the field typically encounters (individuals, families, schools, and agency settings). Even those students who choose a public health or macro concentration have limited opportunity to examine how community-level factors influence residents' and neighborhoods' outcomes and thus promote or hinder social justice. The proposed presentation will use an example of a diverse urban city to demonstrate how readily available information drawn from public data sources such as the U.S. Census and online interfaces such as healthycity.org can be utilized to educate public health social workers in generating innovative solutions to even the most entrenched social problems. By learning to employ such methods, future practitioners will be able to better understand the communities they serve, initiate more appropriate locality-based community actions, and enhance capacity to demonstrate potential needs and community assets that can be drawn upon to leverage other needed resources in service, programming, and policy contexts. While fields such as epidemiology and public health have long examined the effects of social and physical environments on individuals' health outcomes, work of this kind has been relatively absent from social work literature. However, much can be gained by putting community-level data in the hands of those whose primary mission is to eradicate disparities and work towards social justice, as this presentation intends to do.

Learning Areas:
Assessment of individual and community needs for health education
Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Diversity and culture
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Program planning
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1)Describe the Community: utilize easily accessed descriptive information to better understand the social environment of the client community, and thus improve service delivery and individual and community-wide outcomes. Examine variables such as age, ethnicity, poverty, employment, language, housing type, and disability status to understand community contexts, including possible environmental risk factors (such as segregated, overcrowded, or impoverished neighborhood conditions) in order to provide culturally appropriate services and to design programs, campaigns, organizations, and policies to best meet local needs and work towards social justice. 2)Compare neighborhoods: Use the U.S. Census data interface (American Factfinder) to create visual comparisons of smaller geographic units within communities to inform social work practice. Maps will demonstrate varying levels of population density, age distribution, poverty rates, and percentage of foreign-born population, which can be used to identify geographic areas that might have higher levels of need for specialized services. 3)Analyze localities through asset mapping: Utilize online data to generate asset maps for micro practice (i.e. understanding the existing service landscape for referral of clients to local service providers) and macro practice (i.e. for discovering gaps in specific types of services in specific areas within the community).

Keywords: Community Planning, Social Work Roles

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I have used community data to analyze localities and create practice recommendations on a number of projects.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.