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GSS Tool Assists in Culturally Competent Practice


On March 24, some 50 members of the Fordham community got a lesson in cultural sensitivity.

Elaine Congress, D.S.W., associate dean of the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS), gave a presentation on the Culturagram, a family assessment tool she developed for understanding and working with families from diverse backgrounds.

The 10-part assessment tool, which Congress developed in the 1994 based upon her work at a mental health clinic, helps members of the social work community gain a deeper understanding of an immigrant’s unique story in order to better understand his or her needs.

“During my practice, I became aware of how different people were, even though they were from the same background,” Congress said. “I could see a Mexican family living here for just two weeks in the morning and a Puerto Rican family who had been here a decade in the afternoon.”

The formula looks at 10 aspects of a family’s cultural experience, including the categories:

• reasons for relocating
• legal immigration status
• time in their community
• health beliefs and access
• languages spoken
• history of trauma and crises events
• values about family structure, power and rules

For example, Congress said, by applying the Culturagram, social workers could uncover situations, such as whether elders or youngers wield decision-making power within a family; whether families can return to their home countries; or whether a family uses herbal or home remedies for illnesses rather than doctors’ prescriptions.

The event, “Immigration, Culturagram and Older People,” was sponsored by the Baccalaureate Experiential Learning Project (BEL), a GSS initiative that partners students with older adults to gather culturally competent oral history interviews.


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