Hosted by NYU Silver, Social Workers From Taiwan Learn Child Protective Services, Seek Cultural Congruence

Every summer since 1998, Associate Professor Yuhwa Eva Lu has organized a three-week in-service training program in New York for groups of social work staff from the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF). A large nonprofit organization, TFCF began in 1950 with a focus on orphans. Gradually, it expanded to include the full range of child protection issues, including neglect and abuse, domestic violence, adoption, foster care, group homes, adolescent and youth work, and independent living for youth exiting the foster care system.

The program began in 1991, when a TFCF director visited San Diego State University—where Lu was teaching—expressed an interest in in-service training for direct practice in child protective services. Seeing the chance to help her country of origin, Lu instituted a Sino-American cross-cultural summer training program—first in California and now in New York since 1998, when she joined the NYU Silver School of Social Work.

From TFCF’s point of view, it’s a long-term investment. Competitive wages and regular in-service trips abroad minimize professional burn-out and allow knowledge to grow cumulatively, as returning staff share their learning with others. During the summer sessions, paid for by TFCF, course participants receive translation services, meet with child welfare experts, visit agencies, and stay in NYU dorms. At a graduation ceremony, they receive certificates from Dean Lynn Videka and offer a teacher appreciation performance.

Lu consistently cautions participants to consider whether US approaches are appropriate for Taiwan, whose culture is collective and emphasizes conformity and identification with one’s family. At first, TFCF was ambivalent about allowing the state to interfere with a family in any way. Ultimately, they successfully lobbied their politicians for a reform of child welfare law that included a reporting law (1994) as part of child protection policy.

From the start, participants wanted training in the following areas: domestic violence, assessment and intervention in child abuse, removal of children from the home, and foster care services. Participants considered how to apply these service concepts to their own country’s culture. Lu arranged for participants to visit numerous New York social service agencies, including the family court system, Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, Children’s Aid Society, the Chinese-American Planning Counsel, and Chinese neighborhoods on the Lower East Side. Lu also organized separate training sessions for directors and staff of Taiwan’s children’s bureau in 1998 and 1999.

Over the last three years, TFCF staff groups remained with the Children’s Aid Society for one week. Children’s Aid—comparable in size and function to TFCF—provided an overview of the US system versus Taiwan’s. TFCF staff also visited the New York City Administration for Children Services and took courses at NYU Silver in diversity training, cultural competency, and program evaluation.

By 2010, TFCF had been observing the US system for 19 years and wanted to take the next step: learning treatment techniques with children and families. Lu realized that TFCF staff would want approaches tailored to their culture. For example, Westerners might strive to raise a child’s self-esteem, but TFCF staff might not. They would be concerned that the child would become self-centered and not a respectful child or a good colleague. So Lu decided to introduce creative arts strategies such as art, music, movement, and drama therapy. Participants responded enthusiastically. This summer, Lu will offer another more suitable treatment approach: mindfulness in social work practice with emphasis on self-compassion, rather than self-esteem.

“I have lived in the US for almost 40 years,” Lu said, “and I feel privileged and grateful for the trust TFCF has placed in me and for this in-service training experience, which keeps me in tune with current Chinese culture.”