Date of Paper


Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)


Social Work

First Advisor



Social Work


As the nation grows more diverse and the numbers of American youth with mental illness climb, the importance of culturally responsive school social work practice is critical. Research suggests cultural competence is a fluid concept but one that improves service and client outcomes. Studies link cultural competence to licensure levels and practice experience, as well as primary social work competencies. Studies also indicate practitioners consider professional development and a supportive school environment to aid in cultural competency efforts, while societal influences and personal lack of knowledge and self-awareness can impede the process. This study obtained primary data from a purposive sample (n = 7) of licensed school social workers in an urban school district. A semi-structured interview afforded quantitative and qualitative data regarding demographics and perceptions on knowledge, skills, influences, and evaluative measures deemed relevant to cultural competence. The findings echo previous research that suggests cultural competence involves adopting key social work principles and therapeutic skills in the aim to meet individual client needs, rather than those assumed to belong to an overt cultural group. Supports were seen as generally stemming from more immediate factors, while barriers were seen as stemming from larger, more removed influences; this also supports previous research. This study suggests social workers’ abilities to model cultural responsiveness and a willingness to assess their own competencies in diverse ways are important practice components. It also highlights the need for more balanced, behaviorally based cultural competency measures. Future research to explore clients’ perspectives of practitioners’ cultural competence and relevant case studies is recommended. While this study’s qualitative nature allowed for personal insight and experiences, it remains highly exploratory.

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