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LGBT-Competence in Social Work Education: The Relationship of School Factors to Professional Competence

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posted on 21.10.2015, 00:00 by David M. McCarty-Caplan
Background: In recent years, social work has become increasingly concerned with efforts to produce professionals capable of effectively supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) clients. Research examining LGBT-competence in social work remains limited, however, because it often neglects to address the role social work education plays in LGBT-competence development, and fails to go beyond individual-level analysis to provide insight into LGBT-competence within organizational contexts. These limitations are particularly troubling considering schools of social work are the predominant structures through which future social workers develop professional competence, and yet evidence suggests these organizational contexts not only are hostile learning environments for many LGBT faculty members and students, but also inadequately prepare students to work with LGBT people. To address these limitations this study examined LGBT-competence in the context of master of social work (MSW) education, with particular attention to organizational and individual-levels of analysis. Using data gathered from MSW program directors, faculty members, and students, hierarchical linear modeling was applied to explore differences in participant perceptions of a MSW program’s organizational LGBT-competence, and the relationship between a MSW program’s organizational and individual-level LGBT-competence. The purpose of this research was to provide new and valuable insight into how schools of social work are engaging in support of sexual and gender minorities, and to investigate if improving LGBT-competence in social work education at an organizational level can ultimately improve social work’s capacity to produce professionals capable of responding to the needs of LGBT clients. Methods: Data was collected using a cross-sectional electronic survey design. Data was hierarchically structured, consisting of 34 MSW program director, 242 faculty, and 1109 student participants within a sample of 34 MSW programs. All participants provided a measure of their MSW program’s organizational LGBT-competence, and student participants also provided a self-assessment of their individual LGBT-competence. A series of hierarchical linear models was applied to examine differences between director, faculty, and student responses, as well as the relationship between a program’s organizational and individual LGBT-competence. Results: Results indicate program directors, faculty members, and students had significantly different perceptions of their shared MSW program. Specifically, within a given program, directors rated the LGBT-competence of their program higher than faculty, and faculty rated their program higher than students. Results also indicate organizational-level factors contributed to student development of sexual and gender minority competence, such that programs with higher organizational LGBT-competence also had students with higher individual LGBT-competence. Implications: In the context of social work education, these results indicate the value of gathering data from multiple stakeholders in an organizational environment, and the important role educational contexts play in producing culturally competent social work professionals. Such findings provide insight into the current level of support for LGBT issues in schools of social work, and suggests improving social work education at an organizational level can ultimately increase the capacity of social workers to combat social inequality and oppression often experienced by sexual and gender minorities.



Mitchell, Christopher


Social Work

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

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Committee Member

Swartz, James Gleeson, James Gaston, Gina Martin, James

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