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Social Work Students travel to Vancouver to compare social services in Canada and the United States

We're all in this together
Vancouver and Seattle Skylines: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden and greenspace in the foregrounds. Photo credit: Rachelanne Subido

April 30, 2014

by Morna McEachern, Social Work, and Program Manager for Pacific Northwest Canadian Studies Consortium (PNWCSC)

In Spring 2014 Dr. McEachern took a group of students to Vancouver, British Columbia for a day to visit social service agencies and speak with experts in the field to provide students with insights into the similarities and differences between the two countries concerning social service delivery.

This spring quarter I taught a social work course at Seattle University about social safety nets worldwide. The highlight of the course was a daylong field trip to visit social service agencies in Vancouver, British Columbia. During the course the class identified 10 countries on six continents and analyzed their social structures and how the most vulnerable in those countries are served. Simultaneously, we had guest lecturers from around the world. We then came close to home and compared how social safety nets catch (or do not catch) the peoples who have lived in that particular geographic area the longest (indigenous peoples) and those who are just arriving (migrants and refugees).

The Salish Sea region is divided by the Canada-U.S. border. The two nation-states serve the most vulnerable in their jurisdictions in quite different ways. To understand the similarities and differences, we read two significant books: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curios Account of Native People in North Americaby Thomas King and Differences that Matter: Social Policy and the Working Poor in the United States and Canada by Dan Zuberi. We then researched specific social problems and visited social service agencies in both countries. First we visited agencies in Seattle that serve Native Americans (and all people who need service) and refugees. We heard about food and clothing banks, breakfast and lunch programmes, re-entry services for people being released from prison, tutoring programs, the challenges of enrolling refugees in the Affordable Care Act, among many services and challenges.

To compare these services to those offered in Canada, Stan DeMello (Social Work) and I took the students to Vancouver to visit several agencies. We learned about refugee services and how sponsorship words. We visited Sun Yat-Sen garden and learned about the history of the marginalization and exclusionary policies for the Chinese in Canada. We visited the Suicide Attempt Follow-up Education and Research, a part of the regional health authority, and learned important lessons applicable to young social workers. Among them, we had a conversation about a suicide pact among urban aboriginal youth and how they were rescued. Finally, we had dinner and a wonderful discussion about professional social work and self-care with three long-time Vancouver social workers.

As many of the students who participated agreed, having a brief exposure to how things are done differently in Canada gives them the inspiration to know that the social service structure in the United States can also change.

Morna McEachern, Social Work, and Program Manager for Pacific Northwest Canadian Studies Consortium (PNWCSC), joined the board of directors of the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS) and serves as its secretary. The Canadian Studies Center is an institutional member of ACSUS.

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