2001 Jordan Institute
6, No. 2
Working With African American Families
Denby and Alford (1996)
suggest asking these questions when intervening with families:
Is the family's
behavior or parenting practice being assessed in relation to the dominant
culture's behavior and parenting practices? To what degree is the
assessment of the family informed by knowledge of African American
To what degree
does my intervention empower the family, allowing them the freedom
to use discipline styles that fit with their culture?
How important are
traditionally-defined African American discipline styles to this family?
Which do they subscribe to?
What are the benefits
and costs of particular methods of discipline? Do other black families
use these same methods? Which traditionally-defined black discipline
styles have no merit?
Is there a danger
of serious or chronic physical harm to the children?
Denby and Alford recommend
Ensure that courses
for parents recognize that black caregivers must perform "dual
socialization"that is, socialization into the dominant
culture as well as traditional African American culture
Offer training programs
designed to educate practitioners about African American parenting
styles, and about diverse forms of discipline, not just those accepted
by the dominant culture
Make every effort
to recruit and retain a staff that reflects the diverse ethnic and
cultural makeup of the populations served
Monitor agency practices
and policies to make sure they encourage partnership with families
work practice that is strengths-based, promotes family empowerment
Challenge dominant social
norms that stigmatize African American parenting styles
The strength-based perspective is
inherent in this kind of thinking. A parent struggling economically
and besieged by other stresses may sometimes seem less than attentive
or patient with children. But it is important to remind ourselves that
parents are only human, that they have managed to care for their children
under difficult conditions, and that they therefore must have great
strength and wisdom, even if it is not immediately apparent to us.
Source: Denby, R.
& Alford, K. (1996). Understanding African American discipline styles:
Suggestions for effective social work intervention. Journal of Multicultural
Social Work, 4, 81-98.