Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


This qualitative research study examined how social service providers and refugee recipients of public social services in a small city in an upper mid-western state described the intercultural knowledge and skills they felt were necessary for effective provision of services to refugees. The study sought to add to a body of knowledge related to the concept of “cultural competence,” a concept that has received increasing attention in human service fields over the past twenty years. Lum (1999) describes cultural competence as an outcome goal “related to the master of cultural awareness, knowledge acquisition, skill development, and inductive learning” (p. 12). Fong (2004) has added to the cultural competence literature by emphasizing the importance of migration context in work with refugees. Culturally competent human services are seen as necessary to combat ethnocentrism and to ensure culturally relevant services (Weaver, 2005).

While human service fields such as social work, counseling psychology, and nursing have extensively examined cultural competence in relation to their practitioners, very little has been written about the intercultural interactions of eligibility, or economic assistance, workers in the public social services. These individuals are frequently the gatekeepers for programs on which refugees heavily rely in their first months, or years, of resettlement. This study used grounded theory methodology to gather, analyze, and compare data from semi-structured interviews with county eligibility workers, county social workers, former refugees, and providers from other human service fields (called “stakeholders” in the study).

The study found that county providers, both eligibility and social workers, relied on program policies and rules, their personal value systems, and a generic set of helping attitudes to guide their work with refugees. In contrast, stakeholders discussed an interplay of self awareness and relationship-building as primary skills in their intercultural work and refugee interviewees articulated a need for “human connection” in interactions with county workers. The findings indicated that county providers relied minimally on the professionally-defined knowledge and skills of cultural competence and that, in the absence of these skills, county programs and workers serve primarily to indoctrinate refugees into dominant American cultural norms and practices.