Last year I had the opportunity to complete my first year practicum at Ciudad de los Niños, an agency located in Tijuana, Mexico. Ciudad de los Niños is a non-profit agency that mostly serves low income families in need of behavioral and developmental services for their children. One of the main services at Ciudad de los Niños is their shelter program which serves children, from newborn to 12 years old, who have suffered some type of neglect and abuse. Last fall semester of 2014 during the site visit from the Field faculty Silvia Barragan, I was able to brainstorm ideas for my macro project. My field supervisor, agency director, field faculty and myself talked about the specific case of one child from the shelter of Ciudad de los Niños. This child was a 10 year old boy whose needs were different from that of other children given that this child expressed a gender atypical behavior such as liking games, toys and clothes more typically used by girls. This child was bullied by other children in the shelter and the staff sometimes questioned themselves how to interpret the child’s behavior and how to address his needs.
The director from Ciudad de los Niños, my field supervisor, and I decided to bring a presentation to Ciudad de los Niños on the topic of gender diversity with the purpose to inform staff about this topic and create a more welcoming environment for all children. I was responsible for inviting Clinical Social Workers to provide the presentation, on setting a final date for the presentation, on designing a flyer to promote this event, and on creating a summary from the information that was presented. This event took place on January, 20, 2015 with 27 people in attendance with backgrounds in psychology, social work, education, and child care. All of them expressed their gratitude to San Diego-based facilitators Heidi Stern-Ellis and Al Killen-Harvey for providing an informative and engaging presentation about a topic they have rarely discussed before.
This macro project was successful because it was a cultural exchange of social services professionals from San Diego and Tijuana. I enjoyed both the process and the outcomes of the project but if I had the opportunity to change something about it I would have added a pre- evaluation and a post-evaluation so that I could measure the participants’ increased sensitivity or knowledge on the topic of gender diversity.
As I was writing this blog I reflected on how important is to discuss the topic of gender diversity and try to normalize it in all contexts so that we can reduce the stigma that is linked to the LGBT population. With the recent passage of same sex marriage in all 50 states of the U.S., the topic of gender diversity is highly relevant to everyone, especially for those of us in the Social Work field.
We may not change our views on gender diversity just by attending a two hour presentation but we can increase our awareness about the challenges and stigma experienced by the LGBT population. Like Ms. Stern-Ellis mentioned in her presentation at Ciudad de los Niños: “parents and social services professionals do not need to become experts on the topic of gender diversity but by interacting with individuals that identify as LGBT and attending informational presentations we will become more empathetic and understand that gender is not a choice but an identity.”
I am glad about the increasing interest of social work professionals from San Diego in contributing with social workers from Tijuana either by sharing their knowledge, volunteering or by arranging internship placements in Tijuana. This exchange not only contributes to a specific agency in Tijuana but on the long run it may help alleviate some of the social problems that day by day affect the city of Tijuana.