By María Alejandra Bastidas
Aug. 4, 2011
Mundo Hispánico, Atlanta
When Beatriz Illescas become the director of the Guatemalan Consulate in Atlanta, she discovered that the families she was representing were misunderstood by social workers. There was little knowledge of Latino culture, resulting in separation for some families and jail time for others.
Illescas also noticed that social workers, “in their eagerness to obey and protect, failed to see things that were important.” This realization drove Illescas to start thinking of ways to help the Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS) improve their operation.
That is how her “crusade”, as Illescas refers to it, began: by training DFCS personnel to learn more about Latino culture and better understand the behaviors of the families with whom they work.
“In our community, for example, we have a lot of indigenous peoples, and they won’t look you in the eye out of respect. Here, that can be viewed as hiding something,” said Illescas. This is one of many cultural differences that are taught in the course.
Four mandatory training programs have been conducted for social workers in Cobb, Cherokee, DeKalb and Fulton counties.
In the training sessions, Illescas works with the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta; psychotherapist Rocio Woody, and Dr. Alan LeBaron, professor of Latin American history at Kennesaw State University.
“There are some good people [social workers] who are very interested in learning and concerned about the result of the cases and doing their job well,” said LeBaron, though he recognized that there are some workers who are not as interested.
The fruit of these training has already been noted by the Mexican Consulate. “Fortunately, many social workers are calling us and we immediately mobilize,” said Abigail Calleja, who works as the consul of protection and also participates in the training.
Illescas, for her part, believes that the best measure of the “crusade” are the comments of participants, who at the end of the course come up to her and admit that, had they known more about the community before, would have made different decisions in previous cases.
For that reason, Illescas affirms she will continue offering the trainings free of charge to government workers in Georgia over the next few months.