Taking the Border Crisis to Heart Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare counsels mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States

Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare travels to immigrant detention center in Texas to counsel mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S.

Policy Practice in Field Education Grant Received

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Sergio Serna of the field education faculty received a one-year policy practice in field education grant from the Council on Social Work Education totaling $18,500. This grant will enable Social Welfare students and faculty to make closer ties with local child welfare agencies to advocate for youth aging out of foster care, to learn more about the policymaking process and to forge lasting community relationships.


Discovering Social Welfare — En Español Field Education faculty create UCLA Luskin’s first Spanish language course

“Creo que una clase de este tipo es importante por que muchas veces pensamos en los problemas de la comunidad Latina pero no los enfrentamos en español, es decir no le hablamos a la comunidad Latina en español por eso tenemos este curso.”

Social Welfare master’s student Adrian Cotta was answering a question about why he was enrolled in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ inaugural Spanish language course. In English, Cotta’s answer would have been: “I think a class like this is important since oftentimes we think of issues that the Latino community face but we don’t address them in Spanish, which is the language of this course.”

In a community where Latinos are about 50 percent of the population, Spanish skill is invaluable for social welfare students. Luskin Social Welfare Field Education faculty members Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08  are doing more than teaching Luskin students the language, however. They are implementing a Spanish course geared specifically toward communication in the social welfare field.

Prior to the start of spring quarter, Serna and Palencia interviewed a pool of applicants in order to ensure that students could understand and converse in Spanish. Their goal was to create a class where students could learn and practice Spanish in the context of social welfare.

“This is a seminar for our Social Welfare students who are at the intermediate or advanced level of Spanish,” Serna said. “There are nuances to the language and culture that we’re trying to transfer to students with this class.”

Having worked in the social welfare field for more than 10 years, Serna and Palencia designed the structure and content of the course with their own experiences in mind. The course emphasizes development of practical knowledge — teaching the words and phrases most applicable to social work, as well as training students to overcome communication challenges that Serna and Palencia experienced firsthand.

“We’ve had our boots on the ground, working in social welfare,” said Serna. “We’re clinical faculty, so a lot of material comes out of the knowledge we gained in the field.”

Cotta applied for this course in order to learn Spanish social welfare terminology that he could apply to his internship at LAMP Community, a Skid Row-based nonprofit.

“I saw at my internship in the Social Welfare program that there are many language barriers,” Cotta said. “There are a lot of Spanish-speaking people there. I want to be more comfortable using social welfare terms in Spanish.”

Each week, guest instructors come in to teach and discuss their areas of expertise with the class of 18 students.

“Social welfare is a large field with many different avenues, so the technical part about it can vary,” Palencia said. “We brought people specializing in different areas to lead discussions with students using the language.”

Rather than following a traditional lecture format, the class uses an intimate roundtable setting to encourage conversation and discussion between students and the instructors.

“This class is more of a conversation, which eases the stress and anxiety of being in a new, awkward situation when practicing language.” Palencia said.

In the future Serna and Palencia hope to expand the diversity of the course content by including students and instructors from Public Policy and Urban Planning.

Luskin students who are interested in applying for the course can contact Serna at srserna@luskin.ucla.edu.

Sergio R. Serna

Sergio Serna is a social worker whose interests include forensic social work and public child welfare.  He is committed to working with children and families engaged by the public child welfare and juvenile justice systems.  He is also interested in crossover youth and minority overrepresentation in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

As a field consultant with the California Social Work Education Center program, a statewide program that trains social workers to become professional public child welfare workers, he works with first and second-year students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

Prior to joining the field faculty Mr. Serna was a social worker for the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy based at Loyola Law School.  Mr. Serna provided support and mitigation to youth engaged by the juvenile justice system in order to help them navigate probation, detention and reentry.   As part of a holistic team in a legal setting, Mr. Serna helped to interpret the context in which legal problems develop for youth due to poverty, minority membership, educational issues, gang membership, and history of abuse. Mr. Serna was also a therapist at the Children’s Institute, Inc., working with children and families from Koreatown and surrounding areas of Los Angeles.  While there, he provided individual, family and group therapy.  He specialized in children and families suffering from complex trauma due to exposure to domestic violence, sexual abuse and community violence, and worked with adult domestic violence survivors in order to increase their ability to provide support and create a safe environment for their own children. He also lead a program for Youth with Sexual Behavior Problems to assist children who have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.  The purpose of the group was to help these children develop alternative behaviors and appropriate boundaries when interacting with others.  As an award recipient of Title IV-E program in California, after receiving his master’s degree he worked in the public child welfare system in both Orange and San Diego Counties to fulfill his commitment to addressing the needs of children exposed to abuse and neglect.