This qualitative study explored how a sample of key stakeholders, including African American parents and child welfare staff in the Moreno Valley area of Riverside County, California, jointly construct the role that spirituality/religion plays in engaging, assessing and intervening with African American families. Utilizing a constructivist paradigm, the goals were to, through the development of "hermeneutic dialectic" circles, (1) arrive at shared constructions about the role of spirituality/religion in child welfare work with African American families, and (2) to identify a participatory group of stakeholders to design and implement action utilizing the results. Nationally, African American children are disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system, particularly those children who are removed from their homes and placed in out of home care. The disparate and disproportionate involvement of African American families in the child welfare system continues to lead to increasingly negative outcomes for African American children, their families and communities. One of the key areas of focus in resolving this disparate treatment is to ensure that social workers are utilizing culturally competent practice. One such practice is to identify and build on family and cultural strengths. One of the strengths most consistently mentioned as characteristic of African American families is the importance of spirituality/religion. In the public child welfare arena the acknowledgement of spirituality/religion is almost completely ignored both in the child welfare research and practice literature. It is believed that cultural competence cannot be achieved when working with African American families, without the acknowledgement and inclusion of spirituality/religion. Key findings in this study included shared constructions regarding the importance of spirituality/religion to individual and family functioning; the multiple constructs for defining spirituality/religion; the value of asking about spirituality/religion in engaging, assessing and intervening with African American families; identified necessary steps for improving practice including development of faith based services and partnerships, additional education, training and policy guidelines to assist child welfare staff and inform community stakeholders. Implications for policy and future research in this area were also discussed.

LLU Discipline

Social Policy and Social Research


Social Work and Social Ecology


School of Science and Technology

First Advisor

James, Sigrid

Second Advisor

Morris, Teresa

Third Advisor

Wilson, Colwick M.

Fourth Advisor

Yacoub, Ignatius

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Social work with African Americans; Social work with African American children; Child Welfare -- United States; Spiritual Healing -- United States; African Americans --Religion; Healing -- Religious aspects



Page Count

176 p.

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses & Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives

Included in

Social Work Commons