Immigrant Settlement Counselling: A Training Guide/Introduction

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Immigrant Settlement Counselling:
A Training Guide
Developing the CSISW Course:
A Case Example
Org: Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Introduction to the Second Edition

This Guide, when it was first produced in 1991, was the culmination of a project that began in 1987. The project, and the Guide, reflected a growing awareness over the last decade that settlement work is a profession demanding specialized expertise. It was also evidence of an increasing recognition that settlement workers are important - that the work they do in facilitating the interaction between immigrants and the larger society is crucial to the well-being and growth of the country.

This new edition of the Guide is an attempt to update the information about the sector, the changing demographics of the client groups and introduce the settlement service providers to some of the recent discussions around issues such as development of service standards, performance measurement, occupational competencies and developing an anti-oppression model for service delivery.

The population of Ontario and Canada is changing. New groups with new strengths and new needs are entering the society. As this trend continues in the future, more and more workers in the human services are going to find themselves providing services to an increasingly multicultural client group. The ability to provide culturally and linguistically responsive counselling, and other services that meet the needs of a diverse population, will be increasingly important for everyone.

This resource is an attempt to describe the dimensions of settlement work and to provide tools that can be used to train workers to be effective settlement counsellors. It is a training guide, not a source of answers to all the challenging questions related to settlement counselling. The emphasis is on processes that trainers can use to initiate introspection and animate group discussion on these issues. For many of the questions there are no final answers, because of the complex nature of the settlement process and the cultural dimension of every issue. The assumption is that participants in this type of training, given stimulating activities, will come up with important insights from their own collective experiences.

Training settlement workers is a reciprocal process, in which trainers are also learners.

Background to the Guide

The materials and approach in this guide were originally developed for the Counselling Skills for Immigrant Settlement Workers course (hereafter referred to as CSISW). This was a community-based pilot project jointly sponsored by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and George Brown College in Toronto. The Ontario Ministry of Citizenship provided funding and developmental support.

The course originated in response to Ministry of Citizenship research which documented the lack of specialized training available for settlement counsellors, and highlighted counselling as a priority training area. The course was held in two stages, each one training 20 front-line settlement counsellors. In Stage 1, six sessions were held ov r a six-week period in May-June 1988; Stage 2 consisted of eight sessions over an eight-week period in February-March 1989. Both stages focused on counselling skills; in the second stage the curriculum was revised and extended as a result of recommendations from the Stage 1 evaluation.

One of the objectives of the pilot project was to design a curriculum and model for training that could be built on by educational institutions and other organizations. Because there are very few resources specifically tailored for training settlement counsellors, original materials were developed, and existing materials adapted for use in the course. There was community input at all stages of material development. Training needs assessments were conducted in the settlement service community, community-based trainers were instrumental in delivering the course, and an Advisory Committee with community representation guided the project. Finally, and most significantly, the content was shaped by the experience and insights brought to the course by the 40 front-line counsellors who participated.

The guide documents the materials that resulted from this process, along with the perspectives on the nature of settlement work that provided the framework for the course.

The process of bringing out a second edition of the Guide was undertaken because over the last decade or so the settlement sector has undergone dramatic changes. The socio-political environment in which the agencies operate today calls for more and more ‘efficient’ service delivery to a far more diverse client group.

The Role Of OCASI

As a network of over 100 community-based agencies providing settlement services to diverse racial and cultural communities, OCASI has taken a strong interest in improving training opportunities for staff in its member agencies. Since 1982 OCASI has offered skills training conferences for front-line service providers and agency administrators.

In co-sponsoring the pilot project in 1987, OCASI saw an opportunity to begin developing a comprehensive training program tailored specifically for settlement service providers. By working with George Brown College, OCASI was able to bring the needs of the settlement service providers in the diverse communities it represents to the attention of an educational institution which is interested in expanding its community-based programming. One of the outcomes of this partnership had been that the College had instituted a part-time Settlement Worker Program as a regular offering. However, this Program has now been discontinued and currently there are no courses aimed specifically at the professional development of settlement counsellors.

In undertaking this revision to the Guide, OCASI recognized the lack of training resources in the area of settlement counselling and the fact this Guide continued to be used extensively for training staff in this sector. It was, therefore, felt that the information in the Guide should be revised and updated to reflect the recent changes in the sector and the emerging needs of clients and the bibliography expanded to include information about more recent resources.

The Guide was also seen as a useful tool for introducing some of the recent discussions on settlement service standards, performance measurement and developing anti-racism/ anti-oppression models for service delivery

Potential Users of the Guide

Although the materials in this guide were originally prepared for community-based settlement counsellors, and it is their experience that is described in what follows, the Guide is not solely for them. In a sense, settlement counsellors are the groundbreakers - it is they who have the most experience facilitating the interaction between the established society in Canada and a growing number of immigrant communities. It is important for other human service workers to understand the experience of settlement service providers and to acquire some of the same kinds of knowledge and skill in working with diversity.

The Guide has therefore been designed with several audiences in mind. First, it is a resource for individual community agencies, or agency networks interested in doing professional development with their front-line staff. Second, it can be adapted for use by educational institutions interested in initiating new programs, or revising their existing curricula to prepare their human services students to serve a multiracial, multiethnic clientele.

Finally, the Guide can be used by established institutions that recognize the need for training their staff in crosscultural counselling but lack training resources. Institutional workers with professional training rarely have the opportunity to examine their values and assumptions from a cross-cultural perspective and to look at whether the counselling skills they use are suitable for a diverse clientele. The modules in the Guide focus on developing this kind of awareness in participants.

It should be pointed out that although the materials are addressed to trainers, front-line staff themselves may find them useful as a reference, or as a means of self-study.

Structure and Suggested Use

The Guide is divided into three parts. Part I provides a frame of reference for the core of the Guide - the training modules. It looks at the nature of settlement work, examines the training needs of workers in the field, and suggests a framework for training.

Part II presents the eight training modules, which address a series of topics, related to counselling. Each module contains a set of training activities, ranging from skill drills and role-plays, to group discussions and reading and writing activities.

The modules follow each other in a logical sequence, starting with activities to help counsellors understand more clearly their own values and assumptions related to counselling and then moving through counselling skills in the order a counsellor is likely to need them with clients - that is, interviewing and assessment skills first, then crisis intervention, mental health issues and advocacy. Ideally, if there were no time constraints, a training program would move through the modules in approximately the order given. However, each module is self-contained, and it is entirely possible to select and use them in any sequence, according to the needs of the group being trained and the constraints of the trainers. In the same way, activities within the modules build on each other in a specific order; however, they can be taken out of the modules and used as individual activities.

Part III is for users interested in program development. It describes the process of developing the CSISW course and provides practical suggestions for designing and implementing training for counsellors in the field. The Guide is not intended to be a textbook on settlement counselling. It provides two types of tools for training - activities for groups, and readings and resources that can be used to supplement the core materials. The content was developed out of a particular process; it reflects the experiences of the group of trainers and participants at that particular time and place. Users of the Guide will need to pick and choose the segments that are useful for their groups and to augment the activities with their own experience and resources.

Definitions of Terms Used

Much of the terminology in this field is still evolving, and is the subject of ongoing debate. The decision has been made to use the following terms as indicated for the purposes of this Guide, recognizing that other people may define them differently.

Client A person using settlement services. In the context of this Guide, specifically counselling


Counselling A wide spectrum of helping activities taking place in a range of settings, from nonformal to formal. This includes traditional systems of helping and healing used in non-Western cultures (See Part II, Introduction to the Modules; Module 1, Activity 1.3; and Module 3, Activity 3.5).
Cross-Cultural Counselling Counselling which takes place between people who have significant differences in Counselling their cultural identities. Gender, class, religion, age group, sexual orientation are all assumed here to be aspects of an individual’s cultural identity (See Part II, Introduction to the Modules; and Module 2, Activity 2.2).
Immigrant A person who migrated at some point in his/her lifetime from another country and is presently residing in Canada. As it is used here, the term includes landed immigrants, refugee claimants and Canadian citizens, since all use settlement services for reasons related to their immigration experience.
Established E.g. established institutions, established society, established culture - shaped by the values and beliefs of the group of people in the society that has established social, economic and political dominance over other groups.
People of Colour A group of people who are identified and discriminated against on the basis of physical characteristics such as colour of skin. They are largely excluded from social, economic and political power in Canada at the present time.
Settlement A long-term, dynamic, two-way process through which, ideally, immigrants would achieve full equality and freedom of participation in society, and society would gain access to the full human resource potential in its immigrant communities (See Part I, Chapter 1).
Settlement Counsellors Counsellors providing direct, front-line services specifically to immigrants. Note: Since the majority of settlement counsellors in Ontario, and the majority of their clients are female (See Part I, Chapter 2), the decision has been made to use the female pronoun (she, her) when referring to them throughout the guide. This is not meant to exclude male counsellors and their clients, but to avoid the awkwardness of using both pronouns.
Training Preparing people to be more effective in their work through practical skills training and theoretical understanding; as used here the term includes formal education.