Her approach to social work: ‘Problems do not define the person’

While in college in her native Kenya, Erikson Institute Professor Florence Kimondo, Ph.D., M.S.W., pursued a business path until she realized it wasn’t her true calling. So she redirected her energy toward U.S. graduate studies in social work, a field where she felt she could help children and families grappling with social and emotional challenges.

“The way children behave is often a manifestation of how they are feeling and being affected by their home life or social environment,” says Dr. Kimondo, acting director of Erikson Institute’s Master of Social Work program. “I became a social worker to give children and parents someone to open up to about what’s not OK with their lives and to find ways to help them.”

The whole person, the whole team

Social workers specializing in child development often interact with families in crisis. In Dr. Kimondo’s Foundation Field Instruction courses, she encourages students to view clients not through the lens of their difficulties, but rather from a strength-based perspective.

“As social workers, we often work with individuals experiencing moments of vulnerability, when feelings of inadequacy can become overwhelming,” she says. “But problems do not define the person. We must look beyond the issues to see the whole person and always be reflective of how we are using our skills to build relationships that lead to better outcomes for our clients.”

The interdisciplinary design of Erikson’s curriculum lends itself to engaging in collaborative, team-based practice. In first-year core courses, social work students learn alongside those training for careers in teaching or child development, says Dr. Kimondo, who served as a member of the steering committee that developed Erikson’s M.S.W. program. This unique strength of Erikson’s program gives graduates a head start in the real world, whether they end up employed by a social service agency, work in schools, or find a job in a different setting.

“Before they graduate, our students already have invaluable insight into the disciplines they will partner with in the future,” says Dr. Kimondo. “They gain a better appreciation of how they may work together with teachers, for example, to best help a child.”

Social-emotional melting pot

Erikson’s programs stress the importance of the cultural, social, racial, and family contexts in children’s development and learning, and Dr. Kimondo’s previous experience gave her insight into Erikson’s unique approach — first as a student in the Ph.D. in Child Development program at Erikson and now as a faculty member.

She previously worked at Chicago’s World Relief organization, providing therapy to immigrant children and families fleeing war-torn countries and seeking asylum in the United States. Her experience working with such traumatized individuals combined with her research interest in immigrant families adds another dimension to her work as a faculty member at Erikson. In the online Family and Culture course, for example, Dr. Kimondo asks students to examine how race, class, and ethnicity shape beliefs about development, parenting, and schooling.

“We live in a multicultural world,” she says. “We prepare our students to be always cognizant of how culture impacts social emotional development and how it informs their own professional practice.”

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