Bridge Builders: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Experiences of Former Refugees Working as Caseworkers in the United States


Refugee resettlement, casework, case management, peer support, migration


Individuals who come to the United States as refugees and work as resettlement caseworkers offer peer support, modeling, and assistance with integration to newly arriving refugees, despite often having limited training or experience in social service provision. A phenomenological approach was utilized to gain understanding about the experiences of refugee caseworkers. Nine caseworkers who came to the United States as refugees completed in-depth interviews. Thematic analysis was used to identify primary themes, including: a) the caseworker's bridge-building role with clients; b) their role in building bridges with others in the community, including the resettlement agency; and c) the caseworkers’ experience as bridge builders, including motivations, perspectives toward their role, and needed supports. Refugee service providers face unique challenges in negotiating boundaries with clients and meeting the expectations of their ethnolinguistic community members. Their strengths in understanding household experiences and in building agency and community understanding highlight their ability to contribute to positive resettlement outcomes. The findings from this study have implications for agencies serving refugees and for other social services that utilize peer-support strategies, particularly in regards to staff training and support. Findings highlight the need for research examining effective resettlement strategies and the perspectives of refugees toward resettlement approaches.

Original Publication Citation

Shaw, S.A. (2014). Bridge Builders: A qualitative study exploring the experiences of former refugees working as caseworkers in the United States. Journal of Social Service Research, 40(3), 284-296.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Social Service Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Social Work

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor