It was a research project that could have easily failed. Even one of the principal investigators
had significant doubts as to whether his team would get enough meaningful data.
But the project co-led by Boston College School of Social Work Associate Professor Scott Easton to examine the quality of life of Palestinian social workers has yielded useful results with potentially wide applications—and, thanks to his wife, Ikram Easton, a part-time faculty member in BC’s Slavic and Eastern Languages Department, also produced an assessment tool previously unavailable to Arab-speaking health care and human services professionals.
“It’s challenging enough for social workers to stay physically and emotionally healthy in a developed country. But for a social worker in a fragile state layered with a political and military conflict, it can be incredibly daunting to carry out your job and help others. ”
Easton and his team faced logistical challenges, such as needing to visit 12 different Palestinian Authority offices in the West Bank to collect data from the social workers. An even bigger question was how many social workers would even respond to the survey, and how useful the information would be—the assessment tool Easton’s team sought to use, the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, had no validated Arabic version. Easton recalls telling a research administrator there was a better-then-even chance the project wouldn’t pan out.
But his wife, Ikram Easton of BC’s Slavic and Eastern Languages Department, played a valuable role in translating the instrument from English to Arabic and, when the surveys were returned, back into English. Moreover, the response rate—more than 90 percent— from the social workers proved to be astounding.
Although most of the survey was quantitative, participants were able to respond to open-ended questions, Easton notes. “What we found amongst these individuals was a deep, burning desire to build community and help others, a quality called service orientation that is shared by social work colleagues throughout the world. Another strength we found was participants’ level of organizational commitment, which was off the charts.”
An important by-product of the project is the validation of Ikram Easton’s translation of the Kessler Scale, which the team made available over the Internet; they also published their findings in the journal Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. The Arabic version is now in use by clinicians and researchers in Syrian refugee camps, hospitals in Saudi Arabia, and nursing programs in United Arab Emirates, among others, and more users are likely to emerge. Nor did Ikram’s contribution stop there, Easton notes: She provided translation for Easton’s talk at the August press conference—which, for the Eastons, came in the wee hours of the morning.
The work is far from over, Easton says: The team plans to roll out several more scholarly publications in the next few years based on the research; one paper under review examines how boosting social workers’ health and life satisfaction makes them better equipped to serve others and less prone to stress and burn-out.
He also recognizes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s polarizing nature may color some observers’ views of the project.
“Good social science is supposed to be objective and lead to generalizable results,” he says. “However, our profession’s concern for social justice prompts us to ask, ‘Does the scientific process give voice to the marginalized?’ It’s impossible to talk about Palestinian social workers’ health and well-being without acknowledging the reality of the situation on the ground. But our ultimate purpose is to seek placebased solutions that enhance, empower, and positively impact the lives of those social workers, key catalysts striving to build a brighter future in Palestine.”
Easton expressed gratitude for University and BC School of Social Work support of the project. “We appreciate their trust in our ability to do scientific research in an area of the world many might avoid. It means BC is putting its Jesuit values, and BCSSW its professional values, into action.”
Read more about the research project here.
Sean Smith | University Communications | October 2018