April 21, 2020
(HOUSTON, TX) - Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Nicole Bromfield has received a Fulbright Scholar award to teach and conduct social work research at the University of Namibia beginning January 2021.
The Fulbright Program, established to "bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs," has grown to become a flagship educational program sponsored by the U.S. government.
Having conducted research and teachings internationally, most recently in Bangladesh and the Arab Gulf, Dr. Nicole Bromfield's area of research focuses on the social well-being of vulnerable and often exploited, women and children.
To mark the news of her award, we asked Dr. Bromfield to share more about her work and the importance of continuing her on-the-ground research into often over-looked populations around the world.
----Congratulations on being chosen as a Fulbright Scholar! Besides having the opportunity to conduct research in Namibia for almost a year, what will this grant allow you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do before?
For my Fulbright award, I will be joining the University of Namibia as a research and teaching scholar for the year 2021 (January through October). Along with being co-P.I. on a research project related to vulnerable children in the country, I will be teaching social work courses at the University of Namibia for an academic year. The University of Namibia has a vibrant Social Work Department, with courses taught in English, that will allow for fruitful collaborations and exchanges with students, as well as faculty, which I hope to continue at UH after the Fulbright award. While in Namibia, not only will I conduct research on street-involved children, but will also assist in training young Namibian social workers, who will be working with vulnerable children, as well as other marginalized populations in the country.How do you believe your work developing research on street-connected/orphaned/vulnerable children connects with the GCSW’s mission of achieving social justice?
Through our research with street-connected children, an often overlooked group of vulnerable children, I want to work towards the advancement of human rights, as well as harm reduction for these children, through research that gives children a voice and facilitates visibility for them. The social injustices that occur against street-connected children on a daily basis, as they attempt to meet their own basic needs, are in violation of their fundamental human rights. By working towards advancing these children’s human rights and reducing harms for them, we are working towards the achievement of equity and social justice for all children. The intention of our research project on children in street situations in Namibia is to provide a greater knowledge base to inform programs and policies in the country in collaboration with policymakers, service agencies, the children themselves, and civil society.For those that might not be knowledgeable in vulnerable child populations around the world, what is a key takeaway you would like everyone to know based on your years of research?
While they are often unnoticed by researchers, policy-makers, and social work scholars, street-connected children, who earn their living on the street or in public places and who are inadequately protected, are one of the most marginalized populations of children globally. They are exposed to extreme abuses including physical violence, emotional abuse, financial extortion, police brutality, and/or trafficking on a sometimes daily basis, as they attempt to generate an income on the streets to meet their basic needs. While there are fewer studies taking place on street-connected children than there were a decade ago, the population of street-connected children remains high—and in indeed is growing-- in some geographical locations, particularly in the global south. Attempts to combat this social issue at the policy level have not been successful.What are some of the challenges/concerns you see in the handling of vulnerable child populations around the world?
One of the biggest concerns in the development of programs and interventions for these children, from my perspective, is not “meeting the children where they are” and also not using a harm reduction framework in interventions with them. Children need to have a voice and inclusion in the development of interventions targeted towards them and need to have a voice in conveying their experiences of real harm, as well as their experiences and sources of wellness and resilience building. Interventions need to be grounded in a strengths perspective and involve children in their development at all levels of intervention, including at the policy level. Oftentimes, decisions are made for these children without involving them in the process.
What do you believe are some of the large-scale and small-scale benefits of being able to do field research in other countries around the world on the issue of vulnerable children in places Bangladesh and Namibia?
My academic mission, guided by the social work profession, seeks to protect the most vulnerable populations in the global south, including children. Through influencing social policy with a strong social justice lens, this mission is realized through my research program and its dissemination and a focus on training social work students to advocate for the importance of social justice for all. It is a great honor to be selected as a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia, where I will be an ambassador for the University of Houston, the social work profession, and the United States while contributing to building the knowledge base of street children in Namibia, and assisting with social work curriculum development and the training of social work students in the nation.Please share anything else we should know about being chosen as a Fulbright Scholar and your work.
My commitment to moving social justice forward through research, teaching, and service, led to my application to be a Fulbright Teaching/Research Scholar at the University of Namibia in their social work department. Namibia is a sub-Saharan African country, that was formerly under apartheid rule as part of South Africa. Although a middle-income nation, Namibia suffers from social problems including one of the world’s highest prevalence rates of HIV, as well as having more than 300,000 children living in poverty, with an estimated 497,000 children participating in child labor activities. The issue of street-connected children has been a growing concern in Namibia and climate change has exacerbated the issue. Climate change has put thousands of children at higher risk, including being pushed to the streets, while worsening their access to essential services.