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Social work is about the whole of society, not just individuals

Posted on 27/06/2016 by

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Social workers are meeting in South Korea to discuss how we can put our skills into practice and resist restrictions from employers and governments.

Social workers from around the world are meeting next week to address one of the main challenges the profession faces today: the gap between the social work approach and the conflicting expectations of some employers and governments.

More than two thousand social workers from over 100 countries will be participating in the Social Work and Social Development 2016 world conferencewhich is being held in Seoul, South Korea on 27-30 June.

Every day, social workers make unique contributions to society, forming social solutions with those who use services, their families and communities. But much of this work is unrecognised or overlooked, because in a number of countries employers and governments simply don’t understand the value of longer-term, sustainable wellbeing.

Embedded in social work’s theory and practice is an understanding that people cannot live sustainable, fulfilled lives unless they are connected in a social framework and able to exercise influence and direction over their own lives. The issue was highlighted this month with research showing why Glaswegians die so much younger than people in other UK cites. The researchers found that as a consequence of past town planning policies, Glaswegians have for many years suffered from a lack of community networks. They were also disenfranchised from basic democratic structures preventing them from influencing their own futures.

The effects have been devastating. Life expectancy for Glaswegian men is seven years less than the national average – five years less for women. Strong social networks and self-determination not only enable to people to live longer, but they also provide a social context where people live with better health and have more satisfying lives.

Sadly, many governments see social protection systems as top-down platforms for the alleviation of individual poverty or to provide a targeted harm-reduction focus on particular groups. But this doesn’t change the causes and cycles that perpetuate poverty and suffering. The social work perspective sees that social protection should be designed to promote the wellbeing of the whole population, rather than a strategy that provides relief for individuals who have been failed by their societies.

The social work profession advocates that protection systems are agencies for transformation, which focus on strengthening communities. In practical terms, this often starts when social workers work with families to help them realise their strength. Likewise, social workers and communities build initiatives that can shape the lives of all members so that they are more engaged in their wellbeing and future.

Put simply, social services are too often designed with a rotating door at the front. A stressed person comes in, learns to be de-stressed and then goes back to the stressful environment, requiring them to come back to the service again. What’s important from a social work perspective is that services provide more than access to limited financial, social or medical assistance. They become platforms for enabling people to understand their rights and learn how to shape their environment for the better.

From our daily practice experience, social workers know that people don’t want to be in the hands of disempowering systems, which can undermine their traditional and organic means of helping one another. People who use social services and those trying to access them want fairness: a level playing field and equal opportunity to succeed. They want their voices to be heard and to have influence over their own lives.

The new IFSW policy, The role of social workers in social protection systems, along with the new global definition of social work will help practitioners and their representative organisations engage with employers and governmental bodies to understand the social work approach. It is critical that such understanding leads to clear job descriptions that enable social workers workers to put their skills and training into practice.

Source: The Guardian