Social Workers Are at the Fault Lines of Society

Amy Bess“Social workers are placed at the fault lines of society,” claimed Professor Walter Lorenz, rector of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development last week.

At times of devastating health epidemics, financial crises, natural disasters, or war, we are very often quick to respond to immediate health, housing, and food security needs. Another often neglected area of response is taking into account and addressing the social consequences of these events: identifying those who will raise orphaned children, assessing impacts on mental health and well-being, supporting community cohesion, identifying and strengthening existing social networks that support vulnerable children, and, in general, ensuring a coordinated professional response to the social welfare needs of communities.

CapacityPlus is carrying out numerous activities that support the development of a stronger social service workforce to address the needs of vulnerable children and families. From July 8-12, I joined more than 2,500 social workers, policy-makers, and scholars from over 100 countries st the conference to explore and discuss ways to develop a more sustainable system of social services for the future. I presented a session on some of the challenges faced by social service professionals across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a few innovative CapacityPlus initiatives underway in various countries to strengthen the social service workforce.

The conference was organized by the three main international social work bodies representing social work practice, social work education, and social development: the International Federation of Social Work, the International Association of Schools of Social Work, and the International Council on Social Welfare. Over the course of the last three years, these organizations came together to create the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development Commitment to Action. The Global Agenda is an opportunity to call attention to the social impacts of complex global crises and the role of social workers in identifying and providing solutions at the family, community, and global policy levels.

The Global Agenda opens with the following statement:

“As social workers, educators and social development practitioners, we witness the daily realities of personal, social and community challenges. We believe that now is our time to work together, at all levels, for change, for social justice, and for the universal implementation of human rights, building on the wealth of social initiatives and social movements.”

One of the most important aspects of implementing the Global Agenda is recognizing the role that social workers play in bringing about societal change in countries most affected by social and economic inequalities. A strong local workforce of well-trained and supported social workers is required to adequately respond to human and natural disasters.

Bringing more attention and support to this profession is the identified role of the emerging Social Service Workforce Alliance. CapacityPlus is contributing to the development of this important body. The Alliance is envisioned to be a collaborative effort and network of stakeholders—including government organizations, nongovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, academic institutions, donor groups, professional associations, and community practitioners—who will help to generate the political will, knowledge and evidence, resources, and action necessary to address key social service workforce challenges.
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Photo courtesy of Amy Bess.