by Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive
World Social Work Day is important because social work is a global profession. Our workforce and profession is ten times richer as a result of absorbing well trained and highly professional social workers from many other countries and cultures from across the world, over the last twenty years.
Likewise, the cases we now handle often transcend national boundaries. Some families live in the UK, but their elders may live in another country or continent and have to be part of - and sometimes control - family decision-making. The right placement for a vulnerable child might well be with a relative in another country or continent. The team around the child who make this happen will of necessity be a global one. If an assessment is needed overseas, it is usually best done in-country.
Social work is much the same everywhere, but the form it takes is different. When I went to Western Australia last year, the social workers and magistrates I met would fly by helicopter to base themselves in a local region for a week to assess and hear cases. A crucial visit was often a thousand miles away. They called it "the tyranny of distance", and this phrase also rings true for stranded spouses referred to Cafcass, who have been abandoned by their husbands in another country, stateless and penniless, because their paternal family wants to cut them out of their children’s lives.
Cases like these and others mean that our social work is often international now. A good number of our staff support children overseas, on top of their day job. Some are helping other countries to put a social work service together – in Bulgaria and the Ukraine for example. Some are fundraising to build somewhere better for children in local care systems to live – in Kenya and South Africa, for instance. And last week, through an NGO contact of his, Daniel Hope, one of our practitioners in Leeds, put us in touch with a delegation from Paraguay who are intent on building a domestic adoption service, having outlawed inter-country adoption back in 1995. Our staff in the Leeds area met with the Paraguayan Head of Social Work and Head of Adoption to help him achieve this goal.
International links can also put our work in perspective. Sometimes, our task seems overwhelming, but when I met the Head of Child Care in China, his challenge made me realise that other countries are up against it even more than we are: this man was responsible for finding better solutions for 800,000 abandoned children.
Social work is many things – it is the fourth emergency service, a civilising and humane influence in a world that can be fast, brutal and unforgiving. Let us celebrate World Social Work Day and all it stands for – and all we stand for.