Social work: A profession worth celebratingSunday, March 24, 2019
Each March, social workers around the world come together to acknowledge the contributions the profession has made to society. In Jamaica, social workers within organisations and learning institutions organise celebratory events under the themes routinely adopted from the International Federation of Social Workers or the National Association of Social Workers (in the USA), with this year's themes focused on promoting the importance of human relationships and elevating the image of the profession, respectively.
In the last 10 years, the number of people enrolling in social work programmes has significantly increased on the island. What this says to me is that there is a growing demand for professional training within the field of social intervention. It also speaks to the immediate need that exists for these interventions to be implemented in Jamaican society.
Social work has been an elusive concept around the world for decades, mainly because of its abstract nature and definition. In Jamaica, there is a rich and commendable history of individuals and social activist groups which have worked effectively to impact positive change through hands-on intervention. In essence, social work shares many of the same skills and values that have made these noble accomplishments possible. Today, however, social work as a profession is much more than mere “helping” alone.
Throughout its development, social workers have persevered tirelessly to qualify the profession as a science through research and practice. In short, social work is the professional service of helping through intervention. It entails involvement with all sectors of society including individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities. To do this effectively, the social work practitioner must consider areas of biological, psychological, social and spiritual development, and network with many different stakeholders in the process. While the social worker is trained in areas of counselling and psychological development, he or she is not bound to work in any static situation, but generally works within and across sectors to empower clients to reach their optimal levels of development.
Traditionally, social workers are found working in agencies that provide direct social services such as the Victim Support Unit, hospitals, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and the Probation Office. However, they can also be found in places like schools, consulates, financial institutions, and at the highest levels of government — developing policies that positively impact the society and, because of their first-hand knowledge of issues, quite arguably, may be the best candidates to do so.
While it is true that trained social workers are suited to function in many different roles and under many different titles, the profession does not endorse individuals, not having had years of academic training in the field, assuming the title unto themselves. The title of 'social worker' is a designation reserved for those who have been formally trained, have professionally practised, and hold internationally recognised values and skills to legitimise the training. You wouldn't make the mistake of labelling a nurse a doctor just because the individual performs many of the same functions. Nor would you call someone with an email address a software developer just because they both communicate online. Likewise, the trained social worker is a specialist within his field and has been tested and accepted at the academic and practise levels. The line is precariously drawn, then, when referring to those without the formal training who for years have referred to and thought of themselves as social workers. Though it is an uncomfortable distinction to make, in order to ensure quality control and accountability maintenance, professional social workers make no apology for this.
Jamaica is ripe for professional social workers, as more focus is being given to the systematic implementation of workable solutions to historical issues such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, police corruption, illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, deportees, HIV/AIDS, and mental health. Right now we have the best opportunity to capitalise on the skills of social workers to work in schools, clinics, children's homes, communities, and even prisons. In fact, in order for Jamaica to move forward with its plans to reach developed country status by 2030, all sectors of Jamaican society must heavily incorporate these professionals within the capacity of what's working currently, and use them to further assist in finding successful solutions.
There are no easy answers to Jamaica's social problems, but by incorporating the hundreds of trained and soon-to-be graduate social workers, Jamaica can confidently expect to improve its social situation.
I challenge all professionally trained social workers in every sector to model, practise and promote the knowledge, values and skills that make social work the noble profession that it is.
Happy Social Work Month to you all!
Eva Forde, MSSW, is presdient of the Jamaica Association of Social Workers. She is also an author and executive coach. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.