IFSW’s David N Jones celebrates World Social Work Day (17/3/09)

The social work profession is in a good position to tackle the individual and community problems facing the world, writes David N Jones

Why should UK social workers be interested in this week’s World Social Work Day? Because daily social work practice is shaped by international factors – family connections of service users and social worker mobility. Social forces affect most countries, which experience the same challenges such as child protection and mental health tragedies. Therefore social workers need to be international in our understanding, lobbying and influence.

The 2009 event was marked in England with a conference initiated by the British Association of Social Workers and involving central and local government, the General Social Care Council, Social Care Institute for Excellence, Children’s Workforce Development Council, and other national bodies. There were events in the rest of the UK too.

Change and conflict

Responding to global change and conflict requires a social as well as an economic response. Globalisation links us all, yet there are growing economic differences. Conflicts persist – ethnic, religious, ­territorial – increasingly fuelled by climate change.

Conflicts about the basics of existence – water, food and power – are evident. Huge migrations are happening, driven by these pressures. The trend to individualism is undermining traditional systems of support. Many see a growing social ­crisis and are desperately seeking answers.

Uncertain future

However, as problems increase and our knowledge about people and the environment expands, certainties about how to respond are elusive. Expectations about the consistency and reliability of services are rising but so also is suspicion of and loss of trust in politicians, professionals and “experts”. Service users want more influence and control, yet societies are less tolerant of risk. Unlike the optimism of the 1950s and 1960s, we now recognise that solutions are not easy. Problem solving requires an informed, knowledgeable, skilful and flexible approach.

Social work is the ideal profession for these conditions. Social workers are used to working in networks and partnerships and in situations of complexity and risk. Involving service users is at the heart of social work. The social work profession has particular skills in family support, community reconciliation and especially in risk management. No one profession or skill has a monopoly on problem ­solving but social work has key skills for this crisis.

Social work has become a truly global profession. The global definition of social work was agreed in 2000. There are also agreed ethical principles and values. A global framework of standards for the education and training of the social work profession was agreed in 2004.

Global priorities

We now need to influence global priorities for the next decade. The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is working with the International Association of Schools of Social Work and International Council on Social Welfare to develop our first joint conference – Hong Kong 2010. We have launched a global consultation involving UN agencies and service user groups.

Social work is well placed to play a key role in responding to the world’s individual, community and social problems. Social work is flexible and adaptable, used to responding to new and unpredictable situations. We are good at risk assessment and partnership working.

Ours is an exciting and demanding job, a noble activity making an essential local and global contribution. The IFSW is determined to help national and international communities to recognise the positive contribution and potential of social work.

David N Jones is president of the International Federation of Social Workers

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2009 issue of Community Care under the heading ‘Social work practice must develop a global outlook’  

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David N Jones on the role of the International Federation of Social Workers

Q&A with David N Jones, senior vice president and European president of the International Federation of Social Workers.

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