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

Do you think that social work is still both art and science?

Mark Roberts, social worker


David N Jones: The simple answer is ‘yes’ but of course the reasoning is more complex.


In the age of evidence-based practice, some might argue that social work is the application of the messages from research – more science than art.  However we know that the research base for social work practice is still limited and the individual nature of social work practice will always require interpretation by skilful practitioners – and in many cases there is little research to guide practice. Of course we need more research that can help us improve our practice. However social work practice still requires the exercise of judgement and well developed inter-personal skills alongside a knowledge and understanding of messages from research.  In this sense, social work is an art-form of a high order drawing on developed self-awareness, informed intuition and perceptive judgement.


What is clear is that social work and social workers cannot rely on doing the art of ‘what seems right’ without an informed and persuasive rationale. The challenge for the next period of social work is therefore to develop models of practice that draw on research where appropriate, are aware and self-evaluating. In my view we also need to use the best from our experience of performance management over the past 10 years, while avoiding the demoralising and dehumanising bureaucratic approaches which have been introduced in many public sector organisations in recent years. Social work relies on the commitment and skills of individual practitioners and they deserve respect and support, such as is found in the best agencies in the UK. We also need to identify and celebrate the best in the art of social work when we find it.


This might seem a rather parochial UK answer but my experience shows me that these issues are common all around the world, in different forms according to context. This is not just a UK issue. It is global and I hope IFSW will be able to help spread a renewed confidence in the art and science of social work not only within the profession but also in the public sphere.



I have been told that the UK DipSW is not recognised outside the UK and that I would have some difficulty working as a social worker abroad. I have also been told that if I wanted to work as a social worker in some countries I would need to have a Masters. How true is this?

Deborah Pearson, social worker and ASW trainee

DNJ: Social work is now clearly a global profession with hundreds of social workers from many countries moving around the world to work in other countries. The UK both imports and exports social workers but we are not the only country involved.  The question of recognition of qualifications is therefore very important not only for individuals but also for employers. 


The responsibility for recognising overseas qualifications in the UK rests with the registration councils in each of the home countries of the UK. The arrangements for other countries are very varied, in some cases resting with registration councils, sometimes with a government ministry and sometimes with the individual employer.  The first global meeting of regulators of qualifications and social workers is taking place in July of this year, which is a response to the developing global movement of social workers which is now affecting their daily work.


Social work is now a regulated profession in the UK. The only area with formal agreements between countries about recognition of qualifications is the European Union. Social work in the UK is recognised under the Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive and the qualifications of UK trained social workers can therefore be considered for recognition throughout the EU. Member states can still require an adaptation period in respect of essential national factors such as the legal framework and language. IFSW has been working on the mutual recognition directive for many years alongside other professional bodies at European level. Information from IFSW over the years enabled BASW and others to keep up the pressure on the government about the fact that the former DipSW was set at a lower level than the social work qualification in the other 15 EU countries. This helped to create the climate which resulted in the launch of the new degree.


Recognition of qualifications in other countries is on a case by case basis and would often look in detail at the content of the specific social work programme and even the options taken by an individual and in some cases would also take into account subsequent practice experience. 


There have been problems with the DipSW translating abroad in some countries, for example in the USA and Australia, because it was not equivalent to a degree. For some social work jobs in some countries, a Masters degree is required.


I am afraid people wishing to work abroad have to do their own research on the requirements in the country they wish to visit. If you are a member of BASW, you can often receive help from the IFSW member organisation in the country to which you wish to move. Contact details are on the IFSW website www.ifsw.org 


I cannot find a position with respect to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and ongoing attacks upon the people of that land on the IFSW site.


Will IFSW condemn Israel for killing thousands of Palestinian children, women and men? What is the IFSW position with respect to the state of Israel’s present and historic attacks upon Palestine? Does IFSW have a position with respect to the Israeli state’s present use of collective punishment? 


How can we as social workers ignore the ongoing repression of the people of Palestine by this US backed religious hegemony? How can social workers within the IFSW, operating under codes of ethics that clearly require us to act to stop oppression, take collective action to help the people of Palestine liberate themselves from their oppressor?

David Roy, Senior Social Worker in Children’s Services

DNJ: A national social work organisation from Palestine, Lebanon and Israel are members of IFSW. We have made statements about the use of violence in various places including Israel. In general IFSW supports peaceful means of conflict resolution and would always be opposed to violence as a first response to disagreements.


The most recent IFSW statement on the Middle East conflict was made in 2002 and is set out below. This remains the federation’s formal position. In the current situation, we extend the statement to include people affected by the fighting in Lebanon.

IFSW statement on the Middle East
The International Federation of Social Workers calls upon its member organisations to take up the call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East and a return to negotiations for peace.

The IFSW recognises that the situation in the Middle East has a very long and complex history. However we cannot condone acts of violence by suicide bombers or by an overwhelming military response. Once again we are witnessing a denial of human rights on both sides and actions which will have an immediate and long-lasting effect on both the Palestinian and Israeli communities.

We note that the IFSW rejects acts of terrorism. However the IFSW urges governments to look at the circumstances which have led to the birth of extremist views and their violent consequences.

We ask our member organisations to petition their governments to encourage:

  • A return to the table by both the Palestinians and Israelis.
  • An immediate cessation of hostilities.
  • To facilitate appropriate humanitarian aid.
  • A commitment to the implementation of the agreed peace plan.

Our compassion and support are extended to our Israeli and Palestinian colleagues as they grapple with the personal and professional difficulties of the current situation.
Sydney/Berne, 8 April 2002

Imelda Dodds, IFSW President
Tom Johannesen, IFSW Secretary

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