The social work practice uniting social workers across the world

Tim Fisher explains how Camden's embracing of family group conferences has been shared in different countries

Photo: Mizar_21984/Fotolia

by Tim Fisher

Many local authorities across the country, and social workers across the world, are marking World Social Work Day today.

In Camden we are celebrating the occasion – not just by bringing local adults and children’s social workers together – but also by making international social work friends.

We will be sharing video messages, photos and personal experiences with social work colleagues across China and Germany. Two completely different social work environments we hope will show us what the 2017 World Social Work Day themes of community and sustainability mean across the globe.

While our roles are different, interestingly, all three locations have family group conferencing (FGC) in common.

International connections

In Camden, we aim to work with people’s strengths and believe in the resilience of families. We see FGC as one way of achieving a strengths-based approach. International connections can be found day to day in the FGCs we hold for children, families and vulnerable adults in Camden. Our coordinators speak 12 community languages, for example, and we have two Bengali speaking FGC coordinators.

In China, Dr Jie Lei, a teacher of social work and social policy in one of China’s three biggest cities will share with us how social work is still a “young” profession there.

Initiated by the state government in 2006, social work in China operates without the kind of legislative framework that we would recognise in the UK. Despite this, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai have started using family group conferences.

Guangzhou was the first area in China to hold an FGC. Dr Jie’s goal for World Social Work Day is, since it is now a truly global profession, to emphasise how it is important to work together and make the community better.

New friendships

Monika Painke and Heike Hoer are both social workers from Stuttgart, Germany who we will be also be hearing from on World Social Work Day via video message, and Monika will share her experience of organising FGCs with refugees new to Germany.

She will explain a typical day for her, how she travels on an electric bike (another unexpected thing in common as Camden council) to talk to a 17-year-old who recently arrived from Syria. She will share how she offers a family group conference to make a plan with his new community which also keeps him connected to his brothers and family in Syria.

Our new friendships are revealing that social workers in Guangzhou, Stuttgart and Camden are skilled and keen to work with community networks wider than ‘immediate family.’ The World Social Work Day themes of community and sustainability are very applicable to the social work across the three locations.

Global profession

This is evident as we learn how Gangzhou social workers utilize ‘volunteer’ citizen supporters (an interesting deviation from UK FGC practice), how Stuttgart social workers work with the local residents in the settlement of refugees and in Camden how social workers are in the community on evenings and weekends meeting with family, friend networks and faith groups.

Dr Louise Brown from Bath University helped facilitate our link with China, she is firmly of the view that social work is a global profession and has been keen to support our event and the process of connecting with friends who think alike. 

She says, despite the differences in culture, location and language, the example of family group conferencing in these three very different settings and circumstances has helped show how social work is based on a set of principles and values “applicable to all cultures”.

Whether it be Camden, Torbay, Stuttgart, Guangzhou or Guatemala, we have a common connection to the rest of the social work world. We often reflect in social work that process can be as important as outcomes and it has been a very fulfilling process.

Yet, as can happen when we organise a family group conference, making connections is not always straightforward and the ‘international social work family’ has proved no different. Time difference and internet restrictions in China prevented us from live linking direct into the event; luckily, the video messages and stories from social work around the world were worth waiting for.


More from Community Care

2 Responses to The social work practice uniting social workers across the world

  1. Paul Owen March 27, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    We’ve stopped using FGC’s now, apparently it costs too much so the poor benighted SW has to arrange, organise and run these instead of using the outside agency/facilitator

  2. Wadzanai March 28, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    I am impressed at the positive impact of using FGC in SW across the world. My LA has a dedicated FGC team that has workers from diverse backgrounds , a few languages are also spoken, however there is a dedicated interpreting agency that is adequately staffed.

    SW workers complete referrals and the rest is done by FGC – a lot of positive outcomes our end.