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Murove Tapfuma's picture

How the Social Service Workforce is Vital to Helping to Achieve SDGs Related to Improving Health and Well-Being for All

Social Workers in Nigeria are improving healthby Dr. Tapfuma Murove – Chief of Party for 4Children at CRS Nigeria

In my more than 15 years of experience as a development professional, I have always marveled at ways in which development practitioners place a lot of importance on global development frameworks and goals, as if on their own these provide the solutions to developmental issues we seek to address. While such global frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important in focusing our attention on priority issues, there is an important piece of the puzzle that is frequently overlooked and this is what I prefer to term the ‘human factor’: the social service workforce that is essential to drive the development goals and agenda.

Of the 17 SDGs for 2015-2030, I place a special focus on goal three that aims to: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Interestingly, while looking at this SDG, questions that come to my mind are: Do we recognize the important role that the social service workforce must play in achieving this goal? How do we ensure that an adequately resourced social service workforce which is vital to achieving this SDG is in place? To me these are very important questions challenging us to support the social service workforce in carrying out its critical role of contributing to achieving improved health and well-being for all by promoting and facilitating access to needed health and well-being services.

An attempt to answer this question will not be complete without appreciating some of the glaring challenges that we encounter relating to a limited or a less than fully functional social service workforce in the field. This situation is true for government health and social service facilities, community development projects and civil society organizations in most parts of the developing world and especially sub-Saharan Africa, like in my home country of Nigeria. The current situation of the social service workforce speaks to huge personnel shortages, limited training opportunities, lack of incentives, burn out, and limited career or professional development options.     

In view of ongoing challenges, and given the critical role that the social service workforce plays in driving SDGs and especially the one on improving health and wellbeing, there is need to ensure that an effective social service workforce is in place. An effective workforce is the engine that drives a functional health system. The social service workforce is the human factor that will make a difference in terms of whether or not SDG 3 on improving health and well-being is realized. In Nigeria for instance, an important cadre of the social workforce known as community volunteers or case workers play an important role in supporting children and caregivers’ access to HIV services that include: testing, TB screening, referrals, care and support that is inclusive of nutrition counseling, psychosocial support and facilitating access to other social protection opportunities. Therefore, deliberate steps need to be taken to ensure that such a social service workforce is best positioned to fulfill its critical role of contributing to achieving the SDG related to health and well-being.

Steps that need to be taken to ensure this is achieved include: increasing training opportunities for the social service workforce; professionalizing the social service workforce especially in resource-constrained settings; acknowledging and recognizing the role that para professional cadres play in contributing to linking different elements of the social service system and establishing resourcing mechanisms that create a sustainable social service workforce. Opportunities for career progression and professional development also need to be increased. This can include supporting professional social service workforce networks, associations for social service workers, and platforms for enhanced learning, information exchange and sharing of promising practices.

When these actions are taken, in addition to acknowledging and appropriately supporting the social service workforce, only then can achievement of the SDG on health and well-being become a reality.

Anonymous's picture

Strengthening the Workforce to Deliver Psychosocial Support for Refugee Women and Girls: Lessons from Northern and West Nile in Uganda

by Dinnah Nabwire and Joseph Zzimula, TPO Uganda

Social Worker Training in KiyandagoUganda is home to more than 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees, with the number growing at an average of 1000+ refugees crossing into the country daily. Of these refugees, 86% are women and children, the majority of whom share narrations of traumatizing experiences that include witnessing loss of family members, destruction of property and sexual violence. Responding to the needs of refugee women and girls requires a holistic approach that revolves around a strong social service workforce who fully understands the needs and dynamics of refugee women and children. In the face of growing humanitarian needs, equipped teams will continue to be needed to deliver a cross section of interventions toward comprehensively identifying, managing and/or refering for quality psychosocial, socioeconomic and development needs of refugees.

Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO Uganda) as an implementing partner within the humanitarian response framework in Uganda has undertaken several steps towards strengthening its workforce to adequately respond to the needs of refugee women and girls in the districts of Kiryandongo, Adjumani and Yumbe districts in Northern and West Nile regions of Uganda. Through continuous trainings and reflective activities, TPO Uganda has registered critical lessons including growing impact and quality of services for refugees. Lessons learned through this project show the critical importance of investing in a strong social service workforce to deliver psychosocial support targeting women and girl surviviors of sexual and gender based violence among South Sudanese refugees. At the start of the project in 2015, refresher psychosocial support trainings were conducted for social workers with an integration of sexual and gender-based violence for them to understand the unique needs of refugee survivors.

Social workers then worked with trainers to adapt content from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings to meet the unique needs of women and girls. Some of the adpatations included group rather than individualized sessions for screened beneficiaries, which allowed social workers to ably support peaceful coexistence of traditionally conflicting groups of women from Nuer and Dinka tribes. The groups also received sessions on peer conseling and cohesion building among the survivors.

At the initial stages of mobilizing women and girls to participate in project activities, the social workers had observed resistance from the majority of the men in permitting their wives and partners to move out of their domestic spaces and participate in group activities. They addressed this through deliberate efforts to reach men with information on sexual and gender based violence and the critical need for psychosocial support to those affected. By addressing these social and cultural beliefs, the workers were able to generate more support from men and boys and alleviate the risk of women and girls falling out of active participation.

Additional adjustments that included embedding local songs and other creative activities was undertaken by social workers to ensure women and girls who weren’t able to read or write could easily understand and connect with the sessions. Through these critical investments, TPO Uganda has currently reached over 25,000 individuals with psychosocial support and mental health responses within the three refugee communities in 2016/17, with over half of the beneficiaries being women and girls. In Yumbe and Adjumani districts, close to 3,000 women and teenage girls have been screened for mental health disorders and psychosocial support alongside over 5,000 community members sensitized on gender based violence and mental health between March and June 2017. This impact however is anchored on the dynamic teams of social workers and clinical psychologists that the organization is continuously strengthening to deliver protection, treatment services and resilience outcomes for migrants. A strong social service workforce is therefore a critical component in attaining progress on Sustainable Development Goals 8, 16, 17 and above all Target 10.7 if we are to have peaceful societies with well managed migration policies.  

Roger Pearson's picture

How Does the Social Service Workforce Contribute to SDGs Related to Violence?

by Roger Pearson, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Adviser, Child Protection, Programme Division, UNICEF

 
photo credit: UNICEF/NYHQ2006-127/d'Elbee  

Global estimates point to hundreds of millions of girls and boys experiencing some form of violence, exploitation or harmful practice. One in 10 girls under the age of 20 has experienced sexual violence. In a study of five countries, at least one in four adolescent boys reported incidents of physical violence since age 15. Almost 750 million girls and women were married as children, and at least 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting. Hundreds of thousands of refugee and migrant children are at grave risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and smuggling. In addition, at least 2.7 million children, many of them with disabilities, live in residential care.

The global community has come together to achieve a world free of violence against children under the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular SDGs 5, 8 and 16. Goal 16.2 aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” The world must come together to strengthen the protective environment through investments in national systems, community dialogue and behavior change. To reach these goals states will need to strengthen and expand their social services infrastructure and case management systems. And communities need support to enhance existing mechanisms that protect children. States now must go from the relatively easy task of agreeing to goals in international fora to the point where resource allocations to pay for systems building are allocated. This in turn, depending on local context, may need budget policies to be drafted, legislation to be updated, reviews and adjustments to be organized and all the other markers of good programme management. 

Taking action requires a functioning social service workforce, for without the workforce, the most vulnerable are often not protected. Social service workers facilitate critical linkages between civil society and multiple government sectors including health, education, social protection, child protection and justice. In humanitarian situations, local level community social service workers support community-based approaches that provide psychosocial support to girls, boys and women experiencing gender-based violence, including by providing safe spaces. Social service workers prevent family separation and support reunification of unaccompanied and separated children, advocate for the prevention of recruitment of children into the fighting forces and support the release and reintegration of girls and boys associated with armed forces and groups. They support programs for provision of survivor assistance to children affected by landmines and explosive arms. Social service workers are needed to protect children exposed to grave violations in situations of armed conflict and to support survivors.

Frontline or local level social service workers providing direct support to children and families are needed, as are those who are mobilizing communities, advocating for policy change, writing legislation, designing programs, securing funding, managing social service agencies, running professional associations, educating and training, supervising, mentoring, researching, monitoring and evaluating, and overseeing information management systems.

The SDGs are an opportunity for those who see the importance of social service workers to come together and advocate for the allocation of adequate resources to do what is required to fulfill the SDGs even for the most vulnerable. There are many opportunities for advocacy coalitions to come together, including when a national development plan is being revised or reviewed, when parliamentarians are up for election, or when priorities are being laid out for the use of international development funding to support national development. 

With these SDGs now in place, the ground is more fertile than it has ever been to make the case for greater investments in the social service workforce. Let us come together more closely to lobby states who have made promises to deliver on SDGs at the international level to live up to their words by making the necessary modifications to their social services country-by-country.

Amy Bess's picture

Why Do We Need to Advocate for a Strong Social Service Workforce?

by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Who is the Social Service Workforce?

The social service workforce is comprised of paid and unpaid, governmental and nongovernmental, professionals and para professionals, working to ensure the healthy development and well-being of children and families. The social service workforce focuses on preventative, responsive and promotive programs that support families and children in our communities by alleviating poverty, reducing discrimination, facilitating access to needed services, promoting social justice and preventing and responding to violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and family separation. A well-planned, well-developed and well-supported workforce is better equipped to support families and children to reach their full potential and better recover from emergency situations and crises.

Why is the social service workforce so critically needed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? How can you, as readers of this blog and supporters of the workforce, contribute to stronger advocacy for a well-trained, well-developed and well-supported workforce that is better positioned to address the most pressing issues facing our societies today? 

This week, during the 4th Annual Social Service Workforce Week, we aim to continue an ongoing dialogue with you around these questions. We will highlight examples of how the social service workforce helps to fulfill the SDGs related to ending violence against children, supporting children and families on the move and improving health and well-being. And we will share ideas gathered from many of you about ways to advocate for greater support for the workforce to help achieve these goals. We also invite you to share your stories about effective advocacy approaches you have implemented, including positive outcomes achieved. 

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance recently worked with WithoutViolence to assemble a Global Advocacy Toolkit for the Social Service Workforce. The toolkit outlines concrete steps to develop context-specific advocacy plans aimed at bringing greater political and programmatic priority for strengthening the social service workforce. It is based on evidence that shows that a strong social service workforce increases the effectiveness of programs for vulnerable families and children.

It is important to note that for the social service sector, advocacy efforts are targeted at achieving both policy and programmatic change. Advocacy can be directed at protecting rights, educating the public, and encouraging civil or political participation. Advocacy can seek fundamental change for an organization or community and/or seek to address issues that need greater focus to create policy change.

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an unprecedented opportunity to influence national and international development policy and programs while highlighting the intersections between the work of the social service workforce and those working on health challenges, violence prevention and migration. This is a critical time to promote and build awareness of the valuable contributions made every day by the social service workforce toward achieving the SDGs. Infographic on achieving SDGs

To gain the attention and funding levels needed to ensure a well-trained, well-developed and well-supported workforce, greater advocacy efforts are needed. We can all take steps, big and small, toward increasing awareness and interest in the workforce. Doing so requires each one of us to be more vocal in advocating to policy makers and program implementers. Using the Alliance network as a platform for coming together across disciplines, organizations, countries and regions, we can all do more together than we can alone.

Get Involved- Social Service Workforce Week 2017
Today kicks off the week of advocating for social service workers. Each day will feature an e-mail to our members and mailing list and will include a blog, links to resources and sample tweets. The topics for the rest of the week include:

We encourage you to get involved through the following methods:

Nicole Brown's picture

Conference Highlights Importance of Strengthening the Social Service Workforce

Over three days in September, 400 attendees from 35 countries came together to discuss achieving “Equity, Equality for All Girls, Boys and Youth” at the Regional Psychosocial Support (REPSSI) Forum, held in Arusha, Tanzania. In discussing ways to enhance wellbeing for vulnerable children and their families, participants shared promising practices and innovative approaches to address some of the greatest challenges facing their local communities and nations. The Forum highlighted the ways in which designing and implementing programs that combat these challenges requires a strong social service workforce.

Keynote speakers including Tanzania Minister of Health Hon. Ummy Mwalimu; REPSSI CEO Noreen Huni; Jake Glaser, Ambassador of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; and representatives from the Southern African Development Community pointed to the importance of multi-sectoral collaboration and highlighted evidence depicting the high cost of inaction on lives and livelihoods.

Case Management working group sessionSeveral sessions throughout the Forum spoke to the importance of social service system strengthening with an emphasis on workforce strengthening. As co-host of the Forum, the Alliance presented three panel sessions. During a session on case management approaches to strengthen the social workforce, three presenters shared the key role of the workforce in providing services for children and families impacted by HIV/AIDS, family separation and disabilities. Case studies from Kenya, the East and Southern Africa regions and Namibia featured the usage of innovative tools and resources on integrating case management into violence prevention programs, and using case conferencing and supervision to strengthen the workforce and improve service delivery. Both sessions also shared the current work of the Interest Group on Case Management, including small group discussions to review a document outlining core case management concepts and principles and an assessment tool that is being designed to review and compile existing case management tools into a compendium that will be located on the Alliance’s website.

A third session hosted by the Alliance shared tips and examples for developing an advocacy campaign to advocate for greater workforce-supportive policies nationally, regionally and globally. The Alliance shared some of the worksheets and steps for creating an advocacy campaign that are included within the new Global Advocacy Toolkit.

Speakers on the Alliance’s panels included Alliance Ambassadors, Alliance staff and 4Children colleagues who shared country case studies and regional approaches. The Alliance also hosted an information table during the Forum to share publications and information with participants. More than 50 new members from 13 countries became members of the Alliance network during the Forum, and many also joined the Interest Group on Case Management.

Additional sessions included a review of the Minimum Standards on Comprehensive Services for Children and Young People in the EAC, focusing on five key strategies to ensure the provision of comprehensive services, one of which is the social service workforce. A session on enhancing country ownership and strengthening systems on psychosocial programs highlighted how community health is improved through social service system strengthening.

In offering closing remarks, the Alliance challenged participants to remain engaged, build on discussions and make progress toward workforce strengthening. In its role as a convener, the Alliance stands ready to provide a platform for ongoing learning from colleagues around the globe, exchanging best practices across borders and deriving new and innovative approaches. The Alliance shares in the aims of the Forum to generate political will, convene people across roles and sectors, and advance knowledge through the exchange of promising practices.

Grace Kozak's picture

The Role of the Social Service Workforce in Responding to Human Trafficking

logo for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, July 30The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was established in 2013 by the United Nations in order to raise awareness and promote the rights of the nearly 2.5 million people in modern day slavery. Out of the UN’s efforts to combat human trafficking, the Blue Heart Campaign was born, an awareness raising campaign being joined by the governments of many world nations, including Peru, Switzerland, Brazil, Nigeria, and Lebanon.

This global problem affects every nation in the world, with the most vulnerable members of society being targeted as victims of trafficking. Many have been made vulnerable by poverty and conflict, but no matter the reason, when victims are trafficked, social workers and other social service providers play a critical role in raising awareness of trafficking and aiding survivors.

“Our law clinic represents clients who are survivors of human trafficking. Social workers play a key role in many of our clients' efforts to recover from the trauma of trafficking and to build a secure future life,” says Suellyn Scarnecchia, Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic. “Social work case managers who help both our minor and adult clients, connect our clients to essential resources like cash assistance, housing, education, English language training, employment, transportation, and counseling. Many of our clients receive counseling from social work therapists in individual or group settings as well. We teach our law students that the skill of working with other professionals, like social workers, is essential to their clients' success. Serving victims of human trafficking is truly an interdisciplinary enterprise.”

Human trafficking robs its victims of their most basic human rights, and members of the social service workforce, being grounded in protecting the rights of others, must be trained and ready to respond to trafficking in their communities.

Learn more about international NGOs working to combat human trafficking:

Download resources related to human trafficking from the Alliance database:

Nicole Brown's picture

Regional Conference in Africa Allows Social Workers to Share Innovative Approaches for Working with Families & Communities

IFSW Africa Regional Conference 2017Many people are not aware of the myriad of issues that social workers and others in the social service sector help individuals and communities to address. During the Social Work, Education and Social Development 2017 Conference more than 200 practitioners, government representatives, researchers, students, association members, and NGO, CSO and FBO staff came together to discuss innovative national, regional and global evidence-based approaches in social work. Held June 25-28 in Livingstone, Zambia, the conference was jointly hosted by the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA), the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW, Africa), and Social Workers’ Association of Zambia (SWAZ).

Presentations encouraged dialogue on approaches to providing services to address HIV/AIDS, childhood marriage, gender-based violence, social protection, child protection, gender equality, family-based care, environmental sustainability and protection, and other issues affecting vulnerable populations that require a well-planned, well-developed and well-supported social service workforce.

The conference is one of several regional conferences organized with support of IFSW annually, leading up to the IFSW Global Conference in June 2018. During opening remarks, Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, challenged attendees to think of their role globally. “Research shows that for every $1 spent on social services, the return to the local economy is $3. We have an incredible contribution to make to our communities and global communities. Our profession is a borderless profession.”

To emphasize the global nature of the profession, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance supported the conference and coordinated a panel session on ‘Identifying effective social service workforce strengthening and case management in initiatives in Zambia and beyond.’ Presenters from Zambia Rising Project at Save the Children, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia, Expanded Church Response and Luapula Foundation joined the Alliance in presenting on roles and responsibilities in case management, embedding case management into communities and building consensus in uses of case management. Participants also discussed alternative care case management systems as a component of the broad integrated case management system within the child and family welfare system.

I took part in a panel presentation on how to advocate for a stronger workforce. During the panel I shared the new Global Advocacy Toolkit for the Social Service Workforce that the Alliance developed with WithoutViolence. The toolkit provides evidence-based tools for developing messages, determining key audiences, creating outreach plans and monitoring success of efforts to advocate to policy-makers and stakeholders for greater funding and support for the social service workforce.

I also attended several of the more than 100 abstract presentations. Some of the highlights for me included learning from Genious Musokotwane from Girls Not Brides who reviewed how social workers in Zambia are also involved in providing safe spaces for girls freed from childhood marriages to be able to complete their schooling through grade 12. The organization is trying to work with communities to overcome religious and cultural beliefs that allow girls to marry as soon as they reach puberty so that more girls can finish school and delay pregnancies. In 2016, 16,000 girls nationwide dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy; annually 15 million girls are married before they turn 18.[1] 

Representatives from social work councils in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe provided detail on how the councils were established, their role in supporting the profession and the sustainability of both the council and association through dues and fees related to registration and licensing. As the only three countries among the 54 countries in Africa with a council and association, there was great interest from other participants to learn how to begin the process in their country. “Contribute your voice as practitioners through involvement in your national association and give visibility and credibility to the profession, learn from each other and validate the work of others,” stated Noel Muridzo, IFSW Africa President.

In another session on social protection and legal frameworks for policy development with Southern African Development Community (SADC), examples from Kenya, Zambia and Mozambique were highlighted. “SADC leads the continent in range, reach and number of social protection programs,” said Vince Chipatuka, Southern African Social Protection Experts Network Coordinator. The session sought to inform social workers and development practitioners on current developments within the region in order to enhance policy interventions at the national level.

As a network, the Alliance fosters the exchange of ideas, tools and best practices across countries. For many at the conference, this was the first such opportunity to learn from others working in the same field in another country. More than 20 conference attendees became members of the Alliance to continue this discourse with colleagues globally.

The Alliance’s participation in the conference was supported by the GHR Foundation’s Children in Families project. The GHR Foundation is supporting the Alliance and other organizations working in Zambia that are helping to strengthen the workforce to support vulnerable families and provide family-based care for children.

Anonymous's picture

Celebrating Families, Education and Well-being on International Day of Families

by Hassan Khan, Vice President and Executive Director, Asia Pacific Forum on Families International (APFAM)Logo for International Day of Families

This year’s observance of the International Day of Families on May 15 focuses on the role of families and family-oriented policies in promoting education and overall well-being. In particular, the goal of the day is to raise awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth.

The day will highlight the importance of all caregivers in families, and the importance of parental education for the welfare of children. It will focus on good practices for work-family balance to assist parents in their educational and caregiving roles. Good practices from the private sector in support of working parents, as well as youth and older persons in the workplace, will also be highlighted.

The day also aims to discuss the importance of ‘knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development’ (SDG4, target 4.7).

Families and family-oriented policies and programs are vital for the achievement of many goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In particular, families have a unique role in supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In the 2030 Agenda, Member States commit to “strive to provide children and youth with a nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities, helping our countries to reap the demographic dividend, including through safe schools and cohesive communities and families.” 

Indeed, cohesive, stable, supportive and well-functioning families are primary educators for young children. Primary caregivers educate and socialize children and youth and ensure their well-being. Parents, and often grandparents, have a vital role in safeguarding good quality education, starting with early childhood and extending throughout their children’s and grandchildren’s lifespan.

Early childhood spans the period up to eight years of age. It is essential for physical, social, cognitive and emotional development of children. Early childhood education (target 4.2) is essential to prepare children for primary education. Beyond that, research indicates that early childhood learning lasts a lifetime and brings about many benefits. 

In particular, early stimulation and interaction with parents and caregivers ‘jumpstart the journey of brain development and a lifetime of learning.’ The first years of life are crucial for children: how they are parented and cared for affects their brain function for the years to come. Investments in early childhood care, education and development also help to reduce disadvantages for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, the returns of such investments are highest among low-income children and serve as a stepping stone out of poverty and exclusion.

As the components of early childhood development include education, health and nutrition, protection and stimulation, safe, nurturing, responsive and stimulating family environments are crucial. In fact, girls and boys with involved and supportive parents tend to have high attendance records, positive attitudes toward school work, achieve better grades and have higher career aspirations. 

It is vital for parents to support their children on their lifelong educational journey. Programs that support parental education and development of parental skills are often an untapped potential toward the achievement of SDG4. 

Similarly, the educational role of grandparents in families should not be overlooked. The number of households where grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren is on the rise mainly due to external migration of parents. Thus, grandparents take on a role of a caregiver and an early educator for children and youth in their families. 

Working conditions of parents affect their ability to play an active role in their children’s education. In fact, in order to be good educators in families, parents need family-friendly policies ensuring work-family balance so that they can be productive employers and involved parents. Policies encouraging corporate responsibility and family-friendly work environments are essential here and have already shown improvement in workers’ productivity and dependability.

The private sector plays a role in supporting training and education of young people, be it through internships or on-the job training. Some enterprises also support intergenerational exchanges where both youth and older adults are mentors or mentees, learning new skills in intergenerational settings.

To increase awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth, APFAM is extending the one-day focus over a 12-month period. Over the course of the next year, the role of families in supporting education and well-being for youth will be championed by organizations globally.

The social service workforce is central to the success of families in improving children’s education and wellbeing. These workers play an enabling role as the wellbeing of individual family members and the community as a whole is at the heart of social service programs.

To learn more and show your support, contact APFAM

Nicole Brown's picture

Environmental Justice, Community Organizing Focus of 34th Social Work Day at the United Nations

 “On behalf of 3 million social workers in 124 countries represented by the International Federation of Social Workers, I welcome you to Social Work Day at the United Nations,” said Suzanne Dworak-Peck. “Social workers are experts in leading communities…to achieve common goals.”

She joined organizing co-chairs Shirley Gatenio-Gabel Professor at Fordham University and International Association of Schools of Social Work Representative to the UN, and Dr. Robin Mama Sakina, Dean of Monmouth University and IFSW Representative to the UN, in opening the April 17, 2017 event to a sold-out crowd of practitioners, professors, students, NGO representatives, associations and other supporters of the social work profession. Attendees from throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, China and remote participants viewing the live webcast took part in the annual event that shines a light on the significant impact social workers have on the local and global community and provides a platform for social workers to engage on shared goals of the United Nations.

“Our local issues need to be linked to global trends. We must commit to aligning our practices…to achieve the sustainable development goals,” said Gatenio-Gabel in her opening remarks. She referenced the dynamic, innovative, people-centric work of social workers toward ‘Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability.This was the 2017 theme, which relates to the third pillar of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. Throughout the event, panelists shared examples of local and global activism toward achieving these goals under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda for 2030.

His Excellency the Honorable Ambassador Masud Bin Moment, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations, shared Bangladesh’s environmental goals and steps the country is currently undertaking. He called upon the international community to recognize the need and take action toward environmental sustainability. “Social workers can motivate local people to carry out the SDGs,” he stated, encouraging those in attendance to be an active, local voice.

John Ennis, Chief of Information and Outreach, Office of Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, also challenged social workers to think about how they can be involved in the SDGs. He shared his experiences as a social work practitioner and prior roles in international development. “In my experiences, governments tend to act when civil society is leading the way…Social work plays an enormous role in a country’s socioeconomic development…Today, social issues are more interwoven into other issues.”

Stressing the combined impact of social issues and environmental issues on indigenous peoples, Roberto Borrero with the NGO Committee on the Rights of Indigenous People, spoke about the need to raise these issues at the international level. He highlighted that the SDGs specifically reference indigenous peoples and progress is being made toward inclusion but there are still great challenges and opportunities to do more.

“Today’s history is not written,” said Terri Klemm, Associate Professor and BSW Program Director at Centenary University. She stressed the importance of local community organizing and that taking a stand for the local community’s interest requires skills learned through social work. “Activism is self-care.” She shared her own personal environmental social justice interests and the ways in which she has mobilized individuals in the community to rally around preventing the detrimental impacts of fracking.

Similarly, MSW Student Elizabeth Gustafson shared the ways in which she used her community organizing skills she has learned through her MSW course work and field placements. As a macro-focused student, she emphasized valuing both macro- and micro- level practice.  When she joined activists at Standing Rock, North Dakota, for several days in November 2016 she noted that she learned that “Change at the global level is as important as at the policy level.”.

Anna Maria Campanini, President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, echoed this comment. She agreed that there needs to be greater collaboration and integration between micro and macro-level social work to support provision of services to individuals and also incorporate a policy perspective to create positive change for clients at the systems level. She concluded by saying that “social work can promote peace and culture in communities. The UN and social work can both benefit and have a greater influence upon development.”

Following the event, social work students then participated in a student-led event to continue discussions on how they and the profession can support the SDGs and promote community and environmental sustainability. The events served as a call to action for the profession to continue to take a stand for the best interests of their fellow community members in order to have a combined global impact.

Anonymous's picture

The Role of National Associations in Organizing Social Workers to Advocate for Women’s Rights

Social workers at the Women's Marchby Dina L. Kastner, MSS, MLSP, NASW Senior Field Organizer

As we celebrate and mark International Women’s Day, one must also consider and reflect upon the best ways to advocate for women’s issues globally. Social workers are a natural fit for organizing. Social workers have long organized to improve living and working conditions. One such renowned social worker and women’s rights advocate is Jane Addams, who worked in Chicago, Illinois, through the settlement house movement in America to promote social and economic reform. In the US, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) supports women’s rights. One of the bylaws-mandated committees of the association is the National Committee on Women’s Issues. They are tasked with developing, reviewing and monitoring programs of the Association that significantly affect women.

The NASW Code of Ethics calls on social workers to be engaged in social and political action. “Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”[1]

I have worked at NASW since 2003. One of my first projects was to organize social workers for the March for Women’s Lives in April of 2004. It was an amazing experience. I worked with staff across the association to bring together hundreds of social workers to march in support of reproductive choice. We had social work staff and other professional staff working together to mobilize our members.

I have also organized social workers for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The purpose of this March was to commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original March on Washington for jobs and freedom and to work to fulfill his dream of equality. I worked closely with the DC Metro Chapter of NASW to mobilize social workers for the Anniversary March. We had social workers come in from across the country.

In January, hundreds of social workers, both women and men, joined NASW to participate in the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, DC, and across the country. The reasons for marching were varied, but at one level people marched to show that women’s voices matter and that government leaders should put women’s issues at the forefront of the political agenda.

The energy for the March was electric. NASW set up a platform for individuals to sign up for the March. The platform allowed for 500 registrants, and we surpassed that total a week before the March. NASW chapters organized social workers to march in their states and some even organized buses to travel to Washington, DC. They joined an estimated 500,000 marchers.

We had marchers at the Washington, DC event from as far as California and Oregon and as close as DC.

NASW President-Elect, Kathryn Wehrmann, said the March was a “life transforming experience.”

The Women’s March on Washington had an international reach. There were at least 673 marches held on the same date around the world. Our voices were heard.

Continuing the Momentum

You may ask what happens after marching. Well, marching is a critical organizing tool. It helps bring people together and allows us to stay connected with them. After the March, we sent an email to people who signed up to march and invited them to join the NASW Advocacy Listserv. The Listserv helps individuals send letters to their members of Congress on key legislative issues. We have also connected individuals to their local chapters to help continue the work of organizing for social change.

Social workers can be involved in social change efforts with clients, in their communities, in their country and across the world. One way to do this is to join an association or organization that promotes change efforts you believe in. Associations and organizations often have ways to engage their members to influence change. You can also contact your representative body in your nation to educate them about social work and the work that you do. You can become an expert resource for your elected officials. You may want to attend town hall meetings that your representatives host. You can write letters to the editor of your local or national news outlets. See NASW’s Advocacy Resources here.

The main thing is to stay engaged and let your voice be heard. Social workers are experts in individual, group and community interactions. We can help bridge the gap between elected officials and the clients that we serve.

NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the United States, with 132,000 members. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. We serve our members through our National Office and 55 Chapters.


[1] National Association of Social Workers. (2015). Code of Ethics, p. 27.