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Social Work Profession: International

Many current events—from the attacks of September 11, 2001, to concerns over the world’s water supply—highlight the fact that we are all world citizens. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our problems and destinies are becoming increasingly interconnected.

Social workers have much to offer this global culture. Using the skills and values of caring and empowerment, they are involved in many important international activities here and abroad. Some of these include:

  • Counseling and aiding refugees;
  • Facilitating international adoptions;
  • Providing disaster relief in times of crisis;
  • Developing, managing and staffing international service-delivery programs like the Red Cross; and,
  • Researching international issues with a focus on improving people’s quality of life and addressing injustices.

Social workers play key roles in areas that might be considered more typical of the profession. For example, they help to resettle refugees, as did social worker Phillip “Skip” Kindy, who helped to resettle 100 Tibetans in Madison, Wisc; they’re involved as program developers, managers and staff in many national and international organizations that include a “social development” component. Two examples are the United Nations High Commission for Refugees whose aim is to protect and aid refugees in all phases of transit and resettlement; and the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF, which deals with issues ranging from child health to child abuse to emergency relief for children and women. In fact, the United Nations’ social mission is considered one of its greatest successes, and social workers have been instrumental in that success.

Social workers also address international issues through broad-based statements and advocacy efforts helped to shape the focus of last year’s Annual Social Work Day, sponsored by the United Nations. This annual celebration and acknowledgement of social workers and their roles with clientele across the globe was targeted towards ways to mitigate the continued violence and injustices in the world. At the meeting, Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), noted those social workers’ unique contributions help put United Nations treaties, declarations and conventions on human rights into practice.

In the same way, the International Federation of Social Work (IFSW) condemned in a statement the terrorist acts of September 11, but also called on Americans and the world community to examine the possible underlying causes of terrorism, including poverty, perceived inequity, and foreign policies that may help fuel terrorism.

As it becomes more obvious that the world’s problems are everyone’s problem, it islikely that more and more social workers will play a part in world affairs. Indeed, more American social work departments see the enormous need for social workers in the international arena and are adding specialties in this area. These efforts won’t be wasted: Social workers’ unique skills and flexible approaches to problem-solving can help develop human potential in places where people have been oppressed and create peaceful, mutual solutions to strife-filled situations.