Research Paper on Social Work

It is a great pleasure for me to be invited to speak with you on important issues in our part of the world and specifically on the development and possibilities of social work. I see a key and active role of Australian Social Workers in not only social work in the Asia Pacific but also in the world. I want to congratulate Australia for having Imelda Dodds as President of IFSW. Jim Ife as Secretary of the Human Rights Commission and others as providing key leadership in Asia as well as international social work.

I see great potentials for Social Work in the Asia Pacific region. I also see the need for new social work strategies, including social development and social justice approaches, collaborative and peacemaking strategies in dealing with the social economic, political and social realities of the time.

The impact of regionalization and the changing context for social work practice needs to be addressed. We need to move beyond traditional social work boundaries to a broader developmental context in Asian Pacific countries. We need new links and visions for the challenges in the new millennium.

Social work in Asia Pacific is like curries with different blendings. The curry has become a international dish, a specialty of the various ethnic cuisines. Essentially of Indian origin, this dish is a part of all ethnic cooking. The Chinese have theirs as a sweeter, greasier and more liquid version, the Malays have a redder and more piquant assam pedas and the original Indian curries are often fiery and pungent of spices and herbs.

The Westerners have generally adapted this into a blander sweeter form found in American recipes or a stiffer firmer one in Continental cookbooks. Whatever its form, all of us love a good curry. Even those who fear the fieriness of chilli cannot resist the redolence of spices mixed into a fabulous stew that complement the tenderness of slowly simmered meats.

Apart from chillies, a curry is not quite its fantastic self without the right combination of ground and fresh spices – up to 20 types and in various ratio of quantity. The curry paste is the basic mix comprising fresh and dried spices combined with minced shallots, ginger, garlic and turmeric mashed together with ground coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, chilli and cooked with herbs like basil and lemon grass. It is the pungent smells of roots, seeds, barks and blended into a delectable aroma that lend the curry its unique and unforgettable character. The art in curries is in the blending the spices, mixing subtle flavours with stronger ones to get the right and unique taste for each occasion.

I like the fresh curry because of its sting or as some say. Curry matures with age, keep it for a couple of days, in the right temperature of course, it does not turn bad or irrelevant. However, as noted, curry is rather sensitive to temperature changes. Though flavoured to local taste, social work, like curry, holds underlying ingredients and principles. Nevertheless, fresh and new blends are discovered in everyday experimentations.

Social Work – the Asian Pacific Context:
Social work practice today faces dilemmas of choosing from extremes ideologies. Social work practice exists in constant tension between focusing on individuals and society, process and content, short-term and long-term and specialists and generalist practice. The challenge is also in reconciling the constant struggle of theory versus practice and knowledge versus skills of social work practice. Indeed it is in the integration of the extremes that balance for social work practice say in Singapore or anywhere in Asia Pacific context. The emphasis should be on holism in practice.

Asian and Pacific societies, the context of our practice, are in constant tensions between the need for rapid economic development and the need to engender a satisfactory state of social well-being. In many ASIAN countries, for example, the rate of growth and development, economic, social-political, though affected by the economic downturn, had been rather rapid in the past decades.

On the other hand, Asian societies had concentrated largely on developing macro social service provisions such as health, education, housing and community development. Effective social service delivery system is a priority of developing countries often having to deal with massive population, reliable communication and transport infrastructure, literacy and other pressing but related issues.

There is the tension between self-help and welfare. Asian societies tend to shun away from the “welfare” mentality. “Welfare” is viewed in our socio-political context as a dependence on state provisions. The tendency is to look towards informal support system to deal with their situations rather than the government to provide for personal needs and services.

For many parts of Asia and Pacific Social Work has their root with British and American colonization. Different welfare system exists in our part of the world in forms which are largely communal or tribal in context. Asia and Pacific region is quickly developing the field of social work. However, the pace of development is greatly varied with a number of countries still in its infant development with regard to the profession of social work. Nevertheless social work as a profession will grow in many countries in this region and increasingly Asia Pacific will make key contribution to international social work.

We are in Asia and the Pacific, not North America or Europe. The economic, political and social realities are vastly different. Its cultures and philosophies are as rich and varied. The Asia Pacific is a vast region with a wide span of land and sea masses covering the Middle East to the Pacific. It has many potentials and challenges.

Migration is part and parcel of our common history and the story continues to this day. Asia and Pacific becoming diverse not in different parts but within different countries.

Flavours and mix changes with different cultures and national origins interacting in very dynamic ways. Australia is one country in transition with pluralism taking more and more prominence. Australia’s social work is more than half a century old and the curry here should get better with time.

I have great respect for social workers from Australia. I see Australia as a leader in developing social work in the Asia Pacific region. Share your basic recipe and allow experimentation and adaptation to new creative social work innovations for different social political and economic realities.

In the past 3 years we see can see clearly how closely linked the economies are. In fact the susceptibility to regional and international fluctuations and turbulence are really felt especially in the past 2 weeks. Seeing how intertwined our lives and societies are Australia’s and indeed social work’s role is to be part of the action, which shapes our societies and the human community beyond one’s borders.


To guide social work practice in Asia and the Pacific we need to look into the basic ingredients as well as the specific blends in terms of social work mission, values and principles.

Basic Ingredients: The primary mission of social work is to promote the well being of people and the betterment of society. Social workers empower people for social change such that the circumstances and conditions of living enhance the livelihood of the citizens. Social work thus enables all people to develop their potentialities, prevent dysfunction and enrich their lives. The mission of social work to enhance social well being is accomplished through purposeful intervention or planned social change. The International Federation of Social Workers, acknowledging the dynamic nature of social work has attempted to define it as:

“The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”

From this definition we see social work as consisting of a set of knowledge and skills (Bartlett, 1961) as well as values and ethics to guide professional practice towards social change.

Social Work Values. Social work practice is based on values and guided by professional code of ethics. Social work values are human ideals “that of justice and human dignity and worth of the person regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, cultural background, physical ability or sexual orientation (Tan & Envall, 2000). With these comes the desire for social justice and equality and social development for a better life. A violation of human life is a violation to the human race. It is suggested that the gap between values and reality is bridged by social work practice through the elimination of discrimination, injustice and oppression (Tan & Sridharan, 2000). It is vital to develop a sense of human community. Social workers promote empowerment and social inclusion through active participation and practices within a code of ethics (IFSW:1994) subscribed by social work associations around the world. Social workers advocate for peace and non-violence as development and work towards the equality of opportunities for all people.

The values dominant in Asia and the Pacific includes the emphasis placed on the family, tribe or community. In living together the key is to attain harmony resolve conflicts through active consensus building. There is an overarching emphasis on development and tremendous respect for different people.

Asia Pacific is also a region known for its history of self help where the community naturally respond to individual and family needs. The real social network comprises of neighbours, kins and folks. In terms of values there is mix of tolerance and purpose, patience and longsuffering

Ethics: The code of ethics governs social work practice in different countries. Ethics is vital and safeguard both clients and workers interest and provide guidelines for professional practice. In the recent Asia Pacific Social Work Conference the Ethics Interest Group met and had a good discussion. Issues associated with “Practice” are under consideration. Particular reference to the implications for ethical practice with indigenous persons, migrants and refugees. There is a concern that the emphasis of social work practice is on “remedial practice”. The need for support for social workers who are, in their practice over social justice issues, at odds with the establishment or institutions, is recognized. Other issues in ethical practice included quality assurance, client protection, and the question of a need for “regulation” in e-counselling, internet sexual trafficking, pornography, child sexual exploitation, and the matters of “certification” processes and channels for grievance and complaints were also raised.

Principles of Social Work
Five principles and values for social work practice are extracted from social work practice in this region. They are: development, prevention, integration, reconciliation and optimism. These values are particularly vital for Asian societies.

The development of client system and the environmental supports is a key principle in social work practice. Development of people, groups, communities and societies. Skills development such as enhancing their positive coping in the relationship between parents and children is one example. Strong emphasis on developing client potentials and in restoring proper functioning of client system. Autonomy together with personal and system growth is also emphasised.

Prevention deals with underlying issues presented by the clients and enhancing their skills and abilities. Examples of prevention include the development of coping capacities and the engagement of clients in constructive activities. Training in social skills is vital for prevention. Another principle in practice is to avoid stigmatising clients thus preventing any negative effects of contracting social services.

Prevention deals with underlying issues of the causes of problems. It is in moving from superficial symptomatic treatment in addressing underlying issues that we can effectively prevent future problems from rising.

Integration of various methods of social work to provide a more comprehensive intervention is observed as a regular feature of practice in many of the models of social work practices in our region.
This includes the integration to society and the normalizing the marginalized, poor and those with special needs into mainstream society.

Integration of methods:
Individual counselling, groupwork, family intervention, community resource mobilization are some of the methods and social work intervention. The integration of culturally appropriate methods is also a growing concern amongst social work practitioners. It is important not to segmentize social work methods but to use appropriate methods in view of clients needs.

Integration of services means connective services, both within and outside the agency. The units of attention for the social worker include both the individuals and their families. Family involvement is often required in the social work process. This is contrasted with the individualistic approach of other social work models. On a broader scale intervention also considers what is good for community and society at large. Social work needs to move towards holistic integrated service delivery.

Social workers mediate various conflicting needs and demands of the client and social systems. Mediation in relationship is a key approach to resolving conflicts. The interaction bet people and other people and the social systems is a specialty of social work.

Social workers attempt at reconciliation of clients and agency and society. In dealing with change social workers look at alternatives to conflict such as consensus building as possible strategies.

Optimism provides the energy for social work practice. There is a strong believe in the ability to change in positive directions. For example, social workers emphasized the ability of clients to improve and enhance their improve social functioning with family’s and community’s support.

Other values include human dignity, personal and community responsibility, self-determination and social justice. Since these are values commonly discussed in social work literature they will not be elaborated in this paper.

Trends and Issues in Social Work

Asia Pacific exists within global contexts, as with lessons from the recent incident in New York and Washington. The events in different countries influence all of us. Some of the issues affecting Asian Pacific social work raised at the recent regional meeting in Singapore included new paradigms and social cultural transformation, economic and political collaborations, and social work and peace.

Social-cultural transformation: Modernization, the flow of information technology and increasing urbanization of rural communities has brought many cultures into contact with each other. New ways of thinking has impact on all areas of life. Social work needs to position itself in this stream of change will decide its future relevance and opportunity for service.

Societal change has been brought about by developments in informational technology. There is a need to improve on its scope, effectiveness and efficiency of work through the appropriate use of technology.

Economic and political collaborations: Social work needs to take a renewed look at the interface between developing and developed economies, politics, governance, international relations and legal regimes to discover important implications for social work training, practice and advocacy.

New partnerships, new paradigms. Social work needs to forge more effective partnerships with civic society, self-help and other grassroots movement, business, multinationals and the government for resource mobilization and for a more effective, penetrating, collaborative, multi-pronged and energetic response to social problems and community concerns.

Social work and peace. Social work can contribute towards fostering understanding, tolerance, mutual appreciation and peaceable living among peoples of the world. Contributions to peace by social work as a world profession is founded goodwill even in these days of discord.

Social work across borders addresses such issues as collaborative advocacy and direct practice across borders to attend to transnational issues such as environmental concerns, Aids epidemic, sex trade, conjoint needs of migrant workers in host countries and their families back home are some of the issues social workers address.

Relevance of social work in midst of change. The issues of poverty, housing, health and education are key in social development. Inequities between rich and poor are especially heightened with the Knowledge Based Economy. Those with resources advance at greater pace. Can Asia Pacific countries leapfrog to new era of civilisation. With certain political stability, economic growth and social development has hope.

There is an urgent need for renewed social work strategies, including social development and reconstruction, collaborations, peacemaking, to deal with economic, political and social realities.

Social Work and Social Development
Social work’s contribution towards social reconstruction and development primarily is in the area of values and methodology. Social work’s community organising and community development strategies are particularly useful. Social reconstruction whether it is in East Timor or Kuwait or Asia and the Pacific, involves enhanced societal well being.

Social work input in enhancing community participation and development is another vital practice focus. In social reconstruction, modern housing estates have replaced slums and squatter settlements. Community organizers have assisted in the development of resident organizations and the renewal process for indigenous grassroots leadership (Vasoo, 1994). Social and community bonding and self-help strategies are vital for enhancing societal well-being.

Clinical social work is important and will always be here to stay but we must move beyond casework to be part of broader social action, Social workers come in all shapes and sizes and the enormousity of problems in this region are war, ethnic conflicts and tensions, poverty and social dislocations, movement of people, economic and political disenfrenchisement requires strategic approaches.

At the practice level emphasis and allocation of resources for macro level practice is vital. We must encourage our colleagues in these countries to be involved in political offices as well as in planning and policy making.

There are 17 member countries in this region: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand including several provisional members: Kryrgst Republic, Lebanon, Mongolia.

One of the keys to developing social work is the development of potential professional associations. Potential members are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam. We are actively communicating with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia and hope to have these national associations of social work join the IFSW family soon.

Focus on social work and the development of national association of social workers which include the coordination, organization, mission, leadership and management of professional association and discussions on professional standards and training, certification/licensing of social workers.

In conjunction with the recent Asia Pacific Conference, workshops on “Social Work Leadership and Development”, were organized by IFSW (Asia Pacific). This is a strategy for membership development for IFSW.

The workshops are part of the Asia Pacific development plans which include:

  • Increased efforts to engage social workers in the Asia & Pacific region where there is not yet a national social work association.
  • Increased support for member nations still in the early stages of organisational establishment and development. A number of member countries may need direct support as well as organisational development and training.
  • Regional development as requiring more than just the engagement of social workers in the newly emerging nations. Long established member nations are encouraged to seek out new creative partnerships and collaborative activities to further consolidate the extensive regional opportunities for development.

The focus of development is in on engaging family-centred and community based social services and the development of family and social policy and programmes.

Social reconstruction in conflicted areas East Timor, Laos and different regions in Asia and the Pacific. Many of the families have been observers or victims of violence themselves. Reconstruction involves healing, practical aids to families, stabilizing community disruptions and rebuilding local leadership. Many players share in work of community rebuilding – international bodies, both government as well as local and international NGOs, private agencies and citizen groups.

Both government and NGOs are necessary for social development and social reconstruction. Many helping hands, of politicians, economists to social planners and social workers are needed for planned social change. The partnership of professional organizations is also a key factor in social development. Professionals offer expertise needed in social development. Different professional working together provide valuable resources for professional networking and societal contribution.

This is the day and age where we hear of many mergers and acquisitions. Of course we are weary of hostile take-overs but we should be increasingly open to collaborative social work enterprises. It makes sense to pool resources of social work agencies and local enterprises for regional and national development. IFSW (AP) and APASWE are working on joint projects – eg. social reconstruction of East Timor. This is envisaged as part of a multi disciplinary team.

At the international arena IFSW and IASSW have agreed to work together on human rights issues. IFSW is able to act as collective force to represent any social worker who may be subjected to human rights abuses. The Standards Committee, a joint IASSW and IFSW initiative, have identified a host of issues under consideration include minimum standards for social work education/training, standards for distance education programmes, student enrollments concerns and emphasis by training institutions to obtain numbers of students.

The Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work, a collaborative project with APASWE and NUS is in its 11th year of publication. Practitioners and teachers should collaborate in joint research and publications. The documentation of indigenous social work practice will heighten awareness of local approaches and sharpen professional practice.

There is a need for establishing practical linkages between welfare economics and welfare politics. The links must start at the university and professional training. We must move from a parochial vision towards broad interdisciplinary training. Link with economics, political and legal departments through continuing education and the development in political and legal structures for change is necessary.

Networking of professionals from different sectors, regions and countries as well as national, regional and international levels provide the links with expertise for social change. Network of different organisations and resources, especially religious, community and clan groups, are especially essential for effective support.

Models of social work intervention in the development of social well-being as a collaborative task of government, public and private enterprise. Corporate, community as well as individual responsibility are emphasised. It makes sense to pool resources of social work agencies and local enterprises for regional and national development. Development of government “corporate” private partnerships in building social well being. New social contract for a cohesive and integrated society where cultural strengths are emphasised and interact for common good of all.

Development of social work education and professional training and development of social work students and graduates is vital. It is also to discuss common issues and responses to meet the challenges of the new millennium. Overall the program aims at development of leadership in social work and the building a strong professional organisation within the countries represented. Specific skills and expertise in the planning of intervention with families will be given.

Through social development and resource exchange there is the potential to develop a distinctive and innovative social work skills and knowledge bank in this region. There are possibilities for these developments to lead to substantial resource exchanges between nations. Such development could create an environment in which social workers could contribute more frequently alongside colleagues from various fields to social development work and community capacity building.

With the emergence of new forms of electronic communication and the broader prospects for skill exchanges and sharing, regionally based social workers now have the chance to make significant contributions not only to social development in their own nations but also to development in other member nations within this vast IFSW region.

The coexistence and enrichment of different cultural, historical, political and social systems within which social workers in this region contend with clearly demonstrated by the enormous geographic spread of the nations and cultures within the IFSW Asia & Pacific the region.

Migration and impact of movement of people. The economic, political motivation behind migration is the search for better livelihood. New highways of human contact still need the personal touch of human and community relationship.

Public response to large-scale disaster taps not only a vein of civic consciousness, but also the need to develop participation of citizens in community concerns. The harnessing of community resources to augment professional helping is vital in large-scale social disruptions, whether by earthquake, air crash or war.

Social Workers as advocates of social justice for the minority groups. Specifically, social work advocates for policies, which are likely to promote sustained economic along with social development to enhance economic well-being and social security of the different groups. Social policy, which integrates economic and social spheres, is preferred.

In considering the models of ethnic relation social workers promotes social integration and self-determination rather than segregation. The principle utilized in social work are that of solidarity and empowerment amongst the different ethnic groups, especially the disenfranchised minorities. Social workers encourage the disadvantages group to actively participate in social economic and political life of the community.

In sustaining change efforts social workers seek to develop indigenous ethnic and societal structures which guarantee a place for minority ethnic groups. In the long run, prevention strategies such as encouraging education and promoting understanding and tolerance in multicultural societies are vital.

Legal provisions to safeguard fundamental human rights and an independent judiciary are essential in mitigating minorities’ fears against discrimination. Specific law and actions directed against those who stir up ethnic hatred and commit acts of ethnic harassment and violence.

In terms of community building, there is a need to create a sense of national identity and unity among their diverse ethnic groups so as to maintain peace and economic development. In making peace and avoiding conflict and violence, the well being of all people are safeguarded.

While assimilation has deleterious effects on the minority population, segregation brings about fear and distrust. Tolerance is essential but it is a passive stance which needs a more active and integrative resolution. In the long run, multiculturalism tends to enhance the strengths and identity of the various groups. The models of ethnic relation adopted must fit the society and context.

Potentials in Asia Pacific Social Work
It can be argued for instance, that there is a growing potential for Asia and Pacific regional social work representatives to contribute significantly to the drafting of international social policy statements. These are increasingly contributing to international peak body policy decision-making in areas of social development.

However, timely and culturally-appropriate participation does not only depend on the willing and skilful participation of social workers from individual nations. It also depends on the existence and quality of acceptable regional decision-making structures. IFSW is working on a model to strengthen regional social work initiatives. With such models in place, social workers are then able to address the many social development issues now reaching beyond individual national borders and which concern everyone.

At the national, regional and global levels social work must deal with macro economic policies for example, the structure of poverty such as the production of essential goods and services and the distribution of wealth within and between countries. Midgley (1995) in advocating the social development approach provides a new rationale for helping the poor that relies on the notion of “social investments” and demands a clear economic return for government programs. He discusses an integrated model for economic development, which combines social policies so that welfare programs will not rely on cash benefits but on investments, which encourages independence and meet social needs.

As provided in the commentary of IFSW’s definition of social work, the focus of the social work will “vary from country to country and from time to time depending on the primary needs of the people served”. This not only provides for versatility and adaptability of the social work profession but also the relevance to different countries according to the context of practice.

Asian and Pacific social work orientation is more community focused, especially social work in rural settings. Prevention and developmental strategies need to be systematically incorporated in social work intervention. For example intervention approaches involving “gotong royong” or community self-help, mediation of conflicts using indigenous leaders, “kong-si” or mutual aid associations amongst clan or ethnic groups, would more effectively take into account cultural differences in intervention and be more acceptable.

A pragmatic orientation in social intervention which emphasises the need to strengthen families and communities and help them adapt and cope in the rapidly changing social system is advocated. For example, a preventive approach to dealing with family life, keeping father’s involved in families, getting neighbours and relatives to help out are closer to our cultural values. Programmes which develop families and community would see greater social work participation.

Broader social work intervention including administration, policy and programmes and institutional approaches to social security, housing and health care need to be included in models of social work practice.

Social work provides concepts and methods as well as values and principles for practical intervention at the various levels. The ability to rally various sectors of the community including government and non government organizations in furthering social economic well being of the citizens is a real contribution of social work amongst the helping professions. Professional organizations are vital in providing the support in terms of the knowledge and approaches towards social development.

Good models of social work practice should be objective, usable, adequate and ethical (Thomas, 1989). The models had been developed from the ground but there inevitably remains remnants of adaptation of western social work practice and literature. The principles and technologies developed still need to be empirically tested and further refined. Social work development in Asia and the Pacific, I believe, is taking off and redefining itself in the midst of change.

Since “welfare” appears to be an unacceptable term in a number of Asian and Pacific countries, the concept of total economic and social well-being should remain the task of social workers in this region. As is the nature of Asian and Pacific countries to include kinship networks in helping joining the private sectors, communities and families, the concept of many helping hands, as an approach to dealing with social issues and problems, would be akin to our way of life. In view of the broad scope of social work intervention and the issues confronting our diverse societies, the future role of social workers in Asia and Pacific would indeed have to be very versatile and challenging.

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