By Stephano Akuzike Joseph
They are everywhere, pre-occupied with the task of putting the needs of others before their own. They are called social workers.
As the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) puts it, social work is a practice-based profession; an academic discipline which promotes social change, development, social cohesion and the empowerment and liberation of people.
Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversity are central to social work.
Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life’s challenges and enhance wellbeing.
Social work is, itself, a field of study in social sciences. It is mainly concerned with the study of social problems and social interventions.
The goal of social work is to study individuals (casework), groups (group work) and communities and institutions (community work). These serve as the academic boundary of the subject.
Social work is also regarded as a practice discipline because, unlike other social sciences professionals, social workers are involved in direct practice and intervention in the field.
Social work is thus distinct from other professions such as psychology and psychiatry because it has the responsibility and mandate to provide social services.
Social workers are thus responsible for managing multiple clients and their individual needs. Their critical role is to improve outcomes in people’s lives. They maintain professional relationships and act as guides in people’s lives.
Globally, social work practice is gaining momentum, though it is largely affected by myriad challenges, ranging from unregulated practice space, limited priority by government, infiltration by untrained people who call themselves social workers just because they are doing some sort of charity work, among others.
For this reason, IFSW, a global body of associations of social workers, designated the month of March as World Social Work month.
The month was set aside to celebrate and highlight the achievements of social work, to increase the visibility of social services for future societies and to defend social justice and human rights.
Every year, events in the month are climaxed with the celebration of the World Social Work Day on the third Tuesday of March. It is a celebration which has become a highlight in the social work calendar, with social workers all over the world celebrating and promoting the contributions of the profession to individuals, families, communities and the wider society.
This year, the celebration will take place on March 15 2022. It will avail an opportunity for the social work profession to engage all networks, academia, and the community to make contributions to the principles which enable all people to have their dignity respected through shared values.
In Malawi, the commemoration of Social Work Month and Social Work Day presents an opportunity to raise the profile of the social work profession and mobilise social workers to take pride in their occupation. It also avails an opportunity for end users (clients) of social work services to appreciate the services that are rendered by social workers, especially by appreciating where and how they can access those services.
It is a known fact that many services conducted by social workers remain invisible and not known to the public, especially the clients who are the end users of the services.
And, yet, they offer services such as matrimonial counselling and treatment, hospital social work, prison social work, school social work, public assistance and social services, alternative care services for vulnerable children, probation services and services for street-connected children.
The Association of Social Workers in Malawi (ASWiM) is a professional body which was formed to lead efforts towards the professionalisation of social work in Malawi.
The formulation of the Social Workers Bill, which is currently at the Ministry of Justice, creates an array of hope that we are about to enter greater days in the provision of social work in Malawi.
The bill, once passed into an act, will also lead to the creation of the Council for Social Workers, which will, in turn, lead to complete regulation of the practice space by ensuring that all social workers are licenced by the council.
Finally, commemorating the Social Work Month will help reinforce the ethics and values that help govern the social work profession –as well as the need for strict adherence of the same whenever social workers are discharging their duties and responsibilities to the clientele.
*The author is the General Secretary of the Association of Social Workers in Malawi. He is also the Commissioner of Ethics: African Region of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). He is writing in his personal capacity.