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World Social Work Day - "Social work is not value neutral and should bring about positive social change"

World Social Work Day is an important opportunity to recognize the critical role of social work today.

World Social Work Day is an important opportunity to recognize the critical role of social work today.  The profession is under-valued and is dramatically under-resourced.  Social work is not value neutral and should bring about positive social change.   Social workers need to have an acute level of self-awareness to understand their own cultural bias, to be able to intervene in a way that is non-judgemental and empowering, respecting the autonomy of the other.

Coming from a child rights background, the agency of the individual to influence his/her surroundings is key irrespective of physical or cognitive capacities.  Interventions need to nurture that agency and individual autonomy.

These qualities of social work become all the more important when working with refugee and migrant communities from different ethnic, cultural, religious backgrounds.

Social Platform supports a strong coordinated EU response to the crisis.  We have sent strong messages to condemn the lack of humanity and compassion of Member States throughout this crisis, for example the #weapologise communication in September 2015.  We are in favour of an EU action plan on migration that supports relocation of migrants and greater solidarity among Member States. We also support safe and regular channels for migration to prevent smuggling and human trafficking.  We also believe more efforts can be made to support development intervention and external policies that promote peace, poverty reduction and global solidarity.  As concerns the Facilitation Directive of 2002, it is currently highly problematic because it is open to interpretation that humanitarian interventions for undocumented migrants are illegal.  Those working on the frontline can be pressurized by authorities to pass on information which goes against their moral compass and ethical and professional principles.  There is therefore a need to revise the Facilitation Directive to prevent any ambiguity.

Most recently Social Platform is mobilizing around the proposal for a Pillar of Social Rights.  The proposal, launched on 8th March, is not bad and could be helpful overall in rebalancing economic and social objectives in the EU.  However, it risks being a ‘side-show’ compared to the ongoing major political decisions. For example the recent summit between the EU and Turkey reflects the impotence of the EU to steer a course respectful of dignity and human rights.  Growing nationalism and self-interest among member states leaves little room for the EU to generate buy-in for a broader project of a more Social Europe.

More specifically with regards to Eurochild’s work on the refugee and migrant crisis.  As many others we are very concerned about the safety, health and future prospects of the hundreds of thousands of children arriving in Europe, many of whom are unaccompanied.  The shocking numbers of Europol stating that more than 10,000 children are missing does raise concerns about trafficking and criminalization. But most of these children probably want to remain under the radar because they have a specific objective in mind of where they want to get to.  Our systems are not designed to support them, but rather to intercept.  In Eurochild we have been working for many years on promoting the reform of child protection systems to ensure children are not placed in institutional care.  There is a risk with the migration and refugee crisis that children are again institutionalized.  Reception centres exist with several hundred children.  These kinds of settings offer no possibility to treat everyone with dignity according to their rights.  Alternatives do exist. Some countries e.g. the Netherlands have systems in place which allow children to be placed in families or small group homes where individualized support is available.  

Ultimately many of these children will grow up and want to stay in Europe.  Indeed, the EU is an ageing society and integration of migrants and refugees is a part of the solution. But how refugees and migrants are treated today will determine the extent to which they are a positive resource or indeed whether it will further destabilize and fragment our societies in the future.

First delivered by Jana Hainsworth as an address on World Social Work Day - 15 March organised by International Federation of Social Workers. She spoke in her capacity as President of Social Platform and Secretary General of Eurochild.