The following policy brief was drawn up jointly by the Social Workers’ Associations in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia as well as the Nursing Association of Moldova, stemming from their regional exchange and practical experience gained in the frame of the EU-funded project “Social Workers in Collaboration for Social Change” (2015 – 2018).
Social work is a profession aiming at positive changes in the society and empowerment of the people. With this aim, it is automatically contributing to the elimination of social injustices. In the countries with transitional democracies, the profession acquires a crucial function of community mobilization striving to achieve equity and equal participation.
Countries of the post-soviet region such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova with its mounting social problems call for effective social work practice. In these countries, where poverty is widespread and linked with economic deprivation, social exclusion and systemic problems, no other instrument can be equally operative as social work to effectively address them as the profession is about empowerment and strengthening.
The profession had been introduced in the region within the child welfare reform and proved itself as the most important pillar of the reform. However, at present, ongoing social reforms tend to underestimate the scale of the profession (e.g. school reform, poverty alleviation initiatives are being implemented without involvement of social workers) and fall short in utilizing the full potential of social work in addressing social problems.
In spite of the developments of social work in state and non-state agencies and important contribution in child welfare outcomes, current quality of social work service leaves much room for improvement. Social work has moved firmly into the reactive practice, leaving sustained action unconsidered, leaving the most vulnerable invisible for the welfare system. The welfare policy and services offered to vulnerable people redirect responsibilities towards families who are not in the capacity to deal with the situation they face. Poverty and social vulnerability manifest itself through augmented dependability on social services. In this situation, Social Work has to be the driving force to strengthen families and communities to be able to act independently and inform the state what will contribute to their social functioning. At the same time responsibilities need to be redirected from solely state to other civil actors: communities, non-state and private sector. Effective coordination mechanism has to be established between state and non-state social workers and among all supportive professions. Due to heavy workload, poor working conditions, no clear cut stand point on when to move from mono-disciplinary work to multidisciplinary for the benefit of the service recipients’ quality of social work service leaves much to be desired.
Strategies to Address the Problem
Social workers with its professional mandate to support socially vulnerable with rights based approach have a legitimate say in addressing violations of rights of each and every member of the society, therefore they have to feel secure in fulfilling this role. Currently Social workers, especially in the state sector, are obliged to prioritize their statutory work leading to procedure-following rather than a service recipient orientation. Social Work service is limited to problem identification, leaving service recipient without rehabilitation and resocialization service, at best advocating for the service accessibility that they are eligible to. Only material support provided by the state to socially disadvantaged is not enough to change their social functioning irrespective of any unresponsive attempts to alleviate it by the welfare system.
Social Work has to be strengthened on practice, employment, policy-making and academic domains and social work involvement has to be warranted at all levels of welfare provision starting from the grassroots level ending with the policy level. Professionalization – educated and skillful social workers is a pivotal and top priority step for strengthening the newly established profession.
In the last three years, Social Workers’ Associations in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and the Nursing Association of Moldova, by support of the Social Workers In Collaboration Of Social Change project, funded by the European Union, Austrian Development Cooperation and Hilfswerk International, have improved their organizational capacities as well as their information services and outreach activities to their 10.500 members and supporters. These organizations are dedicated to promoting and regulating the social work profession and its education and offer practicing social workers in the countries the opportunity to work collectively to improve social inclusion and social well-being of vulnerable groups by giving the profession a strong and united voice.
In the past years, Social Workers’ Associations have become reliable partners in social reform processes that collaborate with state agencies, educational institutions, civil society organizations, service users, and the communities on a national and regional level. The adopted law on social work in Georgia, heavily initiated, promoted and contributed by GASW in the last year, proposes grounds for optimism for a further recognition and regulation of the profession. The situation is applicable also for Armenia, although the adoption of law on social work is still pending (the process started in 2016 with the initiative of AASW), all the stakeholders (Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, AASW, CSOs, etc.) are highly committed to develop system of social services with focus on social work profession.
Strengthening civil society and CSO sector and involving them in delivering social services is another way of mobilizing and optimally utilizing community resources for the welfare of society. The Social Workers’ Associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and the Nursing Association of Moldova have also undertaken efforts in the last years to intensify collaboration with stakeholders and created opportunities for local CSOs to pilot family strengthening measures enabling them to provide more effective, targeted and coordinated services to vulnerable groups. Within the project the development of social work other than in capital has been supported. Social workers in the regions have acquired skills and knowledge to more effectively serve their clients.
Only social workers with comprehensive knowledge and experience can play pivotal role in the formation of effective welfare policy and bring breath to our slogan - Support is good, professional social work is better!
Action Steps for Social Work Associations
- Ensure the elaboration of the application mechanisms of the Law on Social Work (in Armenia, Georgia)
- Get Involved in policy reforms
- Collaborate with state and non-state actors for social service improvement
- Continue regional and international collaboration
- Collaborate with academia for promoting social work research, evidence-based practice and increasing quality of Social Work education
- Support building capacity of practitioner social workers.
- Support the development of social work profession in all social sectors, especially in health system, education system (school social work), in work with vulnerable people
- Ensure certain reliable estimates of the overall cost of optimally developed social work component in State welfare system as well as the opportunity costs of its stagnation (lack of further development) in a short and long term perspectives to obtain a clearer understanding of the cost-effectiveness of professional social work in the countries
- Support the balanced development of social work in the country (among regions and the capital)
- Include social work programs in priority educational direction to motivate young graduates to enter the profession and return in their regions after the graduation
- Expedite community social work as the most suitable lens for social development
- Strengthen working conditions for social workers.
- Create possibilities for exchanging the best practices and piloted models in the region
- Align designed projects with the existing reform strategies and local social plansActivate donor-government-civil society coordination to address cross-cutting issues.