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SSWWeek Day Three: Leading the Way to the Future- Preparing Future Social Service Leaders
By Dr. Nathan L. Linsk, PhD, Professor of Social Work in Family Medicine, Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center, University of Illinois at Chicago
Social service workers and those from related fields provide help and support to those who cannot support themselves due to their own limitations or vulnerable situations. As social service workers, we take on functions that individuals, families, or communities usually perform, when those resources fail or simply are not present. We are the natural helpers whose training and highly developed skills bridge the gaps that get in the way of growth, development and quality of life. We advocate for changes that enhance the well-being and productivity of people and their communities. Although we focus on strengths, we also address problems through our own interventions as well as by linking our “clients” to other resources.
So how do we move from informal helping to a workforce providing systematic structures of ongoing support and personal empowerment at local, regional, national, or even global levels? A corps of leaders must emerge who have not only the preparation to enrich these structures but also the financial, legislative, and public support to develop well-staffed programs that empower individuals and families and communities in a given context.
A small explosion of college- and university-based social work and related programs have emerged recently at bachelor and master degree levels throughout the developing world. Institutions are moving beyond offering diplomas and certificates to establish accredited degree programs at diverse levels. The International Association of Schools of Social Work has established Global Standards for Social Work Education and Training that are utilized by many schools throughout the world to support their growth and development.
In Tanzania, the American International Health Alliance Twinning Center has established a consortium of up to sixteen schools working to realize social work degree programs called the Tanzania Emerging Schools of Social Work Education Program (TESWEP) as part of its HIV/AIDS Twinning Partnerships in Tanzania. To date several bachelor degrees and three master degree programs have been established. However, there are ongoing challenges: setting up these programs stretches limited resources; funds for student tuition and related expenses are scarce; and finding qualified faculty to prepare these students for leadership is difficult.
A greater problem is what these graduates do after completing the programs. Too often students who complete post-secondary education programs in social work or community development find that social service or social welfare jobs, if they exist, do not help them to realize their goals. Barriers to obtaining jobs in the social service sector include poor pay as well as restrictive requirements for service. As a result many students who graduate from social service educational programs leave the field altogether for jobs in business, telecommunication, or travel. In other words, if we set up programs, students may come to the field of their dreams, but when they finish their training their dreams may be forced to bow to a reality that makes them migrate to another area. And as a result, the field has too few leaders.
At the same time, individual, family, and community needs continue to burden the most vulnerable in society and those who hope to help them. One approach to meeting those needs is to engage community-level workers as para-professionals to both fill the gaps and provide an entry-level opportunity for new workers. The Alliance has launched its first Interest Group on Para Professionals to share best practices at the para professional level as well as distill some guidelines, competencies, and principles in that regard. Para professional involvement at the community level needs further development and evaluation; however, it does allow for the development of strong services at the local level.
Creating strong training and leadership development opportunities requires long-term engagement. Donors, demonstration projects, and international conventions can encourage, pilot and evaluate approaches, generate interest, and identify the best directions. However, for ongoing successful leadership to emerge we need to advocate for the social service system as critical to the social development of the country. For example, the Social Work 2014 Conference recently held in Kampala, Uganda was designed to promote the visibility of social workers as change agents and important players in social development.
The Alliance provides the opportunity to engage in dialogue about these issues through webinars and sharing of resources through our data base, particularly those resources on developing the workforce. This issue is also addressed in the Framework for Supporting the Social Service Workforce which covers workforce development.
The Alliance intends to promote opportunities for further development of education and leadership activities and vehicles for leaders from various sectors to support each other. Generating leadership will begin at the local level--by working together we can promote recognition for emerging leaders for a hopeful future.