This English edition of the journal Sociální práce / Sociálna práca / Czech and Slovak Social Work contains articles which contribute to the development of social work knowledge and theory based on some of the key and enduring themes of social work, contained within discussion and analysis of contemporary areas of concern for our profession.
If we look at the International Association of Schools of Social Work’s Global Definition of the Social Work Profession, we see there that:
‘Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.
Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and Indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.’
In relation to these areas, the articles in this edition of the Journal cover issues such as social inclusion and exclusion – for example, in relation to mothers with children and their housing needs; discriminatory practices in relation to Muslim people in Germany; how social work can start to respond better to the needs and difficulties of some of the most troubled and troubling young people in our societies; the knowledge we need to best deal with the barriers and accelerators in the integration process of single mothers moving into permanent housing; the ways in which social workers can address the spiritual needs alongside other needs of service users; how social workers in carrying out their role come to be seen by the public and service users, with the concomitant effects on their relationships with those service users; the importance of historical knowledge for social work; and the value of comparing frames and practice of social work in different countries, in this article in particular in the UK and Germany. In the article on Anti-Muslim Racism in Germany – a Challenge for Educational Work, Veronika Knauer examines the concept of anti-Muslim racism, differentiating this from other concepts, such as Islamophobia and Muslimfeindschaft (enmity against Muslims), setting this within the context of political groups which set out to demonise Muslim culture and people, detailing the attacks on Muslims, and some of the potential causes of this. The author addresses some of the key features of such processes which social workers need to be aware of and challenge, and how racism-critical educational work can aid in recognizing and questioning mechanisms which constitute and promote hierarchical approaches and power asymmetries, combined with considerations of intersectionality. The author then applies this analysis to an insight into what practical racism-critical work with young adults might look like in school as well as in non-school contexts, which can guide and support practical racism-critical work.
Developing Close Bonds: One-to-One Intermediate Treatment in Children’s Services in Germany by Vera Taube presents a specific practice field of social work that addresses a target group characterized by severe behavioural problems in combination with a lack of capability to enter relationships. Sometimes labelled as “hopeless cases”, these mainly young people are not only marginalized in society but also in the potential support systems.
Starting with basic information about one-toone intermediate services in Germany including the legal framework, target group, types of provisions, previous research, and theoretical references, the article then emphasizes the special features of the German Child and Youth Services Act to provide an account that will be of interest to those inside and outside Germany in terms of concepts and approaches, asking what happens if a young person drops out of these systems? How can social work reach young people who refuse any form of help and support? The author notes that it is not unusual that young people entitled to individual support are often seen by society, their parents or the helping system as “impossible to raise and educate”, or that they even should be locked up to prevent further harm or to demonstrate limits.
The Kateřina Glumbíková article addresses the topic of the Reintegration of Single Mothers Living in Asylum Houses, focusing on barriers and accelerators of the integration process of single mothers moving into permanent housing. Using a participatory research approach, several categories of accelerators and barriers were identified – social relationships, boyfriend, children, crime, money, housing, asylum house, domestic violence, addiction and self-confidence. The article in particular builds upon previous research by concentrating on the gendered aspect of those in Asylum Houses, and focuses more on potential barriers to such mother’s integration into permanent housing than previous research, therefore providing valuable knowledge for those working in this field concerning how to approach the difficulties and the potential for effective work in this area.
In her article Specific Techniques of Exploring Spirituality as a Part of Holistic Social Work, Eva Křížová discusses an issue which social work has often not dealt with well, if at all – spirituality and religiousness. The author
presents techniques which serve to explore this area within a client-centred approach, presented as an important dimension of human lives and as such should be a key part of holistic social work, even in secular or post-secular societies. The article sets out how spirituality can be viewed as one element of resilience, support or recovery, and as a person-centred resource that can enhance the human understanding between the client and service provider. The author sets out the three conditions she believes are necessary when dealing with spirituality, with the intention being to find additional resources which may strengthen the person in decisionmaking and active behaviour to overcome the problems.
The article Villains, Fools or Unsung Heroes? A Study of the Contradictory Narratives of Social Work Identities in Contemporary England, by Martyn Higgins, examines a number of rival ‘stories’ of social work which reflect
the contradictory and ambivalent attitude of society towards social work and social workers, and argues that critical pedagogy offers a way forward to move beyond these contradictions. Based on a qualitative study of a qualifying undergraduate social work degree in social work in England, 48 participants were interviewed. Participants included academics, students, service users and practice educators in the agencies where students were in placement. Three narratives of social work identities were identified: social workers as ‘villains’, ‘fools’, and ‘unsung heroes’, which can be seen as contradictory and ambivalent, reflecting the ambivalent relationship of social work to how social work is viewed by contemporary society. Higgins argues that social work needs to embrace these views of and by itself, in order to engage with them and move beyond these rival and dissonant narratives, so that social workers engage more constructively and critically with the current debates on social work in England. A critical pedagogy of hope is explored as a way forward.
The Importance of Historical Knowledge for Social Work as a Science, Profession and Academic Discipline – Experiences from Czech Republic by Marie Špiláčková examines how, as in any other scientific field, social work has its history, and how important it is to have a knowledge of this history – the factors affecting it, as well as the reasons which have triggered those factor – and how the present is the necessary result of previous development. The article focuses on social work in the Czech Republic. The paper is based on the results of research on professional discourse on the significance of historical findings for social work as a science, profession and academic discipline to apply historical research as a scientific research method in social work, and introduces the value of using the methodology of historical research. Historical knowledge, the author contends, is poised to enrich the currently presented information on social work history, and also that it is one of the key ways with which to enhance the prestige of the social work profession and a means to bring it into the public eye.
In More Alike Than We Think? Frames and Practice of Social Work with Families in the UK and Germany, Katherine Bird uses the UK and Germany as examples of different welfare state regimes that have been confronted with similar social developments over the last fifty years, in the context of the internationalisation of social work practice (in the sense of increasing crossborder convergence). The author sets out how, although social change has followed a similar course in both countries, the political reactions to these developments diverge, giving examples from each country as to how parallels can be identified. At the end of the article, the author presents a case study of a family that in terms of their composition pose a challenge to dominant conceptions of the family which social work will increasingly have to cope with in the future. In this edition’s book review, Thomas Marthaler and Claude Haas examine Marilyn Strathern’s 1990 work, The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia. Whilst acknowledging that some might question its validity for social work, the reviewers argue that Strathern’s analytical strategies continue to add to our knowledge in two key ways. First, by explicitly addressing our cultural practices of taking position on phenomena; and second in the ways in which we might make use of Strathern’s analytical method concerning relational practices between people at places in times in order to reflect on how different places and different people are variably connected in order to distinguish the important from the insignificant, to determine how to act, towards which goals, and in collaboration with which
In addition to the main article and book review, we offer two research reports as examples of research activity in social work and social science departments.
The Department of Social Work at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Social Work, Trnava University in Slovakia, gives and account of their major scientific and research activities, including long-term international and national projects, including:
• ‘GENOVATE’, an action research project which aims to ensure equal opportunities for women and men by encouraging a more gender-competent management in research, innovation and scientific decision-making bodies,
• a needs analysis of social services for early intervention in Slovakia focused on the support of young children at risk of developmental delay and
• a European project supporting European countries under pressure of large migration, in ensuring effective healthcare for refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants.
The second research report from Tallinn University, Estonia, sets out its co-operation with Tartu University in conducting research on deinstitutionalization policies, consisting of an international review on the experiences of seven selected European countries, and focus groups and individual interviews among Estonian stakeholders related to deinstitutionalization and community based services in the field of disability care and mental health. The report notes how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities that was signed and ratified by Estonia and related reference documents emphasise the importance of a clear commitment toward deinstitutionalization and community living.
The report discusses how sharing responsibility for care between the government and municipalities caused tension in many Eastern European countries, where decentralization and autonomy of local communities was a vital element of the newly established democracies in the region- an obvious political achievement, but the work addresses the sustainability of the municipalities’ work on this during the whole period. It also discusses how, according to several studies, personal budget holders reported improvements in their sense of wellbeing, self-esteem and self-determination after having started to receive these. The work suggests that the fundamental reason for the improvement in the quality of life here relates to the opportunity to use more power in the decision-making processes concerning the services used. The international overview explored the failure of the first wave of deinstitutionalization in Sweden where first community housing was organized in group of group homes, and segregated “disability” blocks instead of real integration, pointing to how only fully implemented deinstitutionalization leads to successful social integration, and how any scenario with remaining, renewed or renovated institutional capacities most likely will lead to failure.
So, we welcome you to this latest edition of the Sociální práce / Sociálna práca / Journal of Czech and Slovak Social Work and invite you to consider the role of social work as presented in these articles, in terms of social work’s role in social justice, and challenging social exclusion within communities and social work agencies; how social work is seen, and politically constructed, and then how we can take account of this knowledge; and then move forward in terms of raising its status and profile in order to have a greater platform to produce the changes that its values herald, based on analysis of its history and current image, within the key social work values and methods that can be applied in these contexts.
Professor Brian Littlechild, PhD,
Research Lead, Department of Nursing and
Social Work, University of Hertfordshire /
Vice President, European Research Institute
for Social Work, University of Ostrava