World Social Work Day will be celebrated on March 19th, 2019. On this day, we celebrate social workers around the world who champion and advocate for the strength and dignity of individuals, families and communities.
International Social Service, USA (ISS-USA) staff members communicate with social workers around the world on daily basis, from Germany to Ghana to Guatemala, developing pre-departure plans and providing case management for children returning to family care. Seven-year old Myra* is an example of a child receiving case management services through our Guatemala Reunification Program after being separated from them for more than six months:
Myra’s parents live in a rural community in Guatemala. Neither completed an elementary school education. After Myra’s return to Guatemala from the U.S., tantrums and aggressive behaviors began to emerge, causing additional stress for her mother. The caseworker in Guatemala traveled to the home to meet with the family and start building trust. Over several weeks, she helped the family enroll the child in school, identified area organizations willing to donate school supplies, and connected with school administrators about the family’s circumstances. Myra’s teachers now play a prominent role as figures of stability and security for her during the day. The caseworker also connected Myra and her family to regular psychological services, as well as classes to support her parents with the transition. Each month the case manager returns to visit with the family and modify their service plans. The family reports that Myra’s tantrums have subsided, she is doing well in school and her mother expresses hopefulness for the future.
All of the above services are free but made possible only through the intervention and advocacy of the ISS-USA social work case manager. There are numerous reasons that marginalized groups, including members of indigenous communities and returning migrants, are excluded from services. The additional experience of prolonged family separation and the effects of traumatic experiences related to migration, detention, and deportation create further gaps in trust and isolation from formal systems of care. In Myra’s case, the social worker met with multiple municipal offices, coordinated with an association of pro-bono psychologists, and enlisted support from a multinational organization providing humanitarian aid in the region, among others.
In the case of five year-old Edwin*, who was returning to his family in an indigenous community, his parents were skeptical of receiving outsider support:
Edwin’s family had negative experiences with foreign NGOs in the past and were fearful that sharing their information would lead to further stigmatization. The social worker met with the family and community leaders to listen to their concerns. He provided brief information about psychosocial needs of children reunifying with families as well as emotional struggles that may present as a result of a family separation. He was invited back to visit with the family and helped enroll Edwin in kindergarten, where he is excelling. Currently, the social worker is coordinating Edwin’s enrollment in after-school recreational resources and his father is enrolling in a non-profit vocational training program for low income families.
Much of what is reported in the news about Guatemala highlights community dangers and economic instability. While we cannot dismiss real dangers posed to children upon return to their home country or community, failing to explore opportunities for community-based intervention risks further separating children from a vital connection to family, culture, language and other underpinnings of healthy child development and wellbeing. Social work case managers are the crucial piece in making these connections to help families during transitions and to remain safely together in Guatemala.
A comment by a parent after a recent case worker visit expresses the unique value of the social work case manager: “After the visit the parents expressed enthusiasm that their children would return to their studies and hope that in the future they become social workers.”
The theme of Social Work Month this year is “Elevate Social Work”. This month, as you celebrate and elevate the work of social workers who have made a difference in your life, please continue to learn about the work of social workers across borders. Remember to join us for a World Social Work Day Live Chat on Tuesday March 19th , where the ISS-USA staff will discuss how we build relationships and overcome challenges in working across borders.
*Client’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.