Carolyn Gair and Sarah Richmond, Lecturers in Social Work, Staffordshire University
In October, Sarah Redmond and I attended an international conference in Lithuania focusing on ‘Social Work with a Family’ organised by Professors at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Sarah had met the organisers at an ERASMUS event last year and we were invited to this conference to share knowledge from practice and research in the UK. I delivered a workshop focused on supporting children who have experienced trauma, and Sarah delivered a keynote presentation on Retention in Child Protection Social Work. There were representatives from the UK, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Slovakia, USA, Canada there, all sharing and learning together.
The enormity of travelling abroad to talk about social work and learn from international colleagues was not lost on us, and we were honoured to take part in such discussions around working with children and families. Lithuania is a beautiful country steeped in history and morality. The people we met know what it means to work with little or no resources, to build teams and organisations that want to enable change and empower vulnerable people whilst fighting for statutory roles and funding to fulfil them.
Social work there focuses on support and has no legal role in child protection: support is delivered by social workers in the Municipality Services or Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and we heard research that found many NGOs are running on less than €1 per day per child. Lithuania has also experienced huge ideological changes within our lifetime which undoubtedly fuels a passion for social justice and systemic solution-focused practice that was exciting to see and hear – reminding us both of our own reasons for entering the social work profession.
Regardless of the comparisons and the differences, the entire experience was made rich through listening to (and taking part in) international conversations about the role of social workers across the represented countries: The ways in which we can uphold Human Rights and the UNCRC; how we inform government as a profession and maximise the resources that we have; how we care for people – including social work staff within our organisations. Those similarities were far deeper and richer than any operational differences between us. The over-arching message we all own is that people matter, injustice exists, and social work is a vocation striving to address and overcome challenge and enable change.