Home Sociology Social Work in East Asia
Social Work in Taiwan
Huang Pei Jie and Ku Yeun Wen
The article 'Is Social Work a Profession?' by A. Flexner (1915) has triggered widespread discussions regarding this issue ever since its publication, with those conditions of professionalization forming 'profession' as the centre of such discussions (Carr-Saunders and Wilson, 1962; Vollmer and Mills, 1966; Hughes, 1971; Freidson, 1994). It is believed that once certain conditions, defined by profession, are met with a development following such conditions, the process of professionalization can be completed and achieves 'profession' (Carr-Saunders and Wilson, 1962; Parsons, 1954; Caplow, 1954; Wilensky, 1964; Larson, 1977). However, the definition of profession proposed by professionals might only be a strategic allegation to obtain legitimacy of profession privilege, instead of the authentic nature of a professional. There is no connection between the degree of professionalization and problem-solving abilities (Johnson, 1972; Collins, 1979). The appearance of professional autonomy is inevitable in any society and politics (Freidson, 1970). Parry and Parry (1975) indicate that professional organizations wish to establish a monopoly with legal effect (legitimacy) and control the market by manipulating education and professional skills, yet the intension is to maintain the collective upward flow of profession, not the flow in society ('collectiveness', as proposed by Parsons, where professionals in a certain field can obtain social status and prestige much higher than in other professions). Similarly, this situation has happened in Taiwan.
Since 1970, professionalization has also been at the centre of various discussions in Taiwan's social work society (Yang, 1998; Lin, 1994, 2002a, b; Tao and Chien, 1997). The contractual system is an issue always mentioned in these discussions.1 The social worker contractual system caused unstable labor conditions and brought a survival crisis on basic-level government social workers. The call for 'professionalization' eventually contributed the certification system of the social work profession and initiated the establishment of professionalization. Green Wood's five professionalization qualities and the United States's certification system indicators can determine whether a professionalization process has been completed. The legislation on certification in 1996 saw the beginning of the establishment of the social work profession; however, along with the inauguration of the Social Worker Act, all sorts of development crises under Taiwan's social work professionalization started to provoke disputes. These crises are as follow:
1 Contracted social workers are those not officially employed in government agencies. Normally a working duration will be specified and the contract will be terminated by the date noted in the contract. • the massive expansion of social work-related university faculties;
• multitrack social work education training channels;
• the profession positioning issue of social work caused by the similarity and overlapping of related professions;
• the adoption and autonomy of social work education, localization, and glocalization under the waves of globalization;
• the structural gap between the partnership of academic and practical fields;
• inspection and evaluation of the professional social worker certification
• lack of openness of professional social work organizations;
• massive and complex workload in both administrative affairs and social work practices;
• insufficient indemnification in the local social work system; and
• the accountability and performance of social work relying on the manageability of data and an unequal power structure, lacking a related balance mechanism. (Wang, 2002; C.S. Wang, 2003; Li, 2005; Hsu, 2004; Chen et al., 2005; Huang and Hsiao, 2006; Huang et al., 2002; Hsiao, 2005; compiled from Wang, 2008)
This shows that instead of the professionals' practical qualities, it is the professional privilege legitimacy strategies, backed by state power, that define the social work profession in Taiwan. Professional organizations expect to create a legal monopoly and take advantage of education and skills manipulation as means to control the market. The intention is to maintain the profession's collective upward flow, yet the profession here is becoming irrelevant in terms of problem-solving skills and the degree of public recognition.
Tables 4.1 and 4.2 show a contradiction in professionalization. It can be seen that throughout the years covered, 2,799 people obtained a social worker certificate, the indicator of profession; however, less than one-third of these professional social workers actually undertook social work services in local areas. The data from 2006 to 2008 reveal that in these three years only 639 out of 1,036 people who obtained a certificate offered services in cities and counties; in other words, 40 per cent of these professional social workers did not get involved in social work practices. This issue highlights not only crises but also the difficult situation in Taiwan's social work profession whereby the status of the profession is achieved by strategies instead of skill/environment maturities. This chapter would like to elaborate how, since 1970, certification strategy, highlighting merely legitimacy and monopoly, has been applied through state-power intervention in Taiwan's social work development. Besides, a collective myth has formed where 'profession' seems to be realized by the establishment of a certification system, despite the fact that it is a state-led profession. Table 4.1 Number of Social Welfare Personnel from 2001–2008
Sources: Municipalities and local governments, National Statistics, R.O.C (Taiwan)
Note: This graphic covers current employees who are in charge of social welfare related
affairs for the Ministry of Interior, Municipalities and offices within local governments.
Table 4.2 Admission of the Civil Service Special Examination for Social Welfare Workers from 1997–2010
Source: Compiled from the data of the Ministry of Examination, Taiwan.
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