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Social Work in the Philippines

Jem Price

This chapter will attempt to 'map' the growth of social work in the Philippines, placing this account within a broader discussion of social work as an international activity (Harrison and Melville, 2010; Lyons, 2006). It will consider who 'counts' as a social worker and identify some of the key forms and features of social work in the Philippines. Consideration will be given also to the degree of professionalization of social work within the country, for example by looking at professional organization, regulation, and education. In doing this, I seek to offer a critical overview of the nature and preoccupations of social work in the Philippines and to celebrate the invaluable contributions it makes to the country and its people. I will argue that the forms social work takes and the settings in which it happens reflect both contemporary societal and environmental factors (urban and rural poverty, concern with social and community development, the impact of conflict and 'natural' disasters) and the global development of social work as a response (noting in particular the historical influence of Spain and the United States). The impact of Roman Catholicism as the dominant national religion will be considered, as will the orientation of social work in relation to some enduring tensions and debates around social work purpose and potential (community and collective responses 'versus' individual approaches; the relative merits of radical/critical perspectives and those which seek social stability). The chapter also discusses the development of social work as a profession, examining for example its powers, recognition, and professional organization. Finally, the extent of the 'indigenous' social work knowledge base will be explored, alongside a commentary on social

work education and training in the country.

Literature on the early historical development of social work makes links, explicit or otherwise, to what Hugman describes as, 'assistance for those people who were seen to be experiencing problems of daily life that were grounded in poverty' (2010: 1). This might seem a self-evident statement, and yet, of course, poverty existed long before social work. It is, therefore, suggested by many that social work evolved in individual countries as a 'modern' response to the impacts of 'modernization'. There is much truth in this. Social work did indeed evolve as a named occupation towards the end of the nineteenth century in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands (Midgley, 1981; Payne, 2005; Weiss and Welbourne, 2007). Social work, it seems, arose as a way of formalizing or bringing some coherence to a range of ad hoc responses, whether through religious organizations, institutional 'care', individual charitable works, or more politicized responses (Horner, 2009) and this is certainly true of the Philippines. The social work profession continues to both reflect and wrestle with its own sense of purpose. Should it seek radical responses to poverty and marginalization (Brake and Bailey, 1980; Ferguson and Woodward, 2009; Lavalette and Ferguson, 2007) or the maintenance (Davies, 1994) of individuals and families in some socially acceptable place? Should social work seek collective or individualized responses to the issues which it seeks to address? How does, or might, social work engage with the complex and cross-cutting nature of social divisions (including poverty) in the societies in which it operates? To what extent should and does social work aim to influence the social policies which shape the lives of those whose needs it hopes to address? Does social work have or need boundaries or, indeed, need to be clear about its unique contributions and will this, in any event, be dependent on time and place?

All of these fundamental issues for social work are evident in the Philippines. In particular, I contend that social work in the country benefits from a certain flexibility of definition and boundaries, which means that many social workers are able to respond in less-restricted and more 'joined-up' ways than may be possible in some other countries within and beyond East Asia.

 
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