Arnon Bar-On (Zefat Academic College)

Topic: The superfluousness of “indigenous social work”
Language: English 


As international human migration expands for a variety of reasons, and is expected to continue growing, increasing calls are heard to provide migrants social work services that befit their particular cultural background, which over the past two decades have come to be discussed under the general title “indigenous social work”. This presentations argues that this title and the literature that accompanies is superfluous because social work, in its essence and from its very foundations, is founded on culturally appropriate goals, knowledge and interventions, as witnessed already in Mary Ellen Richmond’s Social Diagnosis (1917) in which she set out different interventions for migrants in New York City from different cultures in Italy.

In place of “indigenous social work”, it is suggested that all social work is based on three pure points of interventions: ‘referral or steering’, ‘brokerage’ and ‘advocacy’ (in reverse order to their coverage in the literature). The first two are concerned with the achievement of equal opportunities or ‘procedural’ and ‘distributive’ justice. Here the aim is to assist people to obtain and use, and to effect for them, resources that are generally available to all persons similarly situated either by legal entitlement or as may be owed by the accepted policies and practices of the existing institutional frameworks. All other things being equal, social workers who use these two interventions could expect their causes to be congruent with, or fall within the bounds of, what decision-makers would consider more or less legitimate demands on the resources they control. In contrast, advocacy is concerned with achieving positive discrimination of corrective justice, the aim of which is to effect differential resource allocation. Interventions at this level require a more aggressive, conflictual stance since it implies that existing policies and commitment need to be changed.