International Social Work
The literature search reveals that the social work profession has largely been silent on the issue of child soldiers. While there are very few academic publications, the issue has been raised by international social work associations, for instance, at the Citizenship and Social Work Education in a Globalising World conference the International Association of Schools for Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Work's (IFSW) website links to Global Report Child Soldiers produced by The Coalition to End Soldiers.
Denov (2010) confirms this lack of social work research in her study on child soldiers in Sierra Leone but recognizes that international social work is being challenged and altered by events in recent years -- for example, increasing numbers of internally displaced people (IDP) or on the home front, working with those who seek asylum in western countries. She states that these realities, among others, calls for social work to expand its mission through curricula to appropriately and sensitively equip social workers around the globe with the skills and competencies to manage the complexities brought forth by war. Social work has important contributions given our ethical principles and commitment to, anti-oppressive practice, cultural competency and social justice.
Denov (2010) conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 80 child ex-soldiers (between the ages of 14-21) who participated in Sierra Leone’s civil war. The interviews were conducted in 2003 and 2004 in partnership with Sierra Leonean researchers, to explore the children’s war experiences, coping strategies and long-term effects of participating in the war. The interviews were conducted in the child’s native tongue and later translated into English. The study found that the children’s identity as soldiers shifted from feelings of being victims of violence to perpetrators of violence. Most reported suffering from physical and psychological consequences of their experiences including: a profound sense of loss, anxiety and sadness from the loss of their families and guilt and shame for having perpetrated violent crimes themselves. Reintegratoin itself wasn't perceived as highly successful as they reported ongoing distress from the stigma and rejection from their families and communities (secondary victimization).
Education was seen as essential for psychological support giving the children a sense of belonging and normalcy. However, anecdotal research in a number of countries have shown that only a fraction of former child soldiers return to school. This lack of education and skills perpetrates poverty increasingly the likelihood of crime to survive.
Despite these challenges, Denov (2010) found resiliency and a strong desire to survive among these children. Coping strategies included peer-support, hiding their status as soldiers, retreating from mainstream society and partaking in community rituals and prayer. While it is difficult to point to specific methodological issus of this study without a more in-depth analysis, it does provide an important foundation from which further social work research can be conducted. A social constructivist approach allows children's voices to be heard throug narrative clearly showing a level of resiliency tdespite immeasurable and horrific experiences and to counter the oft-cited refrain that chlid soldiers are criminal, pathological, vile and a lost generation. Their capacity to overcome hardship under extreme circumstances and their ability for reflection, introspection and regret is rarely evident in the literature.
Zack-Williams (2006) shows a Western positivist quantitative research approach simply isn't appropriate in Sierra Leone. In his three fieldwork studies in Sierra Leone in 2001 and 2002, many children were experiencing research interrogation fatigue – a weariness of telling their experiences to researchers and journalists. Therefore, he utilized non-participant observation technique observing the daily routine of the organisations that were working with ex-soldiers. One of the key findings is breach of ethical research practices including no vetting of people interviewing children, lack of management of the conditions in which this occure and lack of parental or guardian consent. This is a very important area in which the social work profession can contribute to international project, we have a professional and ethical responsibility to ensure that ethical research principles are upheld and honored.
Zack-Williams (2006) incorporates Ferdinand Tonnies’ analytical dichotomy, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, which provides an interesting conceptual basis in which international social workers can bridge competing interests of top-down vs. local models.
Gemeinschaft (community) skills align with traditional non-statutory organisations, i.e., the rubric of civil society, including such institutions as the family (local and extended), and local communities, whereas Gesellschaft (society) skills are seen as scientific, juridical and administrative. Euro-centricity, though a Western Weltanschauung has transformed itself into a hegemonic universal paradigm, leaving no room for other worldviews or diversity of perspectives (Keto quoted in Zack-Williams, 2006). Zack-Williams (2006) shows that social workers have a role in raising questions and pushing back on top-down dominant paradigms. He states that the views of ex-child combatants need to be incorporated within discussions of national planning and programs for these children should include opportunities and skills to enable them to contribute to national development.
The literature has shown that social workers have a lot to contribute in the international arena to bridge the ever-increasing gulf between top-down reintegration programs based on neo-liberal ideology and that of the local needs. DDR programs are meant to serve local needs but as the literature indicates, they continue to be dominated by top-down models by the international community (Muggah, 2006). Thompson (1999) shows that war-torn countries are already challenged because civil society has been dismantled by neo liberal policies past and present that relegate civil society's role as simply a complement to private entreprise to curb the power of the state (Thompson, 1999). The literature indicates that there currently aren't any built-in mechanisms in which to evaluate DDR programs beyond platitudes of program stewards. As well, there are indication throughout the literature that children are not being served by these programs.
How do we, as social workers now equipped with the knowledge of the detrimental effects of neo-liberal policies bridge these and the needs of the community? These are unique opportunities for international social workers to provide alternatives but we must ralways reflect on our role and possiblility of ourselves perpetrating professional imperialism (Hugman, Moosa-Mitha and Moyo 2010). We are trained in Western positivist traditions and are ourselves subject to corporatism, bureaucratism and working within systems that upholds the status quo in our own countries. We remain foreigners entering, influencing and changing other people's lives. We represent the very international organizations that on the one hand provide many benefits but does a lot of damage as well. As international social workers, we need to move beyond simply transmitting our social work paradigms of the global north, which are well institutionalized, to those in the South. Hugman, Moosa-Mitha and Moyo (2010) offer an sightful discussion about the concept of international social work. One that guides us to think deeper into what international social work means and the idea that a borderless social work could ever exist.
Cox and Pawar (2006) offer insight in their book on International Social Work with a chapter on specific programs and strategies on the field of conflict and postconflict reconstruction including psychological programs, rebuilding communities, securing and maintain peace and promoting reconciliation. It was important to see that this edition is incorporating other sets of tools for social workers -- evoking traditional and indigenous knowledge systems. It remains to be seen if social work as a profession can shed our old ways of knowing to embrace one relevant to the very people we seek to serve.
As an example:
The literature has shown that re-integration programs entail the parachuting of international psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists represented by INGOs into communities that have experienced war, disaster or conflict (Haiti provides a current example).
Therefore, this review includes literature on PTSD (found in the section entitled Trauma) for its usefulness in providing a prime example of humanitarian needs meets social work meets top down models,, so common it has become in non-western situations. a skill set commonly evoked in humanitarian work that is typically evoked in non-western cultures, and as we seen it is not without controversy. It has been argued the diagnosis of PTSD lacks objectivity and specificity and its use in non-western societies is scientifically and clinically questionable. According to the literature, it is a cultural construct, a political phenomenon and a spiritual diagnosis. Some of the symptoms of PTSD have different meanings or implications for different cultures and, in fact, should be assessed within their proper cultural context and with a full appreciation of the wide range and interconnectedness of potential sources of disorder and resilience, including the meaning of dreams or nightmares, avoidance strategies, history of trauma for the culture, the presence of cultural disintegration, substance abuse, social supports and alienation .For instance, somatic symptoms of panic attacks may have a high degree of cultural significance to Africans, representing a connection to spirits of the dead – but meaningless to Western/American practitioners or observers. If based on individual pathology, symptoms would likely have individuals sitting in psychiatric institutions or taking anti-psychotic medication. But from an ecological perspective, there are a wide range of factors that could more fully inform the assessment, and thereby lead to different sources of healing.
I believe growth can be achieved without social justice … economic growth but economic development cannot be achieved without social
justice and this is why every nation must make that economic growth transforms into economic development and in that case you can only do so if it proceeds concomitantly with the application of social justice.
... opening up the private sector as the main engine being able to absorb all of those who want work that is our national plan for social justice.
H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and receiptent of the Noble Peace Prize in 2011
There is a tendency to present international social work, in definition, discourse and practice without critical analysis and attention to power relations, specifically relating tot the historical and contemporary dynamics of imperalism, colonization and Western hegemony in the 'new world order' scuplted by neo-liberalism.
(Haug cited in Hugman, Moosa-Mitha
& Moyo, 2010, p. 630.)