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Navigating the Social Work Spectrum: Understanding Professionalism in Kashmir

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By: Imran Maqbool Wani

In Kashmir, there’s a bit of confusion swirling around the term ‘Social Worker’. It is like a jigsaw puzzle where everyone seems to be fitting into this role, but not everyone actually understands what it truly entails.

The profession of Social work has its origins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in response to the social changes caused by urbanization, industrialization, and the resulting poverty and inequality. Early social workers, often volunteers and philanthropists, worked to address the needs of vulnerable populations such as the poor, immigrants, and children living in harsh conditions. Key figures such as Jane Addams and Mary Richmond played an important role in shaping the field, emphasizing the need to understand individuals within the context of their environment and advocating for social reform to address systemic issues. 

With the maturation of the profession, social work education became more established, more formalized, with the establishment of the first schools of social work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These educational institutions emphasized a combination of theory and practice, preparing social workers to address a wide range of social issues and provide comprehensive support to individuals, families, and communities.

Social work is a profession that requires a specific set of skills and knowledge, and one can pursue a two-year degree to become a professional social worker. 

However, in Kashmir, some individuals from diverse backgrounds call themselves as ‘professional social workers’ solely based on their acts of donations in cash or in kind. Although their actions are commendable, it does not necessarily make them professional social workers. 

In our community, it can be challenging to differentiate between individuals who engage in social work professionally and those who volunteer their time to help others. It is important to realize that just as medical professionals are called doctors and law pass-outs are lawyers and attorneys, social work is a distinct profession with a specific requirement of qualifications and standards. 

Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trusts, and volunteers are essential in providing much-needed services to the community, it is crucial to understand that they are not necessarily professional social workers. While these individuals and groups contribute significantly to society, it is essential to acknowledge the difference between their roles and the roles of trained social workers when referring to them as such.

Professional social workers are trained to assist people who require help, especially with complex social issues. They undergo rigorous training, education, and certification processes to acquire the necessary skills and expertise to deal with social problems effectively. Unlike some other professions, professional social workers tend to stay humble and avoid using titles that don’t match their job. 

Today, they are trained to address a wide range of social issues, including poverty, homelessness, mental health, substance abuse, and family dynamics. For instance, if a social worker is working in a hospital, they would introduce themselves as a Medical Social Worker, instead of using a title like Doctor that doesn’t accurately reflect their responsibilities.
The field of social work is often overlooked and misunderstood. It is important to recognize that universities offer a two-degree program for social workers. Completing this degree program is a prerequisite to rightfully calling oneself a social worker. In contrast to social service, social work is a specialized profession, and in Western countries, licensed professional social workers work in various sectors where social work is required. In certain regions, however, individuals have taken to calling themselves professional social workers without any formal education or training. In some instances, a single charitable act, when publicized with the hashtag #ProfessionalSocialWorker on social media, is all that is required to claim this status.

In today’s interconnected world, the title of “social worker” is the ownership of the item that has been claimed by almost everyone, from one person to another. As the social work landscape in Kashmir evolves, it is imperative to recognize the genuine essence of professional social work amidst the confusion. Acts of kindness and philanthropy are undoubtedly valuable, but they cannot replace the specialized skills and training of professional social workers. It is important to recognize the difference between volunteerism and professional practice. 

By leveraging the expertise and knowledge of professional social workers, we can ensure that individuals in need receive a wide range of support services that cater to their unique circumstances. With a steadfast commitment to social justice and empowerment, these skilled professionals remain essential partners in tackling the complex and multifaceted challenges that confront our communities today. Whether it’s providing counseling services, advocating for marginalized groups, or connecting individuals with critical resources, social workers play a crucial role in building a healthier, more equitable society for all. 

“As professional social workers, our commitment lies not only in alleviating the immediate struggles of those we serve, but in advocating for lasting systemic change that fosters equality, justice, and dignity for all.”

The writer is a Professional Social Worker working in the developmental sector and can be reached at [email protected]


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