A Mutual Exchange: Chinese and U.S. Social Workers Collaborate to Serve Those in Need
China has had significant economic growth and poverty reduction in the past four decades. The other side of this story, however, is a rapid increase in income and wealth inequality.
Under the guidance of Professor Qin Gao, who joined CSSW’s faculty last year and now leads the new China Center for Social Policy, Columbia University’s School of Social Work has been looking for ways to partner with China in building up the field of social work and social services.
At Professor Gao’s invitation, a delegation from China Association of Social Workers (CASW), consisting of 25 senior social service managers, visited the school on April 3 for an informational exchange with faculty, students, and administrators, several of whom offered a comprehensive overview of the school’s programs and services.*
“Working with CASW is an historic opportunity for our school,” said Professor Gao, who recently authored a groundbreaking book evaluating China’s social assistance program, Welfare, Work, and Poverty. “China’s social welfare system is the largest social welfare system in the world, and the problems that beset Chinese social assistance are unique. Columbia’s School of Social Work, as well as the social work profession at large, has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience just as much as Chinese social workers have a lot to learn from their American and European counterparts.”
In recent years, the Chinese government has been expanding the social welfare system while also calling for efforts to raise the professional standards of social workers—a field that is not well understood in China but for which there is clearly a growing need. As the visiting CASW members explained to their Columbia audience, Outline of the National Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020), published seven years ago by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, set the goal of training 3 million professional social workers by 2020; and at the National Social Work Promotion Conference held in 2016, the following refinements were made:
- Establish a well-functioning legal system pertinent to social work;
- Expand the social work field and provide large-scale, systematic trainings for social work professionals;
- Equip each urban community and rural village with at least one social work professional, and increase social work service agencies across the country to 1 million by 2020;
- Support cooperation with related departments to improve the system of community correction, youth related social work services, poverty alleviation methods and so on;
- Accelerate the development of services in disability rehabilitation, women and marriage, health care, education and counseling.
Over 40 CSSW students and alumni, the majority of whom were from China, participated in the event. They shared with the delegation their experiences at CSSW and in New York City and inquired about social service development and job opportunities in China.
Commenting on the meeting afterwards, Wang Ye (MSW’17) said:
“Drastic social change and huge social problems such as poverty, disparities between rural an urban China, migrant workers, income inequality, declining economy, and decrease in social mobility all have created a need for social workers in China. At the same time, China does not have enough understanding of the field. Chinese social workers face multiple difficulties such as lack of respect, low income, misunderstanding, insufficient government financial/ political support in their work.
“It’s important for us to learn from other developed countries, such as the U.S. It’s equally important to build a social work system with Chinese characteristics. The interaction and deep discussion with the Chinese social work delegation made me realize that we studied social work in the American context, and these lessons might not all be applicable in China. As a policy student, I am excited to make waves in China.”
On behalf of the delegation, Mr. Liu Jing, Vice President and General Secretary of CASW, extended an invitation for CSSW faculty, administrators, students, and alumni to visit CASW in China and continue the communication and exchange between CSSW and CASW.
As Dean Irv Garfinkel noted in his remarks to the delegation, Columbia University’s School of Social Work has a long history and deep commitment to global social work. In the past decade, the school established the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia and the Jordan Social Work Education For Excellence Program, and it now plays an active role in a University-wide coalition for the educational advancement of Syrian refugees. Thus the meeting with the CASW delegation marks an important step forward in carrying on the school’s legacy of global social work, and, under the leadership of Professor Qin Gao and the new China Center on Social Policy, the school looks forward to playing a role in assisting China in achieving its goal of providing high-quality social services to those most in need.
The Communications Office would like to thank Xu Liao (MSW’17) for contributing to this article.
* Panelists included Michael Lovaglio, Assistant Dean of Enrollment & Student Services; Jessica A. Troiano, Director of Administration, Doctoral Program; Kathryne Leak, Assistant Dean and Director of Field Education; Nadine Verna, Director of Career and Leadership Development; Linda Flores, Career Counselor; Natasha Dachos, Director of Office of Professional Excellence. Stacy Kass, Assistant Dean for Development and Alumni Relations, offered concluding remarks. Xu Liao, second-year MSW student, served as the interpreter for the event.
For more information on China’s welfare system, watch this Webcast of Professor Qin Gao’s talk about her new book, Welfare, Work, and Poverty, the first comprehensive study of the Chinese welfare system to date.