The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11th in 2011 has caused tremendous human and structural damage. According to the headquarters for emergency disaster control, as of May 29 in 2012, the number of deaths was 15,859, and the number of those evacuated exceeded 340,000. In particular, people with special needs including elderly people, people living with disabilities, children, and those in need of medical and social care, have faced more difficulties in obtaining information, escaping, receiving necessary care, and rebuilding daily life at evacuation shelters and temporary housing. The research shows that they are more likely to be damaged by relocation or changes in the environment.
In order to respond to such needs, various social welfare organizations and institutions have played significant roles. For example, local social welfare councils, in collaboration with local governments, have played a crucial role in assessing the needs of people in the community and coordinating voluntary help offered by volunteers who gathered from all over Japan and from around the world. Furthermore, professional organizations of social work and social care have sent rescue teams and developed various projects to assist practice in the devastated areas.
JSSSW and other related academic organizations that are members of the Japanese Association of Social Welfare Academic Societies have created a joint committee in order to respond to this disaster. The committee collects and shares information and makes sure that members work in collaboration and that they support professional social work as well as research in an effective and efficient manner in the devastated areas. The committee has also continued to monitor support activities conducted by member organizations together with other professional bodies of social care, including universities. Furthermore, it sponsors symposia on a regular basis in order to discuss, share and evaluate academic and professional needs, as well as necessary actions to be taken at each stage of recovery after the disaster.
Although many frontier developments have emerged in the field of social welfare and social work, some unsolved issues and future tasks still remain. The social welfare division of the Science Council of Japan discusses these future tasks and periodically publishes its recommendation report. It is certain that a more effective social welfare system should be developed that can respond to the diverse and changing needs of people at times of crisis. For instance, ‘DWAT’, or a Disaster Welfare Assistant Team should be established and properly trained. Also, disaster management should be taught in the social work curriculum. Moreover, community social work, including participation by the community, should be practiced more effectively to rebuild communities. It should be noted that these efforts are required not only during crises, but they are also necessary to ensure that Japan’s super-aged society is functional and revitalized.
Based on the Global Definition of the Social Work Profession that was adopted in July 2014, the Japanese Amplification of the Global Definition of the Social Work Profession was approved this year by the related national organizations that have membership at IFSW and IASSW. This is the outline of the formation process and its significance.
The background for IFSW and IASSW to adopt the global definition at their general meetings respectively, was that after the adoption of the old definition in 2001 many Asian and African countries joined the two organizations, so it is needless to say that dissatisfaction grew towards existing social work as defined by Western countries. The new definition adopted with such a background highlights the promotion of social change, social development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people in its very first sentence. Also, in addition to social justice and human rights, based on the perspective that individual rights can be realized when people are mutually responsible towards each other and for the environment, the idea of collective responsibility was specified as a central principle. Further on, respect for diversity including locality was emphasized, and finally a sentence was added that states that ‘this definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels’. With this, the global definition developed into a multi-layer structure that allows for the detailed description of specific amplification in each region and each country.
Based on this amplifying clause, the Asia Pacific Region and Japan followed to proceed with the task to draft their social work amplifications. With regard to the Asia Pacific Region, the Asia Pacific Regional Amplification of the Global Definition of the Social Work Profession was adopted at the General Meetings of IFSW-AP and APASWE that were held in Seoul 2016. Committee members who were engaged in the Japanese translation of the global definition gathered again and discussed the original text and the official Japanese translation was approved at the general meetings of the related national organizations. Due to lack of space, we cannot show it here, but it is accessible from the following site.
Under such circumstances, working group members were chosen from each of the national organizations and started to work on preparing a proposal for a Japanese amplification from July 2015. In the wording process, apart from discussions at seminars and similar events held by each organization, they also called for public comments and a wide range of opinions were collected from professionals and scholars. The chronological details of this discussion process were reported in July 2016 at the Social Worker Day Central Assembly by JASSW Committee Member Kenichi Shimura. Please have a look at this report here.
Ultimately, the working group submitted the final proposal to each organization in November 2016 and it was approved at the general meetings and other bodies of each organization. The following shows this original text.
Japanese Amplification of the Global Definition of the Social Work Profession
Social work in Japan has developed by integrating Western derived social work to unique cultures and institutions. While contemporary Japanese society has a hold of high scientific technology and has achieved remarkable economic development, on the other hand it is experiencing low-birth rate combined with population aging ahead of the world and struggling with a variety of issues ranging from the individual and the family to politics and economy. Although people living in Japan traditionally have been aspiring for harmony with the natural environment, it is necessary to further respond to frequent natural disasters and environmental destruction.
In view of the above, social work in Japan emphasizes the following endeavors.
- Social work engages people, their environment, and points where these interact with each other, realizes the right of all people who live in Japan to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living, and promotes wellbeing.
- Social work, recognizing discriminatory and oppressive histories, engages in practice that respect diverse cultures and strives for peace.
- Social work respects human rights and works together with related people and organizations towards the realization of social change and social inclusion where people with life problems can experience connectedness regardless of age, sexuality, disability, religion, nationality etc.
- Social work advocates for the right of all people to be able to live a life based on self-determination and builds systems that allow seamless usage of needed support, including preventive responses.
This Japanese Amplification is in the spirit of the Global Definition and the Asia Pacific Amplification and is a summary of those points that should particularly be emphasized in Japan.
When preparing the amplification proposal, we confirmed to hold on to the spirit of the global definition and the Asia Pacific regional amplification as our fundamental perspective and describe those points that should be particularly emphasized in Japanese social work, and also to state that while Japanese social work had plenty to learn from the West, it was formed by unique histories and cultures. Next, by looking at developments in the upcoming decade, we included about responses to the pressing issues that Japan is facing. In particular, we pointed out the need to build community care systems for an urgent response to the progress of low-birth rate combined with population aging on a globally never before seen scale, as well as an inclusive society that rectifies disparity and isolation that spread even amidst economic development and where people can experience social connectedness. Meanwhile, some issues were discussed that are mentioned in the global definition and should be reconfirmed in Japanese social work again. As a result, we agreed to recognize oppressive histories in and outside Japan and highlight practice that leads from various discrimination and oppression to liberation and peace. Moreover, in addition to natural disasters, we included about responses to environmental destruction such as radioactive contamination. The original proposal included the above and through an exchange of opinions via public comments and seminars and so on, we made revisions and added such elements as ‘engaging at points where people and their environment interact with each other’ or ‘preventive measures’.
Issues that social work is facing today cross borders and spread on a worldwide scale, such as rampant terrorism and an increased number of refugees as its result, or the destruction of the living environment by global warming. While we need a definition of social work that can respond to such globalization, this recent definition stresses the importance of social work as an endeavor that is made possible by life culture and knowledge that are born from close living spaces. Social work is simultaneously global but also has highly local features. In fact, given its characteristic, the more globalization advances, the role that local features play also increases. This recent wording process of the Japanese Amplification of the Global Definition of the Social Work Profession was exactly an opportunity to reconsider such ‘glocalizing’ social work, while it was most certainly a collaborative process to ‘rediscover’ and ‘form’ Japanese social work from a local perspective going beyond the mere acceptance of a ‘given definition’. As such, it could serve as a ‘common language’ in the future and we are expected to deepen theories and practice with regard to glocalizing social work by further specifying this amplification in our fields of practice.