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BC Director Hopes To Legitimize Social Work In Afghanistan

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Eileen Ihrig, director of international programs at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), is the co-principal investigator for a project that aims to establish social work as a recognized profession in Afghanistan. Ihrig and BC have partnered with Hunter College School of Social Work in New York and the Afghan Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled. With funding from UNICEF, the collaboration intends to establish occupational standards and curricula at undergraduate and graduate levels for social work in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan currently doesn't have an established social work profession," Ihrig said. "In recent years, the government has recognized the need for such a profession with national standards and training at a university level."

Originally established by UNICEF, the social work movement has been in development for over 10 years. In past years, social workers have received only a few weeks of training and are therefore not considered professionals. Ihrig's project plans to change this standard of social work into a recognized profession.

The first phase of the social work project began in July of 2011. Ihrig and co-principal investigator Martha Bragin, Hunter College School of Social Work associate professor and chair of the school's Global Social Work and Practice with Immigrants and Refugees program, started a one-year program to develop occupational standards and curricula in Afghanistan. The collaboration is now in discussions with Kabul University, the oldest and largest institution of tertiary education in Afghanistan, to develop a department of social work. The college hopes to launch a social work program and degree by March.

"The discussions with Kabul University came faster than we expected," Ihrig said. "But it's great news."

Ihrig plans to begin the second phase of the program with support from Kabul University. The college is working to train staff and develop course work for the new social work department. Kabul University plans to use staff from Afghanistan, as well as faculty from nearby regions such as Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and India. In the beginning stages, BC and Hunter College faculty members will be at the college for short periods of time, holding workshops and training staff.

Unlike American social work, which deals primarily with cases of abuse and violence, Afghanistan social work faces issues of early and forced marriages for young girls, the recruitment of boys as soldiers, and child labor.

"The situation is very complex, and some of the issues vary regionally," Ihrig said. "There is a lot of progress to be made. In certain areas, especially in community-based structures, there has been significant change."

Due to the constant political conflict and economic instability in the past 20 years, Afghan families have been forced to make unwanted decisions. Parents unable to repay debts or feed their families have been forced to send their children into marriage or orphanages.

"Afghan culture and society has very strong child protection traditions, but they've just broken down over the years and now they need to be built back up," Ihrig said. "But there has been progress. In some communities, there are child well-being committees, and the community is taking responsibility for the security of children. They're monitoring and bringing attention to problems when there are child protection issues."

In the past year, Afghanistan has developed a National Child Welfare Policy that incorporates child protection acts. Ihrig hopes to continue this progress and develop a social work infrastructure that can support the new policy.

While there is still much room for progress, Ihrig says that there has been a large embrace on the ministry and university level for a recognized need for social work.

"In a very short period of time, there has been a complete shift in the idea of social work," Ihrig said. "The government is seeing the need for a professionally trained work force … It's very exciting."

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