Vietnam has seen remarkable improvements in social work, yet there remains a long way to go in making the provision of these services a true profession.
After years of operating as amateur caretakers, social work is now considered a science and profession in Vietnam.
Project 32, which details the development of social work in Vietnam from 2010 to 2020, is considered the ‘Big Bang,’ with numerous opportunities as well as challenges ahead.
Only in the ‘Renovation - Opening door’ phase (starting in 1986), in which economic growth entailed a host of complicated social problems including the unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor, familial crises, drug abuse, prostitution and HIV/AIDS, did the need to develop social work become pressing.
There are currently more than 500 social service centers nationwide, with over 90 based in Ho Chi Minh City alone.
The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Issues, unions and individuals have launched a multitude of helpful programs and models which offer financial aid, take care of the underprivileged and street children, and introduce groups of peer educators promoting the use of condoms.
The comeback of international organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UK’s Save the Children Fund (SCF/UK) and Radda Barnen, with a wide array of social services, also helped speed up the resurgence of social work in Vietnam.
According to Phan Thanh Minh, head of the former HCMC Children's Counseling Office, her office helped establish student psychology counseling rooms at 57 schools.
Recently, the city's Department of Education and Training issued stipulations on student psychology counseling and is expected to boost inspection and training to accelerate its development.
It is estimated that more than 300 groups and volunteer clubs are currently operating in HCMC.
However, according to Le Trung Hai, head of Nhung uoc mo xanh (Blue dreams) group, most groups are not trained professionally, with their activities being charitable, short-term and unstable.
“We really hope to obtain assistance from professional social workers to enhance our performance,” Hai added.
Aiming for professional quality
In many countries, social workers are professionalized thanks to several elements, ranging from the legislative framework to qualified training systems, job titles and salary scales, as well as professional associations.
According to Tran Cong Binh, Child Protection Officer of UNICEF Vietnam and deputy chair of HCMC Professional Social Workers’ Club, some countries even stipulate sets of standards and ethics in adherence with the World Social Workers’ Association.
A professional social worker is supposed to meet all the requirements, including performing social work as their full-time job and being able to make a living from it, being well trained and qualified in the area, having a good attitude and strictly complying with professional rules and ethics, Binh noted.
“Social work in Vietnam is still on the way to being professionalized due to lack of propitious conditions and properly trained personnel,” Binh added.
Many social workers say legislative changes should first be effected to facilitate the establishment and work of social organizations.
Meanwhile, according to Le Chu Giang, head of the HCMC Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Issues’ Social Services Section, information about social work is to be widely disseminated to ensure officials and the general public understand correctly the purpose of social workers and social services.
Many are still under the misconception that social services are synonymous with charitable and voluntary activities, Giang explained.
Binh added that UNICEF is currently aiding the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Issues in building public education strategies to boost people’s awareness of the profession.
Binh stressed that more efforts should be made to improve and highlight the role of social workers and develop quality social services, particularly those meeting today’s pressing needs such as child protection and care for students, patients, the physically-challenged and victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence.
Meanwhile, Giang pointed out that social organizations should coordinate with one another.
Many social workers also maintained that professional associations, namely social workers’ associations and training associations, be founded to provide them with professional knowledge and training and represent them and help make their voices heard as well.