On World Social Work Day, ASEAN, with the support of UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, launched the #StandTogetherforSocialWorkers campaign to raise awareness of the social service workforce’s critical role in the lives of children, families and communities in the region.

The social service workforce is instrumental in supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals and communities. Social workers help promote social justice and resiliency, reducing discrimination and causes of inequality, and alleviate poverty. Without their contribution, we cannot attain the Sustainable Development Goals and effectively mitigate against the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

However, their value is not widely recognised in the region, impacting negatively on their investment and support. The Hanoi Declaration on Strengthening Social Work Towards Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN Community adopted by ASEAN Leaders at the 37th Summit last year, recognises the need to tackle negative public perceptions on social work. The campaign is a key contribution to the implementation of the Declaration.

Under-resourced, under-staffed and under-supported

While the job of a social worker is skilled, complex and challenging, most Southeast Asian countries still do not recognise social work as a profession by law. Instead, they are seen as carrying out charity work. Limited public understanding of their role and value impacts demand for services and investment. Since the region’s social service workforce is often under-resourced, under-staffed and under-supported, attracting and retaining social workers becomes a major problem.

Transforming public perceptions to transform investment

Promoting a positive public perception is critical to transforming social work, creating demand to invest in social workers and raising awareness among policy makers. This joint campaign highlights the wide-ranging role played by social workers and their impact for communities and the most vulnerable in society.

“As a social worker, you become an instrument of change in someone’s life,” said Maria Lourdes Garduce, a social worker from the Philippines, expressing her motivation to pursue social work.

While passion for the work drives many social workers, they must receive the recognition, investment and support.  The campaign calls for implementation of the 2020 Hanoi Declaration with investment in and expansion of social work and the social service workforce. This includes mobilising public resources to expand the workforce; reforming legislation to professionalise social work; building the capacity of the workforce; and improving recruitment and retention of social workers by increasing job satisfaction and opportunities for career development.

“My hope and dream is that this social work profession will be recognised in Malaysia,” said Siti Syafiqah Binti Hasan, a Malaysian social worker, voicing her recommendation for strengthening social work.

The campaign message is clear – to collectively recognise the contribution of social workers and ensure social workers are effectively supported and equipped to provide vital support to the most vulnerable communities in our society.


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