Vietnam's social safety net

A UNSW academic has worked with UNICEF to establish a professional social work system in Vietnam - the first for the country in 30 years.

Vietnam social inside

A UNSW academic has played an influential role in establishing a professional social work system in Vietnam - the first for the country in 30 years.

Professor Richard Hugman, from the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, has spent the last six years working with the Vietnamese government and UNICEF to develop a modernised social work service.

Professor Hugman saw the long-term project realised last month when the Vietnamese government accepted the recommendations outlined by UNICEF's extensive reports.

"For the first time in 30 years we are seeing a distinctively Vietnamese form of social work developing, one that is appropriate to the country's unique social issues," says Professor Hugman.

After the unification of Vietnam in 1975, social work was deemed unnecessary. It was only when the country moved to a market economy in the mid-1980s that the government recognised the need for a state-sponsored system.

"There are social problems that continue, and even grow, with economic development," says Professor Hugman. "These include street children, the trafficking of women and children, people with disabilities and mental health problems, and isolated older people."

Until now, social services in Vietnam have been delivered by people with limited education and training, especially in regional and rural areas. Referred to as "barefoot social workers" these community members are highly respected locally.

"Because of the role they already play in the community, part of our recommendations to the government was to look at a system that uses these para-professionals, under the supervision of professionals," he says.

The implementation of the program will involve another 10 year engagement with Vietnam for Professor Hugman.

"In the next decade there is still much to be done in the growth of relevant services, but this is matched by enthusiasm and commitment. It's a very exciting time for the new Vietnamese social workers."

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