What Is The International Federation Of Social Workers?

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is a global organisation for professional social work that strives for social justice, human rights and social development through the promotion of social work, best practice models and the facilitation of international cooperation. The IFSW comprises of 90 professional social work associations that represent in excess of 750,000 social workers.

The International Federation of Social Workers has been granted Special Consultative Status by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. It also works with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

A Short History Of IFSW

The International Federation of Social Workers can trace its beginning back to the early part of the last century when, at the First International Conference on Social Work held in Paris in 1928, an agreement was reached to form an International Association of Social Workers. The Second International Conference on Social Work held in Frankfurt in 1932 saw the provisional statutes of the International Permanent Secretariat of Social Workers (IPSSW) agreed upon by the eight founding members: Germany, France, Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and the United States. IPSSW was originally based in Berlin.

An agreement to form a new body was reached at the Fifth International Conference on Social Work held in Paris in 1950, provided that 7 national bodies became members; this was achieved in 1956 when the International Federation of Social Workers was formed in Munich. A new Secretariat, which shared offices with the National Association of Social Workers, was formed in New York.

Further highlights were:

  • 1958 – IFSW and its partners published the journal International Social Work
  • 1959 – IFSW was granted consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
  • 1960 – IFSW’s policy role was expanded after a Special Session at the 10th World Conference in Rome
  • 1970 – South Africa’s membership was revoked due to its participation in the Apartheid regime
  • 1985 – IFSW was declared a “Peace Messenger” by the United Nations
  • 1990s – Membership was expanded to include more than 80 member associations
  • 2000 – IFSW developed a training manual, Social Work and the Rights of the Child
  • 2001 – The global Definition of Social Work was adopted in 2001, in co-operation with the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)
  • 2004 – The Statement of Ethics in Social Work, the Global Standards for the Education and Training of the Social Work Profession, and the Statement of Principles were published
  • 2005 – IFSW consultative status was extended to UN Habitat
  • 2010 – IFSW launched the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development at a joint conference with the International Council on Social Welfare and the International Association of Schools of Social Work

IFSW Organisational Structure

An international Executive Committee is democratically elected at a General Meeting of members every two years. The committee is made up of a President, Treasurer and Regional President and Member-at-Large for each of the six regions, being Africa, Asia – Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America. The permanent Secretariat, which was established in 1956, is currently based in Switzerland.

International Federation Of Social Workers Partners

Apart from the special consultative status that IFSW has with United Nations Economic and Social Council and its accreditation to the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, the Council of Europe and the European Union, it also has many other partners:

  • Amnesty International
  • CONGO (The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the UN)
  • The Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work (COSW)
  • The Council of Europe
  • ENSACT
  • European Union
  • IASSW (International Association of Schools of Social Work)
  • ICSW (International Council on Social Welfare)
  • Public services international
  • UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, NGO Section
  • UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
  • United Nations
  • World Health Organisation

Statement Of Ethical Principles

Ethical awareness is fundamental to the practice of social work, and the commitment to act ethically an essential aspect of the quality of services offered. The IASSW and the International Federation of Social Workers promote ethical debate and reflection in the member organisations, in the schools of social work, among the providers of social work in member countries, and among social work students. Some of the ethical problems and challenges that face social workers are endemic to specific countries, and others are common. The joint IASSW and IFSW statement seeks to encourage social workers across the globe to reflect on the dilemmas and challenges with which they are faced in order to make ethically informed decisions as to how to act in each particular caseInternational Federation Of Social Workers

Some of the problem areas include:

  • Social workers function as both controllers and helpers
  • Social workers are often conflicted between societal demands for efficiency and utility and their duty to protect the interests of the people with whom they work
  • Resources in society are often very limited
  • The loyalty of social workers is often in the middle of conflicting interests

The Statement of Ethical Principles uses the definition of social work adopted separately by IASSW and the International Federation of Social Workers and agreed upon in 2001. This definition stresses principles of human rights and social justice. The document makes reference to the various declarations and conventions on human rights that are relevant to social work, a statement of general ethical principles under the two broad headings of human rights and dignity and social justice, and some basic guidance on ethical conduct in social work.

The Statement of Ethical Principles covers the recognition of rights that are accepted by the global community and documents that are particularly relevant to social work practice:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
  • The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO convention 169)

The Statement also covers:

Human Rights and Human Dignity
Social work is based on respect for the dignity and constitutional worth of all people, and the rights that follow from this. It is the duty of social workers to uphold and defend every individual’s physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual integrity and well-being. This means that social workers must:

  • Respect the right to self-determination
  • Promote the right to participation
  • Treat each person as a whole
  • Identify and develop strengths

Social Justice

Social workers have a responsibility to promote social justice in relation to the people with whom they work as well as in relation to society generally, which means:

  • Challenging negative discrimination
  • Recognising diversity
  • Distributing resources equitably
  • Challenging unjust policies and practices
  • Working in solidarity

Professional Conduct

The national organisations who are members of IASSW and the International Federation of Social Workers have a responsibility to develop and regularly update their own ethical guidelines so that they reflect those contained in the IFSW/ IASSW statement. National organizations must inform schools of social work and social workers about these codes or guidelines.

It is incumbent upon social workers to act in accordance with the ethical code or guidelines current in their country, as they generally detail guidance in ethical practice specific to the national context. The Statement does, however give general guidelines covering what social workers should and should not do, which can be used as a template from which to work locally.

IFSW Membership

Full Membership

The International Federation of Social Workers offers full membership to professional organizations that represent social workers at a country-wide level. This type of membership gives the organization influence over international social work policies and directions.

Members in this category of IFSW receive:

Advocacy for the promotion of social justice or social work on the members’ behalf, in their own country and/or region, internationally and/or within the United Nations

  • An active culture of sharing and learning across regions, nations, and the world
  • A news service that is relevant to social work
  • Access to international advertising of social work jobs
  • Links with other IFSW members to improve regional networks and practice based networks
  • Participation in both regional and global conferences
  • Resources and a dedicated International Social Work Journal
  • Support for members’ campaigns for social work and social justice outcomes

Friends Of IFSW

Anyone that wishes to show their support for the International Federation of Social Workers may join as a Friend of IFSW.

Friends of IFSW receive:

  • Access to learning, sharing, and cooperative networks
  • Advance access to all publications at a reduced cost
  • Discounted registration fees for conferences
  • Exclusive access to international social work jobs
  • The IFSW Friend Pin and a certificate of your ‘Friends Status’ membership
  • The opportunity to participate in and/or create social work or social justice campaigns

Contact Details

Address International Federation of Social Workers
PO Box 6875
Schwarztorstrasse 22
CH-3001
Berne
Switzerland
Telephone (41) 22 548 36 25
Fax (41) 22 5181037
General enquiries global@ifsw.org

Technical support online@ifsw.org

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