Ms Shannon Pakura, President of the New Zealand Association of Social Workers celebrates World Social Work Day, Tuesday 21 March, a day when social workers all over the world celebrate and promote the contributions of the profession to individuals, families, communities and wider society.
The theme for the day this year is Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability. Social work has long claimed to work from a person-in-environment perspective. However, until recently this has almost exclusively focussed on the social environment. It is only relatively recently that social work has recognised the need to also attend to the natural, physical environment.
Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Natural disasters, and the accelerating impacts of climate change, are already impacting severely on both communities and the physical environment.
Environmental disasters, both natural and man-made frequently affect the most vulnerable people and communities that social workers work with.
In a relatively young 2017 New Zealand has experienced both fire and flood. This has been a stark reminder of the potential impacts of climate change on both communities and the environment. It is anticipated that such events will become far more common. Typically, vulnerable people in these communities suffered the worst impacts.
The recent Maxim Institute report suggested that over the next 30 years there would be significant stagnation or decline of New Zealand’s regions. If this projection is correct, the declining economic and demographic sustainability of the regions will have a significant impact for individuals, families and communities. There are already communities with high levels of unemployment which contribute to social issues. Increasingly social workers are working in these communities to build resilience and sustainable options.
So, as we celebrate World Social Work Day, let us reflect on how social workers advocate for sustainable communities and incorporate respect for the natural environment into our practice and also into our daily lives.