A new project led by Bath academic Dr Louise Brown involving international partners from South Africa and Tanzania is examining how interventions in social work from UK might also be used to help families and children at risk of maltreatment across Africa.

The project – one of 12 from the University to be funded through the government’s flagship Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – has been designed to be small in scale and quick to complete in order to test the long-term viability of this research.

Across the globe social work practitioners are working in frontline positions, working to alleviate the hardship and challenges individuals and communities face through poverty and inequality. Yet despite this, and their central role in relation the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aimed at poverty reduction, social work service development often remains chronically under-funded and under-researched.

This project is set within the context of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals, which provides the international social work profession an opportunity to contribute to meeting the targets through social protection programmes. To reach their full potential, low and middle income countries (LMIC) need greater support to develop effective programmes and interventions.

Led by academics within the Department of Social & Policy Sciences at Bath in collaboration with Dr Alex Ziemann an implementation science expert from City University, London, the project involves in country social work experts from South Africa – Dr Marianne Strydom, from Stellenbosch University – and from Tanzania – Dr Zena Mabeyo, from the Institute of Social Work in Tanzania. A particular focus has been on how the social work model from the UK, known as ‘family group conferencing’ whereby all members of a family are involved in tackling problems or disputes might be translated to different settings.

Dr Brown has experience of working in international contexts in translating social work practices, most significantly in supporting social work services for children in China.

Having recently returned from Tanzania and South Africa as part of this current GCRF project, she explained: “The challenge in these two African countries remains how to support the cultural adaptation and implementation of social work models transferring from countries like the UK to resource poor countries, such as South Africa or Tanzania, so that they have a greater chance of being effective.

“Our focus has been on one particular social work intervention from the UK where we have seen great success in mobilising family networks and untapped resources to support children at risk of maltreatment. There is particular interest in both South Africa and Tanzania yet the cultural context poses particular challenges in both instances.

"We have just returned from running two highly successful in-country workshops with social work practitioners through which we explored how to adapt the intervention for each country. The practitioners were fully engaged and excited by the model, and worked for two days on adapting it to fit their local context.

"Subject to further funding, plans are in place to develop a version of ‘family group conferencing’ in South Africa over the next 12 months. This will build contribute greatly to developing our knowledge internationally as to how to support the successful transfer of social work interventions as they move between countries."

This stage of the project ends in July 2019 when the report will be published on this stage of the work.