Social Work in Thailand

Kitipat Nontapattamadul

Development of social work as a profession in Thailand is closely related to the development of social welfare. According to the Social Welfare Promotion Act,

B.E. 2546 (2003) and 2550 (2007), 'social welfare' means the social services system pertaining to the prevention, remedy, development, and promotion of social security in satisfaction of the basic minimum needs of the people to enable a good quality of life and self-reliance. Furthermore, according to this act, social welfare should be a system which is extensive, appropriate, fair, and in accordance with standards in terms of education, health, housing, occupation and income, recreation, the justice process, and general social services and that takes account of human dignity and the people's entitlement to rights and participation in the provision of social welfare on every level. However, by observing the history of Thai welfare systems, various interpretations have emerged. They relate to changing social, political, and economic conditions over time. The interpretations also influence the meanings of 'social work profession'.

Residualism: A Mainstream Welfare Model in Thailand

The history of Thai social welfare reflects the fundamental beliefs of the main developmental strategies of the country. Social welfare has been determined by the development concepts that fed economic growth since 1957 when the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or World Bank) consultants suggested that Thailand establish a National Economic Plan. Since 1957, the main development strategies have emphasized rapid economic growth. Those who gained national administrative power expressed the very least concern for the welfare of the people. Believing strongly in the trickle-down effect, the interpretation of social welfare as well as the meaning of social work was limited for the sake of maximizing economic growth (cf., e.g., Nontapattamadul, 2011; Nontapattamadul and Cheecharoen, 2008; Sungkawan, 2002; Phongvivat, 2009). That is why Thailand has the latest social insurance act among the East and Southeast Asian nations (Hort, and Kuhnle, 2000). The more the administrative powers believed in the notion of accelerated economic growth, the narrower the interpretation of social welfare as well as the meaning of social work became.

Society at large, in addition, was shaped to understand social work roles merely as a relief function. The narrow interpretations of social welfare and social work were accompanied by negligence of social justice. The poor were considered only when they were unable to adjust to the market economy. Lots of the poor were socially vulnerable, prone to be criminals or sex workers, but if they had been protected appropriately by the social welfare mechanism, they might be far from these difficult circumstances. If social work had a broader meaning, they might have been able to access a professional service that promoted their rights and dignities.

As a matter of fact, Thailand almost had a welfare scheme as early as 1932; proposed by Pridi Banomyong, the leader of the civilian faction in the Siamese Revolution. On 24 June 1932, 'Khana Ratsadon' the tiny People's Party carried out a lightening coup that abruptly ended 150 years of absolute monarchy under the Chakri dynasty. Pridi proposed an economic plan for the Thai nation which was intended to create an assurance of well-being for every Thai, which could have been the first step in establishing a Thai welfare state. It was unfortunate that those in power criticized the plan as a Bolshevic idea and stirred the fear of communism. The plan thus was rejected at the very beginning.

If the Thai people had really understood Pridi's intention to gradually establish a welfare state, they might by now have had a welfare state such as many European countries do. The social work profession in Thailand might have been recognized in the same way as in those European countries.

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