Social Work in Thai Values

The term 'social work' in the Thai language 'sungkom songkhrau' has many layers of meaning. From the very subtle layer, it refers to 'relief', which connotes a unique set of patron–client values and the delicate hierarchical nature of the Thai
social structure – the patron–client and hierarchical values of Thailand have their roots in ancient history. The deeper meanings, interpreted in Buddhist terminology, range from 'assistance' and 'solidarity' to 'integration'.

The Thai social work practitioners and educators followed the deeper sets of meaning but the majority of Thai people, unfortunately, hold to the subtle rather than the deeper one. The original intention of the social work profession was to join with the creation social welfare services as one of the political strategies of that time. Furthermore, the subtle understanding of the meaning of 'social work' is strongly compatible with the uniqueness of Thai political culture and democratic development.

As Thai social structure is hierarchical in its nature so the Thai bureaucratic system is very powerful and controls all professions: medical doctors, engineers, architects, and scientists all become bureaucrats (Mongkolnchaiarunya, 2009). Bureaucratic values often support the career achievement of an individual social work professional to a greater degree than her/his own professional strengths, and senior social workers therefore become project/office administrators rather than remain professional practitioners.

In everyday life, the patron–client system embraces every level of Thai society and influences the mentality of politicians and senior administrators who have less commitment to empowerment, self-help, and the development model of intervention. They prefer 'relief' to 'release' intervention and prefer to give material service or a gift to potential voters instead of encouraging target groups to be able to help themselves or create mutual help systems gradually. In the meantime the Thai people, particularly the disadvantaged, are pragmatic – they are not keen on long-term visions, goals, systematic planning, and continuous working processes (Heim, 1981, cited in Mongkolnchaiarunya, 2009).

The Origin of Social Work in Thailand

The origin of professional social work stemmed from the nationalistic ideology of Prime Minister Field Marshal Phibunsongkram in 1938. The policy, intentionally, was to create public support and strengthen the Thai state as an institution upon which the Thai people could depend. The establishment of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) in 1944 is evidence of the government attempts to do this – the DPW was the government agency in which most social workers worked.

At present, there are approximately 2,600 social workers scattered around government social welfare agencies, including local administration. The rest include those who work in related practices such as community development workers, social development workers, and probation officers, as well as those who work in NGOs. Regarding the social work profession in NGOs, a large number of those who work as social workers do not have any degree in social work – there is no law or regulation which declares that social workers have to complete their degree from a school of social work. The NGOs in social welfare, therefore, can choose to employ anyone from any educational background to work in their agency. There are approximately 200 professional social workers in NGOs.

Laws Related to Strengthening Social Work Practices

In the last decade, social work practices in Thailand have gained great support from related social laws.

The Criminal Procedure Amendment Act (No. 20) (1999) mentions clearly the mandate of social workers in the interviewing of those who are under 18 years of age in criminal procedures. The Social Welfare Promotion Act (2003) and the Social Welfare Promotion Act (Amendment) (2007) encourage every sector to participate in social welfare services covered by, among others, the Child Protection Act 2003, the Elderly Person Act 2003, Domestic Violence Victim Protection Act 2007, Mental Health Act 2008, and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2008. There are more than 10 acts for facilitating social workers in working with various diversity groups. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has established at least five social resource funds to support practice and service delivery to a variety of social beneficiaries.

Regarding social work practice in NGOs, there are around 32,000 foundations, associations, and other organizations and the government has a duty to promote these organizations, businesses, volunteers, and so on to arrange social welfare services. They are all eligible to propose social welfare projects to be funded by the government. In fact, social welfare services are not provided only by government agencies but also by the local community, business sector, and civil society. The business sector can claim welfare services delivered to employees and society as corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

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