The Professional Role of Social Workers

When social workers in the Global North are employed in child welfare, they are almost always working with issues of child abuse and neglect. However, the brief sections in this chapter are designed to give an overview of the additional issues that may affect a child’s well-being. As has been demonstrated, the topic of child welfare encompasses more issues than maltreatment. Many things that children in the Global North may take for granted, such as freedom from military service, education, and citizenship, may be concerns that threaten the welfare of millions of children around the globe. By the same token, other issues, such as maltreatment, threaten children worldwide. Social workers can work on reducing these threats to child well-being by working on the micro level to help individual clients or their families to attain child well-being. Social workers in the Global North may also often work with international adoption, performing home studies and helping parents and children to adjust to each other and overcoming cultural differences. Social workers can also work on the macro level to make education and birth registration more accessible. They can work to help families be able to provide for their children so that the children do not need to be given up for adoption or be sent to work at an early age. Working with multiple system levels enables social workers to help those who are currently experiencing the problem while helping to prevent others from suffering the same problem in the future (see Box 4.1).

BOX 4.1 Social Worker Profile—Mai-Lynn Sahd, MSW

Mai-Lynn Sahd's mother was born in northern Vietnam. Due to a mental illness, her mother was stigmatized and shunned by her fellow villagers and family. She moved to Hanoi to find work, but then lost her job as a result of Mai-Lynn's birth. Both Mai-Lynn and her mother were forced to live in the streets and scavenge for food. At times, her mother would go off on her own and leave Mai-Lynn to fend for herself. When Mai-Lynn was about 6 years old, a worker convinced her mother to place Mai-Lynn in an orphanage so she could receive constant care; Mai-Lynn lived there for about 3 years.

Conditions there were overcrowded and undersourced. Corruption permeated the orphanage administration; most of the monies received were used to supplement salaries rather than care for the children. There were about 80 children, with five caregivers. Twenty children lived in a room, with five children per bed. There was no education provided, no structure, and the food was poor—both in quality and quantity. In order to survive, the children would sneak out and steal food from the local villagers. If visitors came, the children were cleaned up and given nice clothes in order to present well. But once they left, those clothes as well as the toys that they had been gifted were taken away. Mai-Lynn felt very abandoned and cried frequently for her mother.

She saw parents come to adopt children and witnessed the love they had for their adopted child. She yearned to have that special connection for herself. She was supposed to be adopted by one couple, but they later backed out after Mai-Lynn had already been given their picture and told they were her new parents. By this time, she was getting older, approximately 9, and was placed on a special needs adoption list. Her picture was seen by an American couple who were in the process of adopting another Vietnamese child, and they decided to adopt Mai-Lynn as well.

Her mother was a social worker who had founded an agency, Brittany's Hope, in the memory of their first adopted daughter, Brittany, who died in a car accident during her senior year of college. Brittany's Hope was developed to facilitate international adoption of special needs children who were otherwise unlikely to find a permanent family. Her mother and father personally lived this mission and adopted children from around the world who had been designated as “special needs” for a variety of reasons, including Mai-Lynn's “advanced age.”

Mai-Lynn came to the United States and acclimated very well. She went on to earn her BSW and MSW. In the interim, Brittany's Hope expanded their mission to promote sustainable development projects for orphans and other at-risk children around the world and create hope for those children who will not be adopted. Mai-Lynn now serves as the Executive Director at Brittany's Hope. Her own adoption story led her to strive to create change for children in orphanages worldwide. She remembers that craving for love and a human touch and uses that memory to motivate her on a daily basis. Through this, she states that she creates healing for herself.


Brittany's Hope connects with the local government and community to determine what needs and desires they have before ever beginning a project. Many of the Brittany's Hope projects have occurred in the nation of Vietnam, including Emily's Canes to provide canes to community members with vision impairment and teach them to use them, as well as Brittany's Cribs to provide safe cribs in orphanages. They also sponsor the House of Love orphanage, where they have funded a number of building projects such as shower and kitchen facilities, underwritten sustainable development including potable water and farm animals, and also facilitated sponsorship of individual children at the orphanage. Many children living at the House of Love are not eligible for adoption as they have a living parent, but in many cases their parents are not able to adequately care for them due to poverty or illness. The money provided through sponsorship helps assure an adequate diet, schooling, and a safe place to eat and sleep for all children living at this facility. The HOPE project (Helping Orphans by Providing Education) provides funding for orphans to receive education, either higher education or vocational skills.

They have now expanded operations to Injibara, Ethiopia, where, in consultation with the local community, they have built an orphan care facility. This model facility is not an institution but has a number of small homes in which the children live with a housemother, who is hired from the local village. Brittany's Hope also runs a number of other projects that work to help children in need around the world. You can learn more about their work at

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