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Transnational social work (book review)

Posted: October 01 2020

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning. 

This week: 

Transnational social work book cover


This book brought together 21 leading researchers in the field to explore the current state of transnational Social Work (TSW) in five countries that share English as a common language. These include United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The focus of the book is on the professional experiences of transnational social workers in these five countries.

The book aims to provide detailed description and analysis of opportunities and challenges embedded in transnational social work mobility in each country and considered some of the potentials to mitigate challenges. The book presents findings of research into the experiences and perceptions of transnational social workers (TSWs), with the view of informing relevant policy and educational policies.

The term ‘transnational social workers’ (TSWs) as used in the book is defined as ‘social workers who have gained their professional education in one nation and relocate to practise (or aspire to practise) in another’ (p. 1). Similarly, the authors highlighted that the steady growth of TSW labour market mobility is traceable to increased globalisation and transnational migration.

The authors further stress that social work is an example of an increasingly transnational mobile profession, linking this to the favourable migration policy in which social work frequently appears on national skills shortage lists in many western countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. They argue that practising in a different country other than where social workers were trained could present both opportunities and challenges for transnational social workers.

While migration may attract opportunities to gain permanent residency of another country, and to broaden professional experiences, the authors acknowledge the challenges of transnational social work. These challenges include:

  • challenges in transplanting models of practice; challenges in professional disposition and knowledge of law and policy from familiar fields to foreign jurisdiction;
  • complexities around the recognition of their professional qualification and experiences;
  • challenges in finding meaningful employment where their skills can be fully utilised; limited practice autonomy; limited professional induction and professional development.

They conclude that transnational social work mobility continues to be a feature of the global economy but express reservations that tensions and challenges of transnationalism remain unresolved.

The book is well structured. It is sectioned into four parts: The first part sets the transnational context, providing an overview within which transnational labour mobility takes place with globalisation as the main driver. Part two of the book focuses on practitioners’ perspectives, and each chapter focuses on the experiences of TSWs in specific countries, enabling the authors to demonstrate the uniformity of the opportunities and challenges faced by TSWsand the local context within which they take place.

Part three of the book shifts the focus from the experiences of the transnational professionals to the employers and stakeholders’ views, constituting institutional and regulatory factors that shape the experiences of TSWs and their integration into the new practice contexts. The focal point of the final part is the policy challenges as well as professional responses to some of the challenges encountered by TSWs. It touches on the dialogue and discussion across the profession.

The impact of such dialogue, as demonstrated in the Canadian context, was presented. The implications of government regulations for migrating social workers were considered within the Australian and Irish contexts, envisaging greater complexity in European social work mobility following Brexit referendum. Undoubtedly, the strength of this book lies in bringing together such a diverse group of researchers, each contributing a unique perspective and methodology to explore the experiences of transnational social workers in a country other than where they were trained by, and the views of various stakeholders.

Furthermore, the book highlights the increased intrusion into the social work profession of neo-liberal ideologies and practices, and then questions whether the profession should regulate itself in terms of defining what social work is, what social workers do, what are our professional values and ethical framework that inform practice within local contexts.

However, the book appears to be limited in some respects. As admitted by the author, the book fails to capture service users’ voices of their experiences of working with transnational social workers in these jurisdictions to discern the challenges of practising within the local context from the service user’s perspectives. It is believed that this could be a potential area for future research. In addition, the quality of the individual chapters varies, with some chapters written in a more convincing manner describing more rigorous research whilst other chapters are less convincing, some not including any theoretical perspective through which the data were analysed.

Moreover, none of the studies presented in the book is sensitive to specific migrants’national and cultural context and its interaction with the professional and cultural context of their host country. It is believed that exploring transnational social work through the lens of migrants’ specific national cultural habitus and its interaction with the cultural context of practice in the destination country could provide useful insights into hidden area of personal and professional challenges being experienced by TSWs. Knowing better these challenges can enhance our ability to support them better within each unique cultural context.