Andrew Duffy: International Child Welfare Exchange


Our friends just left, and it was harder than I thought it would be to see them go.

We had only just met in May when nine MSW students traveled to Jerusalem with the International Child Welfare Exchange. Through the extreme generosity of the Schusterman Family Foundation, we spent eight days connecting with Israeli MSW students and learning about the child welfare system in Israel. The hope is that through ongoing intercultural collaboration we might learn how to better address childhood abuse and neglect. This last week, as the second part of the exchange, fifteen Israeli students traveled to Tulsa in order to learn how our system approaches the problem. Now they are gone again.

As I traveled around my hometown, toured facilities, and listened to lectures with the Israeli students, I began to realize something: some of the most important information I gathered came from the things left unaddressed, rather than from what was actually said. For example, consider the following: Does an organization offer personal testimonies regarding their effectiveness, but never statistics on long-term outcomes? Does a service include data about helping minority clients, and yet all of the staff is white? Does a representative spend more time talking about the vision of a program than about the specific steps that are being taken to achieve that vision?

Identifying what is not being said (and not being seen) is a vital skill for social workers. Beautiful buildings and extensive programs do not always help clients. Well-meaning legislation often has unconsidered, far-reaching consequences. Even on a professional level, what does the Social Work Code of Ethics not say that many assume it does, and what do we not see social workers doing that perhaps we should? Learning to see what is there typically constitutes the first step in addressing social problems. In order to really make lasting change, however, I think we must also learn to see what is not there. That is what my Israeli friends helped me learn.

And now, even as I write this, they are flying back to home. Thanks for everything my friends! Even if we don’t keep in touch, please know that wherever I am, you are welcome.

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