Module 8Implications for Social Work Policy


A Human Rights Perspective

To meet the needs of refugees and host communities and assure there are adequate resources to sustain healthy communities, social workers must to be able to develop and advance policies and related services. Such policies are crucial in determining availability of services and access to those services that promote human rights, social justice and social welfare. 

Competency 5: Engage in Policy Practice

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) 2015 EPAS states that social workers need to “recognize and understand the historical, social, cultural, economic, organizational, environmental, and global influences that affect social policy” (p. 8). [See CSWE 2015 EPAS]

Human rights, social justice, and social welfare are grounded in the ability of social workers to comprehensively assess the needs of individuals and communities while being aware of how global issues such as oppression, war and poverty affect individuals and communities. In addition, understanding the intricate relationships between a person’s micro, messo, and macro systems contributes to the ability to set priorities and establish comprehensive political advocacy strategies to “help individuals, families, and communities to fulfill their potential and to lead healthy, productive lives” (para.2). [See link:NASW]

The Deputy Mayor of Schwerin spoke of the city going into debt as a result of the difficult situation of trying to balance the needs of local residents and those of refugees with limited funding from the national government and political resistance by a strong anti-migration party. While he discussed the many policy issues related to lack of adequate funding for resources and services, he did cite the importance of receiving a “federal award” to buy vans equipped with games that would go where the youth were. He coined this reaching out to refugees with public services “mobile social work” and outlined a plan to expand the outreach to women and girls. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Finally, social workers need to be able to evaluate the effects of policy decisions on people in their communities and advocate for change when necessary. The workers with the Refugee Council in Schwerin lamented the difficulties surrounding asylum applications for refugees due to the many different policies involved. Borgwarth related the story of a child who needed a heart operation, but they had difficulty finding a hospital to do the surgery since the family could not make an asylum claim in Germany because they came thru Italy. Without official asylum in Germany, they were not part of the national health insurance system for refugees. Under the Dublin Agreement, the family was expected to return to Italy. Through the advocacy of these workers, the child was finally able to have surgery in Germany. [See video]  [See Transcript]

A Human Rights Perspective

From a human rights perspective, the National Association of Social Work’s (NASW) Social Justice Priorities, Equity and Inclusion, 2018-2019 document and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) address refugee resettlement issues of immigration, economic, and environmental policies. [See link: IFSW (in German language)] and also 

[See link:NASW-Social Justice ]

Seemann-Katz who works with the Refugee Council in Schwerin described their focus as working “for human rights…because human rights touch everything…It’s about school. It’s about living and housing, working and….” [See video: Refugee Council Service Providers; See Transcript: Refugee Council Service Providers] Asem described the challenges and consequences of refugee policies, and the differing interpretations and implementation of refugee policies at the international borders when he fled war torn Syria. [See video: Asem Alsayjare, Refugee; See Transcript: Asem Alsayjare, Refugee] The Dean of the Alice Salomon Hochschule shared the university’s commitment to assist refugees who seek adequate housing, safety and access to resources that promote their human rights and wellbeing. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Relational-Cultural Theory

From a relational-cultural lens, power is the capacity to produce change (Miller,1991). This means that power is an intrinsic aspect of everyday life. When a culture associates power with individualism, “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps”, conquest and might, then power mutates into “power over” others. Power becomes hierarchical and ego-bound. An alternative association with power is where power allows people to participate in creating and influencing change with others. Our understanding of how power is used affects how we understand policy.

Policies addressing the needs of people and communities that are driven by human connection with mutual empowerment and mutual respect can be powerful. The Dean of the Alice Salomon Hochschule stated: “We are politically active, and it comes from our history.” She related how they reached out to the Mayor and members of the “regional government” to coordinate provision with much needed services to refugees in the community. She related how faculty, employers, and refugees worked together to build community. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Freytag with the Government Training Program in Schwerin noted the need for collaboration of existing educational and vocational programs with people and businesses in the community to support new vocational programs that promote healthy integration of refugees into the host communities by offering practical, structured training and field experiences in those local businesses.[See video]  [See Transcript]



Miller, J. B. (1991). Women and Power. In J. Jordan, A. Kalan, J. Miller, I. Stiver, & J. Surrey

 (Eds.), Women’s Growth in Connection. New York: Guilford Press.

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