For the more than 11 million people in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, including at least 670,000 displaced persons, aid cannot arrive fast enough. The cash collected, food, water and medicine shipped, and troops and disaster relief personnel deployed from the Philippines and around the world in the days and weeks ahead will help save lives and alleviate suffering. But the road to recovery and reconstruction will be long, and healing damaged people and families will require as much care and attention as repairing damaged houses and buildings. While the typhoon's physical impact on communities is plain for all to see, with approximately 8.6 million Filipinos living overseas and tens of thousands of families separated by borders and oceans, its toll on families is a global calamity that is harder to track and easy to overlook.
Once the immediate disaster relief cash has been spent, supplies consumed, and personnel departed, who stands ready to help the Filipino mother working in the Middle East organize new care arrangements for her daughters living with elderly grandparents in the devastated city of Tacloban? Who is on the ground looking out for the best interests of the newly orphaned brothers when their next of kin lives in Canada? Who will help the elderly dual U.S.-Filipino national get out of his devastated neighborhood in the Philippines, repatriated to the United States, and settled in his American community?
For nearly 90 years, governments around the world, including American federal, state, and local officials, have turned to an intrepid network of social workers and other caring professionals well versed in the ways of the world. They do the heavy lifting coordinating the services and support vulnerable children, adults, and families separated by international borders need to survive, reconnect with loved ones, and rebuild their lives. After the Second World War, social workers got on with painstaking work of helping war weary refugees and families get back on their feet and move forward. They have assisted families through countless conflicts and natural disasters since then and also work on more routine matters such as ensuring the safety and well-being of children being reconnected with their families or making a fresh start with new families. In the Philippines today, both volunteer and paid social workers, supported by a network of colleagues around the world, stand ready to help children and families affected Typhoon Haiyan in the months and years ahead. In addition, in times of need and trouble international social workers stand ready to help you, your family, and the people you care about as well.
Imagine answering the phone in the middle of the night and being told that your sister and her husband on a family vacation in Europe have been killed in a car accident. You are their children's next of kin and they have been taken into care by the foreign child welfare agency. You are now responsible for them. Now what?
Imagine your daughter's best friend has been placed in foster care and may be put up for adoption because her undocumented immigrant mother is facing removal proceedings. The child's mother asks you to help her parents in El Salvador take custody of the child until her immigration issues are resolved. They don't speak English, and you don't understand child custody laws in the United States or El Salvador. Now what?
Imagine that you and your spouse are retired and living the dream overseas. After settling into your new expat lives, one of you suddenly needs urgent and expensive medical care. You then realize that your life's savings won't see you through your golden years. You ask your children to help you return to the United States but they are tapped out financially, stressed out with issues in their own lives, and can't help you on their own. Now what?
You take action, but you don't have to do it alone. Today, there are thousands of legal and social work professionals who are part of a growing network across more than 100 countries, including its American affiliate, International Social Service of the USA (on whose board I serve), who are there for you. Help is available but more needs to be done to create a more robust and sustainable global social service system that keeps pace with our ever more globalized world and lives. More needs to be done to ensure that there are trained social workers and others on the ground in every country - because conflict and disaster can strike anywhere, at any time, and vulnerable children and families are everywhere. More needs to be done to enable local social workers to collaborate across borders, so that when families are migrating by choice, or by consequence, they can find skilled, caring, and connected professionals able to assist at every point in their journey and afterwards. More needs to be done to ensure that every student of social work receives some training in global services and that their work with children and families is informed by data, guided by best practices, taps advanced technology, and is supported by national and local systems of care that follow domestic and international law.
Months from now, once the world's media has moved on to other stories and our focus has shifted to new issues, some will wonder how Typhoon Haiyan's victims are faring. Rest assured that there will be social workers in the Philippines and around the world standing by them and working tirelessly for them. And if more is done to strengthen and scale the global social service movement, going forward, vulnerable children, adults, and families separated by international borders won't have to navigate the path to a safer, healthier, and better life alone.
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