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Tuesday, February 1

November 2004 Tri-City Exchange to Birmingham, England

Robert Wolf, LCSW

The 9th Annual Tri-City Exchange was held from November 8, 2004 through November 19th in Birmingham, England. From a pool of over 50 applicants, a delegation of seven were selected to participate from the Chicago area. Seven social workers from Hamburg, Germany also participated and four social workers from South Africa were invited but unable to attend.

 Historically, professional exchanges are structured to encourage a free flow of ideas on topics of global significance. The Birmingham Social Service Department wanted to continue this tradition and divided delegates into 5 topic groups including:

1) youth justice programs;

2) services to adoption and foster care children and their families;

3) services to asylum seekers;

4) mental health services; and

5) program monitoring and evaluation.

 The accommodations were excellent, complete apartments, situated in the center of Birmingham with a market next door. Each delegation was provided with one cell phone for coordination purposes. There was an excellent blending of delegates both within the American delegation and among the German and English delegates.

This provided a flexible and informal learning environment which fostered intercultural discussion and learning.

 The Lord Mayor of Birmingham hosted a reception for the Tri-city delegation and provided a tour of city hall. The University of Birmingham hosted much of the Program and used its doctoral students to work with delegate members in their individual studies and preparing delegates for the conference at the end of the Program. Across the five topic areas above, approximately 35 British social service agencies participated in this Exchange.

 This Exchange occurred at an optimal time as England is in the midst of radical changes impacting the very nature of the social worker’s functioning. A series of national laws has redirected social service funding from the high end of service delivery to the front end and/or prevention side. This has resulted in a significant reduction in personnel on the service side and increased caseloads to compensate for this loss of personnel. The redirected funding includes new initiatives designed to enable youth and adults to be independent and contributing members of society. Key to these initiatives is the requirement that consumers of the services will be meaningfully involved in the planning, decision-making, monitoring and evaluation of the services. This has lead to the creation of innovative consumer involvement. Examples include 1) 4 year olds being trained and then participating equally with adults in the screening and hiring of a teacher for the classroom and 2) past mental health consumers participating in the selecting of applicants for the graduate school of social work. Both the Hamburg and Illinois delegates were deeply impacted by this cutting edge practice.

 Following the “official Tri-city conference” the Illinois delegation remained an additional day to do an in-service for Birmingham’s child protection staff and supervisors on teens and gun violence as this is a growing concern in England. Thanks to the leadership of Dave Simpson from Youth Guidance and research assistance from our delegates, we had a lively 90 minute presentation with the British social workers.

Posted on 02/01/05 at 02:26 PM

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