“Social Services professionals worldwide are facing similar challenges due to common societal and economic problems. Issues such as child welfare, youth delinquency and an increasing elderly population have no national boundaries. The Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI) Social Services Exchange Program believes that best practices and policies to address social problems should also have no boundaries and that learning from each other’s experiences improves the quality of life worldwide” (Chicago Sister Cities International, Social Services).
Birmingham City Council and Chicago City Hall have gained considerable practical benefit from the exchange of social work good practice, knowledge and experience over fourteen years.
During that period practitioners from both cities have come together to provide short – term placements to share their professional skills to the benefit of the clients they serve. Encompassing a wide range of specialist knowledge and organisational know-how there has been a rigorous review and analysis of the individual city approaches to basic social care, care for the elderly, mental health etc. The collaboration has, over time included a diverse range of issues affecting children, youth, adult services and families.
One of the direct benefits to Birmingham’s social services has been the collaboration with Kathleen Borland Chair of CSCI’s Social Services that covered issues ranging from poverty and substance abuse to child abuse and human rights violations. Among others, this collaboration resulted in the redesign of the Social Services Department’s Juvenile Offender Programmes in Birmingham to reflect lessons learned in Chicago.
Partnering with academic and specialist agencies related research work has contributed to the establishment of significant data – bases of information and professional skill. This has led to enhanced standards of provision and more personal care plans.
The most recent exchange focused on ‘Building safer communities for youth, adults and families’. In June 2014, Chicago Sister Cities International and the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter (NASWIL) hosted the 18th Annual Social Work Tri-City Exchange between Chicago, Birmingham and Hamburg.
“There is no doubt the social work exchange is working well….It is a good example of mutual practical benefits between our cities and highlights the value of sharing good practice. This is particularly true at a time of reducing resources when we all need to be more effective and efficient.” (Chicago Sister Cities International, Social Services)