Academics and Research / Magazine Feature / People

GSSW rebuilding social work profession in China

Tong’s career choice remains a mystery to many Chinese because, for many years, their government denied the existence of social problems and the need for social work. But now a unique partnership between the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) and Beijing’s China Youth University for the Political Sciences (CYUP) is helping to rebuild the profession through faculty exchanges and joint research projects.

The China Partnership began in 1994 when China’s government invited Professor Jack Jones, then GSSW dean, to share expertise gleaned from his previous position as director of social work studies and professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Numerous visits by former GSSW Dean Catherine Alter, faculty members and several doctoral students followed; and CYUP has sent administrators and faculty members like Tong to Denver. Tong was appointed vice dean of CYUP upon her return to China in November 2005.

In recent years, China has had to confront issues like its aging population and the unmasking of unemployment and poverty as economic reform brings the once-agrarian population streaming into cities. The rapid changes have resulted in a scramble to re-establish educational programs in sociology, psychology and social work, dismantled when the Communist Party came to power in 1949 and sought to eradicate all Western influences.

“Use of the Internet and the opening of China to information and technology have caused huge changes within that society,” says GSSW Assistant Professor Julie Haddow, who made her third trip to China in March. “The impact on individuals and families is enormous.”

Along with CYUP Professor Li Yanping, Haddow is leading the two schools’ first joint research project examining individual and environmental factors that either promote or deter normal social development among Chinese youth. Haddow, who has conducted similar projects in Korea and Japan, is learning to speak and write Chinese through weekly tutoring sessions in Denver with Aidong Qi, MBA ’04. Qi also helps with translation of research-related documents.

GSSW will offer a new course this fall, Social Work From a Chinese Perspective, during which twelve Master of Social Work students will travel to China with Haddow for a firsthand look at social work practices in both urban and rural areas.

Other GSSW faculty members who have taught courses and conducted joint research projects in China include Institute on Aging Director Enid Cox and Associate Professor Cathryn Potter, GSSW’s director of research. In 2001, CYUP Professors Hou Xian and Yang Xiou Fong spent several months at GSSW learning about the field internship program in which all of the DU’s master of social work students participate.

Tong’s doctoral dissertation focused on American adoptions of Chinese children. China’s “one child” policy has caused the frequent abandonment of daughters by parents who believe a son will be better able to care for them in their old age. Tong hopes to return to the United States in a few years to continue her study of the ways American families seek to help these children establish roots in their native culture.

This article is adapted from one that originally appeared in The Source, January 2006.


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