Current Initiatives

A critical mass of Chinese social work scholars and educators emerged in China by 2005. With hundreds of social work programs, thousands of teachers, and tens of thousands of students, social work had become a recognizable social force in the country. Our Chinese colleagues have clearly demonstrated the capacity to direct their own course of development. Upon review of our own role and future direction of engagement, a process in which we have involved our Chinese colleagues, we have decided to move into the second phase of the China Project with a slightly different strategy.

The key idea is to assist our Chinese colleagues to develop high a quality of service in their chosen areas of practice. We have been fortunate in that our collaborators are involved in different levels of social work practice and knowledge building. On the policy level, for example, we have been working with Mr. Wang Laizhu, an alum from our visiting scholars program, who is the Chief of the Legislation Bureau of the Ministry of Civil Affairs in charge of drafting legislations pertaining to social welfare and civil affairs to be adopted by the Chinese government. He has been working with us to form international advisory panels to help him do comparative policy and legislation research in preparation of the draft. Professor Miu-chung Yan of the School of Social Work of University of British Columbia, one of our Ph.D. graduates, is currently working with him on a piece of legislation concerning the regulation of charity organizations. Professor Wes Shera is also a member of the team. Another piece of legislation that we may be studying is related to income protection for low-income rural populations in China. Professor Ernie Lightman will be involved in this project.

Our collaboration with Tsinghua University will include specific programs in psychiatry and mental health. These programs will integrate clinical practice, research, and teaching. In 2006, Professor A. Ka Tat Tsang started introducing his model of behavioral intervention – SSLD (Strategies and Skills Learning and Development) – to colleagues in Tsinghua. Workshops and lectures on the model and its specific applications have been delivered to clinicians at the Yuquan Teaching Hospital and to teaching staff in psychiatry. Professor Tsang is planning to test group psychotherapy programs in 2008 and 2009, which will include clinical trials, treatment manuals, training of therapists, and the development of learning aids and course materials.

On the level of community service, we have the opportunity of working with the Medical School of Tsinghua University, which is currently the top-ranking university in China. Together with various academic divisions here at the University of Toronto, including Centre for International Health, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Pharmacy, and teaching hospitals such as Mt. Sinai and St. Michael’s, we are now collaborating with Tsinghua University to work on a number of very exciting possibilities. One of our major programs is to assist China’s State Commission of Population and Family Planning, which has been known to the international community as the implementer of the one-child policy. The State Commission, however, upon achieving its population control target, is now re-positioning itself to retrain and deploy its 150,000 health care professionals to move into more community health and mental health functions. This initiative represents an exciting opportunity to make a difference at the community level, allowing us to examine the process of knowledge transfer, capacity building, and collaborative innovation.

The other UofT divisions are likely to get involved in assisting Tsinghua University to set up a curriculum in Psychiatry, and hopefully to develop a residents training program (UofT Department of Psychiatry). Colleagues are also exploring other research possibilities in areas such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and specific clinical issues such as depression, suicide and addiction. Such initiatives take us to the level of direct practice, which will remain a strong focus in this phase of the China Project. Our objective to engage with our Chinese colleagues to understand their practice realities, use best-practices elsewhere as a reference, and work collaboratively to develop direct practice models and programs that will address their needs. It is expected that this development will consist of a strong research component. We hope to work with the challenging issues of cultural, regional and demographic diversities, and wrestle with epistemological, methodological, and value issues. We are convinced that this is not a one-way process, but valuable lessons can be learned for us to improve our own work here in Canada.

Focusing on actual practice has driven our collaboration agenda with social work schools in Shandong Province. Shandong is a populous province with three times the population of Canada (over 900 million), and is also an industrial powerhouse of the country. Schools of social work in Shandong have maintained an admirable tradition of open collaboration and mutual support, which is rare in most other parts of the world. Our involvement with Shandong universities follows their tradition, and we work side by side with both Canadian and international colleagues to assist Shandong schools to realize their scholarly objectives. The role that we have chosen to play is to support the consolidation of actual social practice, conceived inclusively to cover policy, community, organization, family, groups, and individual work. It is our wish to support social work faculty members to get immersed in actual practice, in documenting their experience, and to become effective as instructors and supervisors for their students in the mastery of actual practice skills. We are seeking funding to support the finding of a practice learning and research centre, as well as to support graduate student exchange in international practicums. Our colleagues in Shandong have identified a number of practice issues, including child protection, school social work, health care, migrant populations and the homeless, women rights, labour rights, and domestic violence. We will work closely with them to identify foci and to develop a collaborative framework.

A number of initiatives from Phase 1 will also be maintained, including the Visiting Scholars Program and the book publication projects. The publication projects in the second phase will likely include video material, instruction tapes, and practice manuals in selected areas of social work practice.