Lina KashyapFormer Deputy Director
My CAREER JOURNEY AND REFLECTIONS ON SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION IN INDIA
Tracing my career trajectory and approach:
It all began with a conversation
In my school leaving certificate from Queen Mary High School, Mumbai, dated 1965, there is a cryptic statement made by the school’s Principal, “Lina would like to study Psychology and would like to become a social worker”. Looking back even I am impressed that I was so focused on my future career plans right from school. When I reflected back, I can clearly recall the event and the person who played such a vital role in the selection of a career which has helped me to grow intellectually, socially and spiritually into the person I am today. In this reflection, I would first like to acknowledge Dr Gita Shah who was my inspiration for taking up social work as a career. Gitabahen was related to me from my mother’s side and we met in my maternal parents’ house in the village. She had just completed her M.A. in Social Work from TISS and had started working as a medical social worker in a hospital in Mumbai and I was still studying in school in Standard VII. We spoke only for some time about the way the curriculum is transacted at TISS and the kind of work she was currently doing. I do not recall any details of what she said but I think at that time what I caught was her enthusiasm and commitment to her work and the joy and sense of fulfilment her chosen career was giving her. . Later on in our lives, both of us joined the Institute and we became more friends than just relatives. I deeply condone Gitabahen’s untimely passing onwards and greatly miss her practical wisdom and sagacity even today.
My college years
For my B.A. Degree I joined Elphinstone College, Mumbai in 1965 and decided to graduate in Sociology and political science instead of English literature which I had originally planned to study, because I reasoned that these social science subjects would give me a better background for my studies in social work later on. English literature has remained my hobby.
My student years at TISS
In 1969, I applied to TISS for the Master’s degree program in Social Work choosing Family and Child Welfare (FCW) as my specialization and was fortunate to be selected for the program. I entered the portals of TISS as a shy, reserved person, very thrilled to be studying there, but quite diffident about myself and a little in awe of all my professors as I had heard that all them were pioneers in the field of social work in India. During my two years at the Institute, I got to know some of them quite well and a few of them have left a lasting impression on me. They were: Mrs Manu Desai, our warm and friendly head of department who was my first mentor; the very humble and endearing Mrs Meenakshi Apte who had recently joined the FCW department as faculty; the very formidable Dr Bannerjee, who taught me case work in a way that has stayed with me for a lifetime; Dr Kaikobad, who taught us community organization which I thought I understood but, which actually went over my head and I needed further tutoring from my classmate from the Urban and Rural Community Organization specialization; and our awe inspiring Director Dr M.S.Gore for whose classes on “History and Philosophy of Social Work in India”, I used to sit in the first row. Dr Gore also taught us FCW specialization students a specialization course on “Family in India” because of which he came to know us personally; Dr Panakal, who did not teach me social work but instilled in me through our many conversations on the grounds of our campus, a love for our abundant trees and plants on our beautiful campus grounds. This training has been very useful post my formal retirement from my duties at TISS while tending to my garden with its flowers and fruit trees and vegetable patch which is currently bringing me great joy and peace.
We were actually quite a small group, fifty students in social work and only 10 of us in the specialization. It was the first time I was staying away from home in a hostel. However, for me the two years at TISS were momentous, both personally and academically and changed me in many ways. The courses were interesting and widened my perception of people and situations around me. It made me reflect on a lot of things that I had taken for granted, and changed my outlook towards my- self in relation to others. But it was the field work placements that I had in both the years that were the most incredible experiences I have ever had. They have played a major role in shaping my identity as a social worker and my firm belief and commitment to the social work profession. I discovered other aspects of myself, my ability to relate easily with children of all age groups and the elderly, my leadership qualities and my ability to persevere against all odds. Two years later when I graduated, I was a very different person from the one who had entered TISS two years ago. I had grown up physically and emotionally, I felt much more confident of myself and was ready to plunge into the real world of work.
My stint of working with NGOs as a social work practitioner:
During the next eight years from June 1971 to June 1978, I worked as a social worker with three very different NGOs. However, for me, my stint with the Foster Care Group of the Maharashtra
State Women’s Council (MSWC) for four years from 1974 to 1978 stands out in terms of the variety of experiences I gained on this project.
When I joined the Foster Care Group as a trained social worker, foster family care as an alternative temporary care for children whose parents were in crisis situations was still in a pilot stage in India Out of the three pilot projects funded by the Central Social Welfare Board on an experimental basis, the MSWC’s foster care project was the third one; the other two were run by the League of Service, Madras, and the Family Service Centre, Mumbai.
This project was administered by a committee consisting of members of the MSWC, the trained social worker and trained social workers representing different welfare agencies in Mumbai city. Reflecting on my four years work with the Foster Care Group, I realize how privileged I was to have been mentored by a group of experienced, committed ladies (members of the MSWC) who generously gave their time and energy to this project and supported all my ideas, even some of the wild ones. From Ms Nergish Sidhwa, I learnt how to strategize and not be afraid to try out new things; from Premabahen I learnt not to be afraid of numbers and how to make balance sheets; from Mrs Zarina Currimbhoy, I learnt what humility, dedication and a generosity of spirit really meant; and from Mrs Siddhida Trivedi, I learnt how to get people to work as a team and to lead a such a team
Since this was a pilot project, there was a lot of scope for experimentation in terms of the most appropriate approach in the Indian context. In USA and England, applications are sought from prospective foster parents; the selected foster parents then undergo a short pre- placement training program relating to fostering children who may exhibit psycho-social problems. Initially, the same process was adopted. Then we realized that the families in crisis who needed foster care placement were more comfortable with their children being looked after by people they knew and trusted. We also realized that relatives, neighbours or friends wanted to help the family in crisis but were finding it difficult to do so financially over a long period of time. So when relatives, neighbours or friends were given financial support to look after the children, the parents and the children were happier, they settled down more quickly and the placements were more stable. Besides, through my monthly meetings with the foster parents whom I treated as our partners rather than our clients, I realized that the children placed with relatives, neighbours or friends, were not exhibiting any major psycho-social issues.
We soon came to the conclusion that what later came to be called in western literature as “kinship foster care” was more appropriate in our context. One innovation that this group and the Family service centre project made as a result of joint discussions was to introduce foster day care as a way to prevent institutionalization and disintegration of the family. The two projects jointly convinced the CSWB of the need and validity of this innovation.
Looking back, those years were very rewarding and fulfilling for me. I no doubt gained a lot of experience in working with women, children and families, conducting 15 day out of town residential camps for foster children, conducting group meetings with foster parents, undertaking a small research for drawing up a profile of cases of the foster care project. Along with Murli Khetani (Murli Desai’s maiden name) as the chief investigator, I also participated as co-investigator in a needs assessment in M Ward of greater Mumbai Corporation to identify children needing non- institutional services which was funded by the erstwhile Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of India. The chapter writing of the report was divided between Murli and me with each of us editing the chapter the other one wrote. As I recall, this worked very well as I was very verbose and Murli would not write one word more than necessary, so I added necessary words in her chapters and she deleted unnecessary words in my chapters. Anyhow, all these activities helped me to hone in my research and practice skills as well as my counselling skills and deepened my commitment even more for working for the wellbeing of children and families.
Back at TISS studying for my Ph.D. Degree:
By 1978, I felt that I needed to study again and when I was offered a research fellowship by TISS which would enable me to pursue my doctoral studies on a part time basis and work with the Department of Family and Child Welfare part time. I was thrilled with this offer as it would offer me the best of both worlds. Also after eight years of active work in the field, I could not see myself studying the whole day without falling asleep. I registered for my Ph.D. and was very pleased when Ms Mandakini Khandekar, who was as that time heading the Unit for Child and Youth Research, agreed to become my guide. I had always considered Ms Khandekar as one of the few truly blue blooded social work researchers. Ms Khandekar not only systematically familiarized me with the different aspects of social research, but also made each stage of the dissertation an exciting and enriching experience. Her wide research experience, clarity of perception and inimitable thoroughness helped me to combine scientific quest with the warmth of human experience as reflected in the data. To her, I owe my deep gratitude for having kindled in me a lasting interest in social work research.
For my doctoral studies, I had decided to gain a deeper insight into the lives of deaf children and their families as I proposed to work further in the area of social work with people with disability and their families after completing my studies. My progress was a little was a little slow and by 1981, I could only complete my nine papers in partial fulfilment of the doctoral program. I agreed to my guide’s suggestion that I should work on the thesis full time. Dr Gore, the then Director, TISS and Mrs Apte, my Head of Department reluctantly allowed me to resign from my post as a research fellow on condition that I apply for the post of Assistant Professor which would be available in two to three years. I was a little surprised and very humbled by this demand that they considered me good enough to join the faculty at TISS. I completed my thesis in two years’ time and in 1983 was awarded the Ph. D. Degree.
My years as faculty at TISS, Mumbai:
In 1984, I was selected as an Assistant professor in the Department of Family and Child Welfare (FCW) and in 1988, I was promoted to the post of Associate professor in the same department. In 1984, the Unit for Family Studies was established within the Department of FCW, in order to give greater emphasis to family research, education and practice and three assistant professors were appointed within this Unit. A good deal of seminal work was accomplished by the Unit faculty, Dr Murli Desai, Dr Shalini Bhrarat and Rosamma Joseph, with the support of the FCW department faculty which I shall talk about a little later.
At that time, the FCW Department and the Unit of Family Studies was very ably led by Professor Meenakshi Apte. In my opinion, under her leadership all of us in the department grew as Mrs Apte encouraged each one of us to identify our niche areas and develop expertise within it. Our department meetings were full of laughter, food and a lot of animated discussions as we were all in a sense quite self-opinionated. We were actually a well bonded highly energetic group. I recall that Dr Armity Desai who was our Director at that time, used to call us “a high production department”. I don’t know if Dr Desai remembers this but we took it as a compliment.
On Mrs Apte’s retirement in 1994, I was promoted to the post of professor and selected to head the department of FCW. The Unit of Family Studies was made independent of the department with its own head. While leading the FCW team, I had attempted to emulate the good practices of my two predecessors, Mrs Manu Desai and Mrs Apte. I think I succeeded in ensuring that we all respected each other with our differences and we work together as a well bonded team. In 2000, the FCW department very successfully organized an International Conference on “Families in Transition – Counselling in Transition – Meeting the Challenges Ahead” in association with the International Association for Counselling at Lonavla, India.
During my tenure as head of the department from 1994 to 2006, the members of the FCW department were Kamini Kapadia, Anjali Dave, Tejaswini Adhikari, Sandhya Limaye, Mahua Nigutkar and Alex Akhup. Jeroo Billimoria and Trupti Panchal also worked with the Department for some time. I have tried to give each of my colleagues’ space to develop their own areas of interest and grow their expertise in it. I recall that in spite of opposition from my senior department colleagues that I was pampering Jeroo Billimoria, I accepted her request to allow her one more day of field work so that she can work on her field action projects. This enabled our very dynamic Jeroo to initiate “Childline” and “Mejol” which later developed into full- fledged services. In fact I am proud to say that Childline is a national service today.
In 2004, under the leadership of the new Director of TISS, Professor S. Parasuraman, the Institute underwent a major restructuring process of our academic and administrative structures. By 2006, academically, instead of teaching departments and research units, we re-structured as schools and centres within them. The erstwhile FCW department became a centre within the School of Social Work and we named our centre as Centre for Equity for Women, Children and Families. At this point, on Professor Parasuraman’s suggestion, I and two colleagues, Dr Shreelatha Juvva and Dr Sandhya Limaye from the centre for Equity for Women, Children, and Families moved out of the centre in order to form a new centre which we named Centre for Disability Studies and Action (DSA). Dr Vaishali Kohle also moved to this new centre from the Centre for Health and Mental Health. I headed the centre for DSA for its first two years, from 2006 to 2008. In 2008, the Centre for DSA launched an M.A in Social work in Disability Studies and Practice.
In 2008, I was selected by the Governing Board to serve as the Deputy Director of the Institute for tenure of five years. These were exiting times to be at the Institute which was growing at a scorching speed in many directions. I was fortunate to have Mrs Sheela Rajendra as my very efficient and reliable secretary. Ms Amruta Prakash was appointed as my personal assistant and she was really my woman Friday, whose intelligent assistance in all my tasks was invaluable. My responsibilities were many and very varied from refurnishing our new guest house and guest flats in Mumbai and Tuljapur, our rural campus, to participating in setting up campuses in Hyderabad and Guwahati, to participating in developing new M.A. Programs, to meeting delegations from international universities for developing links and exchange and study programs, to coordinating all the events for celebrating the Institute’s Platinum jubilee year, to streamlining the admission process for the M.A. Programs and the administration of M.PHIL and Ph.D. programs, to participating in constitutional committees of the Institute to name a few that come to my mind as I am writing this article. While doing all this I continued to teach two courses in the School of Social Work’s program. I must state here that I was able to take on some many tasks because of cooperation and support I received from the Director Professor Parasuraman and the Registrar Professor Neela Dabir. I would here like to highlight my role in just two of the tasks undertaken by me.
The Institute at this time had just completed the academic restructuring process. In this new structure, existing departments and units had taken on a different form and new schools and centres within them as well as some independent Centres were established. Existing M.A. programs were reviewed and strengthened and many new programs were in the process of being developed by the new schools and independent centres.
One of my major tasks was to stream line the admission process for the entire Master’s level programs offered by the Institute. Up to 2013, our admission process consisted of program focused written test and panel interviews generally held in March of every year. From 2008, we decided to incorporate a common entrance test for all candidates applying for any of the M.A. programs of the institute as the first component of the admission process. Moreover, we decided that the test would be offered from about thirty centres spread across India.
In 2008 when I took over the overall administration of the admission process, we were offering twelve M.A. programs from our Mumbai campus and one from the Tuljapur campus. Since then there has been a rapid increase of programs offered each year and with it an exponential rise in the number of candidates applying for the different programs not only from the Mumbai campus, but also from the Guwahati and Hyderabad campuses also as soon as they became operational. This considerably complicated matters quite a bit. For instance, in 2008, we had twelve M.A. programs, from the Mumbai campus and one program from the Tuljapur campus. But by 2013, I was administrating the admission process for twenty nine M.A. programs for the Mumbai campus, one program for the Tuljapur campus, six programs for the Guwahati campus and two programs for the Hyderabad campus.
During the first year of administering the common entrance test, about 20 colleagues from across the Institute worked with me to develop a question bank of objective questions in the various areas in which we needed to assess the candidates. Two years later, a company was commissioned to develop the question bank as it was too time consuming for the faculty to continue to do this job every year. About 30 centres all across India which were mostly University, college or school premises which had the appropriate infrastructure facilities for administering such a test were identified and their permission and cooperation was sought by the Academic section of the Institute. Teams consisting of faculty members and administrative staff were created for carrying the question papers cum answer (OMR) sheets and physically supervising the administration of the test which was held on the same day simultaneously at all the identified centres. I took great care that administrative staff and faculty were given the same facilities in terms of air travel to and accommodation at the venue. From the third year, the creation of the test and the sourcing of the centres all over India were commissioned to TCS whose staff worked with me and the staff of our academic section for conducting this test. We still had to send our teams to supervise the administration of the test. For this mammoth task which I undertook every year, all my communication, team building, planning and coordination skills came into full play. On reflecting back, I am happy to say that on the whole, the entire process ran like a well- oiled machine with only minor glitches. For this I owe my sincere thanks to the wonderful cooperation that I received from all our administrative staff especially from the staff of the Academic section as well as all my academic colleagues from all the schools and centres who took on the various responsibilities quite willingly.
I recall with some satisfaction the role I was able to play in the establishment of the TISS Guwahati Campus, right from selection of the campus site, meeting our alumni from the North East and seeking their support in setting up the campus, working with the core faculty in developing the social work and counseling courses to be offered from that campus, assisting in the admission during the first year of operation of the campus and selection of faculty.
My approach to social work education:
When I joined the institute as an Assistant professor after having worked in the field for eight years, I realized that my understanding social work practice had broadened. At the M.A. level, my core social work courses comprised of a course on History and philosophy of social work in India and discrete courses on methods of intervention. My years in the field made me realize that the methods of intervention were only one piece of practice. Actually, it was the social work process which encompassed all the elements of practice including the methods of intervention. Since the social work process is a broader concept than methods of intervention, I strongly felt that our core courses on social work practice should actually focus on social work processes rather than only on social work methods. As I was one of the team members teaching the core courses for first year students, I was able to discuss this approach with my colleagues and we did bring about changes in our approach to the core social work courses.
In the last few decades, we are all aware of the explosion of theories, models and perspectives influencing social work across the practice spectrum. I and my colleagues in the FCW Department used to discuss this in our review of our specialization curriculum and we have attempted to incorporate current social work models, approaches and perspectives that have a person-situation-interaction and problem orientation rather than a method orientation. In fact, this is the approach we have been taking in our specialization courses and in the way we organized field work for our specialization students.
In the last few decades, related professions such as health care, psychiatry and psychology and marriage and family therapy, and more recently, family studies have been offering innumerable new approaches to practice which I have incorporated in my courses in Social work with children and families as well as in my courses related to Disability social work as I found them very relevant to the present context.
Contribution to education, research and practice:
My areas of interest and work have been social work with children, family social work including family and marriage counselling, and social work in disability studies. I would like to write about my contribution to education, research and practice in each of these areas.
Social work in Disability studies:
In my Doctoral dissertation on “Communication between the Deaf Child and his Family”, I had drawn up the possible scope of intervention in this field by a trained social worker as a member of the multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team working with deaf children and their families. This I felt could be extrapolated to working with all disability groups. So I first initiated a counselling centre in two special schools for the hearing impaired children in Mumbai which was manned by a trained social worker. I worked along with the social worker and tried out implementing all the tasks which I had outlined in my thesis. I was able to assess the success of the counselling centre by the positive responses we received from the parents, children and the teachers of the two schools. On the basis of the experience gained in running the counselling centres, I then developed an optional course for the FCW specialization students on “Social work intervention with the disabled and their families”. This course was considered so relevant by students that in spite of it being an optional course, not only did most of the FCW students opt for it but with each year an increasing number of students from other specializations especially from students from the Medical and Psychiatric social work Department requested that they be permitted to take it as an optional subject as well.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to influence national policy to a small extent by being appointed on the Expert Committees of the Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi, National Institute for the Visually Impaired, Dehradun, the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute of Hearing Impairment, Mumbai, the National Institute of Mental Handicap, Secunderabad, and The Disability Division, Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) at varying points in time.
During my interactions with the Disability Division in the erstwhile Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of India, and with disability related NGOs, a need was often voiced for trained rehabilitation counsellors who would be able to provide comprehensive counselling and community based rehabilitation services. So I formed a core teaching team of colleagues from the FCW department and other social work departments and we together developed the curriculum for a one semester certificate course in Rehabilitation Counselling. I then sent it about 50 rehabilitation professionals from various disciplines all over the country inviting their comments and suggestions on it. The response from the rehabilitation professionals was overwhelming. Many constructive comments, suggestions and cautions poured in, including offers to contribute to the program as guest lecturers. Local agencies immediately agreed to serve as field work placements and also offered the use of their agency records. Terre Des Hommes (India) gave us initial funding to initiate this program and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation offered us funding for ten scholarships and sponsored the production of the course compendium. So in 1994, I launched this certificate course and offered it for about 6years.
In 1992, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment established an autonomous central organization, the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). One of its mandates was to make it compulsory for all professionals who were working in the field of disability rehabilitation to register with it in order to practice in this field. Various disciplines were requested to offer a credited degree in Disability Rehabilitation for their professionals who were working in the field of disability rehabilitation in order to be recognized as rehabilitation professionals with the RCI.
The RCI had recognized Rehabilitation Social Workers as one of the professionals in the field of disability rehabilitation and had been requesting me to develop a Master’s program for rehabilitation social workers at the TISS. Taking into consideration the feedback from the trainees of the Certificate course, as well as the demand from RCI, I had been strongly feeling that TISS should take the lead and develop a Master’s program in Social work in Disability Studies and Action.
In 2006, as part of the academic restructuring process, the TISS set up the Centre for Disability Studies and Action (CDSA) within its School of Social Work which is the first of its kind in a University set up. As I mentioned earlier, two of my colleagues from the erstwhile department of FCW and me moved to the CDSA and we worked towards developing the two years M.A. in Disability Studies and Action which was subsequently launched in 2008. This M.A. program which is the first of its kind in India for training social workers in this field, aimed at developing a cadre of trained social workers with specialized competency in working with people with disability and all stakeholders through building an anti-oppressive, empowerment based, partnership practice.
Social work with children:
Members of erstwhile Social Work Department of Family and Child Welfare including myself had been contributing significantly to creation of skilled human resources for provision of services for children especially those in difficult situations. With financial support from UNICEF and PLAN International, we were able to offer Diploma and Certificate level courses in Child Protection and Child Rights to people working in services offered by governmental and non-governmental organizations. The feedback received from the participants was positive and heartening.
In early 2006, the new Ministry for Women and Child Development formulated The Integrated
Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) which is a multifaceted scheme aimed at benefiting diverse
groups of children especially those in difficult situations through establishing and strengthening a continuum of services for emergency outreach, institutional care, family and community based care, counselling and support services for vulnerable children and their families. The scheme was expected to create a structure and framework that would efficiently and effectively protect children especially those in difficult situations as well as provide appropriate support services to their families for building their capacities to care, protect and provide a nurturing environment to their children. On the Ministry’s request, I wrote out the guidelines for placement of children in Foster family care and sponsorship program through the ICPS based on my experience in the field. Requests from different States for in-service training of staff appointed under this scheme made me realize that the field now required the services of a large army of professionals trained to address issues related to child protection and family support. I teamed up with Dr Neela Dabir and Naina Athale to produce the SAARTHI Manual for Training of Frontline workers from Child Development Agencies.
I felt that besides organizing short term training programs for practitioners and preparing a Trainer’s manual, another mode which could be used for education and training is the distance and online modes. These modes can also deliver instruction of the highest quality to people who would otherwise have limited access to higher education but who were seeking an opportunity to upgrade themselves with theoretical knowledge, skills and competencies in a particular area to enable them to study while they continued to work. There is now a worldwide recognition that on-line education is an excellent method of program delivery unbound by time or location allowing for accessibility to instruction at anytime from anywhere. With this conviction, I initiated a series of discussions with colleagues in the School of Social Work which culminated in an intensive team effort towards developing an M.A. Social Work in Child Rights which we decided to offer through the distance and on line mode. As all of us were New to on line teaching methodology, we all underwent a short training for learning how to create and teach courses through the on line mode. The Program basically aimed at reaching out to the practitioners, working with children and families, either in governmental or non-Governmental organizations, but who have had no formal training in social work (at the M.A. level) or child rights. We had all come across many very motivated personnel with years of work experience in this field who would like to upgrade their qualifications and become more Professionalized in their practice but could not leave their jobs to do so. We felt that such a program would be a tremendous incentive for this group to reach their academic and career goals. It was successfully steered through the Academic Council of the Institute and launched in July 2014. The feedback from the two batches of students has been very gratifying. Now that UGC restrictions have been removed, I do hope that the faculty from the school of social work, TISS decide to once again offer this program.
Social Work with Families:
Almost four decades ago, Prof. Apte, Head of the FCW Department strongly felt the need to work towards strengthening family counselling services and since then whenever opportunity arose we organized training programs in this area. On the invitation of the CSWB and its state advisory boards, as well as the Mumbai High Court, the Department faculty had organized several training programmes for the counsellors of Family Counselling Centres (FCCs) and in the Family Courts in Maharashtra State. Ms Trupti Panchal and I had also provided training in basic counselling skills to FCC counsellors from the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh at the request of the British Council and the National Commission for Women.
Family and Marriage Counselling: After I took over as Head of Department, we organized two ten day training programmes in marriage counselling between 1994 and 1998 with the help of the British Council, Mumbai Division, who sponsored the participation of two expert trainers from RELATE Marriage Guidance- an NGO in UK. The participants were mainly practitioners from the field. The Department faculty played a significant role in contextualizing the training so as to make it more relevant to Indian realities.
I also had the privilege of sitting on a selection committee constituted by the Mumbai High Court twice for selecting counsellors for family courts which had been established all over the State of Maharashtra.
Through all these experiences, we in the FCW department had been grappling with several issues: Firstly, the inadequacy of training given in the areas of marriage and family counselling at the Master’s level to students of Social Work, Human Development and Family Studies and Psychology. Consequently, existing practitioners in the field who are mostly from these disciplines and fields had received no specialized training in this sensitive and complex area of work, and they have had to learn and improvise as they worked.
Marriage and Family Counselling is now being recognized as a growing area of specialized intervention and I realized that Schools of social work were increasingly being called upon to develop programs for meeting the training needs in this emerging area by both the CSWB and the Family Courts for which they would need to equip themselves first.
With this thinking in mind, I decided to pull together mine and Trupti Panchal’s considerable knowledge and insight as well as skills gained through work in this area for working towards developing India specific training modules in gender aware marriage and family counselling. I decided to make it a collaborative effort by inviting like-minded senior faculty from a few established Schools of Social Work and one Department of Human Development and Family Studies to join us in this endeavour.
A multi- step project proposal was prepared and funding obtained for equipping ten experienced faculty from four schools of social work including TISS, and two faculty from a Department of Human Development and Family Studies with competency in offering short and long term training in marriage and family counselling. As the senior faculty involved in this project were well versed with the subject content, I felt that what we required was some training how to best deliver this content to practitioners. Therefore, the proposal included collaborative peer learning through intensive three week training in training strategies. Our mentors were two experts from RELATE-Marriage Guidance who seamlessly and with efficiency achieved a transfer of technology in three weeks. The overall aim was that each of us would then be in a position to strengthen our own master’s degree programme by offering elective courses in marriage and family interventions as well as offer modular short term courses in this area. The project was implemented through a series of events culminating in the production of a course compendium which was subsequently published as a special issue of the Indian Journal of Social Work. I am very grateful to the British Council, Mumbai, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the UGC for funding this comprehensive project.
Family Studies: As part of the restructuring process at the Institute, the International Students office was also set up as we initiated quite a few student and faculty exchange programs with universities in Europe, U.K and the USA. In 2008, I joined a small group of Family specialists from Universities in USA, Australia, India, Greece, South Korea and China to discuss the possibility of developing a unique model of intercultural education in International family studies. These discussions culminated in the establishment of the Global Consortium for International Family Studies (GCIFS) in 2011 by three Universities who are the founding members, namely, the Tata Institute for Social Sciences, Mumbai, India, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA and the University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia.
Due to my unique position as both an educator and administration, the board of the GCIFS requested me to serve as its founder chairperson. In this capacity as Chairperson of the GCIFS Board, I had the responsibility and opportunity to steer this fledgling international organization during its first six crucial formative years. The aim of the Consortium is to enable access to the specialist education that is required for policy, research and practice in human services work with families.
I was also a part of the international team of educators forming the GCIFS who worked together for almost five years to collaboratively design a comprehensive and unique M.A. program in International Family Studies to be offered in the on line mode. While we were developing the structure and content of the M.A. program, a lot of out of the box thinking and problem solving had to be done in order to sort out administrative issues, such as fee structure, admission policy, library access as well as creating teaching schedules which was acceptable to all three universities. A website was created for the Consortium as well as a secretariat; and an executive officer appointed to work with the board members and the teaching team. This was to be one program. Each university was responsible for teaching two to three courses in the program. Each university could admit up to 10 students for this program, have its own admission policy and fee structure for their 10 students. Each of the three universities individually obtained the approval of their Academic Council for this program was launched in September, 2013.
As TISS faculty did not have any experience of teaching in on line programs, the TISS faculty involved in this program went about building their capacity through successfully anchoring and participating in a learnshop on Instructional Design for teaching in on -line programs which was conducted for us by two technical team members from the University of Nebraska
In 2016, the curriculum was reviewed and strengthened based on both faculty and student feedback. One of the unique features of this program is that it promotes a rich intercultural learning experience through the participation of students from many countries in the courses, and through the opportunity for students to access international courses from their local base. The feedback from both local and international students has been very gratifying and encouraging. TISS has been offering this program as a one year M.A. for those who have already an M. A. Degree in Social Sciences and would like to further specialize in Family Studies which is an emerging field of practice for social work. As a TISS teacher of one of the on line courses, I have personally felt greatly enriched as it has enabled me to develop my scholarship in this important but rather neglected field of social work education and practice and learn how to teach on line. Besides, my role as the founder chairperson of the consortium for the first six years has enabled me to work with and learn from my colleagues from our partner universities. The bonus was the invaluable friendships made with the members of the teaching team and members of the consortium Board.
My involvement in research:
After I joined the Institute as a faculty, I have undertaken a few research projects related to children, youth, and disabled students. A major project through which I was able to influence policy to some extent was the “All India Study of the Central Social Welfare Board’s Scheme of Family Counselling Centres” for the CSWB. The presentation of the main findings that I made to the Ministry of Women and Child Development convinced its finance people to increase the salaries of the counsellors as they were the backbone of the scheme.
Since 2006, Kinderpostzegels an international NGO has been active in promoting various alternative care practices in India such as Foster family care, Kinship care and sponsorship through its 11 partners in three States of India, namely, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. I was commissioned to conduct an Impact Assessment of Alternative Child Care Program in India which was to serve more as an in- house analysis and review of the work done by the partner NGOs. My analysis helped them to obtain a reality check on the extent to which the interventions made by them were having lasting and positive impact on children’s lives. In my report and presentation, I also highlighted the areas and ways they could bring about the necessary improvement in their operations. I tried to impress upon them the need to move from a need based approach to a child rights based approach for advancing children's well-being.
In the 1990s, I was elected on the executive committee of the International Association for the Advancement of Counselling (IAC) and served as their vice president for 6 years. About thirteen of us under the leadership of Dr Janice Gibson- Cline participated in a joint research on two major studies, one on adolescents and the other on youth, which culminated in two books. The first one on “Adolescence from Crisis to Coping: A Thirteen Nation Study” was published in 1996 by Butterworth - Hienemann. The second one, “Youth and Coping – 12 Nations Survey of 18-20 year Old Young People” was published by Routledge. In both the books I wrote a chapter based on my data collected from the Indian sample, and contributed to the introductory and the last chapter summing up all our data from across the world. Subsequently, IAC requested me to take over the full day International Research Seminar (IRS) which was a pre-conference annual event held under the auspices of the International Association for Counselling. I coordinated the IRS from 1999 to 2006. The learning experience from both these activities was of course tremendous, but even more important than that was the wonderful international ‘Family” I had gained in the process.
Reflections on Social Work Education
When I reflect on the social work education offered in our country, I am concerned that in spite of UGC guidance and regulations on social work education, the availability of the Self Study Manual for Social Work Institutions prepared by NAARC, and the more recent attempt by the National Network of Schools of Social Work, we still do not have proper benchmarking, enforcement and monitoring or of standards in social work education and practice. There are some older well established institutions/Departments of Social work in Universities which adequate teacher/student ratio, infrastructure such as hostels, well stocked library, and student aid cells and a robust curriculum which is periodically reviewed and revised. However, I am very concerned about the unregulated and haphazard proliferation of Social work colleges and departments across the country that has compromised on most of these aspects. Starting a social work college seems to have become a profitable business. If I take the example of my own State Maharashtra, and within Maharashtra, in some cities like Nagpur there are more than 16 social work departments/ colleges. One can imagine that in such a situation when all these departments are vying for the same pool of students as well as field placements, what would be the standards with regard to student entry as well as quality of field education which is an integral part of social work education.
Talking about student field work education, though we call it our signature pedagogy, I have observed with considerable distress that that in many Social Work Schools/ Departments across the country, field education has varied from being considered as a marginal aspect of the curriculum to being treated as an essential feature of social work education. Many Departments of social work are still struggling to find the optimum balance between learning in the field and in the classroom. In many Departments, Field Work is being compromised systematically and there are serious issues related to adhering to even minimum standards for fieldwork.
Overall, there are differing standards for fieldwork in terms of the number of hours, nature, structure and content of field work and quality of supervision among them. In fact, in some Departments, there is lack of clarity about the very concept of field work, its nature, structure and content; students are sent for “field work” but without clearly defined field work objectives and tasks and preparation for this activity. I have observed that some institutions have been unable to organize and administer the field work activities of their students and provide adequate and appropriate learning opportunities to them. The field work hours have been sometimes twisted to suit institutional needs; teaching staff has been appointed without calculating field work as part of the workload of teachers. Some Departments have only two or three faculty members resulting in a disproportionate student –teacher ratio; there is lack of clarity about the roles and functions of the field instructor, the placement agency and their own roles and functions as a liaising university department. I do hope the National Association of Professional Social Work in India is able to take up these issues.
Another aspect that I am very concerned about is that not all social work educators believe that teaching in the field is as important as teaching in the classroom and so are less motivated to take on the responsibility for field instruction. While Assistant Professors and often Associate Professors have no choice but to supervise students for field work, I have observed that some Professors have shown a lack of interest in field work supervision.
I hold a different view. During my early years as a social work practitioner working with an NGO and providing field work supervision to students of social work placed in the agency as well as later as an educator, field instructor and field work coordinator at TISS, I have not only greatly enjoyed the experience of supervising students for field work, but I also feel that I too have grown in the process. I have never felt bored and have supervised students even as a professor and head of a department because I have always believed that field work supervision is a great opportunity for us as field educators. It is also a great responsibility because our students are young and they have big ideals. Most of the students I have supervised have made me come alive; they have often given me a different perspective when they have said something different to what I had believed or had assumed; They have not only made me feel accountable to provide them with a constructive and positive learning experience, but they have also kept me fresh and client-focused. My message to my colleagues who may read this article is to pay greater attention to this role so that we are able to provide a high standard of fieldwork supervision. because the experiences students encounter in the formative stages of their professional development especially during the field work practicum have been shown to be extremely influential in shaping their professional practice.
Another issue that concerns me is the seemingly endless debate we have amongst us about whether in a country like ours, we should offer specializations in our Master’s programs. I strongly feel more than ever before, that the structure of our educational program should provide for both social work generalists and social work specialists.
Lastly, from my own experience, I feel that it is imperative for educators and practitioners to develop international links with social work institutions/ human service organizations around the world as this will provide a link into activist work at the local, national and international levels through exchange programs for educators, students and practitioners. There is great scope today for international cooperation between Schools of Social Work across the world in terms of exchange of students and teachers, and formation of international study courses in the form of summer and winter institutes as well as engaging in international research as issues concerning social work today extends beyond national and regional concerns.
At the end, I do want to thank Dr Murli Desai and the National Association of Professional Social Work in India for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to reflect back on almost five decades of my journey as a social work student, practitioner, educator and researcher. They say that a professional never really retires, and also rarely looks back, but keeps working even after a formal moving out of a post or institution. So I am still active, writing papers and manuals, teaching in an on line M.A. program, and giving my time and energy and sharing my expertise generously with organizations and networks. I must share that writing about my professional journey in this article was not only an emotional and intellectual experience, but also a very enjoyable and validating one. I am looking forward to the publication of this book as I am sure that reading about the career journeys of my contemporary and senior colleagues will be an immensely enriching and learning experience for me.
(Former Deputy Director and alum of TISS, Prof Lina Kashyap has written this article on "My career journey and reflections of social work education in India" for a book titled " Journeys in Social Work Education in India and Emerging Reflections", which is being brought out by the National Association of Professional Social Work in India (NAPSWI), and being published by Rawat Publications.)