Comparing Military Social Work Practices

By: Mariah Stein

Although there is a common agreement on what military social workers do, it differs between countries. Between the United States, Finland, South, Africa, and China, each country utilizes social work technologies in a unique way. (Daley, 2003, pg. 439)

United States: (Daley, 2003, pg. 439-440)

  • Population: 270 million individuals
  • Annual Military Budget: $272.9 billion
  • Military Force: 1,481,760 personnel
  • US has a sizable investment in the military and its personnel
  • Social workers have provided services since the successful demonstration project of the Red Cross in 1918
  • First Enlisted Social Workers:

-Army: 1945; Air Force: 1952; Navy: 1980

  • Initially social workers only had a role as mental health clinicians, but now they do a wide array of services including: family violence prevention and intervention services, substance abuse, mental health, medical social work, combat stress response teams, and family support programs
  • Military social work role has grown steadily stronger in influence with around 1,000 social workers working directly with the military programs
  • Education: US has social work on all 3 education levels: Bachelors of Social Work, Masters of Social Work (MSW) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

-Military requires an MSW degree (most also have PhD)msw 6.gif

Finland: (Daley, 2003, pg. 440-441)

  • Population: 5.1 million individuals
  • Annual Military Budget: $1.9 billion
  • Military Force: 42,650 personnel
  • Finland has a moderate investment in the military and its personnel
  • Military SW began in 1942 with the creation of the Soldiers’ Information Office that served as a coordinating effort for soldiers and their families to help with different issues such as war debts, wills, and tax questions
  • In 1973: 1 social welfare office was established to coordinate defense staff social activity, 4 social secretary posts were established, and the first social welfare officer was assigned to a military unit
  • Typical SW activities include: advocating for conscript rights, leading special staff support groups when there is a death or serious injury, assessing the defense social activity policies and programs, advocating for services that enhance retention and satisfaction with the military, and seeking more international cooperation through the European Forum
  • With the help of Military SW Finland has: achieved a national pension system (1950), unemployment security (1960), obligatory health insurance (1963), and passed the 1972 National Health Care Act (enhanced social services throughout the country)
  • Education: “Kandidat” degree level, as well as a Master of Social Sciences with an emphasis on policy, or a Doctor of Social Sciences Degreemsw 7.gif

South Africa: (Daley, 2003, pg. 441-443)

  • Population: 40.5 million individuals
  • Annual Military Budget: $2.3 billion
  • Military Force: 62,300 personnel
  • South Africa has a modes investment in the military and its personnel

Before 1994:

  • Military social workers worked in 5 apartheid forces providing typical occupational social work services
  • They also worked in 2 Freedom Fighter forces in which they provided basic resources and support for soldiers and their families in severe- poverty settings

After 1994:

  • All seven forces merged into South Africa National Defense Force (SANDF)
  • About 160 social workers envisioned: operational support, a productive organization, socially healthy military families, employee development, and networking advice and resources
  • The Directorate of Social work created a practice model for the goals by focusing on 3 client systems (employee as person, person as employee, organization), binocularity, and 4 practice positions ( interventions that are restorative, promotive, work person, and workplace)
  • Education: BA in SW, MA in SW, and Phil in SWmsw 8.gif

China: (Daley, 2003, pg. 443)

  • Population: 1.1 billion individuals
  • Annual Military Budget: $36.5 billion
  • Military Force: 2.84 million personnel
  • China has extensive investment in the military and its personnel
  • There is virtually no social work presence in the military
  • There is an extensive social welfare system in China, but it has not carried over to the military yetmsw 9.gif

Each country offers different unique characteristics to their countries military, and each country adds to the overarching International Military Social Work. (Daley, 2003, pg. 443)



  • Daley, James G. (2003). Military social work: A multi-country comparison. International Social Work, 46(4), 437-448.

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