In referring to “social work” we are guided by the mission statement included in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics: The primary mission of social work is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. Based on this goal, the U.S. and Cuba are ready to dialogue and cooperate in solving human problems of mutual concern.

            Social work in the U.S. is expanding at a rapid pace. Today, it comprises the largest segment of professionals in the fields of health and family services, and social work professionals are expected to reach a ratio of approximately one for every 600 people by the year 2005. Cuba is also undergoing rapid changes in social work education, training and practice. Although for over 40 years, social problems have been primarily addressed by national organizations with wide community outreach, social work today forms part of the university curriculum; its practice, research and development are also a major concern of their entire educational system.

Social Workers Training Colleges in Cuba

swf6-school.jpgInauguration day at the ‘Abel Santamaría’ Social Worker Training College in Villaclara

            In September 2000, the first Social Workers Training College opened in the town of Cojímar outside Havana. A year later, in October of 2001, three new schools opened in the central province of Villaclara and the eastern provinces of Holguín and Santiago – in all four schools 7,200 students are registered or ready to matriculate. The intake age ranges from 16 to 22 for students who have completed 12th grade and show aptitude for social work. The training program lasts for 10 months, after which the graduates go out to fulfill missions as social workers or enroll for further studies at the university level. As social workers, they attend to individual human needs, giving special attention to the elderly living alone, the physically or mentally disabled, and youth out of school and not gainfully employed. These schools aim to train professionals to detect and discover human needs as well as the root causes of those needs.

Upon graduation, the students are guaranteed employment and qualify for entry into any of the eight humanity disciplines at Cuban universities. Training includes courses in English, Spanish, law, computers, and social communication.

            The newly opened Abel Santamaría College in Villaclara offers an example of the importance placed by Cuba in the development of these institutions. In terms

of human resources, the college employs a faculty of

198 professors from the nearby Marta Abreu Central University and 40 guides or teaching assistants. The school facilities include 48 classrooms equipped with

TV sets, conference rooms, four computer labs and 23 dormitories. The college is also equipped with an internal television network with six channels, a kitchen and dining-room with capacity for more than 1,500 people, a polyclinic, reading rooms and a library.

Special Education Schools

            Special education schools in Cuba are also expanding. They are structured into a system of 429 schools, 13 day-care centers, 42 special classrooms, 23 hospital classrooms, 664 classrooms in elementary schools, one mixed day-care center and 32 homes for orphaned children; in addition, 1,223 students receive classes at home. Approximately 55,000 children with various disabilities are enrolled in Cuba’s special education system, instructed and cared for by 21,019 education workers, of these, 14,400 are trained teachers. Recently Cuba opened its first school for autistic children; 180 individuals have been diagnosed as autistic, of these 166 are under the age of 18 years.

Organizations with a Social Work Component

            In Cuba, there is a broad network of national organizations which include in their agenda a strong social work component. These organizations reach wide segments of the population – families, women, children, students, farmers, and the disabled. The following organizations stand out for their wide outreach and uniqueness of their work with people in vulnerable situations:


          The Cuban Association for the Physically Disabled (ACLIFIM, Asociación Cubana de Limitados Físico-Motores) advocates for the empowerment and social integration of the approximately 50,000 people afflicted with various forms of physical disability throughout the island. They also look after the needs of disabled children and their families. ACLIFIM is run and operated by people who are themselves physically disabled. It is headquartered in Havana and links a wide network of 14 affiliates in each of the Cuban provinces.


          The Federation of University Students through their Social Work Brigades conducts research on social and living conditions, and issues recommendations for the solution of problems ascertained by their findings. During the summer of 2001, these groups conducted a survey of more than 505,000 family units in Havana. Their study revealed that 48,000 persons in Havana may be suffering from some type of disability or impediment. Their study also revealed the existence of 32,000 seniors over age 60 living alone. The Federation urged government to intervene in attending the needs of these individuals, and to conduct further research to assess and solve identified problems whenever possible.


          The Group for the Integral Development of the Capital City of Havana (GDIC, Grupo para el Desarrollo Integral de la Capital) is a non governmental institution concerned with problems of urban development and insalubrity. This is an advisory body of architects who are not only concerned with the aesthetics of buildings but with the quality of life and the welfare of their occupants. They have facilitated a series of workshops for neighborhood improvement projects in communities with considerable social problems and physical deterioration.


          The Community Mental Health Center (CCSM, Centro Comunitario de Salud Mental) located in the town of Regla across the Bay of Havana, employs a team of 30 health professionals, educators and social workers. The Center’s work concentrates on a broad range of issues – alcoholism and drug addiction, language disorders, birthing classes, AIDS education, violence prevention, parenting, herbal medicine, menopause, psycho geriatrics, suicide prevention, and various ecology projects. Dr. Raúl Gil, the Center’s Director, and his staff have made remarkable strides in the treatment of children affected with Down Syndrome. Furthermore, the application of Art therapy has rendered notable success in the psychosocial rehabilitation of individuals suffering from various forms of mental illnesses.

The Project

            Our project on comparative social work in the U.S. and Cuba, touched on various aspects of social work: history; curriculum development; attention of minors with conduct disorder; philosophy and political foundations of social work; social and clinical interventions; delinquency prevention; the penal and the juridical systems; and advocacy, social integration, education, and rehabilitation of individuals suffering from various mental and/or physical disabilities.

swfa-dc-meet.jpgPanelist at American University in Washington, D.C. Delvis Fernández, Patricia Morán, and professors Mendoza, Pérez Montalvo and Pérez Hernández.

            The project was developed over an 18-month period, and was highlighted with conferences, discussions, and meetings in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and St. Augustine, Palm Coast and Miami, Florida, from the 5th to the 15th of September 2001. Consultations were held with directors of the following Cuban institutions: the Cuban Association for the Disabled (ACLIFIM), the Group for the Integral Development of the Capital City of Havana (GDIC), the Community Mental Health Center of Regla, the Center for Studies on Migration (CEMI) at the University of Havana, and developers of the Social Worker Training College in Cojímar. In the U.S. we received advice from social workers (academics and field workers), health professionals, advocates of social policy change, experts on Cuban affairs, and Board and Advisory Council members of the Cuban American Alliance Education Fund.


Our objectives were:


                      To collect information and maintain a data bank with reports, videos, photos or other visual material about social work practices in Cuba.


                      To provide and disseminate a written report about the development of social work practices in Cuba and in the U.S.

THE REPORT – Conclusion

            For this first social work encounter between Cubans and Americans, the Cuban American Alliance invited three internationally recognized Cuban educators who are also pioneers in the development of social worker training colleges and social work curricula for university students. Along with their presentations we also offer, in Spanish, a brief history of American social work practice and educational development in an effort to begin a dialogue and gain understanding of our two systems – their foundations, development, methodologies, objectives and general service delivery.

            The core of our report consists of the four presentations described below:


          Social Work Experience in Cuba by Professor Lourdes Pérez Montalvo offers background information on organizations that serve as precursors of social work and how their work extends into present day social work education and practice. She provides examples of new and unique developments of social work practices in the fields of community development, mental and physical health, and general citizens’ well-being.


          Cuba’s Experience in the Attention of Minors with Conduct Disorder by Professor Juan Díaz offers a historical overview of Cuba’s juridical system, giving particular attention to the care of minors with conduct problems. He further elucidates on Cuba’s model for the attention of minors and its evolution within a framework of law and international agreements that give minors not only protection but rights as well.


          A Social Policy Appraisal and Education as Protagonist of Social Policies by Dr. Lissette Pérez Hernández brings forth the philosophical foundations for the development of social work practices in Cuba. She presents the inherent interlinking existing between social work practices and various social-action organizations within the Cuban political system. She provides the reader with an overview of certain underlying political structures for social work in Cuba. Furthermore, she explains the educational grounding for the institution of social worker training colleges and the attention afforded to children.


          From Charitable Volunteers to Architects of Social Welfare: A Brief History of Social Work, De Voluntarios Caritativos a Arquitectos del Bienester Social: Breve Historia del Trabajo Social by Professors Nili Tannenbaum and Michael Reisch of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. This presentation offers a brief history of social work in the U.S. – the struggles, the triumphs, the mission and the vision. It is followed by a glossary to introduce the Spanish reader to organizations, key players, and acronyms common to social work experts in the U.S.

Delvis Fernández Levy, PhD, President

Cuban American Alliance Education Fund, Inc.



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