Peter Dudding

Recipient: February 2004

Peter Dudding was interviewed on the eve of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision related to Section 43 of Canada's Criminal Code which allows parents and teachers to use corporal punishment on children. Being the Executive Director of the Child Welfare League of Canada, this issue is of utmost importance to Peter. Over the next few days, he was quoted extensively by the press across the country regarding the consequences of physical punishment on children and their families, and the need to abolish the right of adults to strike children. His passion for this issue is reflective of the enthusiasm he exhibits for his career in social work, especially in the field of child welfare. This interview was conducted in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 1-7, 2004 under the theme: "Social Justice: Social Work in Action".

Peter Dudding's career in child welfare began 35 years ago when he started as a Child and Youth Worker at the Toronto Children's Aid Society in 1969. His parents were foster parents and gave him his first experience with child welfare. After working in a liaison role through southwestern Ontario, he was the beneficiary of a program by the Children's Aid Society which provided him with financial supports and a guaranteed summer job while he obtained his MSW at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1976. With the exception of two diversions-as a project director in Sri Lanka and as Director of Finance and Administration for a public health unit-Peter's social work career has been devoted to child welfare. After lengthy involvements with Children's Aid Societies in Ottawa, Lanark and Toronto, he has served as the Executive Director of the Child Welfare League of Canada since 1998.

His extensive experience as a member of the social work profession has given Peter Dudding a clear perspective on the evolution of the field in the last 30 years. During our interview, Peter suggested that the 1970's and 80's saw a great emphasis on clinical skills and working in treatment settings as opposed to child welfare agencies. He saw a shift occur in the 90's, notably in child welfare, when immersion in social work values was seen as less important and front-line workers became more like technicians using risk assessment tools. This was a precursor of a movement towards deprofessionalization. He believes, however, that a better balance is emerging in recent years, with a greater understanding of the importance of employing professionals with a body of knowledge and values as well as developed skills specific to particular settings. He suggested that problems had arisen in workforce recruitment and retention which demonstrated the need for the recognition of social workers as knowledge workers - narrow role definitions and the technical application of tools reduced flexibility and job satisfaction, leading to labour shortages.

Peter Dudding sees a very important role for social work in the future. He believes that with the pace and scope of change now evident in society, social workers can help individuals to manage change and deal with life stressors. With the increasing questioning of society related to the placement of social values in relation to economic values, he emphasized that social workers are ideally suited to enable society to look at the pressures involved and to advocate a balance between individual rights and community and social well-being.

Peter indicated that he has always felt good about his choice of profession; he has taken an enormous degree of pride not only in terms of being a social worker but also in people knowing that he is a social worker and what that entails in his view of the world. The opportunity to briefly work outside of social work enabled him to reflect and reaffirm the rightness of his choice of a social work career.

In terms of attributes that a social work leader needs, Peter stated that, first and foremost, leadership is about the exercise of values. As well, a leader needs vision, the sense of where we are, where we want to go and how we can get there. He believes that a third necessary component is reflection and engagement, explaining that leaders are only as good as their followers; leaders need the ability to be reflective, to communicate and to engage others around issues of common cause. Finally, he stressed the importance of service in leaders, which would include their contribution to the benefit of others and of the community.

Peter Dudding emphasized that social workers need to remember that advocacy is an important role of the profession, not only in alleviating individual problems but reflected in their approach to think systematically in a preventative population-based way. He believes that a challenge for the profession, and for himself individually, will be to think in global terms in the knowledge that the future of our children and grandchildren will be dependent on how the next generations in this rapidly shrinking world are able to manage their healthy growth and development. He finished the interview by saying: "There is no isolated place - we are all involved and we will need to think about this as a profession."

Peter Dudding is a social work leader whose passion for the profession and for social justice is infectious. Celebrate social workers who demonstrate social work in action through their pursuit of social justice, during National Social Work Week and throughout the year.