Social work

Social work
Social Work / child and youth worker
Activity sectors Pursuit of social welfare and social change

Social Work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of an individual, group, or community by intervening through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, and teaching on behalf of those afflicted with poverty or any real or perceived social injustices and violations of their human rights. Research is often focused on areas such as human development, social policy, public administration, program evaluation and international and community development. Social workers are organized into local, national, continental and international professional bodies. Social work, an interdisciplinary field, includes theories from economics, education, sociology, medicine, philosophy, politics, psychology.



Social Work has its roots in the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution; in particular the struggle of society to deal with poverty and its resultant problems. Dealing with poverty was the main focus of early social work and therefore social work is intricately linked with the idea of charity work; but must now be understood in much broader terms. For instance it is not uncommon for modern social workers to find themselves dealing with the consequences arising from many other 'social problems' such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and age and physical/ mental ability discrimination. Modern social workers can be found helping to deal with the consequences of these, and many other social maladies, in all areas of the human services; and many other fields besides.

Whereas social work started on a more scientific footing aimed at controlling and reforming individuals; (at one stage supporting the notion that poverty was a disease) it has, in more recent times, adopted a more critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. This has lead, for example, to the re-conceptualisation of poverty as more a problem of the haves versus the have nots rather than its former status as a disease, illness, or moral defect in need of treatment. This also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work; evolving from a profession engaged more in social control to one more directed at social empowerment. That is not to say that modern social workers do not engage in social control (consider statutory child protection workers) and many, if not, most social workers would likely agree that this is an ongoing tension and debate.

The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in many major ancient civilizations and world religions.

Contemporary professional development

Social Work education begins in a systematised manner in higher educational institutes (universities, colleges etc.), but is also an ongoing process that occurs though research and in the workplace.

The International Federation of Social Workers states, of social work today, that

"social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development, social theory and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes."[1]

A hop


Professional social workers are generally considered those who hold a degree. Often these practitioners must also obtain a license or be professionally registered.

The education of social workers begins with a Bachelor's degree (BA, BSc, BSSW, BSW, etc.) or diploma in Social Work. Some countries offer Postgraduate degrees in Social Work like Master's (such as MSW, MA, MSc, MRes, MPhil etc.) or PhD (doctoral studies). More and more graduates of social work continue to post-doctoral studies. It has been argued that social work education is supposed to be a lifelong process.

In a number of countries and jurisdictions, registration or licensure of people working as social workers is required and there are mandated qualifications.[2] In other places, a professional association sets academic and black requirements for admission to membership. The success of these professional bodies' efforts is demonstrated in the fact that these same requirements are recognized by employers as necessary for employment.[3]

Professional associations

There are a number of associations for social workers, which exist to provide ethical guidance and other forms of support for their members and social work in general. These associations/organizations are distinguished in international, continental or semi-continental, national and regional. The main international ones are the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW).

Trade Unions representing social workers

By far the largest number of social workers are employed by local authorities and most of these are represented by the public sector union UNISON. Smaller numbers are members of Unite the union and the GMB (trade union). The British Union of Social Work Employees (BUSWE) has been a section of the Community (trade union) since 2008. In 2011 the British Association of Social Workers launched a trade union arm for the second time (it first tried this in 1976) called the Social Workers' Union but this body is not recognised by the TUC or by any employers.

Role of the professional

The main tasks of professional social workers can include a number of services such as case management (linking users/clients with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs - mainly common in US and UK), counseling & psychotherapy, human services management, social welfare policy analysis, policy and practice development, community organizing, international, social and community development, advocacy, teaching (in schools of social work), and social and political research.

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of Social Work". IFSW General Meeting in Montreal, Canada, July 2000. International Federation of Social Workers. 04/10/2005. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  2. ^ The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2005). NASW Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from
  3. ^ "Catholic Social Workers National Association". 

Further reading

  • Agnew, Elizabeth N. (2004). From Charity to Social Work: Mary E. Richmond and the Creation of an American Profession. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252028759. OCLC 51848398. 
  • Axinn, June and Mark J. Stern (2008). Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 9780205522156. OCLC 86038254. 
  • Balgopal, Pallassana R. (2000). Social Work Practice with Immigrants and Refugees. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231108567. OCLC 43323656. 
  • Barker, Richard (2009). Making Sense of Every Child Matters - multi professional practice guidance (1st ed.). Bristol, UK: Policy Press. ISBN 1847420117. 
  • Barker, Robert L. (2003). Social Work Dictionary (5th ed.). Silver Spring, MD: NASW Press. ISBN 087101355X. OCLC 52341511. 
  • Butler, Ian and Gwenda Roberts (2004). Social Work with Children and Families: Getting into Practice (2nd ed.). London, England; New York, NY: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1417501030. OCLC 54768636. 
  • Davies, Martin (2002). The Blackwell Companion of Social Work (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 0631223916. OCLC 49044512. 
  • Fischer, Joel and Kevin J. Corcoran (2007). Measures for Clinical Practice and Research: A Sourcebook (4th ed.). Oxford, UK; New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195181906. OCLC 68980742. 
  • Greene, Roberta R. (2008). Social Work with the Aged and their Families (3rd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9780202361826. OCLC 182573540. 
  • Grinnell, Richard M. and Yvonne A Unrau (2008). Social Work Research and Evaluation: Foundations of Evidence-Based Practice (8th ed.). Oxford, UK; New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195301526. OCLC 82772632. 
  • Mizrahi, Terry and Larry E. Davis (2008). Encyclopedia of Social Work (20th ed.). Washington, DC; Oxford, UK; New York, NY: NASW Press and Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195306613. OCLC 156816850. 
  • Popple, Philip R. and Leslie Leighninger (2008). The Policy-Based Profession: An Introduction to Social Welfare Policy Analysis for Social Workers (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0205485928. OCLC 70708056. 
  • Reamer, Frederic G. (2006). Ethical Standards in Social Work: A Review of the NASW Code of Ethics (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: NASW Press. ISBN 9780871013712. OCLC 63187493. 
  • Richardson, Virginia E. and Amanda Smith Barusch (2006). Gerontological Practice for the Twenty-First Ccentury: A Social Work Perspective. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 023110748X. OCLC 60373501. 
  • Sowers, Karen M. and Catherine N. Dulmus and others. (2008). Comprehensive Handbook of Social Work and Social Welfare. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471752223. OCLC 155755265. 
  • Specht, Harry; Courtney, Mark E. (1994). Unfaithful angels : how social work has abandoned its mission. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0029303559. 
  • Statham, Daphne (2004). Managing Front Line Practice in Social Work. New York, NY: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1417501278. OCLC 54768593. 
  • Thyer, Bruce A. and John S. Wodarski (2007). Social Work in Mental Health: An Evidence-Based Approach. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. ISBN 0471693049. OCLC 65197928. 
  • Turner, Francis J. (2005). Canadian Encyclopedia of Social Work. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0889204365. OCLC 57354998. 
  • Wittenberg, Renee (2003). Opportunities in Social Work Careers (Revised ed.). Chicago, IL: VGM Career Books. ISBN 0071390480. OCLC 49959266. 

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