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Social work

Social Worker
Names Social Worker (SW), State Registered Social Worker, Registered Social Worker (RSW), Qualified Social Worker, Qualified Care Manager, Forensic Social Worker, Psychiatric Social Worker, Licensed Social Worker, Clinical Social Worker, Mental Health Social Worker, Childrens Social Workers, Adults Social Worker, Learning Disabilities Social Worker, Drugs and Alcohol Social Worker, Social Work Practitioner, Medical Social Worker, Military Social Work Officer, Social Policy and Planning Social Worker, Community Development Social Worker, Social Advocacy Social Worker, Discharge Planner Social Worker, Radical Social Worker, Anti-Oppression Social Worker, Post-modern Social Worker, Human Rights Social Worker, Critical Social Worker, Structural Social Worker, International Social Worker.
Activity sectors
Pursuit of promoting well-being, civil liberties, human rights, social welfare and social change through economics, education, ecology, sociology, law, medicine, philosophy, politics, anthropology, psychotherapy, psychology and counselling
Competencies Degree level
Related jobs
Education Officer, Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Counselor, Occupational Therapist, Social Policy and Planning, Community Developer, Human Rights Advocate, Social Justice Worker

Social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and subjective well-being of individuals, families, couples, groups, and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crisis intervention, and teaching for the benefit of those affected by social disadvantages such as poverty, mental and physical illness or disability, and social injustice, including violations of their civil liberties and human rights. The profession is dedicated to the pursuit of social justice and the well-being of oppressed and marginalized individuals and communities. The social work profession is broad.

A person who practices social work is called a social worker. In the UK, the title "Social Worker" is protected by law (under s.61 Care Standards Act 2000) and only those who have undergone approved training at university either through a Bachelor or Master's degree in Social Work and are registered with the appropriate professional regulatory body (the Health and Care Professions Council in England, the Scottish Social Services Council in Scotland, the Care Council for Wales, or the Northern Ireland Social Care Council) may practice social work and be called a social worker. To do so otherwise is a criminal offence. Student social workers typically undergo a systematic set of training and qualifications that are distinct from those of social care workers or care assistants, who may undertake a social work role but not necessarily have the qualifications or professional skills of a qualified social worker. Currently, there are no formal qualifications or training to practice as a social care assistant, care worker, or carer, but mostly ancillary staff are accountable to a qualified member of staff, such as a social worker.

Research and the practice of social work focuses on areas such as: mental health and addictions, assessment and diagnosis, human development, sociolegal, psychosocial, issues related to diversity, marginalization and oppression; psychotherapy, counselling, social policy, public administration, social program evaluation, social policy analysis and development, social planning, family and child welfare, and social and community development. Social workers are organized into local, national, continental, and international professional bodies. It is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates theoretical bases from economics, education, sociology, law, medicine, philosophy, ecology, politics, anthropology, and psychology.


The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in many ancient civilizations and world religions. Even before the rise of modern European states, the church was providing social services. The earliest organized social welfare activity of the Christian church was the formation of burial societies, followed closely by provision of alms to the poor, shelter for the homeless, and care and comfort for the sick. Monasteries often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, travelers' aid stations. It was not until the emergence of industrialization and urbanization that the informal helping systems of the church and family began to be organized into social welfare services.

The profession of social work is generally considered to have developed from three movements: the Charity Organization Society (COS) movement, the settlement house movement, and a third, less clearly defined movement, the development of institutions to deal with the entire range of social problems. All had their most rapid growth during the nineteenth century, and all grew out of the church.[1]

Social work has its roots in the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, in particular the societal struggle to deal with poverty and its resultant problems. Because poverty was the main focus of early social work, it was intricately linked with the idea of charity work,.[1] For instance, it is common for modern social workers to find themselves dealing with consequences arising from other social problems such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination based on age or on physical or mental disability.[citation needed]

Whereas social casework started on a more scientific footing aimed at directing and reforming individuals (at one stage supporting the notion that poverty was a disease), other models of social work arising out of the Settlement House movement, led by activists such as Jane Addams, emphasized political activism and community solutions. Currently, social work is known for its critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. This has led, for example, to the recognition of poverty as having a social and economic basis rooted in social policies rather than representing a personal moral defect. This trend also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work: once a profession engages in social control, it is directed at social and personal empowerment. This is not to say that modern social workers do not engage in social control (consider, for example, child protection workers), and many, if not most, social workers likely would agree that there is an ongoing tension between these forces within the profession. For example, see the debate between structural social work and humanistic social work.[2]<need to add references to Jane Addams and more sources on history of the profession.


Social work is an interdisciplinary profession, meaning it draws from a number of areas, such as (but not limited to) psychology, sociology, politics, criminology, economics, ecology, education, health, law, philosophy, anthropology and counseling, also known as psychotherapy. It is not a 'single model', such as that of health, followed by medical professional such as nurses and doctors, but like nurses and doctors, social work requires study and continued professional development to retain knowledge and skills in practice. Family therapy as a distinct professional practice within Western cultures can be argued to have had its origins in the social work movements of the 19th century in the United Kingdom and the United States. As an example, here are some of the social work models (or theories) used within practice:

Contemporary professional development

Social Work education begins in a structured manner at higher educational institutions (universities and colleges), coupled with or followed by practical internships, but it is also an ongoing process that occurs through research and in the workplace.

The International Federation of Social Workers says of social work today that

social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.[4]

Its seven core functions are described by Popple and Leighninger as:

  1. Engagement- the social worker must first engage the client in early meetings to promote a collaborative relationship.
  2. Assessment- data must be gathered that will guide and direct a plan of action to help the client
  3. Planning- negotiate and formulate an action plan
  4. Implementation- promote resource acquisition and enhance role performance
  5. Monitoring/Evaluation- on-going documentation through short-term goal attainment of extent to which client is following through
  6. Supportive Counseling- affirming, challenging, encouraging, informing, and exploring options
  7. Graduated Disengagement- Seeking to replace the social worker with a naturally occurring resource


Six other core values identified by the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW)[6] Code of Ethics are:

  1. Service- help people in need and address social problems
  2. Social Justice- challenge social injustices
  3. Respect the dignity and worth of the person
  4. Give importance to human relationships
  5. Integrity- behave in a trustworthy manner
  6. Competence- practice within the areas of one's areas of expertise and develop and enhance professional skills


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, such as a master's degree (MSW, MSS, MSSA, MA, MSc, MRes, MPhil.) or doctoral studies (PhD and DSW (Doctor of Social Work)). Increasingly, graduates of social work programs pursue post-masters and post-doctoral study, including training in psychotherapy.

In the United States, social work undergraduate and master's programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A CSWE-accredited degree is required for one to become a state-licensed social worker.

A number of countries and jurisdictions requires registration or licensure of people working as social workers, and there are mandated qualifications.[7] In other places, a professional association sets academic requirements for admission to the profession. The success of these professional bodies' efforts is demonstrated in that these same requirements are recognized by employers as necessary for employment.[8]

Professional associations

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

The largest professional social work association in the United States is the National Association of Social Workers. There also exist organizations that represent clinical social workers such as The American Association of Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, AAPCSW is a national organization representing social workers who practice psychoanalytic social work and psychonalysis. There are also a number of states with Clinical Social Work Societies which represent all social workers who conduct psychotherapy from a variety of theoretical frameworks with families, groups and individuals.

Trade unions representing social workers

In the United Kingdom, just over half of social workers are employed by local authorities,[citation needed] and many of these are represented by UNISON, the public sector employee union. 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 recognized by the TUC or by any employers.

Role of the professional

The main tasks of professional social workers may include a number of services such as case management (linking clients with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs - common in the US and the UK), counseling and psychotherapy, assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders, child protection/welfare, 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.

A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession's focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society.[9] Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients.[10] The term "client" is used to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, or communities.[11] In the broadening scope of the modern social worker's role, some practitioners have in recent years traveled to war-torn countries to provide psychosocial assistance to families and survivors.[12]

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), professional social workers are the nation's largest group of mental health services providers. There are more clinically trained social workers—over 200,000—than psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined. Federal law and the National Institutes of Health recognize social work as one of five core mental health professions.[13]

Social workers in literature

In 2011, a critic stated that "novels about social work are rare," [14] and as recently as 2004, another critic claimed to have difficulty finding novels featuring a main character holding a Master of Social Work degree.[15]

However, social workers have been the subject of many novels, including:

See also


  1. ^ a b Popple, Philip R. and Leighninger, Leslie. Socail Work, Social Welfare, American Society.Boston:Allyn&Bacon,2011.Print
  2. ^ Payne, M. (2011). Humanistic Social Work: Core Principles in Practice. Chicago: Lyceum, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Global Definition of Social Work". IFSW General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly in July 2014. International Federation of Social Workers. August 6, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ Popple & Leighninger, 2011
  6. ^
  7. ^ The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2005). NASW Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from
  8. ^ "Catholic Social Workers National Association". 
  9. ^ Crisp, B.R., Beddoe, L. (December 2012). Promoting Health and Well-being in Social Work Education. Routledge, Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  10. ^ Stefaroi, Petru. (December 2014). Humane & Spiritual Qualities of the Professional in Humanistic Social Work: Humanistic Social Work - The Third Way in Theory and Practice, Charleston: Createspace, Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  11. ^ NASW, Code of Ethics
  12. ^ Keough, Mary Ellen and Samuels, Margaret F. (October 2004). "The Kosovo Family Support Project:Offering Psychosocial Support for Families with Missing Persons". Social Work 49 (4): 587–594. doi:10.1093/sw/49.4.587. 
  13. ^ "National Association of Social Workers". NASW. Retrieved September 6, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Bounds, Joy (January 4, 2011). "Book review: King Welfare". Community Care. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Marek, Kirsten (April 4, 2004). "Social Workers in Fiction". Blogcritics. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  16. ^ "THE DOUBLE BIND by Chris Bohjalian". Kirkus Reviews. February 1, 2007. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  17. ^ Greenwell, Faye (February 16, 2014). "BOOK REVIEW: Social Work Man". The Westmorland Gazette. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai". Goodreads. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  19. ^ Turrentine, Jeff (August 5, 2007). "No Headline". The New York Times. p. 17. 
  20. ^ "The Case Worker by George Konrád". Goodreads. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  21. ^ "'Fourth of July Creek,' by Smith Henderson". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  22. ^ "A Very Famous Social Worker by Greg Johnson". Goodreads. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Unprotected by Kristin Lee Johnson". Goodreads. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  24. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (March 3, 2014). "Out of Uganda, In the Midwest: Dinaw Mengestu's 'All Our Names' Describes Unexpected Love". New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Exclusive: Interview with Author Sapphire". Social Workers Speak. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Reviews". The Social Worker, a novel, by Michael Ungar. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 

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 0-252-02875-9. 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 978-0-205-52215-6. OCLC 86038254. 
  • Balgopal, Pallassana R. (2000). Social Work Practice with Immigrants and Refugees. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10856-7. OCLC 43323656. 
  • Barker, Richard (2009). Making Sense of Every Child Matters - multi professional practice guidance (1st ed.). Bristol, UK: Policy Press. ISBN 1-84742-011-7. 
  • 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 1-4175-0103-0. OCLC 54768636. 
  • Davies, Martin (2002). The Blackwell Companion of Social Work (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22391-6. 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 978-0-19-518190-6. OCLC 68980742. 
  • Greene, Roberta R. (2008). Social Work with the Aged and their Families (3rd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-202-36182-6. 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 978-0-19-530152-6. OCLC 82772632. 
  • Grobman, Linda M. (2012). Days in the Lives of Social Workers: 58 Professionals Tell Real-Life Stories From Social Work Practice (4th ed.). Harrisburg, PA: White Hat Communications. ISBN 978-1-929109-30-2. OCLC 745766042. 
  • 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 978-0-19-530661-3. 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 0-205-48592-8. 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 978-0-87101-371-2. OCLC 63187493. 
  • Richardson, Virginia E. and Amanda Smith Barusch (2006). Gerontological Practice for the Twenty-First Century: A Social Work Perspective. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10748-X. 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 0-471-75222-3. OCLC 155755265. 
  • Specht, Harry; Courtney, Mark E. (1994). Unfaithful angels : how social work has abandoned its mission. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-930355-9. 
  • Statham, Daphne (2004). Managing Front Line Practice in Social Work. New York, NY: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1-4175-0127-8. OCLC 54768593. 
  • Thyer, Bruce A. and John S. Wodarski (2007). Social Work in Mental Health: An Evidence-Based Approach. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. ISBN 0-471-69304-9. OCLC 65197928. 
  • Turner, Francis J. (2005). Canadian Encyclopedia of Social Work. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0-88920-436-5. OCLC 57354998. 
  • Wittenberg, Renee (2003). Opportunities in Social Work Careers (Revised ed.). Chicago, IL: VGM Career Books. ISBN 0-07-139048-0. OCLC 49959266.