Learn more about Social work
Social workers are concerned with social problems, their causes, their solutions and their human impacts. Social workers work with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities, as members of a profession which is committed to social justice and human rights.
The profession originates from:
- Hospital almoners
- Workers in Settlement houses
- Friendly visitors stipended by church and charitable bodies to support the poor and disadvantaged
 Role of the social worker
The work undertaken by social workers can vary widely between countries as the aims and values of social workers must reflect the cultural and social norms of the society in which they operate, in order to cater appropriately for the needs of the people they serve.
The main tasks of social workers are casework (linking clients with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs), counselling (psychotherapy), human services management, social welfare policy analysis, community organizing, advocacy, teaching (in schools of social work), and social science research.
Social workers work in a variety of settings, including non profit or public social service agencies, grassroots advocacy organizations, community health agencies, schools, faith-based organizations, and even the military. Other social workers work as psychotherapists, counsellors, or mental health practitioners, normally working in coordination with psychiatrists, psychologists, or other medical professionals. Additionally, some social workers have chosen to focus their efforts on social policy or academic research into the practice or ethics of social work. The emphasis has varied among these task areas by historical era and country, and some of these areas have been the subject of controversy as to whether they are properly part of social work's mission.
 Role of social work in the USA
In the United States of America, leaders and scholars in the field of social work have debated the purpose and nature of the profession since its beginning in the late 1800s. Workers, beginning with the settlement house movement, have argued for a focus on social reform, political activism, and systemic causes of poverty. Social workers of the Settlement House Movement were primarily young women from middle-income families and chose to live in lower-income neighbourhoods to engage in community organizing. These workers sometimes received stipends from charitable organizations and sometimes worked for free. Formal training programs for these workers became available later in the movement.
In contrast to the settlement house movement, the friendly visitors were women from middle-income families who visited (but did not reside among) families in lower-income neighbourhoods. Friendly visitors emphasized conventional morality (such as thrift and abstinence from alcohol) rather than social activism.
Others have advocated an emphasis on direct practice, aid to individual clients and families with targeted material assistance or interventions using the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental diseases DSM-IV. While social work has been defined as direct, individual practice in last quarter of the twentieth century, there is a growing resurgence of community practice in social work. Of broad and growing significance are the relationship counseling and Relationship Education movements which seek to assist in interpersonal social skill building which can be of great societal value in promoting marriage and family stability. Relationship education and counseling primarily aid that majority of individuals who are free of pathology or who have found that DSM-IV based services are ineffectual. This majority can benefit from education and exposure to relationship skills that have not otherwise been discussed and distributed by social services in this time of weakened of family, church, and societal conventions.
Community practice is the new term of art for what is also known as "macro practice" social work. Community practice includes working for change at the systems level, including human services management (administration, planning, marketing, and program development); community organizing (community development, Grassroots Organizing, policy advocacy); social policy and politics; and international social development.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest and most recognized membership organization of professional social workers in the world. Representing 150,000 members from 56 chapters in the United States and abroad, the association promotes, develops and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its work and advocacy.
Although membership is generally not required for licensure, NASW survey data give a rough idea of how social workers are employed in the US. According to NASW:
- Nearly 40% of NASW members say that mental health is their primary practice area. The health sector employs 8% of NASW’s members, and 8% practice in child welfare or family organizations. Six percent of NASW members say school social work is their primary practice area, and another 3% work primarily with adolescents. (NASW, 2005) These figures are significantly confounded by the fact that NASW members are primarily licensed practitioners working in the clincal arena, and the fact that many social workers in the field do not actually hold a degree in social work. NASW is usually concerned with issues like licensing, reimbursement, etc., that are not relevant to child welfare practice, for instance.
Within the mental health field, social workers may work in private practice, much like clinical psychologists or members of other counselling professions often do. Social workers are often in the position of recommending the use of psychopharmaceutical agents, though not prescribing them. The increasingly widespread usage of these agents in the U.S. has received little scrutiny by the NASW, despite that fact that these drugs are prescribed far more heavily in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. Social workers in private practice may take direct payments from clients and may also receive third-party reimbursement from insurance companies or government programs such as Medicaid. Insurance reimbursement for mental health services involves the designation of the recipient of services as mentally ill, or more specifically a label is assigned from the DSM-IV, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental illness. This assignment, when recorded to an individual's medical history can prove to be a significant impediment to future pursuits. It can raise the cost to the individual for health or nursing home insurance; it can be the basis of denial for life insurance; and it can limit an individual's professional choices, such as in health care, motor vehicle operation, or airplane piloting.
Private practice was not part of the social work profession when it began in the late 1800s, and private practice has been controversial among social workers, some of whom feel that the more lucrative opportunities of private practice have led many social workers to abandon the field's historic mission of assisting disadvantaged populations. The private practice model can be at odds with the community development and political activism strains of social work.
Social workers in mental health may also work for an agency, whether publicly funded, supported by private charity, or some combination of the two. These agencies provide a range of mental health services to disadvantaged populations in the US.
Some social workers are child welfare workers, a role that looms large in the public's perception of social work. This role contributes to a negative view of social work in the U.S., since child welfare authorities can remove abused or neglected children from the custody of their parents, a practice that is fraught with controversy and sometimes with scandalous incompetence. Many child welfare workers in the US do not in fact have social work degrees (though all caseworkers in most states have at least a Bachelor's degree in a related field).
Some states restrict the use of the title social worker to licensed practitioners, who must hold a degree in the field. Such restrictions are a high legislative priority of NASW.
 Role of social work in the United Kingdom
In the UK, the title "social worker" is protected by law (since 1 April 2005) and can be used only by people who have a recognised qualification and are registered with the General Social Care Council (in England), the Scottish Social Services Council, the Care Council for Wales/Cyngor Gofal Cymru, or the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.
The strategic direction of statutory social work in Britain is broadly divided into children's and adults' services. Social work activity within England and Wales for children and young people is under the remit of the Department for Education and Skills while the same for adults remains the responsibility for the Department of Health. Within local authorities, this division is usually reflected in the organisation of social services departments. The structure of service delivery in Scotland is different.
 Social Work Knowledge Building
The history of social work is a history plagued by a fundamental question – is social work a profession? This debate can be traced back to the early 20th century debate between Mary Richmond's Charity Organization Society (COS) Jane Adam's Settlement House Movement. The essence of this debate was whether the problem should be approached from COS’ traditional, scientific method focused on efficiency and prevention or the Settlement House Movement’s immersion into the problem, blurring the lines of practitioner and client.
The impetus for both movements was the glaring reality of social problems and the question over how to best attack them. This debate is arguably the earliest example of a larger debate within social work – how is knowledge acquired? This debate pits positivism against post-positivism in the pursuit of achieving respect as a profession. The positivistic argument asserts knowledge has to be observable and testable (quantitative), free from bias, and ultimately replicable if it is to have any merit. Post-positivists argue there is no way to completely eliminate bias, and knowledge can be obtained via qualitative research methods.
 Levels of social work intervention
 Clinical or Direct Practice
- Assessment and diagnosis
- Brief therapies
- Case management
- Clinical supervision
- Crisis intervention
- Family therapy/Family interventions
- Group work/group therapy
- Employee assistance programs
- Psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions
- Relationship/interpersonal counselling
- Community organizing
- Community development
- Community economic development
- Community education
- International development
- Neighborhood development
- Policy advocacy
- Policy analysis
- Political social work
- Program development
- Program evaluation
- Social planning
 Fields of social work practice (both direct and community levels)
- Aging or gerontology
- Income assistance
- Job training/placement
- Child welfare
- Disability services
- Family planning
- Food bank programs
- Health and wellness
- Hospital social work
- Housing and homelessness
- Immigrant and refugee services and supports
- Juvenile and criminal justice
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered supports
- Mental Health
- Religious and spiritual settings
- Substance abuse
- School social worker
- Violence prevention
 Qualifications for social work
In a number of countries and jurisdictions where registration of people working as social workers is required there are mandated qualifications, those required in the UK and USA are detailed below, in other places the professional association sets academic and experiential requirements for admission to membership. Illustrating the success of these professional bodies in many places these requirements are recognised by many employers as necessary for employment by those agencies.
 Qualifications for social work in the USA
A social worker practicing in the United States usually requires a master's degree (MSW) or a bachelor's degree (BSW) in social work from a Council on Social Work Education accredited program to receive a license in most states. In some areas, however, a social worker may be able to receive a license with a bachelor's degree in any discipline.The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest organization of professional social workers in the United States.
A person with a BSW is considered a "generalist" and the MSW is considered "a specialist or advanced generalist"; a Ph.D. or D.S.W. (Doctor of Social Work) generally conducts research, teaches, or analyzes policy, often in higher education settings.
Various states in the United States "protect" the use of the title social worker by statute. Use of the title requires licensure or certification in most states. A number of states have different levels of licensure, Maryland being one example.
 Qualifications for social work in the UK
The main qualification for social work is the undergraduate Bachelor's degree (BA, BSc or BSW) in social work, offered at British universities from September 2003 onwards. There is also available a master's degree (MA, MSc or MSW). These have replaced the previous qualifying award, the postgraduate Diploma in Social Work (DipSW), which was first awarded in 1991 and will be phased out across the UK by 2009. Prior to this, the recognised qualification was the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW), awarded between 1975 and 1991.
Purporting to be either a social worker or a student social worker without registering with the Social Work Register and holding or undergoing training for the recognised qualifications is now a criminal offence. Social workers must renew their registration every three years. These regulations offer protection to vulnerable people by guaranteeing the professional regulation of people working as social workers. They also promote workforce development, as all social workers must participate in at least five days of professional training each year in order to be eligible for renewal of their registration.
After qualifying, social workers can undertake further training under the social work 'Post-Qualifying Framework'. Until 2007, there are four awards available under this framework:
- Post-Qualifying Award - for advanced social work practice and management
- Mental Health Social Work award (in England, Approved Social Worker award; in Scotland, Mental Health Officer award) - qualification to work with people with mental health needs under the Mental Health Act
- Child Care Award - qualification to work with children and young people
- Practice Teaching Award - qualification to work as a tutor, supervisor and assessor for social work students on their work placement
From 2007, the General Social Care Council and UK partners are implementing a new framework which unifies these awards in a simpler structure allowing broader study to count towards three levels of social work award: specialist, higher specialist, and advanced.
 Qualifications for social work in Australia
A four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is required for entry into the occupation of Social Worker in Australia, although some universities also offer a two-year, accelerated, graduate-entry BSW. Whilst there are no legal registation requirements, most employers stipulate that applicants must be eligible for membership of the Australian Association of Social Workers (Australia) (AASW). Only graduates of courses recognised by the AASW are eligible for membership. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is an ongoing requirement of accredited membership of the AASW and must incorporate accountability, gaining new knowledge and information & skill development (CPE Policy 2006, AASW). A person with overseas qualifications can apply for consideration of recognition of their qualifications via a formal application for assessment by the AASW.
Certain types of social workers are more likely to suffer criticism than most other workers because they often work in scenarios which are highly emotionally charged. Examples include:
- taking a child away from parents who are regarded as unfit
- failing to remove children from parents who subsequently hurt or kill them
- organizing demonstrations
- supporting activities that are highly controversial - abortion, needle exchanges, faith-based services
Social workers would respond that often problems with social workers can be traced to poor pay, inadequate training, excessive case loads, inadequate funding, and bad government policies. The reason social workers are singled out is because they are the ones who directly face and deal with the public.
Social workers are often criticized because they are identified with the bureaucracy of their organizations. Social workers often have to ask clients to fill out time-consuming paperwork and sign large numbers of documents as a requirement of their jobs. Clients and others thus tend to think of social workers as paper-pushers.
In response, in many regions social workers are seeking efforts to professionalize the profession. Many regions have passed legislation making it illegal to use the title social worker without a license. This prevents unqualified persons from acting under the title of social worker and has resulted in the creation of discipline boards. These boards have the authority to punish social workers who violate their legislation through fines, suspension or revocation of their license. This protects the public by having social workers accountable to their code of ethics.
 See also
- Barefoot social work
- Community organizing
- Community practice
- Mental health professional
- Professional development
- Program evaluation
- relationship counseling
- Relationship Education
- School social worker
- Spirituality Studies
- Social Work in the Military
- Group worker
- The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2005). NASW Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from http://www.socialworkers.org.
Council on Social Work Education. http://www.cswe.org
 External links
- International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)
- International Federation of Social Workers
- A Global Network of Social Science Professionals
National professional associations (and/or Regulatory bodies)
- Australian Association of Social Workers (Australia)
- Canadian Association of Social Workers
- (UK) General Social Care Council, regulator for social workers (England)
- (USA) National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
- http://www.aaswg.org/ Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups: An International Organization
 Other related links
- Definition of Social Work Adopted July 2000 by the International Federation of Social Workers. German translation also available at: Austrian National Federation of Social Workers
- Social work careers (UK)
- Community Development Ideas
- Social Work & Society - Online Journal for Social Work and Social Policy. Open Access and Non-Governemntal
- Department of Social Servicesde:Soziale Arbeit