The Nature of the Discipline of Social Work

The Discipline of Social Work is closely associated with government welfare and social programs aimed at achieving social justice, fairness, and attainment of social equilibrium. “The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.” (International Federation of Social Workers 2013)

Social workers aim to protect vulnerable people from abuse, neglect, or self-harm and to help enhance their well-being and quality of life. Drawing upon a rich knowledge base and theoretical perspectives derived from the social and psychological sciences, social workers aim to promote positive individual and social change.

Social workers operate within legal frameworks for protecting and supporting vulnerable people. For example, local authority social workers working with children and families use child protection policies and procedures to intervene in families to protect vulnerable children and provide support, while those working with adults aim to ensure that their needs for care and protection are met. 

Social workers practicing in statutory contexts such as local authorities or National Health Service (NHS) Trusts commonly assess the need for care, support and protection of individuals or families, develop care plans, and provide or manage the provision of care. They are also responsible for implementing policies, which aim to safeguard vulnerable children or adults and ensure that people have as much choice and control over services they use as possible. 

Social workers work closely with other professionals, often known as inter-professional working. Mental health social workers, for example, often work in teams alongside community mental health nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. However, inter-professional working is common for all social workers.

From Social Care to Social Work

Social work has evolved from being a domestic common sense of care to professional service. A wide variety of people in the community, from friends to parents, relatives, volunteers to all people of goodwill participate in providing social care. This includes providing personal care, supporting individuals with daily living, and supporting people to engage with their communities and involve more direct contact with people. There had been no qualifications or professional license required to do social care. To move from social caregiving to social work professional practice, one has to go through special training to join the social work profession. In the Philippines and the United Kingdom, social work is a qualified, registered profession with a protected title. Unlike social care, social work is generally more detached in dealing with its clients. However, a relationship-based social work does exist in which emphasis is put on the importance of the relationship social workers have with the people they are working with (Hartman 2015).

Definition of Social Work

The Policy, Ethics, and Human Rights Committee of the British Association of Social Workers (2012) provides the definition of social work: “the social work profession promotes social change, problem-solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”

It is understood here that social work is a profession that fulfills the social welfare mandate to promote well-being and quality of life. As such, it encompasses activities directed at improving human and social conditions and alleviating human distress and social problems through enhancing people’s competence and functioning, ability to access social supports and resources, creating humane and responsive social services, and expansion of the structures of society that provide opportunities for all citizens (DuBois & Miley 2008).

Context and the Basic Concepts of Social Work

To appreciate the context and the basic concept of social work, one has to look into its professional history (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005). The aim of social work is to help individuals fit better into their environment and change the environment so that it works better for them. To support this dual basic concept, Segal, Gerdes, and Steiner (2005) locate the history of social work in the history of social welfare in America. They particularly link social work history to the Charity Organization Societies founded in 1877 with the aim of discovering the causes of poverty among individuals, eliminate the causes, and eliminate poverty from society. Poverty was then seen as a character defect of an individual. This perspective is half true, as evidence of social sciences shows that there are multiple external forces and structures that account for the poverty of individuals.

The next movement that emerged as if to complement the first wave of social work was called the Settlement Movement which began in 1887 (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005). The settlement movement operated on the assumption that an individual’s well-being was directly linked to his / her external surroundings; therefore, to help an individual involved changing the environment wherein that individual lives. Such include advocating for better neighborhood services, public health programs, and employment conditions. These two movements’ efforts of solving poverty of individuals by helping the individuals fit better into their environment and changing that environment serve as today’s basic concept of social work in all its various forms and services.

The context of social work is a place that requires professionals to direct their service on the needs and empowerment of people who experience some forms of vulnerability, oppression, and living in poverty.

Goals and Scope of Social Work

DuBois and Miley (2008) highlight the following goals and scope of social work calling them tenets.

  • Empower people, individually and collectively, to outline their own problem-solving and coping capabilities more effectively.
  • Support a proactive position with regard to social and economic policy development to prevent problems for individuals and society from occurring.
  • Uphold the integrity of the profession in all aspects of social work practice.
  • Establish linkages between people and societal resources to further social functioning and enhance the quality of life.
  • Develop cooperative networks within the institutional resources system.
  • Facilitate the responsiveness of the institutional resources systems to meet health and human service needs.
  • Promote social justice and equality of all people with regard to full participation in society.
  • Contribute to the development of knowledge for social work profession through research and evaluation.
  • Encourage the exchange of information in those institutional systems in which both problems and resources opportunities are produced.
  • Enhance communication through an appreciation of diversity and through ethnically sensitive, non-sexist social work practice.
  • Employ educational strategies for the prevention and resolution of problems.
  • Embrace a world view of human issues and solutions to problems.

The goal and scope of social work as laid down here is noble and broad—to help an individual be included in society and to transform the very society that creates structures that marginalize individuals from full participation in the enjoyment of social services and resources of the community. Change sought is one that makes an individual and the community a better place for everyone.

Principles of Social Work

The Policy, Ethics, and Human Rights Committee of the British Association of Social Workers (2012) has the following principles that apply in general to other professionals in the social work profession.

Principles Relative to Respect for Human Rights

  1. Upholding and promoting human dignity and well-being. Social workers should respect, uphold, and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being. They should work toward promoting the best interests of individuals and groups in society and the avoidance of harm.
  2. Respecting the right to self-determination. Social workers should respect, promote, and support people’s dignity and right to make their own choices and decisions, irrespective of their values and life choices, provided that this does not threaten the rights, safety, and legitimate interests of others.
  3. Promoting the right to participation. Social workers should promote the full involvement and participation of people using their services in ways that enable them to be empowered in all aspects of decisions and actions affecting their lives.
  4. Creating each person as a whole. Social workers should be concerned with the whole person, within the family, community, societal, and natural environments, and should seek to recognize all aspects of a person’s life. 5. Identifying and developing strengths. Social workers should focus on the strengths of all individuals, groups, and communities, and thus promote their empowerment.

Principles Relative to Social Justice

  1. Challenging discrimination. Social workers have a responsibility to challenge discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as ability, age, culture, gender or sex, marital status, socio-economic status, political opinions, skin color, racial or other physical characteristics, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs.
  2. Recognizing diversity. Social workers should recognize and respect the diversity of the societies in which they practice, taking into account individual, family, group, and community differences.
  3. Distributing resources. Social workers should ensure that resources at their disposal are distributed fairly, according to need.
  4. Challenging unjust policies and practices. Social workers have a duty to bring to the attention of their employers, policymakers, politicians, and the general public the situations where resources are inadequate or where the distribution of resources, policies, and practices are oppressive, unfair, harmful, or illegal.
  5. Working in solidarity. Social workers, individually, collectively, and with others have a duty to challenge social conditions that contribute to social exclusion, stigmatization or subjugation, and work toward an inclusive society.

Principles Relative to Professional Integrity

  1. Upholding the values and reputation of the profession. Social workers should act at all times in accordance with the values and principles of the profession and ensure that their behavior does not bring the profession into disrepute.
  2. Being trustworthy. Social workers should work in a way that is honest, reliable, and open, clearly explaining their roles, interventions, and decisions, and not seeking to deceive or manipulate people who use their services, their colleagues, or employers.
  3. Maintaining professional boundaries. Social workers should establish appropriate boundaries in their relationships with service users and colleagues, and not abuse their position for personal benefit, financial gain, or sexual exploitation.
  4. Making considered professional judgments. Social workers should make judgments based on balanced and considered reasoning, maintaining awareness of the impact of their own values, prejudices, and conflicts of interest on their practice and on other people.
  5. Being professionally accountable. Social workers should be prepared to account for and justify their judgments and actions to people who use services, to employers and the general public.

Core Values of Social Work

The core values of social work serve to provide consistency in the fulfillment of the social welfare delivery and in the general promotion of well-being and quality of life of all peoples. However, special attention or priority is given to those who suffer some forms of exclusions from receiving social services. Therefore, the core values in the pursuit of social work include compassion, service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence (Du Bois & Miley 2008; Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005). 

Compassion can be considered as an important value for all humankind but in social work, it occupies a special impetus to the functioning of the profession. It is the basis for someone to go out and become a voice to the voiceless and a friend to the people who need it most. 

Service, as a value, directs social workers to go beyond purely performing a service for a pay and allow them to be generous with their time. Their work borders on charity and professional service. Without a special interest in pure service, much of the social work could not be properly accomplished.

Social justice, as a value for social workers, is a basis of their understanding of the need to ensure that everyone get serviced and that everyone get a share of what the community possesses in material and non-material assets.

Dignity and worth of the person is a value that provides the determination and drive for social workers to seek the marginalized in all forms without much regard as to whether such problem is self-inflicted or socially imposed. At the heart of social work is the belief that all humans have dignity and worth regardless of their acts and status in life. 

Importance of human relationships, as a .value, makes it possible for social workers to do their job as most human situations they seek-to address require collaborating with so many others professionals and individuals with a stake in the issue. It is about relationships. After all, it is in the context of relationships where people find themselves broken and marginalized. A relationship is the context of social marginalization and inclusion.

Integrity is necessary in all human endeavors. In social work, nothing can be accomplished without integrity. A social worker will have difficulties to be accepted by the people to receive services and by those he / she needs to collaborate with to facilitate problem solving and empowerment of an individual or a group.

Competence is a very important value for social work because it separates social caregiving from social work professional practice. Through special training, a social worker becomes separated from all common sense, culture, and religious-based care.