The Settings of Social Work

Government Setting

The government setting offers the widest space for a variety of social work services. Social work is present almost everywhere, from social policy formulation and analysis, advocacy, and implementation to enhance the well-being of societal members, to providing social services through appropriate government departments and agencies. The government as an employer needs occupational social workers. As manager of several agencies as well as mental and health institutions and systems, implementer of social welfare programs, as provider of pensions, and in its capacity as enforcer and manager of justice and correctional systems and institutions, the government needs social workers. In the United States, social workers are considered key employees in the federal, state, and local government agencies. They may work on-site at a government agency, at a non-government agency whose client base is generated from their relationship with a government agency, or in a contracting relationship as independent consultants. The range of government settings in which social workers practice include (National Association of Social Workers 2011):

  • agencies serving children and families, such as foster care agencies;
  • healthcare settings, including community-based clinics and hospitals;
  • schools;
  • federal, state, or local correctional facilities;
  • setting that serve older adults, such as nursing homes; and
  • agencies serving military veterans and active duty personnel.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2011) reported that at a single point in time, there are over 8,000 social work positions in the federal government. They work in a number of cabinet-level agencies within the government, which include: Social Security Administration (SSA); Veterans Administration (VA); The Department of Defense (DOD) as civilian social workers assigned to military components (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) and in other DOD facilities; Department of Justice (DOJ) as direct service workers in areas such as community-based offender re-entry programs and federal parole and probation agencies and also serve as policy analysts for DOJ; Health and Human Services (HHS) in service areas that include community health, HIV / AIDS, mental health, and substance abuse.

In all these agencies and programs, social workers perform a variety of professional tasks and functions for the government agencies, ranging from clinical practice to program management / administration (National Association of Social Workers 2011). Functions vary from agency to agency but essentially include: case management; individual and group therapy; psychosocial assessments; treatment and discharge planning; substance use counseling and treatment; and administration. They are integrated into federal programs that address health care, behavioral health, criminal justice, social services, and child welfare issues. They also play a significant role in formulating policies and developing program standards and guidance for federal programs. For those who practice in a government agency, they are usually integrated into a broader continuum of services along with other disciplines such as physicians, nurses, and substance abuse counselors.

In the Philippines, a number of social work services are undertaken by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). For its mandate:

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) provides assistance to other national government agencies (NGAs), local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs), and members of the civil society in the implementation of programs, projects, and services that will alleviate poverty and empower disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities to improve their quality of life. It implements statutory and specialized social welfare programs and projects.

In the Philippines, professional social work tends to be associated with the welfare field. This has to do with its inception where social work is used to implement government initiatives to provide public welfare assistance to economically deprived individuals, families, and groups. This type of social work often focused on determining whether a person is poor enough to deserve public assistance. To date, DSWD does a lot of work mostly in the areas of women and child welfare. In child welfare, social workers provide services to children who are abused and neglected by their parents and those from lower-income families who cannot afford to adequately care for them. Child welfare social workers normally do case management, that is, meeting regularly with the child and his/ her family to assess conditions in the home and report on the care that the child is receiving. When a child is in danger, appropriate measures are taken.

However, there are many other areas in which professional social workers play a vital role such as in the implementation and monitoring of social welfare and social development projects under the DSWD or those devolved to the local government (LGUs) such as the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4 Ps) and Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS). Particularly, professional social workers provide research-based evidence regarding the effectiveness of certain initiatives and socio-economic measures that are designed to alleviate, reduce, or eradicate poverty in the country. 

Private Sectors Setting

In the private sector, particularly corporate setting, occupational social work is practiced. The type of social work typically has five structures within which it generates interventions: employee assistance programs, labor union social services, human resource management offices, community relations offices, and organizational development initiatives (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005).

Civil Society Setting

The civil society sector sees itself as a champion of the people with regard to ensuring accountability in government services; hence, social workers in civil society tend to work for advocacies of human rights and social justice. Their work ensures the delivery to concerned sectors of universal basic needs that may range from physical needs, intellectual development, emotional development, social growth, and spiritual growth. In some cases, civil society work fosters the delivery of motivational needs such as physiological necessities, security, belongingness, esteem needs, and self-actualization as advocated by Abraham Maslow’s (1970) hierarchy of needs. Others align their commitments to personal development needs as identified and articulated by Charlotte Towle (1957), that is, biological, psychological, interpersonal, social, and cultural. Civil society is generally organized by the social sector, representing any marginalized individuals and groups. There are those who work with and for street children and other children who are in danger. Some organizations are committed to women or environmental issues. Some work for migration and migrants. Some work with groups like gays and lesbians, cancer patients, the elderly, and workers. Each of these areas of civil society concerns provide a unique setting that may call for distinct social work specializations and general practice.

School Setting

The school is a social service and within it lies similar situations that arise elsewhere: violation of human rights, injustice, violence, sexual harassment,. discrimination, and so on. Internally, social work embedded structures see to it that where violations occur, social workers can respond appropriately. Externally, the school does also works with communities in its extension services and community service where students and teachers work with communities to deliver voluntary services. Here, the social workers can facilitate school entry into the community, understanding the community, engagement with the community, selecting and implementing correctly social development intervention, and exit strategically.

A school social worker is a liaison between the school and students’ families, sustainer of effective communication among parents, teachers, and students, and essentially bridging the children’s personal lives and education to ensure that students’ needs are being met. In some cases, the responsibilities crisscross with the functions of guidance counselors when qualified social workers take care of special needs of children to facilitate their integration into mainstream classes. In the same sense, some social workers assume responsibility for other related school issues like formulation and implementation of behavioral intervention programs, truancy prevention programs, sexual education programs, health education programs, crisis intervention, and disaster prevention and management programs. 

Community Setting

A community consists and represents all kinds of social work services. It is the locus of social work challenges. It is in the community where human rights of individuals and groups are denied or violated; it is in the community where injustices are made and committed; it is in the community where marginalization for individuals and groups occur. Racism, sexism, homophobia (fear of lesbians and gay men), classism, ableism (discrimination of people with disability), ageism (discrimination based on age), anti-Semitism (oppression of Jews), and islamophobia (fear of followers of Islam) exist in the community caused generally by the presence of mainstream or dominant groups who tend to enjoy certain privileges which are built in their lives (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005).

Majority of government and non-government institutions designed to deliver social services and other services with social work component are embedded in the community. Social work in community settings is essentially defined by social policy and realities. Therefore, community setting primarily calls for generalist social work practitioners who possess a broad range of training and employ their skills to guide and coordinate services for the clientele. Johnson and Yanca (as cited in Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005) describe generalist social work practice as an approach that “requires the social worker to assess the situation with the client and decide which systems are the appropriate units of attention or focus of work for the change effort. As the units of attention may include an individual, a family, a small group, an agency or organization, a community, or the transactions among these, the generalist approach emphasizes knowledge that can be applied to a variety of systems.”

The community setting orients social work to a generalist framework that divides work into micro-practice and macro-practice. Whereas micro-practice social workers target their service at helping individuals, families, and small groups to function better in a larger environment, macro-practice social workers focus on changing the larger environment in ways that benefit individuals, families, and groups (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner 2005).

In general, community setting social work interventions include a wide array of approaches with different theories and emphasis that social workers have to comfortably employ on two or three levels: individuals and families, groups, and communities.