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Social Workers

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Title: Social Workers  
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Social Workers

Social Services
Activity sectors Pursuit of social welfare and social change, psychotherapy

Social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and well being of an individual, group, or community by intervening through research, policy, crisis intervention, community organizing, direct practice, and teaching on behalf of those afflicted with poverty or any real or perceived social injustices and violations of their civil liberties and human rights. Research is often focused on areas such as human development, social policy, public administration, psychotherapy, counseling, 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, law, medicine, philosophy, 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 major ancient civilizations and world religions. Even before the rise of modern European states, the church was providing social services of a primitive source. 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 all-purpose social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, and travelers' aid stations. It was not until the onset of industrialization and urbanization, when the informal helping systems of the church and family began to break down, that organized social welfare services began to emerge.

The profession of social work is generally considered to have emerged from three general 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 an entire range of social problems. All these had their period of 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 struggle of society to deal with poverty and its resultant problems. Because dealing with poverty was the main focus of early social work, it is intricately linked with the idea of charity work , but it 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 discrimination based on age or on physical or mental ability. 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 professions and in many other fields besides.

Whereas social casework started on a more scientific footing aimed at controlling 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 and activists such as Jane Addams, have always emphasized activism and community level 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 recognizing of poverty as having a social and economic basis rooted in social policy choices rather than as a moral defect. This also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work: once a profession engaged more in social control, it has become one more directed at social and personal empowerment. That 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 would likely agree that this is an ongoing tension and debate in the profession. For example, see the debate between the structural social work and humanistic social work.[2]

Contemporary professional development

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."[3]


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, MSS, MA, MSc, MRes, MPhil etc.) or doctoral studies (such as PhD and DSW (Doctor of Social Work)). More and more graduates of social work continue to post-doctoral studies. Some argue that social work education is a lifelong process.

In the United States, social work undergraduate and master's programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (

A number of countries and jurisdictions requires registration or licensure of people working as social workers, and there are mandated qualifications.[4] In other places, a professional association sets academic requirements for admission to membership. The success of these professional bodies' efforts is demonstrated in that these same requirements are recognized by employers as necessary for employment.[5]

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 can be international, continental or semi-continental, national, and 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 psychonaalysis. 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 50% of social workers are employed by local authorities , 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 recognised by the TUC or by any employers.

Role of the professional

Main article: Role of the professional social worker

The main tasks of professional social workers can include a number of services such as case management (linking service users with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs - mainly common in US and UK), counseling and 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.

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. Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. "Clients" is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. [6]

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. [7]

See also


Further reading

fr:Travail social
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