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Definition :
Social Workers help individuals, families, and groups within the community with their personal and social problems. Working in a variety of settings and within a framework of relevant legislation and procedures, social workers assist clients in understanding the causes of their problems and work with them to modify and change attitudes and behavior. Settings can include service users' homes, schools, hospitals and other public sector and voluntary organizations. Qualified social work professionals are often supported by social work assistants and work closely with other health and social care staff. Social workers must maintain a friendly but professional relationship with service users. Often working with people experiencing crisis or who are in some way socially excluded, their aim is to offer support that enables people to help themselves.


Social work is a helping profession focused on "social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being" (IASSW & IFSW 2001). Social workers usually work with people viewed as having special disadvantages, such as persons with low incomes, persons with disabilities, elders, and persons diagnosed with mental illness. However, some social workers provide counseling services to middle-class clients who only have ordinary problems in living.


The major international social work bodies, the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) agreed in July 2001 on a 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.


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.


Main Tasks of Social Workers
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)
  • 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, or faith-based organizations. 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. Some social 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 neighborhoods 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, the pragmatic assessment of the problems of individual clients and families using targeted material assistance and psychotherapeutic intervention. While the pendulum swung in favor of direct practice in last quarter of the twentieth century, there is a growing resurgence of community practice in social work.

Community practice is the new term of art for what used to be known as "macro" 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 organzing, policy advocacy); social policy and politics; and international social development.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the main professional organization of social workers in the United States. 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)

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 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.

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 (and may have only a high school diploma). NASW is pushing to have the title of "social worker" or "professional social worker" limited to those who have an Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) or Masters in Social Work (MSW).


Fields of social work practice

  • Clinical or Direct Practice
    • Child abuse
    • Child welfare
    • Mental Health
    • Aging or gerontology
    • Disability services
    • Battered women's shelters
    • Workers' compensation for on-the-job injuries (Vocational rehabilitation)
    • Birth control and family planning
    • Family crisis intervention
    • Hospital settings
    • School social work
    • Providing short-term counseling and referrals to workers through employee assistance programs
    • Residential Interventions
  • Social services
    (Main article: Social welfare)
    • Administering government welfare programs
    • Needle exchanges, and drug addiction
    • Shelter Programs (ie homeless shelters)
    • Food bank programs
    • Adoptions and foster care monitoring
  • Social policy, community organizing and advocacy
    (Main articles: Social policy and Advocacy)
    • Helping the poor organize for better conditions - both economically (food banks, buying clubs) and politically - voting blocks during election campaigns, running candidates, organizing demonstrations
    • Providing assistance to work through government red tape, including other social work agencies
    • Social policy analysis on such topics as social insurance, public welfare, and home and community based services
    • Tenants' rights
    • Refugee assistance (refugee camps, relocation, political asylum help)
    • Program evaluation to determine if various programs are providing services as they should, or how a program may be improved.
    • Advocacy, community support, and counseling for adults and children with mental illness
  • Education
    • AIDS awareness (medical support, counseling)
    • School social worker


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.

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