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File:Mind the income gap.jpeg

A photo of public space "graffiti" art found on a retaining wall in Columbus, Ohio. Social workers are concerned with social inequalities.

Main article: Social workers

Social Casework orSocial work can be better understood when it is broken down into its two parts. "Social" from the Latin (socius), meaning member, friend, or ally refers to human society, its organization, or people in general. "Work" from the Old English (weorc) and German (werc) meaning to complete a specific task or transitively to influence, effect, or improve by varying degrees. Casework is then the focus on cases, whether individual, group or community.

It is a social science involving the application of social theory and research methods to study and improve the lives of people, groups, and societies. Social work is unique in that it seeks to simultaneously navigate across and within micro and macro systems in order to sufficiently address and resolve social issues at every level and economic status (but especially among the poor and sick). Social work incorporates and utilizes other social sciences as a means to improve the human condition and positively change society's response to chronic problems.

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. Social Work is the profession committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the enhancement of the quality of life, and to the development of the full potential of each individual, group and community in society.


Social work, as a profession or pursuit, has a relatively modern origin. However, the concept of working to correct social ills with a comprehensive approach is an age-old idea. Social work has its roots in the struggle of society to deal with poverty and the resultant problems. Therefore, social work is intricately linked with the idea of charity work.

The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in all major world religions. However, the practice and profession of social work has a relatively modern (19th century) and scientific origin.[1] Charity in Europe was considered to be a responsibility and a sign of one’s piety. This charity was, generally, in the form of direct relief (i.e. money, food, etc.). After the end of feudalism, the poor were seen as a more direct threat to the social order, and so the state formed an organized system to care for them. In England, the Poor Law served this purpose. This system of laws sorted the poor and developed different responses to the different groups formed in this way.

File:Marshall's flax-mill, Holbeck, Leeds - interior - c.1800.jpg

The interior of Marshall's flax-mill, Holbeck, Leeds, circa 1800 at the start of the Industrial Revolution. This time period brought an increase in social issues.

The 19th century ushered in the Industrial Revolution. There was a great leap in technological and scientific achievement, but there was also a great migration to urban areas. This led to many social problems, which in turn led to an increase in social activism.[2] Also with the dawn of the 19th century came a great “missionary” push from many Protestant denominations. Some of the mission efforts (urban missions), attempted to resolve the problems (poverty, prostitution, disease, etc.) inherent in large cities. These “friendly visitors”, stipended by church and other charitable bodies, worked through direct relief, prayer, and evangelism to alleviate these problems.[1] In Europe, chaplains or almoners were appointed to administrate the church’s mission to the poor.

During this time, rescue societies were initiated to find more appropriate means of self-support for women involved in prostitution. Mental asylums grew to assist in taking care of the mentally ill. A new philosophy of "scientific charity" which stated charity should be "secular, rational and empirical as opposed to sectarian, sentimental, and dogmatic." (James Leiby)[3] In the late 1880s, a new system to provide aid for social ills popped up, that would become known as the settlement movement.[4] The settlement movement focused on the causes of poverty. They did this through the "three Rs" - Research, Reform, and Residence. They provided a variety of services including educational, legal, and health services. These programs also advocated changes in social policy. Workers in the settlement movement immersed themselves in the culture of those they were helping.

File:Jane Addams profile.jpg

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860May 21, 1935) was a founder of the U.S. Settlement House movement and is consider one of the early influences on professional social work in the United States.

In America, this led to 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) and Jane Addams'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.[5]

Schools of social work and formalized processes began to spring up. However, the question lingered. In 1915, at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, Dr. Abraham Flexner spoke on the topic "Is Social Work a Profession?" He contended that it was not because it lacked specialized knowledge and specific application of theoretical and intellectual knowledge to solve human and social problems.[6] This led to the professionalization of social work, concentrating on case work and the scientific method.

The International Federation of Social Workers states, of social work today, "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 and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes."[7]


Main article: Qualifications for professional social work

Professional Social Workers are generally considered those who hold a professional degree in Social Work. Often these practitioners must also obtain a license or be professionally registered. In many areas of the English speaking world, social workers start with a Bachelor of Social Work (BA, BSc or BSW) degree. Some countries, such as the United States, also offer post-graduate degrees like the master's degree (MA, MSc or MSW) or the doctoral degree (Ph.D or DSW). The MSW and the DSW/Ph.D. professionals are the major providers of psychotherapy services in the United States.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Lay practitioners, often referred to as Social Services Assistants or Care Workers, are unqualified and unregistered social workers. They are not professionally registered and often do not hold any formal social work qualification.

Within the mental health sector in the UK, there is an additional qualification that can be gained as an Approved Social Worker. This enables the practitoner to assess and make an application to hospital for admission under the Mental Health Act 1983.

In a number of countries and jurisdictions, registration or licensure of people working as social workers is required and there are mandated qualifications.[8] In other places, the professional association sets academic and experiential requirements for admission to membership. The success of these professional bodies' effort to establish these requirements is demonstrated in the fact that these same requirements are recognized by many employers as necessary for employment.[9]

Qualifications for social work in the USA

Main article: Council on Social Work Education

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 registration 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.

Role of the professional

Main article: Role of the professional social worker

Professional social workers have a strong tradition of working for social justice and of refusing to recreate unequal social structures. The main tasks of professional social workers can include a variety of services such as case management (linking clients with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs), medical social work, counseling (psychotherapy), human services management, social welfare policy analysis, community organizing, advocacy, teaching (in schools of social work), and social science research. Professional social workers work in a variety of settings, including: non-profit or public social service agencies, grassroots advocacy organizations, hospitals, hospices, community health agencies, schools, faith-based organizations, and even the military. Some social workers work as psychotherapists, counselors, or mental health practitioners, often working in collaboration with psychiatrists, psychologists, or other medical professionals. Social Workers may also work independently as private practice psychotherapists in the United States and are able to bill most third party payers such as insurance companies. Additionally, some social workers have chosen to focus their efforts on social policy or conduct academic research into the practice or ethics of social work. The emphasis has varied among these task areas by historical era and country. Some of these areas have been the subject of controversy as to whether they are properly part of social work's mission.[10]

A variety of settings employ social workers, including governmental departments (especially in the areas of child and family welfare, mental health, correctional services, and education departments), hospitals, non-government welfare agencies and private practice - working independently as counsellors, family therapists or researchers.

Professional associations

There are international regulatory bodies for professional social workers. Two of these are the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work.

On a national level there are organizations regulating the profession, as well. Some of these are the National Association of Social Workers (U.S.), the British Association of Social Workers (U.K.), the Australian Association of Social Workers (Australia), and the Professional Social Workers' Association (India).

Knowledge building

Main article: 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) and Jane Addams'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.[5] 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 current state of social work knowledge building is characterized by two realities. There is a great deal of traditional research, both qualitative and quantitative being carried out, primarily by university-based researchers, but also in different fields, by researchers based in institutes, foundations, or social service agencies. Meanwhile, the majority of social work practitioners continue to look elsewhere for knowledge. This is a state of affairs that has persisted since the outset of the profession in the first decade of the twentieth century. One reason for the practice-research gap is that practitioners deal with situations that are unique and idiosyncratic, while research deals with regularities and aggregates. The translation between the two is often imperfect. A hopeful development for bridging this gap is the compilation in many practice fields of collections of "best practices," largely taken from research findings, but also distilled from the experience of respected practitioners.

Types of professional intervention

There are three levels of intervention:

  • Micro (individual & family)
  • Mezzo (agency & small groups)
  • Macro (societies, organizations & communities)

Clinical or direct practice

Community practice

Main article: Community practice
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Fields of professional practice (direct and community levels and academic level)

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See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Huff, Dan Chapter I. SCIENTIFIC PHILANTHROPY (1860-1900). The Social Work History Station. Boise State University. URL accessed on 2008-02-20.
  2. Social Work History. University of Edinburgh. URL accessed on 2008-02-20.
  3. Huff, Dan Chapter I.2 Missionaries & Volunteers. The Social Work History Station. Boise State University. URL accessed on 2008-02-20.
  4. Huff, Dan Chapter II. SETTLEMENTS (1880-1900). The Social Work History Station. Boise State University. URL accessed on 2008-02-20.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Parker-Oliver, Debra, Demiris, George (April 2006). Social Work Informatics: A New Specialty. Social Work 51 (2): 127-134.
  6. From Charitable Volunteers to Architects of Social Welfare: A Brief History of Social Work. University of Michigan. URL accessed on 2007-02-20.
  7. Definition of Social Work. IFSW General Meeting in Montréal, Canada, July 2000. International Federation of Social Workers. URL accessed on 2008-02-19.
  8. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2005). NASW Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from
  9. Catholic Social Workers National Association.
  10. eg. (2007) Choices: Careers in Social Work National Association of Social Workers

External links

National professional associations (and/or Regulatory bodies)

Template:Allied health professions

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