What is social work and why do we need it

8 August 2016

To clearly define what social work is can be difficult due to the diversity of the profession. The reasons we need social work are a little easier to identify. Through examination of current literature, this paper examines what social work is and why we need social work Often when we meet someone new the first question they ask is “what do you do for a living? ” This question of what we do appears to be something that, in many ways, defines us as a person.

When the question of what we do is answered with “I am a social worker” it tends to lead to additional questions such as “what is a social worker? ” or “what does a social worker do? ” Through examination of some of the current literature on the topic of social work, this paper will seek to answer the question “what is social work and why do we need it? ” The question “what is social work? ” should be an easy one to answer. The definition of social work is readily available from The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) who defines social work as:

What is social work and why do we need it Essay Example

“The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviours and social systems, social work intervenes at the point where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work” (IFSW, 2012). But what does that really mean? In order to fully understand what social work is, first we need to examine social works origins (Skehill, 2007).

According to Mendes (2010), understanding the history of social work is an important aspect in developing social works identity. Social works origins can be traced back to early 1800’s to a group known as the ‘Friendly Visitors’ (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012). The Friendly Visitors would go and visit poor and needy families and assess them and then attempt to help them. The Charity Organization Society (COS) was the next step in social works historical development, again focused on individuals needs (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012).

The Settlement Movement followed the COS and this was where a split began to form in the role of social work, one which can easily be seen today (Hugman, 2009). According to Hugman (2009), The Settlement Movement took a more structured approach to people’s problems and looked working more on a community level. This approach is classed by Hugman (2009) as a macro-level approach, one which differs from the more individualistic approach which is categorized as a micro-level approach.

According to Sandu (2010), many American and European social workers in the early 20th century started to believe that individual treatment was pointless if not done in conjunction with larger social issues which addressed social policy and change on a larger level. Social work has evolved since its beginnings. According to Hugman (2009), social work has constantly been plagued with disagreement regarding its true identity. From a very individualistic focus during its beginnings, social work appears to have split into two parts.

Social work can focus on the individual, seeking to use a therapeutic approach to help the individual, or focus on larger social objectives, such as social justice and human rights. Payne (2005) believes that the nature of social work can be divided into three areas, the Reflective-therapeutic approach, the Individualist-reformist approach and the Socialist-collectivist approach. Both the Reflective-therapeutic approach and the Individualist-reformist approach focus more on individual change while the Socialist-collectivist approach focuses on larger social systems (Payne, 2005).

While both approaches are essential aspects of social work Chu, Tsui and Yan (2009) believe the pursuit of social justice must be balanced with individual well being. Hudson (1997) believes that this duel focus on both the individual and society as a whole has allowed social work to draw information from other human services professions such as psychology and sociology and while this sees some overlap between different human services professions, it has also allowed social work to develop its own identity.

This divide between micro and macro approaches to social work makes it difficult to clearly define exactly what social work is. The definition of what social work is appears to be very much dependent upon the individual social workers approach to social work as a whole and their practice framework, which helps them define exactly what social work is. However, there are a few key principals which all social workers would agree upon. According to Chu, Tsui and Yan (2009), the principals of human rights and social justice are regarded by social workers as fundamental elements of social work.

The ultimate goal of social work is to help people solve their problems while at the same time retaining their dignity (Chu, Tsui & Yan, 2009). That is what social work ultimately is, helping people with their problems, while at the same time helping them hold onto their dignity. But why is social work needed? The social work profession finds itself in a unique position. The very thing which makes it so difficult to define, the conflicting views between individual work and larger social issues are the very thing which explains why we need social work.

Social workers can work with individuals, families, groups and communities. They can work on change and update to social policy, research as well as education and training (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012). Having such a massive domain to cover allows social workers to experience what changes are actually needed. Social workers ability to look at both the micro level and the macro level allow them the unique opportunity to see the things that need to be changed on an individual level and try to make those changes required on a macro level. Very few other professions have this ability.

Some focus on individual change, some focus on social policy, law and human rights, but few if any have the ability to do both. Society needs social workers because there will always be people in need, people who are less fortunate than others. Those people need a voice, they need advocates and social work offers some level of hope to the less fortunate. To clearly define what social work is can be difficult due to the diversity of the profession. The reasons we need social work are a little easier to identify. Through examination of current literature, this paper has briefly examined what social work is and why we need social work.

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