The Preamble to the American Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards states:

“Social work practice promotes human well-being by strengthening opportunities, resources, and capacities of people in their environments and by creating policies and services to correct conditions that limit human rights and the quality of life. The social work profession works to eliminate poverty, discrimination, and oppression. Guided by a person-in-environment perspective and respect for human diversity, the profession works to effect social and economic justice worldwide.”

The Standards go on to outline the multiple objectives of social work as follows:

  • To enhance human well-being and alleviate poverty, oppression, and other forms of social injustice.
  • To enhance the social functioning and interactions of individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities by involving them in accomplishing goals, developing resources, and preventing and alleviating distress.
  • To formulate and implement social policies, services, and programs that meet basic human needs and support the development of human capacities.
  • To pursue policies, services, and resources through advocacy and social or political actions that promote social and economic justice.
  • To develop and use research, knowledge, and skills that advance social work practice.
  • To develop and apply practice in the context of diverse cultures.

Due to the dual focus on individual or group functioning and social policies, social work has long had professional boundaries and identity issues.  The broad scope of practice in North America in particular, has meant that social work has been unable to hone an integrated identity.  Such factors have been compounded by society’s ambivalence toward social work.  While social work is rooted in humanitarianism and most do not want to see people suffer, shifting power and resources to those who are without threatens the status quo and has led to the lack of a clear mandate for publicly funded services.  These dynamics have been serious obstacles to social work’s ability to fulfill its mission and meet its objectives (Hopps & Pinderhughes, 1992).

The type, scope, and depth of knowledge and skills that social workers need are vast, and specialization has increased (Hopps & Collins, 1999; Meyer, 1976).  Specialization can threaten the unity of a profession if there are a variety of perspectives and no orderly and coherent scheme to classify the specialization areas.  Some examples of ways to categorize the focus of social work that show the lack of a coherent scheme, according to Minahan and Pincus (1977), are dividing social work by methods such as casework, group work, community organization, administration, and social action, fields of practice, problem areas, population groups, methodological function, geographic areas, size of target (micro, mezzo, macro), and specific treatment modalities.

Over the course of the last century, social work in industrialized nations has fluctuated in its emphasis on cause or function, environmental reform or individual change, and social treatment or direct service.  In more simple terms, if we consider the person-in-environment (PIE) framework that social work uses, sometimes the person has had the stronger focus, and sometimes the environment.  While the conceptual framework has remained constant (PIE), social work as a profession has been reflexive.  When coupled with its desire to also be inclusive in terms of specialization areas, it has resulted in flux and a confusing identity.  Popple (1995) states that social work is seeking to firm up its domain by becoming more exclusive; that is, to restrict the title of “social worker” and what is called “social work” to those persons with formal social work credentials who perform certain tasks or play certain roles.

In India, social work is at a point in its development where some of the same issues are being considered.  Mandal (1989) writes that the introduction of specializations, notably medical and psychiatric social work, emerged in India’s post-independent period, followed by other specialization areas such as family and child welfare and criminology and correctional administration.  Economic development of countries is tied to the expansion of knowledge.  Mandal concluded, however, that while aspects of Western social work education are relevant to Indian society, what is needed is a focus on preventive and macro-based social work practice.  In the same year and in the same journal (International Social Work, 1989), Ejaz wrote the following about the nature of casework practice in India:

“…in this pursuit of indigenization in India, the role of casework has received little attention. The emphasis seems to have shifted to meeting social development needs (Brigham, 1982; Midgley, 1981; Resnick, 1980). Besides its economic and developmental problems India, especially urban India, is beset with familial, personal, and social problems (Jamshidi, 1978).  Social work, and particularly casework, attempts to resolve such problems. To be effective as a form of social treatment, social casework therefore must incorporate the cultural elements and nuances that influence the life of people in India.”(p.25).

To bring us more up to date with the direction and status of both Western social work and social work in India, we can turn to two articles published in 2003 and 2002, respectively: “The Future of Social Work Practice” by Elizabeth Clark, then the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers in the U.S., and “Social Work in India:  A “Bright” Future?” by Ajit Kumar, a faculty member with the Matru Seva Sangh Institute of Social Work, Nagpur.  Clark believes that in addition to image, salary, and reimbursement issues, in the future, American social work practice will be faced with identifying and reacting to new needs in a timely fashion.  This requires knowledge of politics and social trends.  She cites that in times of conservative government and limited resources, political social work and activism will be strongly needed.  Clark predicts that certain populations will continue to be more socially and economically vulnerable than others, only their needs will be even more intense in the future.  Frail, elderly persons without resources are one example of such groups.  A related trend will be an increased need for health and mental health services coupled with increasing disparities in access to care.  Social agencies will therefore need to advocate and also attempt to raise more community and private resources to meet people’s needs.  There will be a trend away from single profession service delivery to integrated services that include social workers, and information and technology will play a role. Clark believes that the specialization areas of forensic social work and corporate social work will increase and that national and international practice will help to shape the social work profession’s role in social and economic development both in the U.S. and around the world.

With respect to the future of social work in India, Kumar states that there has been a reliance on market development and expansion of an industrial base to take care of social problems.  Although such development has helped to surmount some of the complexities of caste, religion, language, and history, enormous problems remain.  He reports that the problems of poverty, illiteracy, child mortality, malnutrition, joblessness, and homelessness, are pervasive and that corruption and inefficiency in institutional structures have contributed to not making basic resources such as water and roads available to groups of people.  He asks whether the goals of social work will be manifested as conditions of deprivation and inequality continue in society, and the state’s ability to mobilize resources and prioritize investment subsequently weakens. Kumar concludes that it is likely that the growth of the market economy will result in relegating what he refers to as “cast offs,” or persons who do not benefit from industrialization and other forms of development to the care of social workers.  He points out, however, that social workers will only be able to play a limited role in alleviating people’s problems if these arise out of structural forces.

Additional Notes:

Social work is a profession that is dedicated to enhancing the well-being and quality of life for individuals, families, groups, and communities. The purpose and objectives of social work are broad and encompass a range of goals aimed at promoting social justice, empowerment, and positive change. Here are key aspects of the purpose and objectives of social work:

1)      Enhancing Social Functioning:

  • Social work aims to enhance the social functioning of individuals and groups. This involves addressing challenges and barriers that may impact people’s ability to participate fully in society.

2)      Promoting Social Justice:

  • Social workers are committed to advocating for social justice and working towards the elimination of discrimination and oppression. They strive to create a fair and equitable society where everyone has equal access to resources and opportunities.

3)      Empowering Individuals and Communities:

  • Empowerment is a central theme in social work. Social workers work to empower individuals and communities by helping them develop the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to address their own challenges and improve their lives.

4)      Fostering Human Rights:

  • Social work is guided by a commitment to upholding and promoting human rights. Social workers advocate for the rights of individuals and groups, ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

5)      Addressing Social Problems:

  • Social workers play a crucial role in addressing and alleviating social problems such as poverty, inequality, violence, and discrimination. They work on both individual and systemic levels to create positive change.

6)      Providing Support and Resources:

  • Social workers offer support and connect individuals and communities with the necessary resources to meet their needs. This may include access to healthcare, education, housing, employment, and other essential services.

In summary, the purpose of social work is to enhance the well-being of individuals and communities, promote social justice, and empower people to overcome challenges. The objectives involve a range of activities aimed at assessment, intervention, advocacy, prevention, collaboration, and contributing to the development of policies and research in the field.

What has been the result of social work having a broad scope in some societies?

The broad scope of social work in some societies has led to several positive outcomes and impacts on individuals, families, and communities. Here are some notable results of social work having a broad scope:

·       Holistic Well-being:

Social work’s broad scope allows professionals to address a wide range of factors that contribute to individuals’ well-being. This holistic approach considers not only immediate challenges but also social, economic, cultural, and environmental factors influencing the overall quality of life.

·       Social Justice and Equity:

Social work, with its commitment to social justice, contributes to reducing inequalities and promoting equity in societies. Social workers often advocate for marginalized and vulnerable populations, working to address systemic issues that contribute to social disparities.

·       Community Empowerment:

The broad scope of social work emphasizes community development and empowerment. Social workers work collaboratively with communities, helping them identify and utilize their strengths to address challenges and create positive change from within.

·       Responsive Interventions:

Social workers are equipped to respond to a diverse range of individual and community needs. The broad scope enables them to tailor interventions based on the unique circumstances, cultures, and contexts of the people they serve.

·       Crisis Response and Resilience:

Social workers, with their broad skill set, are often involved in crisis response and recovery efforts. They help individuals and communities navigate through crises, build resilience, and recover from traumatic events.

·       Preventive Measures:

Social work’s broad perspective includes a focus on preventive measures. Social workers engage in education, awareness campaigns, and community-building initiatives to address issues at their roots and prevent the escalation of problems.

·       Advocacy for Policy Change:

Social workers engage in policy advocacy at local, regional, and national levels. The broad scope of social work allows professionals to influence policies that impact social well-being, human rights, and the delivery of social services.

·       Interdisciplinary Collaboration:

The broad scope encourages social workers to collaborate with professionals from various disciplines, such as healthcare, education, law, and psychology. This interdisciplinary approach enhances the effectiveness of interventions and promotes comprehensive care.

·       Cultural Competence:

Social work’s broad scope emphasizes cultural competence, encouraging professionals to understand and respect diverse cultural backgrounds. This cultural sensitivity is essential for effective engagement with individuals and communities from different ethnicities and cultural contexts.

·       Research and Innovation:

Social work’s broad scope fosters research and innovation within the field. Social workers contribute to the development of evidence-based practices, interventions, and policies through research that addresses the complex and multifaceted nature of social issues.

While the broad scope of social work has led to positive outcomes, it’s important to note that challenges and limitations may also exist. The effectiveness of social work interventions can be influenced by factors such as funding, policy support, and societal attitudes. Additionally, ongoing efforts are needed to address emerging social issues and adapt to changing societal needs.

Source: Egyankosh


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