14 September, 2012

What's so special about social work ?

By coincidence I stumbled on this intriguing question during one of my surfing expeditions on the web. Intriguing for social work professionals, you might say ? Well, to be honest, often in your day-to-day routines you get bogged down with a heavy workload and tend to forget the importance and essence of social work.

And luckily, you stumble on  Malcolm Payne's article , making crystal clear what is so special about social work and why it matters.

"Social work makes three main contributions to social justice, which are very distinctive.
First, it is concerned with the 'social': to improving social relations between people. Doctors deal with illness, lawyers with crime and individual injustices, teachers teach their pupils: social work uniquely sets out to improve relationships between people individually and collectively. Teachers or counsellors might help a child think through their worries, but it's social workers who visit the house, sit down and join with other members of the family to help sort out home problems.

Second, it focuses on people who lose out because they need housing or financial support but don't fit the criteria. Social workers try not to give up on people just because they don't fit in with the bureaucratic categories. Research over several decades shows that the people using their services value social workers trying to understand their problems and sticking with trying to get the best for them.

Third, social workers have always been prepared to intervene in social relations. It doesn't make them popular. Nineteenth century campaigners complained about early social workers interfering in other people's lives with their own moral agenda (or at least the moral agenda of the churches and the middle classes who funded early social work).

Complaints about social workers not intervening with an abused child, or a violent mentally ill man, or an isolated disabled or elderly person without family support just shows how useful it is to have a profession around prepared to have a go at helping to sort things out. In this way, social work helps to maintain the social fabric. That's why most countries have a social work profession."

Along these lines (and more) Payne held a presentation during the Stockholm Global Social Work Conference in July 2012. Here's a link to that 30-minute presentation, paving the way for 21st century social work.

My tip is: have your students listen to this easily understandable talk to the global social work community !

For those of you who don't know Malcolm Payne: he is a writer, blogger, consultant, educator on social work and end-of-life care. Here's a link to his tweets.