Saturday, April 20, 2013

Key Themes in Social Work Practice

Key Themes

  • Social workers' ideals, as well as society's ideals and policy ideals, are not by definition moral.
  • Attempts to advocate for and help can enrage, harm, and oppress those who are supposed to be empowered. Social workers often wield great power, which comes with great responsibility.
  • Black social workers played a key role in bringing a strengths perspective to social work practice.
  • Social workers are to give a hand-up, not a hand-out. Clients benefit the most when they learn to help themselves and each other.
  • Past social problems may have presented differently, but often they are still around today and we have to pay attention to see how they have morphed.
  • Women who have attempted to move up or change their role in society have been viewed as immoral and a threat to society.
  • Our society tends to blame people for being how they are, instead of understanding and accepting them.
  • Economic utility cannot be assumed to support social utility or cultural competence
  • What social policies and programs give a hand-out instead of a hand-up, and do not encourage self-help and mutual aid?

New and Challenging Ideas

  • Social workers tend to ascribe to the ideology that sexual promiscuity is immoral, and that women who choose prostitution are weak. This idea has roots in social work circles with a Christian Evangelical slant.
  • Social workers must be careful not to oppress each other. Poor quality macro level practice can result in the oppression of social workers. It is important to use policy to empower clients, and those whose job it is to empower clients.
  • Women who had children out of wedlock have been oppressed and treated as immoral, while their male counterparts were conveniently left untouched. These attitudes continue today, and often keep these women and their families stuck in poverty.
  • The court system has oppressed women by forcing them to describe personal or embarrassing sexual encounters to groups of people who are judgmental and not seeking to understand.

Connections to previous readings

  • Social workers who did not challenge discriminatory policy, but tried to ease the effects of the policy, still ended up being part of the problem, despite their good intentions.
  • The populations who are to be affected by policy must be considered during every stage of the policy's drafting.
  • Refusal to accept certain groups of people as part of the society only keeps the society sick. The society only suppresses a part of itself.
  • Social workers in policy must work to acknowledge and uplift people who have been oppressed because of ethnicity and race. Community education and activism will likely play a role here, as it has been helpful in the past.
  • Lifestyles that do not perfectly match mainstream ideals tend to be considered immoral, even by those who have chosen them. This perspective causes 
  • Attempts to challenge the status quo are always discounted and fought by those in power.
  • Policy that initial appears gender- or culture-neutral, is not necessarily so.

Relevance to Social Work Practice


  • Without careful attention to the client's perspective, social workers can oppress those we are supposed to protect and empower. The social worker's biased sexual attitudes can easily harm a client.
  • Social workers have a history of pathologizing fringe sexual practices. In doing so, social workers created shame within their clients.
  • Philanthopy need not be only a meso or macro occurrence.


  • Communities which were not willing to learn to understand prostitution labeled prostitutes as slaves to their desires and prostitution rings. Womens' decisions to enter into prostitution were disregarded. Social workers were not present to educate the community.


  • Restrictive policy regarding prostitution has made things worse in many cases for women, but not for men.
  • Using a strengths perspective at the macro level is difficult, but necessary.
  • Education about social "problems" and their "causes" must be grounded in both science and humanitarianism.

Additional Questions and Concerns

  • On a daily basis, how do we impose our ideals on others?
  • How can we give a hand-up via the macro level? What does a social policy or program that uses self-help and mutual aid look like?

No comments:

Post a Comment