Social Work

Social Work


Social Work, professional activity aimed generally at enriching and enhancing individual and group development, or at alleviating adverse social and economic conditions. Its practitioners work to provide care for abused or neglected children; rehabilitate those with physical, mental, social, or emotional disabilities; and extend financial aid to the poor and the elderly.

Formerly, all forms of philanthropic and charitable activities, including those of untrained, civic-minded individuals, were regarded as social work. Such activities focused primarily on solving the immediate problems of those in need and did little to change the conditions that caused those problems. More recently, however, a vast amount of new social research has made possible analyses of the social and economic maladjustments of modern society, and the activities of social workers have been coordinated in an effort to achieve the maximum possible benefit both for those individuals who are in need and for the entire community.

Increasingly, in many countries, social workers are being expected to widen their role to help control crime and other antisocial forms of behaviour. While attempting this, they have, of course, to observe the civil rights of those with whom they are working. And in the developing world, where social workers are few in relation to the populations they serve, they are being asked to involve themselves in relief work and the assessment of financial aid required to achieve this.


Social workers may be employed in a variety of settings. Social caseworkers deal directly with the individual or the family. They work in family-service agencies, medical and psychiatric hospitals and clinics, public agencies, substance-abuse clinics, or industrial settings. In the last two decades, there has been a trend in some countries towards professionals working in private practice rather than in the non-profit-making or public sector. After determining the nature of the client’s problem, the clinical social worker tries to help the person overcome these difficulties or obtain appropriate assistance. In recent years the areas of specialization within social work have increased greatly.

The group social worker is usually concerned with planning or leading activities of large groups of people. This type of social work is often carried out in recreation centres and in hospitals and other therapeutic settings.

Social planners are social workers who conduct research and help develop social-welfare policies, frequently acting as proponents of the social legislation. Community organizers act as area-wide coordinators of all the programmes of different agencies so as for best to meet community needs for health and welfare services. They also facilitate self-help programmes initiated by local common-interest groups, for example, by training local leaders to analyse and solve the problems of a particular community. Community organizers work actively, as do other types of social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups. At times the role of community organizers overlaps with that of the social planners.


Social work is conducted mainly by statutory public agencies but is also performed by private bodies. These include adoption services for abused and neglected children, foster-home care, children’s institutions, and juvenile-training schools, as well as local community organization centres. Other funds go to school social work, psychiatric clinics and mental-health centres, drug rehabilitation programmes, programmes to improve intergroup relations, and social-planning efforts. Many voluntary agencies, for example, grant funds for similar and other programmes.


A degree or degree-equivalent plus vocational-professional training are generally required in order to qualify as a social worker. The vocational training has invariably stressed a sociological analysis of social problems, but legal and psychoanalytical approaches are also regarded as important. These emphases in training reflect the variety of approaches taken in the profession: social workers can assess problems according to attitudinal changes on the part of the individual, or they can concentrate instead on the social and economic causes, whichever is more appropriate. Fieldwork, that is, supervised training in an operating agency, is required for most social-work positions.


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