What is Social Work and Where do Social Workers Work?

What is Social Work?

Social work is a profession that is primarily concerned with supporting and helping people in a variety of situations and settings. It is also about working in solidarity with socially excluded people and groups in meeting the challenges that their social exclusion creates. Social workers work in a wide range of settings and with different groups of people. Social workers work with individuals, families, groups and communities. Their work can span a wide variety of roles including counselling, group work, lobbying, advocacy and political activism. Social workers often have to network with other professions such as gardai, doctors, public health nurses, and schools, as well as service-user and advocacy networks.  Ultimately, social work aims to support people to live more successfully within their local communities by helping them to find solutions to their problems.

Where do Social Workers Work?

Where do social workers work?

Reflecting the diversity of the profession, social workers work in a wide variety of settings. These include, but are not limited to: hospitals, where social workers work with patients and their families to address issues such as housing and welfare entitlements, and grief and loss; in community projects, working with people to address issues of common concern; in the Probation and Welfare Service, where their role can include providing reports to the court and supporting offenders through counselling, advocacy, and referral to other support services; in family support, working with children and their families in different settings including family centres and child welfare and protection services; in mental health care settings, working with service-users and their families; in disability services, working to support the needs of disabled people; and in fostering and adoption, providing support to children in care. Social workers also work in local authority housing departments with local authority tenants and in work with Travellers. In recent years, social work has also become increasingly concerned with working in a variety of community organisations providing support to Ireland’s growing immigrant population. 

IFSW Definition of Social Work

The International Federation of Social Workers define social work as follows:

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 behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.

Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice.

Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are dis-advantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the profession’s national and international codes of ethics.

Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognises the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organisational, social and cultural changes.

Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilises a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counselling, clinical social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organisation and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions.

School of Applied Social Studies

Staidéar Sóisialta Feidhmeach

William Thompson House, Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland.