Purpose and Objectives of Social Work
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 boundary 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 in 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 is vast, and specialisation 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-inenvironment (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.