The social work and professional practice module is taken by BSc social work students at the University of Huddersfield in their first year. During a lecture, as part of the preparations for World Social Work day, Ruth Neville (the module leader) and I asked the students to write down what they thought the mission of social work was. Each person or group then read out their responses to the group before handing them to me at the end of the session.
I have spent several days looking at the statements, mulling them over, inspired by the different visions of social work they contain, hearing the different voices that add to the richness of the overall harmony. What follows is a co-construction: mine, theirs, ours.
A piece about the mission of social work and its importance
Social Work is…
The mission of social work is social work:
Social in that it takes place in the messiness and uncertainty of the social world where there are no wrong or right answers, few solutions and many outcomes.
Work in that it is work: a profession involving lengthy training, specific skills and knowledge, and which takes place within a legislative framework defined by Codes of Practice and Professional bodies.
The mission of social work is individual:
Building individual relationships of support and change, working with vulnerable members of society,
Enabling people to have a better quality of life,
Building spaces within which we can grow and meet each other.
Social work is a support mechanism that enables people to seek and be offered help
with their own best interests central to the process.
Social work is about identifying what people need and
Providing support and services to meet those needs.
Social work is about relationships of trust,
And social work is about relationships of power.
Social work is about empowering people to become who they can be;
Supporting people to help themselves, and
Assisting to make the journey less difficult
Social work is doing what we can to identify and dismantle the structural barriers that prevent people reaching their true potential.
And social work is preventing people doing what they sometimes want to do,
Using statutory power to intervene in dangerous and complicated situations
Preventing violence, ill-use and exploitation,
Working with people to achieve change
Whilst ensuring that others are kept safe from harm.
The mission of social work is community:
Making healthy connections between people and growing networks
Helping people find each other and relate to each other,
Developing the skills, strength, and resilience of community members
And supporting the mutual benefits of community membership.
The mission of social work is change:
Changing ourselves through reflection, education, supervision and support.
Social work is an openness to change and challenge from those within and without the profession, and an awareness that to learn one has only to truly listen and to try to understand.
Social work is changing language, attending to the ways the words we use create the world around us structuring it in ways that marginalise sections of the community, and challenging the words and the worlds created by oppressive discourses.
Social work is change that allows people, communities and society to live more harmoniously.
The mission of social work is advocacy:
Advocacy on behalf of service users to promote the well being of all members of society;
Social work is about defending at personal and professional levels
Those resources and services that enable vulnerable people to live their lives
If those resources and services are threatened or removed.
Social work is explaining the true hidden cost of the cuts alongside those who will suffer them.
Social work is speaking out for those who have been silenced by abuse or circumstance to enable those voices to be heard;
Social work is challenging structural oppression alongside marginalised groups within society, and
Demanding the removal of archaic patriarchal barriers, preventing many from achieving their true potential.
Social work is affirming the importance of human equality and human dignity, encapsulated within the legal framework of human rights.
The mission of social work is ethical practice
Grounded in a value base that celebrates human worth and human diversity and
Committed to principles of anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice.
Social work is accountable: meaningful transparency and greater clarity about the profession would highlight that accountability for everyone.
Social work is the challenge to explore my own value base,
To challenge my own prejudices, preconceptions and judgementalism,
To challenge myself.
The mission of social work is learning
Learning from and about the lives and experiences of others, and of the problems and barriers others face and
Learning about different ways of working with others.
Social work is learning from research to draw the widest possible range of knowledge and resources into my own practice and that of others.
Social work is constantly reflecting on my own practice.
Social work is constantly reflecting on and learning about myself.
The mission of social work is embodied,
A watchful eye,
A leg up, a shoulder to cry on,
A helping hand
A listening ear, a voice,
A mind, a heart.
The mission of social work is education
Educating ourselves to ensure that we are the best version of ourselves that we can be,
Making the best decisions we can make in any given circumstances,
Recognising the power we hold to affect people’s lives.
Social work is educating those who wish to join the profession of course.
But social work is also educating those who are already in the profession,
placing knowledge at the heart of social work and social care, and
increasing the importance of practitioner-researchers within the profession.
Social work is educating practitioners, teachers and researchers to work in close partnership for the benefit of the profession and those who rely on it to be as good as it can be.
Social work is educating the wider public about what social work is about, and the good that social workers do to counter the misconceptions about what we do.
Social work is educating the government about our society, and seeking to influence policy and legislation through advocacy and research.
Social work is educating society about itself; holding up a mirror to society to reflect the most marginalised and the most vulnerable and the way in which they are cemented into or released from those positions by policy and legislation.
The mission of social work is making a difference:
A difference to individuals no longer exploited by those who would harm them.
A difference to people empowered to make informed decisions about their lives.
A difference for people receiving care, help, support, and services that are tailored to who they are as individuals not who they are as a social group.
A difference to communities made richer by working for the benefit of all their members not simply a powerful selection of them.
A difference to society and the worlds we live in.
Social work is available to all of us if we need it, whoever we are, because we are members of society,
Social work is a safety net to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.
The mission of social work is multi-voiced, multilayered and textured.
Social work is complex and contested, scapegoated and demonised.
Social work is undervalued, ignored and misunderstood.
Social work is a chance to make a difference,
A positive contribution to society
An opportunity to change something for somebody,
A challenge to change something for everybody.
Social work is humanising ‘the system’
Social work is fighting stigma,
Protecting the vulnerable,
Campaigning for change.
Social work is a privilege,
A celebration of diversity,
Social work is important.
Social work is mission.
The mission continues.
My thanks to the students of the year 1 social work BSc course at the University of Huddersfield without whom this could not have been written, and my thanks to Ruth Neville, module leader of the social work and professional practice course (amongst other things) without whom it would not have been written.
Happy World Social Work Day.
Join us on World Social Work Day (Tuesday, 20-March-2012) at 8:00 PM GMT / 4:00 PM EDT to discuss and explore the “Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development” in a rich and lively Twitter Debate @SWSCmedia.