What is Social Work?

Concept of Social Work

Social work is a helping profession that fundamentally and radically aims to assist individuals, groups, and communities in coping with their complex socio-economic and psychological problems by enabling themselves to solve their problems by helping themselves.

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Social work provides service for the problematic person just like the following:  Every profession has its knowledge and practice based on which the professionals of that profession engage them in human service and based on their expertise and educational activities. In the same way, social workers have to practice social work based on social work educational activities. 

Concept of Social Work

Scholarly definition of Social Work by different authors 

The current definition is given by Social Scientists Skidmore & Thackery. They said, “Social Work may be defined as an art, a science, a profession that helps people solve personal, group and community problems and attain satisfying personal, group and community relationships through social work practice, including casework and community organization, administration and research.”

Highlighting the theoretical side W.A. Friedlander said, “Social work is a professional service based upon scientific knowledge and skill in human relations, which assists individuals alone or in groups to obtain social and personal satisfaction and independence.

According to NASW, The professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities enhance or restore their social functioning capacity and create societal conditions favourable to this goal.


The following definition was approved by the IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers) General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly in July 2014: “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversity are central to social work. Underpinned by social work theories, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being; social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and subjective well-being of individuals, families, couples, groups, and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crisis intervention, and teaching for the benefit of those affected by social disadvantages such as poverty, mental and physical illness or disability, and social injustice, including violations of their civil liberties and human rights. The profession is dedicated to the pursuit of social justice and the well-being of oppressed and marginalized individuals and communities.

Read: Methods of Social Work

Read: Social Casework Method

Read: Data Collection Methods of Casework

Nature/Features of Social Work

There are five (5) distinct features of social work such as.

1)    Social Work is a commitment to social betterment. 

2)    A goal of enhancing social function 

3)    An action orientation 

4)    An application to human diversity 

5)    A versatile practice perspective 


Aims and Objectives of Social Work

There are five (5) distinct objectives of social work such as.

1)    To promote an effective & human service system 

2)    To enhance problem-solving, coping & development capacities, 

3)    To link people with resources, services & opportunities, 

4)    To develop & improve social policy 

5)    Caring, curing & changing society. 


Read: NASW Code of Ethics for Social Workers

Read: Significance of studying Social Work

Read: Why you should study Social Work?

Principles of Social Work

The guiding principles of the social work profession have been stated as follows: (NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Health Care Settings, 2016).


The social workers are required to be self-determined themselves. They are supposed to respect and promote the rights of the clients to self-determination and provide assistance to the clients in their efforts regarding the identification and clarification of their objectives and desires. When the clients are in need, they are unable to develop clarity and precision about what they want to achieve. In such cases, they require assistance from the social worker. The main job of the social worker comprises of making the clients self-determined. Social workers should respect, promote and support people’s dignity and right to make their own selections and decisions.

Cultural Competency and Affirmation of the Dignity and Worth of all People 

Social workers are required to treat every person with reverence, carefulness, and equality. There should not be any kind of discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, race, gender, religion or socioeconomic background. With the possession of skills and abilities in cultural awareness and cultural competence, social workers affirm the worth and dignity of people of all cultures. They possess knowledge about different cultures, values and backgrounds of the individuals. This kind of knowledge enables them to understand the problems and difficulties of the individuals in an appropriate manner and provide solutions.

Person in Environment Framework

Social workers understand that each individual experiences a relationship with the environmental conditions. Every person has a mutually influential relationship with the physical and the social environmental conditions. For instance, there are individuals such as farmers, agricultural labourers, and other individuals who depend upon the environmental conditions. In the same way, individuals establish a connection with the social environment as well. There is a linkage between the problems of the individuals and the environment around them. This ecological perspective recognizes that systemic injustice, control and domination inspire most of the challenges that have been experienced by the clients.

Strengths Perspective

Social workers are required to focus on the strengths of the individuals, families and groups and in this manner, they will be able to make them utilize their positive areas and assets in leading to their empowerment. Every individual possesses strengths and weaknesses; it is vital to implement measures that would transform weak areas into strengths. The reason is, that the strengths of an individual always contribute to leading to their empowerment. Social workers generate support and work towards building on the flexibility and potential for leading to growth and development which is an integral part of every individual.

Primacy of the Client and the Social Worker Relationship

The social workers and the clients should establish a relationship among themselves. This is considered vital when they have to work with each other for the successful implementation of the tasks and operations or to achieve the desired objectives. The clients in some cases treat social workers like guides, friends and even close relatives. They share all their problems and concerns with them and in turn, the social workers assist them in making provision solutions to their problems. The relationship between the clients and the social workers is vital to help the clients reach their desired goals.

Social Justice 

Social justice is considered to be the primary requirement of all individuals. Irrespective of caste, religion, gender, occupation or socio-economic background, all individuals require social justice. At all levels from the local to the global, social workers promote and advocate social, economic, political and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice. Social workers have the responsibility to apply the professional values and principles set out above their own practice. They are required to act with integrity and treat all individuals with consideration, kindness, empathy and care.

Read: Social Welfare Administration: Science or Art?

Read: Social Action in Social Work

Read: Relation between Social Action and other Methods of Social Work

Read: Strategies, Principles and Models in Social Action

Importance of Social Work Research

Research is considered to be an integral part of this profession. When social workers make an attempt to understand the problems of the clients, families or groups, they are required to analyse the situation and then put into operation adequate measures. The value of research and analyses is recognized to promote the well-being of individuals. Assisting students in schools to enhance their academic performance, a person who is suffering from depression or stress should be provided help in providing solutions to their problems and so forth. There is a number of individuals experiencing problems that need help and guidance from social workers. Therefore, it is vital for them to possess the required knowledge, skills and abilities.

Assessing and Managing Risk

Social workers are required to be aware that individuals who are making use of social work services are provided with the opportunity to take risks and these individuals should be enabled to identify and manage the potential and the actual risk. The individuals and the social workers are required to possess effective communication skills and make sure that their behaviour does not impose any detrimental consequences. Risk is involved in various tasks carried out by social workers, hence, it is vital that they should possess the abilities to assess and manage the risks and motivate their clients to promote their autonomy and independence (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012).

Providing Information

The individuals who belong to deprived, marginalized and low socio-economic sections of the society, who do not possess literacy skills or awareness should be provided with information by the social workers. It is the job duty of social workers to provide information to the individuals to make appropriate selections. The individuals who feel vulnerable in speaking out for themselves, especially those who have been abused and mistreated should be encouraged to speak against wrongdoing. Welfare means should be promoted for the disadvantaged sections of society in order to make them self-sufficient (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012).

Using Authority in accordance with the Human Rights Principles

Social workers are required to make use of their authority in a competent, professional and responsible manner. They should exercise authority and control over the other individuals in accordance with the human rights principles. The individuals who seek assistance from social workers should be provided with enough room leading to their progress (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012). Every individual has certain rights and opportunities, hence, control and authority should be exercised in a proper manner, so that the individuals do not feel that social workers are making an attempt to exert influence and pressure over them. The individuals should be allowed to share ideas and give suggestions to the social workers when seeking guidance and assistance from them.

Challenging the Abuse of Human Rights

Social workers should be prepared to challenge the unethical, inappropriate and discriminatory treatment against individuals. Within the community, there has been a prevalence of violent and criminal acts on a large scale. The social workers need to identify the extent of their occurrence, victims, causes of their suffering and so forth. The social workers should challenge the abuse of power and the exclusion of people from decisions that affect them. They are required to ensure that their actions and performances do not impose any unfavourable consequences upon the individuals (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012).

Maintaining Confidentiality

Social workers should respect the principles of confidentiality that apply to the relationships and make sure that confidential information should only be disclosed with the consent of the client. Even when some kind of knowledge and information is disclosed to another person, the name is not revealed. As it may happen that two or more clients may have similar kinds of problems. When social workers begin to work with clients, they are supposed to reveal to them the conditions of confidentiality. In case, any information needs to get disclosed, then the circumstances where confidentiality must be waived should be made unambiguous. Predicaments about confidentiality are required to get identified and support must be sought to address these issues and concerns (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012).

Maintaining Clear and Accurate Records

The social workers provide various kinds of services to the clients in accordance with their needs and requirements. When a client conveys to them their problems and concerns, then it is vital for the social workers to maintain accurate records of them. Their demographic information, their address, number of family members, background, problems, solutions and remedies offered, should be clearly and appropriately recorded. The client records should be precise and should contain only relevant information (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012). The condition of the client that was earlier and after seeking assistance from the social workers, what kinds of changes and transformations have been observed, should be maintained in the form of a report.

Striving for Objectivity and Self-awareness in Professional Practice

Social workers should be aware and evaluate their practice to identify the flaws and inconsistencies. The evaluation process will enable them to determine where they stand and how they can improve themselves. Social workers are required to possess professionalism to a large extent and this skill will enable them to perform their job duties in an adequate manner. It is vital for social workers to seek support and assistance from professionals and experts to make sure, they are doing well in their job (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012)

Taking Responsibility for the Professional Development of Others

Education and training are considered to be important areas that lead to the professional development of others. It is vital for the social workers to make the individuals recognize the significance of education. This is put into practice by sharing knowledge and practising wisdom. They should identify, utilise, and disseminate knowledge, theory and practice amongst the clients. The contribution to social work education is made by making provision of placement opportunities for the individuals to make sure they recognize their responsibilities (The Code of Ethics for Social Work, 2012).

Read: Stages of Social Work Group Formation

Read: Group Dynamics, Group Process and Social Work Process

Read: Group Therapy in Social Group Work

Facets of Social Work

There are various areas in which social work is been implemented. The facets of social work have been identified as follows: (The Many Facets of Social Work, n.d.).

Medical Social Work

In the medical and health care sectors, social workers have a number of job duties to carry out. They provide assistance to the patients and their families, who are experiencing health problems, illnesses, economic problems, disabilities, lack of resources, caregivers and other issues. Information is made available to other health care and medical professionals to understand the needs and requirements of the patients. Elderly individuals who are living alone and do not keep good health, usually seek support and assistance from social workers, especially, when they do not have individuals around to address their concerns. Social workers provide rehabilitation services to these individuals. 

School Social Work

Within the schools, students may experience a number of problems, the major is academic performance, besides, academic performance, others can be related to fellow students, teachers, and performance in competitions, extra-curricular activities etc. School social work is concerned with providing help to the students and their families to overcome social, behavioural, economic and emotional problems that prove to be impediments within the course of learning. In this case, interviews are conducted with students to identify the problems and work is done in collaboration with the teachers and school administrators. The services are implemented to make sure that students benefit from them and they prove to be productive to them in every possible manner. The main objective of school social work is primarily to ensure that students should be able to enhance their academic performance.

Clinical Social Work 

This kind of social work is regarding the provision of mental health services, including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. The social workers make providing services to individuals, families and groups. They make use of a variety of psychotherapeutic theories and tools for the proper implementation of functions. The clients in this case are assisted in adjusting to the major changes that have occurred in one’s life. These may be separation from a close family member or a friend, illness, loss of a job and so forth. These are intense situations that have an effect on the mindset of a person and in order to deal with them in an adequate manner, individuals require assistance from social workers. 

Administration and Management

The job of the social workers is centred upon planning, developing and evaluating the programs. The management of the finances is an integral part of administration and management. It is vital to make sure that these functions are put into operation in an appropriate manner. Monitoring, evaluating and analysis of the public and social policy are regarded to be important tasks, as they help to determine the functions that need to be carried out for efficient administration and management. Within the organization, when the staff members experience problems in the performance of their job duties, they may seek assistance from the social worker. 

International Social Work 

There is a number of international people who migrate to foreign countries with the main objective of education or employment opportunities or just for tourism purposes. These individuals may require counselling and guidance services in order to adapt to the new environmental conditions. They may experience problems in adjusting to new lifestyles, cultures, languages and so forth. Assistance from the social workers may enable them to become easily adapted to the new environmental conditions and lead to their well-being. These individuals may be deprived of opportunities and may not be given equal treatment, therefore, to solve their problems, they may seek assistance and guidance from social workers. 

Children and Families

There are numerous kinds of problems that are experienced by children and families. These may be related to education, finances, learning of extra-curricular activities, jobs, business, property, and other household activities. In the case of children and families, the job duties of the social worker comprise counselling them regarding their problems and making provision efficient solutions to their problems. The primary problem relating to children is their academic performance, and how they can be adequately guided to improve their performance. There have been cases of crime and violence against women and children, hence, social workers provide them assistance to recuperate. Provision of assessment, support, counselling, guidance, resource allocation and encouragement are the main job duties of the social workers. 

Employment Social Work

In this case, social workers help individuals with problems that affect their job performance and satisfaction. Within the employment setting, it is important for individuals to improve efficiency, creativity, productivity and determination. Individuals in most cases need counselling from social workers regarding how to enhance productivity, improve their job performance and satisfy their employers. The employees may encounter a number of problems relating to employment, for which they would be needing counselling. The problems may be related to performance, productivity, goodwill, salary and reimbursement, job duties, relationship with the employers, colleagues and supervisors, conflict resolution and dispute settlement procedures. The job of the counsellor is to counsel individuals through the organization of workshops, providing one to one counselling and leading groups. Issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, single parenting and vocational rehabilitation are required to get addressed in the case of social work relating to employment and occupation. 

Community Social Work

The community should be assisted in providing a definition of a social problem. Within the community, there is a number of problems experienced by the individuals, such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, illiteracy, homelessness and other problems relating to domestic violence, verbal and physical abuse, the performance of household chores, children and elderly individuals, health and so forth. These problems largely affect the lives of the individuals, they are unable to perform their tasks and functions in an adequate manner and encounter barriers within the course of sustenance of the living conditions. The job duties of the social workers in the case of community social work, centre on providing counselling and assistance to the needy and the disadvantaged sections of society. They are even provided with items like food, clothes, medicines, playthings for children etc. which are required for effectual existence. The social workers are engaged in fundraising and grant writing. 

Read: Recording in Social Group Work

Read: Leadership in Social Group Work

Read: Community Development in Social Work

Read: Empowerment and Women Empowerment

Social Work: Knowledge, Skills and Values

Man lives in society. It is the collection of individuals united by certain relations or modes of behaviour that mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ in behaviour. It is also a complex web of social relations. This relation is the result of the interaction of social people. Society is changeable. When social people can’t keep pace with social change properly, they face, especially in industrialized society, multifarious problems which require professional, knowledge-based & sustainable solutions. To meet these problems effectively, social work has emerged.

Three rings of Social Work

There are three main concepts of social work which are a must for practice knowledge, values & skills. It is called “Three Rings of Social Work”.  They are knowledge, Skills and Values. 


o    General social work knowledge 
o    Knowledge about specific practice setting 
o    Knowledge about specific practice agency 
o    Knowledge about specific client 
o    Knowledge about a specific contact 


o    Basic helping skills, 
o    Engagement skills 
o    Observation skills 
o    Communication skills 
o    Empathy skills 


o    Recognition of the worth & dignity of the individual 
o    Self-determination 
o    Equal opportunity for all 
o    Social responsibility 
o    Total outlook of life 
o    Individual freedom 
o    Mutual tolerance & respect 
o    Democratic right 
o    Self-reliance 
o    Mutual help 
o    Dignity of labour 
o    Utilization of resources 

Read: Community Empowerment in Social Work

Read: Community Organization and Community Development

Read: Community Organization in Social Work

Read: Techniques in Community Social Work Practice

Read: Social Welfare Administration as a Social Work Method

Demands/Significance of Social Work

When a person is involved in the profession of social work, it is vital to take numerous areas into consideration, since it is a demanding profession. Out of a number of areas, the most important is the expectations of the clients. It is vital to be aware of how much the clients expect from you. When social workers are working with clients who are experiencing severe financial problems, they expect them to provide the funds and usually anticipate immediate material assistance. The increasing social problems within the society demand the need for social work to clarify its role and function within the society. There is a moral obligation of society to make provision food, shelter and other basic requirements to the individuals who are without (Bisman, 2004). Education is vital for all individuals to make them self-sufficient and independent. Social workers also conduct coaching classes for individuals who belong to low socio-economic backward sections of the society. 

It is important for the social workers to make provision of information to the clients regarding their job duties and how they would be able to help them. The individuals who belong to marginalized and deprived communities, normally expect too much from the social workers. Too much expectation on the part of the clients may also lead to the dissolution of the relationships between the social workers and the clients. Social work is relatively a newer and socially less recognized profession, primarily because of its inability to validate the ready visibility of results that follow from this practice. The utilization of social relationships has been used as a major medium of professional practice through its nature is considered intangible. The major goal of being a social worker is to bring about changes and transformations in the personality structure of the individuals as well as the social structure (Social Work, n.d.).

Social work is not about making provision of solutions to various kinds of problems, but it makes provision of a ground in which the clients can review their concerns and problems, and observe how they can manage them in accordance to their best abilities and live an effective life. The profession of social work establishes a connection between the clients with the services, resources and opportunities, which might provide them with the help and assistance they need. This contributes to the generation of problem-solving ability amongst the clients. It is important in this field to recognize the fact that social work is an adaptable service and one which is more approachable and responsible to a particular locality and its people. The social worker, his clients and the public may observe social work as an embodiment of social services and in the majority of cases, the social workers are required to be dependent upon public sponsorship (Social Work, 2000).

Social work is concerned with the provision of welfare services, when people’s capacity for responding to the demands of life is strained, when capacity growth seems unattainable and when important decisions evade resolution. Social work should assist the clients to deal with life, involve in growth-producing activities, and make operative decisions. The social workers should make provision of options to the clients in order to alleviate their problems and difficulties. When individuals have a problem they look for help; normally individuals possess this viewpoint, they do not have the capability to provide solutions to their problems on their own and seek assistance. Social workers are required to keep themselves stress-free, recognize their job duties in an adequate manner, generate awareness amongst the clients regarding their job duties so that they do not expect too much from them and possess the required knowledge and skills (Social Work, 2000).

Read: Relation between Social Work and other Social Disciplines

Read: Fields of Social Work Practice

Read: Theories of Social Work

Read: Person-in-Environment (PiE) Model in Social Work

Read: Ecological Paradigm in Social Work

Skills required for Effective Job Duties of the Social Worker

The job duties of the social worker require the implementation of certain skills and abilities and these have been stated as follows: 

Communication Skills

It is vital for social workers to possess effective communication skills. Effective communication requires that a person should be able to adequately listen, and respond to the issues and concerns of their clients. There are two kinds of communication, verbal and written. Verbal communication is oral communication, it is either carried out face to face or over the telephone. On the other hand, written communication is in any kind of written form, through email, letters, messages, notices and so forth. It is vital for the communication process to be efficient between the social workers and the clients. In this manner, the clients will be able to understand and work to acquire self-independence. 

Interview Techniques

The social workers get involved in a verbal discussion with the clients in the form of interviews. The interviews may involve open-ended and close-ended questions. In the open-ended questions, the clients are required to provide elaborate explanations to the questions asked by the social workers. In the case of close-ended questions, just one word or yes or no answers are provided. Interview techniques prove to be productive in providing answers to any crucial questions that the social workers may have regarding the clients. These enable the social workers to judge the mindset of the clients, as interviews take place in a face to face manner. 

Assessment Skills

To bring about changes and improvements in the lives and functions of individuals, it is vital to develop assessment skills. The social workers are required to assess the performance of the individuals, especially when they are conducting school social work. In this case, the weak areas of the individuals are identified, and they are provided with the appropriate instructional and training methods, the implementation of which would contribute to improving their performance. The social workers are involved in the organization of sessions, where certain worksheets are provided to the individuals to identify their weak areas. The emphasis is put on being clear and specific in the areas, this assists in making contacts amongst the individuals more meaningful and allows the social workers to assess the appropriateness of specific social work methods, approaches, strategies, perspectives, interventions and skills in terms of their efficiency in generating desired and agreed outcomes (Trevithick, 2000).

Theory and Practice

Establishing a relationship between theory and practice in social work practices means both the individuals, the clients and the social workers are required to get engaged in constant discussion and implementation of procedures. Each one has to keep the other informed regarding the improvements that are coming about in the implementation of approaches and strategies. The minority groups, who are unaware should be informed by the social workers about the modern and innovative techniques and practices that would help in leading to their upliftment. The practices should be required to stimulate, absorb and lead to the enhancement of professionalism amongst the individuals (Trevithick, 2000).

Decision Making

In an individual’s life, at all stages, he needs to make decisions. The decisions are required to be based on wisdom, intellect, understanding and knowledge about various areas. The decisions may be minor, which may not impose any serious consequences or they may be major. Major decisions may lead to long term consequences and one has to be careful when implementing major decisions. Decision making is a thoughtful process, it requires analysis of various options and then one has to find out which one of the options would prove to be the most beneficial and then decisions are made. Social workers are required to find out on the basis of the situations of their clients, which decisions would be favourable to them. The decision-making process requires effective thinking and analysis which needs to be put into operation in an adequate manner. 


The term perspective is made use of to denote a partial but important way of thinking about, observing and ordering the phenomenon and how they relate to society as a whole. Perspectives are differentiated from practice approaches, the reason being, the order and make sense of the experiences and events from a particular and partial viewpoint. They have not connected to a particular theory or practice method in a manner that the five practice approaches identified are connected. The main perspectives relevant to social work include an anti-discriminatory perspective, an anti-oppressive perspective, an anti-racist perspective, a feminist perspective, a user’s or the survivor’s perspective and a fundamental social work perspective (Trevithick, 2000). It is vital in the social work profession, that individuals should not discriminate against anybody and make provisions for equal rights and opportunities. For instance, minority groups and economically weaker sections of the society are the ones who experience more problems as compared to people, belonging to other groups and communities. Therefore, they should be adequately assisted without any kind of discrimination. 

Ref: Kapur, Dr. Radhika (2018). Understanding the Significance of Social Work

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