Social Work Core Competencies and Practice Behaviors

Social workers continually strive to increase their professional knowledge and competencies and apply them in addressing the client's problems. Social work competencies are measurable practise behaviours comprised of knowledge, attitudes, and skills. The table below shows ten core social work competencies and their associated practice behaviours reflected in their levels of study. These competencies and practice behaviours will be used for assessing and evaluating students' professional development.

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Core Competencies of Social Work Practice

1. Use research in practice and practice in research. "Social workers use research practise experience to inform research, employ evidence-based interventions, evaluate their own practice, and use research findings to improve practice, policy, and social service delivery. Social workers comprehend quantitative and qualitative research and understand scientific and ethical approaches to building knowledge. Social workers:

  1. use practise experience to inform scientific inquiry; and
  1. use research evidence to inform practice."

2. Apply knowledge of human behaviour and social context. "Social workers are knowledgeable about human behaviour across the life course; the range of social systems in which people live; and the ways social systems promote or deter people in maintaining or achieving health and well-being. Social workers apply theories and knowledge from the liberal arts to understand biological, social, cultural, psychological, and spiritual development. Social workers:

  1. utilize conceptual frameworks to guide the processes of assessment, intervention, and evaluation; and
  1. critique and apply knowledge to understand person and environment."

3. Engage in policy practice. "Social work practitioners understand that policy affects service delivery, and they actively engage in policy practice. Social workers know the history and current structures of social policies and services, the role of policy in service delivery, and the role of practice in policy development. Social workers:

  1. analyze, formulate, and advocate for policies that advance social well-being; and
  1. collaborate with colleagues and clients for effective policy action."

4. Respond to influential contexts. "Social workers are informed, resourceful, and proactive in responding to evolving organizational, community, and societal contexts at all levels of practice. Social workers recognize that the context of practice is dynamic and use knowledge and skill to respond proactively. Social workers:

  1. continuously discover, appraise, and attend to changing locales, populations, scientific and technological developments, and emerging societal trends to provide relevant services; and
  1. provide leadership in promoting sustainable changes in service delivery and practice to improve the quality of social services."

5. Engage, assess, intervene, and evaluate. "Professional practice involves the dynamic and interactive engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation processes at multiple levels. Social workers have the knowledge and skills to practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

Practice knowledge includes identifying, analyzing, and implementing evidence-based interventions designed to achieve client goals; using research and technological advances; evaluating program outcomes and practise effectiveness; developing, analyzing, advocating, and providing leadership for policies and services; and promoting social and economic justice.

Engagement — Social workers:

  1. substantively and effectively prepare for action with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities;
  1. use empathy and other interpersonal skills; and
  1. develop the mutually agreed-on focus of work and desired outcomes.

Assessment — Social workers:

  1. collect, organize, and interpret client data;
  1. assess client strengths and limitations;
  1. set mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives; and
  1. select appropriate intervention strategies.

Intervention — Social workers:

  1. initiate actions to achieve organizational goals;
  1. implement prevention interventions that enhance client capacities;
  1. help clients resolve problems;
  1. negotiate, mediate, and advocate for clients; and
  1. facilitate transitions and endings.

Evaluation — Social workers critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate interventions."


10 Core Competencies in Social Work

There are ten (10) core competencies in social work mentioned by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) in practice competencies that guide field internship learning. By practising according to these 10 core competencies, social workers make a tremendous difference for the clients they serve and the greater society. 

Practice Behaviors
Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly
Demonstrate professional demeanour in behaviour;
Adhere to social work values and principles;
Engage in career-long learning;
Advocate for client access to the services of social work;
Practice personal reflection and self-correction to assure continual professional development;
Attend to professional roles and boundaries;
Demonstrate professional demeanour in behaviour, appearance, and communication;
Engage in career-long learning; and
Use supervision and consultation.
Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice**
Make ethical decisions by applying the standards of the NASW Code of Ethics;
Recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice;
Recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice;
Communicate the understanding of the importance of diversity and difference in shaping life experiences;
Use reflection and self-regulation to manage personal values and maintain professionalism in practice situations;
Use supervision and consultation to guide professional judgment and behaviour;
Tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts; and
Apply strategies of moral reasoning to arrive at principled decisions.
Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
Recognize and appreciates client's culture;
Apply and communicate an understanding of the importance of diversity and difference in shaping life experiences in practice at the micro and mezzo levels; and
Apply self-awareness and self-regulation to manage the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse clients and constituencies.
Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
Use social work values and principles to advocate for client's rights;
Advocate for social work services; and
Engage in practices that advance social, economic, and environmental justice.
Engage in practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice
Collect client biodata information;
Assess client needs and problems;
Assist in collecting data;
Categorize and classify the client's information; and
Administer data collection method under supervision.
Engage in Policy Practice
Understand and implement social welfare policy;
Understand how social welfare and economic policies impact the delivery of and access to social services; and
Collaborate with colleagues and clients for effective implementation of organization policy.
Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Engage clients using appropriate interventions;
Attend the needs of clients using the elementary knowledge;
Use social work skills, values and methods to engage clients;
Apply knowledge of human behaviour and the social environment, person-in-environment to engage with clients;
Use empathy, reflection, and interpersonal skills to engage diverse clients and constituencies effectively.
Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Use social work skills to assess client's problems;
Collect, organize, and interpret client data;
identify client strengths and limitations;
Develop mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives, and select appropriate intervention strategies;
Select appropriate intervention strategies based on the assessment, research knowledge, and values and preferences of clients.
Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Use social work methods to intervene in client's problems;
Initiates actions to achieve organizational goals;
Implements an intervention plan to enhance client capacities; Helps clients resolve issues; and
Negotiates, mediates, and advocates on behalf of clients.
Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Select and use appropriate methods for evaluation of outcomes;
Apply knowledge of human behaviour and the social environment to evaluate services;
Understand the intervention plan; and
Use evaluation findings to improve the service plan.
Field Practicum Manual for Certificate and Diploma in Social Work; Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Tanzania.


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