Social work is a challenging profession that also helps one make a difference in the lives of others (CUW 2011). It aims at improving the overall functioning and well-being of people served. A social worker must have a genuine and special concern for the poor, marginalized, and the vulnerable. Social work is an art and a science at the same time. It fits service to the needs of the person or persons served. Social workers practice their profession almost everywhere. They are found in hospitals, schools, churches, courts, community agencies, child and family service centers, mental health centers and other settings. They function as school social workers, mental health counselors, community planners, administrators, child protective service workers and advocates of various causes (CUW).
Social work is a unique profession, which possesses unique features (CUW 2011). It is founded on liberal arts. It builds on its own knowledge base. It has a Code of Ethics and core values, which direct its practice. It goes by a holistic view of human situations and strengths. Its methods help individuals, families, organizations and communities. It recognizes and respects the dignity and worth of every person. It uses experience on hand-on basis through internships or field placements. And it is directed by a perspective of the person and the impact on the environment. The profession assists individuals and families at every age. Social workers provide counseling for adoption or a person grieving over the loss of a loved one and other situations in-between. They provide services in the micro level when given to individuals or families coping with life's problems. They serve on a macro level when they assist systems or large organizations (CUW).
2. Expanding Her Reach
To fit these requirements, a social worker needs to understand social policy and its origins (CUW 2011). She must develop interpersonal, analytical and critical-thinking skills, advocacy skills and competence and suitability to work with diverse groups. She observes the core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships and competence. She is aware that her primary goal and duty is to help those in need and address their social problems. She challenges social injustice. She upholds the inherent dignity of every person. She is trustworthy. She does her work competently and further enhances professional expertise (CUW). Professional expertise opens her to opportunities for leadership and management in the community, of organizations and enterprises.
Areas of Social Work
These are child and family, school, medical and public health and mental health (Smith 2011). A social worker who chooses to specialize in children and family helps them work their lives through, whether together or apart. She may work at day care centers, volunteer with a children's activity center or work at a community action center. A school social worker makes sure that students go through their education without or with a minimum of trouble. She can work as a student teacher, a teacher aide, a school counselor, child services staff member or playground assistant. She should be able to detect signs of students struggling with emotional problems, family situations or health problems, which affect their schooling. If she chooses to specialize in medical and public health, she will be involved in helping sick people recover and function well in society. She can work at a home health agency or in a long-term care facility. And if she chooses mental health, she will work with patients with a full range of illnesses from schizophrenia to substance abuse. She needs to be thoroughly acquainted with the disorders, their effects on the patient and his family and their options for treatment and assistance (Smith).
3. Cultural Plurality/Diversity
A social worker necessarily interacts with clients from diverse cultural groups (Swift 2011). She is trained to help people of different backgrounds. Social services agencies and programs require her and other employees to train on cross-cultural interactions and gain cultural competency. A social worker's task is to help these diverse clients and communities as far as possible. She also helps insure that her interactions with clients are productive, respectful and effective. The University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Social Work defines cultural competency as a mingling of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies into a system or agency, which enables it to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. It is a developmental process in that it is taught and learned gradually rather than all at once. A social worker goes through it by opening herself and respecting diversity. The process increases her awareness of differences and valuing of these differences. The five basic elements of cultural competency are valuing diversity, developing the capacity for cultural self-assessment, awareness of the dynamics of interacting cultures, institutionalization of cultural knowledge, and adaptations to service delivery reflecting diversity (Swift).
Statistics showed in 2000 that about 34% of the American population is non-white (Swift 2011). This is a reality that social workers must frankly confront. Culture is rapidly changing and so should social workers who serve these clients. Cultural competency helps a social worker respond effectively and respectfully to clients and the challenges she faces in a community and culture. It also reduces potential negative dynamics with her clients (Swift).
We have developed greater understanding and insight into the beliefs and observances of clients from ethnic groups like Native American Indians, Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders. We have learned to put our personal biases and beliefs aside in serving them. We focus our work on their preferences. We have also become more tolerant and respectful of the religious practices and rituals of clients belonging to different religions and sects. We do not insist on what we believe even if we are sure we are right. The same tolerance, respect and understanding have been extended to elder, disabled, gay and socio-economic disadvantaged groups. If there are legal or medical issues involved, we simply state the laws or medical fact involved and then refer them to experts.
The Code of Ethics for social workers pursues six objectives (Humphrey 2011). These are it identifies core values, establishes ethical standards, uses ethical decision-making when a dilemma arises, fosters accountability and socialization among new social workers, and specifies the appropriate procedure and process for discipline and sanction. An ethical dilemma is a situation, wherein a choice must be made between two or more conflicting ethical situations. Ethical decision-making is a process involved in dealing with ethical dilemmas in social work. It consists of determining the existence of a conflict and a plan for resolution. Membership in the NASW redounds to a commitment to its Code of Ethics. As a member, she needs to increase or further her understanding of the ethical standards set forth in the Code and how to use them appropriately in her practice. She also needs to take advantage of opportunities in gaining experience in ethical decision-making (Humphrey).
An Ethical Dilemma
This involves my unintentional discovery of information about a client in the course of a field seminar. I worked as a social work intern at a local family services agency. I was assigned to work with Verna Lopez, 28, in reunifying with her three children. The children, aged 11, 4 and 3, were sent to foster care when charges of neglect were proved against Verna who was a substance user. The two older children were sent to two separate foster care families, while the youngest was turned over to Verna's sister. Her drug addiction reduced her capability to care for her children. They also lived in substandard conditions, which threatened the health of all of them. While the children were in foster care, Verna tried to recover them. She attended and completed a drug treatment program. After completing the program, she claimed that she was already "drug-free." In the past, she tried completing two other programs, but she was able to complete only this third one.
Verna was able to re-acquire her children only two months ago. She has been drug-free for a number of months and has been able to meet the minimum standards of care for the children. During the field internship seminar, we exchanged information about respective cases. One of us placed in a local junior high school asked the rest for advice about a group she was handling. She changed the names of the involved group members, and one of them was "Mary." The intern described "Mary" and her fears of her family getting broken again after reuniting with her mother and siblings only recently. "Mary" said her mother was not using the "bad drugs" any more, but has been smoking pot with her boyfriend in the apartment. Her mother specifically instructed her not to tell anyone about her smoking pot or their family will be broken up again. "Mary" did not want her mother's social worker to know that she is using drugs again. I realized that "Mary" was the daughter of Verna. Verna strongly denied using drugs and looked "straight"…