Empowerment of Social Work
The self image of social workers is often as confused as the public image
I’ve found that up and down the country there’s a great variation in morale and how we see ourselves as a profession. Not all social workers seem to accept the label of professional, yet I argue that we are members of the ‘profession of social work’.
- We have specialist education and training.
- We have codes of conduct we should adhere to.
- We have a code of ethics that many follow – but im sure not all are word perfect.
- We belong to professional associations.
Wikipedia talks of the fact that we serve in important aspects of public interest.
Status of social work
When training social workers in empowerment I automatically describe them as equal to medics, lawyers, teachers etc but hear some confusion from time to time. For example not all social workers accept that they are expert witnesses – ie experts in social work. Not all would stand up to lawyers and remind them that they are social work experts and that lawyers should take instructions from them. There’s also practice and time issues where social workers in complicated cases go and sit in court buildings for days on end where other professions ie paediatricians just phone and tell the court when they will be available.
The best description I’ve heard is that social workers are ‘independent professionals in a corporate environment’. In other words you follow the rules of your employer but make an independent assessment of cases.
Social work is a maturing profession that should have a positive future – in the UK it’s only been a concentrated profession since the 1970’s. If we think back in history it wasn’t a long time ago that doctors were the lowest of the low on the social ladder and called ‘quacks’ or ‘snake oil salesmen’ or ‘sawbones’ and when surgeons formed together they chose to be called ‘Mr’ rather than ‘Dr’ as it was considered such a pejorative term.
So social work is on a slow but sure gradient and although subject to much negativity in the media and elsewhere, it’s still moving higher in people’s respect. Even though my generation may not achieve parity with other professions, at the very lease they can be seen as pioneers on the road to equal professional status.