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Social Work

10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs

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With the continued growth of the social work field comes increased opportunities for social workers and human service professionals to improve the lives of challenged individuals. Before entering the field of social work, it is important to consider the core skills that are essential for successful career as a social worker.

1. Assessment Skills

According to the National Association of Social Workers, a significant number of social workers spend half of their time in case management. In order to be successful in case management, it is important to complete quality assessments. The assessment process reveals which clients need assistance obtaining resources, and it also allows a social worker to re-evaluate clients periodically in order to ascertain whether or not services remain effective and necessary.

2. Communication Skills

Communication in social work involves written and verbal correspondence with clients and other professionals. As an example, social workers considering grant writing careers must effectively communicate with elected officials to advocate for their causes and obtain necessary funding for programs. In any social work capacity, effectively communicating helps a professional advocate appropriately, remain clear and concise, appear professional and avoid or overcome crisis situations.

3. Advocacy and Leadership

Social workers frequently advocate for their clients. Well-developed advocacy skills allow social workers to properly represent their clients and obtain the services communities need. Excellent advocacy skills lead to positive change, and this helps clients to live empowered lives. These skills are used on the local, state and federal level to fight for existing programs, create new programs and remove or revise outdated policies.

4. Problem Solving Skills

One goal of social workers is to empower individuals. In order to empower someone, professionals must help that person work through challenges. Excellent problem solving skills are crucial in finding solutions for individuals and communities. In addition, social workers often work with limited resources and tight budgets. Problem solving skills are essential if one hopes to overcome budgetary obstacles and fiscal constraints.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

Applying social work theories and making informed decisions helps professionals to best serve client needs. In addition, professionals must act in an ethical and educated manner in order to best serve their organizations. This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking involves searching for answers with an open mind and using information to best serve the present situation. When used correctly, these skills empower an individual during crisis situations and assist a social worker in best utilizing available resources.

6. Respect for Diversity

Social workers serve a diverse array of clients in many different sectors of society. Diversity offers many challenges, but it also offers strengths that can be utilized to overcome obstacles. A social worker who understands this can effectively serve clients, and this increases opportunities to improve communities.

7. Intervention Skills

Social workers regularly intervene in emergency situations to benefit the lives of their clients. Interventions are best offered in a way that empowers clients and draws on their available strengths. This allows clients to develop their own strengths and utilize them when future problems arise, so they can independently manage their lives.

8. Documentation Skills

All areas of social work require that professionals document findings about clients. As an example, many sources give a probation officer job description that includes the following: the ability to compile, analyze, evaluate and report to the court information obtained during an investigation. Without well-developed documentation skills, completing such tasks would be impossible. Social workers document assessment information, crisis interventions and any correspondence with their clients or other professionals. Documentation must be thorough, accurate and timely in order to benefit both the client and the organization offering services.

9. Organizational Skills

Social workers must keep resources organized, remain diligent in maintaining thorough and accurate records and utilize effective time management skills too. Excelling in organization requires learning how to simplify a work environment, prioritize tasks, use good decision making practices and keep a calendar of important events or projects.

10. Understanding of Human Relationships

Finally, social workers must understand that this field is about human relationships. Couples, families, friends and communities are all part of the support system an individual turns to in time of crises. If a social worker does not embrace relationship based practice, resources will be missed and problems often become impossible to resolve. Understanding this is key to becoming a competent social work professional.

Mastering important skills enhances a social worker’s abilities in this challenging field. Education, practice and personal discovery all assist an individual in excelling in these areas.

Ashley Dunlap is an online specialist for The Learning House and works with several universities including Shorter University Online.

15 Comments

My biggest problem was finding placement for pts with limited income! Some pts had lower income than what the places wanted

KaMita Resource’Lady Bell

not directly mentioned because it fits in a few categories is Time Management

steph miller steph miller says:

. #macrosw-Su what wld I add? Teamwork

What would you add? MT : 10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs – http://t.co/1qBwBdTiYb #SWUnited http://t.co/mNTP7k5VLK

Marla says:

Awesome what about adding ethics training :))

Domine Ruta says:

Very well said. I also agree that technological skills should be added to the list. One can no longer advance without enough commend of technology know-how.

SWhelper says:

I agree that technological skills should be added to that list, and social work education system needs to get on aboard. Then, students will follow suit.

A Baltazar, MSW says:

I think you need to add technology to the list! The world is going mobile and the business of human services is catching up technologically speaking to the business world itself. From basic mapping to understand a community and its needs to an administrative dashboard comprised of business intelligence. Social Work technology is changing from the field to the boardroom and our students need to be on board.

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Change Never Ages

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As the second-oldest state in the nation, West Virginia is in dire need for professionals who can work with its aging population.

To meet this need, the School of Social Work at West Virginia University has launched a new undergraduate gerontology minor.

The minor is an interdisciplinary program geared toward understanding the biological, social and spiritual aspects associated with the aging process.

“The biggest thing the minor will do for students is set them apart from other applicants in their job search, making them more marketable and helping them receive higher consideration for jobs,” said Kristina Hash, professor and director of the gerontology certificate program and minor.

There are several courses in the diverse program, including online options and a General Education Foundation course that can count toward a student’s major or another minor.

Kristin Hash

“Usually people come to gerontology from a personal place,” Hash said. “Students might take a course or complete an entire minor just to learn about their aging loved ones. “We have something for everyone, regardless of career goal or major.”

As the baby boomer generation comes of age in the United States, it brings with it the “Floridization” phenomenon. By 2020, the population distribution of the United States will be comparable to that of the state of Florida.

Because of the shifting population, there is a shortage of trained professionals working with older adults. The shortage includes not only physicians and nurses, but the entire helping health profession.

“It’s a crisis at both the national and state levels, and it’s only going to get worse,” Hash said. “That’s where the jobs are going to be.”

This cohort of older adults is different than previous generations because they are healthier and seek more opportunities for recreation and learning. As a result, nursing homes and senior centers are beginning to change by adding new features like coffee bars and Wi-Fi to meet the evolving needs of the cohort. This is opening more employment opportunities than ever before in new markets, such as insurance, marketing, and tourism.

“This particular cohort are people who march for equal rights, who stand up for their beliefs, who question—they are not going to be passive. The baby boomers are pushing the envelope,” Hash said. “In response, many other fields are also changing to prepare for the aging population, leaving a lot of entry points into the sensation that is aging adults. It’s not just social workers and nurses and physicians and pharmacists—it’s economists, marketers, interior designers and urban planners, too.”

The gerontology minor is available now. Students interested in studying gerontology or working with older adults are encouraged to contact their academic adviser to learn more or visit http://eberly.wvu.edu/students/majors/gerontology.

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NASW Delegate Assembly Approves Revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics

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Photo Credit: @nasw

The Delegate Assembly of the National Association of  Social Workers (NASW) on August 4, 2017 approved the most substantive revision to the NASW Code of Ethics since 1996. After careful and charged deliberation, the Delegate Assembly voted to accept proposed revisions to the Code that focused largely on the use of technology and the implications for ethical practice.

The NASW Code of Ethics continues to be the most accepted standard for social work ethical practice worldwide. With emergent technological advances over the last two decades, the profession could not ignore the necessity for more clarity around the complex implications of new forms of communication and relationship building through technology. As such, in September 2015 an NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW president and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.

A special thank-you to Task Force chair: Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)

Task Force members:

  • David Barry, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
  • Luis Machuca, MSW
  • Frederic Reamer, PhD
  • Kim Strom-Gottfried, PhD
  • Bo Walker, MSW, LCSW, National Ethics Committee
  • Dawn Hobdy, MSW, LICSW, director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review

And NASW staff contributors

  • Anne Camper, JD, NASW general counsel
  • Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, senior ethics associate
  • Carolyn Polowy, JD, former NASW general counsel

The Task Force was charged with examining the current Code of Ethics through the lens of specific ethical considerations when using various forms of technology. In September 2015, they embarked on a year-long process that involved studying emerging standards in other professions and examining relevant professional literature, such as the Association of Social Work Boards’ (2015) Model Regulatory Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice.

In addition, Task Force members considered the technology practice standards that were concurrently being developed by a national task force commissioned by NASW, Council on Social Work EducationClinical Social Work Association, and Association of Social Work Boards. A year later the proposed amendments were presented to the NASW membership for review, and many member comments were incorporated prior to finalization.

2017 Approved Changes to the NASW Code of Ethics 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When does the new NASW Code of Ethics go into effect? 

A: The new NASW Code of Ethics goes into effect on January 1, 2018.

Q: Where can I get a copy of the revised NASW Code of Ethics?

A: Copies of the revised NASW Code of Ethics will be available by November 1, 2017. You can preorder a copy by calling NASW Press at 1-800-227-3590.

Q: Which sections of the NASW Code of Ethics were updated?

Commemorative 55th Anniversary Edition of the NASW Code of Ethics. The first edition of the Code of Ethics was released in 1960.

A: The sections of the NASW Code of Ethics that were revised include:

The Purpose of the Code 
1.03 Informed Consent 
1.04 Competence 
1.05 Cultural Competence and Social 
Diversity 
1.06 Conflicts of Interest 
1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality 
1.08 Access to Records 
1.09 Sexual Relationships 
1.11 Sexual Harassment 
1.15 Interruption of Services 
1.16 Referral for Services 
2.01 Respect 
2.06 Sexual Relationships 
2.07 Sexual Harassment 
2.10 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues 
3.01 Supervision and Consultation 
3.02 Education and Training 
3.04 Client Records 
5.02 Evaluation and Research 
6.04 Social and Political Action

Q: What educational resources are available to explain the latest revisions to the NASW Code 
of Ethics?

A: Several resources will be available, including an online training, an NASW chat, a blog,                        code revision consults, and a posting of the changes with the explanations on the NASW Web site.

Q: Which social workers are accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics?

A: Most social workers are held accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics, including NASW members, licensed social workers, employed social workers, and students.

Q: Do these changes affect social workers who aren’t members of NASW?

A: Yes. The NASW Code of Ethics sets forth the values, principles, and standards that guide the profession as a whole, not just NASW members.

Q: Who was responsible for revising the NASW Code of Ethics?

A: An NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW President and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.

Q: How am I held accountable if I do not implement these changes by the effective date?

A: If you are a member of NASW, you may be held accountable through the NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review process, if someone files an ethics complaint against you. You may also be held accountable by a state licensing board if a licensing board complaint is filed against you. Furthermore, you may be held accountable by your employer or your university, which may take disciplinary actions for not implementing the changes. Finally, you may be held accountable through a court of law that looks to the NASW Code of Ethics to establish the standard for professional ethical social work practice.

Q: Have social work schools, employers, agencies, etc., been made aware of the changes?

A: NASW is working diligently to notify the social work profession and stakeholders using various communication channels, including print, social media, and Web-based notices.

Q: Who do I contact if I have additional questions?

A: If you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Ethics and Professional Review at 800-638-8799 ext. 231 or [email protected] 

The approved Code of Ethics revisions reflect a collaborative and inclusive effort that drew from a diverse cross-section of the profession. The August 4 approval by the Delegate Assembly marks significant progress in the profession’s ability to respond to our ever-changing practice environment.

The new version of the NASW Code of Ethics comes into effect January 1, 2018. In the meantime, training and technical assistance opportunities will be made available through the Office of Ethics and Professional Review and the NASW website.

Our sincere appreciation again to the task force, NASW staff, and committed members across the globe who contributed to this momentous accomplishment.

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Critical Analysis of the System Changes Needed in the Child Welfare System

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The child welfare system coupled with the juvenile and criminal justice systems have ultimately created and perpetuated the systemic constraints and social underpinnings that keep Black families court involved and monitored.

Data reveals that pluralism across systems yields, “much earlier contact with child protection, committing the first offense at least two years earlier than the general population; had been identified with mental health concerns but not referred to treatment; and had complex trauma histories.” This leaves Black women and girls vulnerable to navigate complex, bureaucratic systems that pathologize Black life and culture. Faced with challenges at the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, support across the economic spectrum is what families need in order to meet their needs and goals.

The US Department of Justice report, in 2015, Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls, highlights “the impact of criminalization policies on African American women and girls who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including the impact of arrest, detention, incarceration, and mandatory minimums.” The challenges and plural systems that undermine a family’s ability to meet those needs and goals were also discussed.

While the report centers the discussion on key points and recommendations for policymakers, child welfare, and the juvenile justice systems, it also facilitates the conversation on the “unintended and undesired consequences” affecting black women and girls. This includes the hyper regulation, monitoring, and criminalization of black girls. In order to address some of the gaps identified in the report, it is imperative that a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach is developed, implemented, and evaluated. The paradox comes in when we consider the challenges of pluralism across systems.

“Criminalization includes state policies and practices that involve the stigmatization, surveillance, and regulation of the poor; that assume a latent criminality among the poor; and that reflect the creep of criminal law and the logics of crime control into other areas of law, including the welfare, systems” – Gustafason

Challenges faced by pluralism across systems

Within these systems, service users’ satisfaction, evidence based practice outcomes and effectiveness, recidivism to programs, etc. are programs which need evaluation and monitoring in order to measure effectiveness and program improvement. Across the board, within human and social services, allocation of funds for monitoring and evaluation of services is an afterthought. Child welfare programming, “specifically child protection services need funding and efforts for comprehensive oversight and evaluation.” Impacting families directly, but specifically, Black girls, program effectiveness and monitoring data analysis are a key foundation for discussions on program development, process improvement, and policy review.

Access to comprehensive training that encompasses the multilayered challenges of Black girls is imperative. These opportunities will provide a space to better equip and broaden understanding of the systemic underpinnings that impede and exacerbate their unique needs. They need professionals at all levels, who will advocate when systemic and bureaucratic injustices attempt to push them to the margins.

While standard operating protocol and procedures are readily available quality, innovation, relevance to demographics of the clientele is varied and unknown for the professionals within these systems, patriarchal, racial and capitalist ideologies are ever present. These ideologies present themselves through variance in child protective case classifications, options for in and out of home placements, length of court involvement, services referred, recommendation for child removal, etc. only to name a few.

Black girls need programming that mirrors the intersectional, co-occurring and multilayered aspects of their lives. Acknowledging and understanding how trauma, “manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma,” assists in considering the harm in pluralism across systems.

This includes programming that acknowledges the many roles, barriers and systemic challenges that Black girls face in their families and communities. Data analysis and cross system communication and collaboration to identify “repeat families in the child protection system with whom traditional responses do not work” is a step towards programming that supports the Black family as a unit.

Speaking on the social work profession, Iris Carlton-Laney stated,“the profession maintains a discomforting silence when viewing inequalities and social conditions that affect African American families. Where this is true, the social work profession is helping to sustain societal oppression and facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.” Specifically, “social workers have a responsibility to intensively examine the ways that gender intersects and shapes” our lived experiences.

Working within child welfare and the juvenile justice system in six, I know that “girls who are in physical confrontations with a parent or guardian or other adult residing in the home are often responding to a failure to be protected from physical, sexual, or emotional harm.” The discomforting silence extends to Black girls and makes you question whether Black girls lives matters to social work.

Special attention should be given to a review of child protection policies, program existence and effectiveness, and referral to culturally relevant, trauma-informed services in an effort to increase outcomes for children and families. Recidivism factors, training resources for juvenile and family court judges, CASA’s involvement and county and statewide data should be continuously monitored and evaluated to increase the effectiveness in the child protection involvement for children of color especially black girls.

In order for collaboration, comprehensive services, and critical policy reform to occur, professionals from child welfare, juvenile justice, in addition to co-occurring (mental health, substance abuse) specialists, need to be at the policy-making table.

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