By Tony Vasquez, MSW, July 2014
The field of Social Work has been in the forefront of many complex social issues and relates to news all over the world. Social workers have been vital in working with diverse populations and in various fields, ranging from community settings such as the foster care system, health and mental health care, substance abuse, as well as in the education system, research and academia, and community activism and advocacy. Social workers are expected to demonstrate a wide range of talents, knowledge, and abilities including; creativity, knowledge of community resources, sincerity, and passion.
The field of social work has been shaped by its policies and legislation that have had a huge effect on how social workers practice their craft in the field. As such we must stay on the cutting edge of new therapies, new interventions, and education pertaining to our field. Those social workers advocating for legislation and policy changes have continued to drive what services are funded and how programs, that employ social workers, apply their skills.
Social Workers are skilled clinicians with working in many different settings with many diverse populations. Social workers are also skilled in understanding social issues that people are faced with and how their environments affects individuals, groups, and families. We are the experts of working with those in the community who are dealing with many different psychosocial issues. As social workers continue to further the field of social work and adapt to the many differences in practice, we must continue to apply best practices when working with clients at the practice level.
Social workers have continued to be an important resource where the main focus in the field of social work is to ensure social justice and equality. The social worker has had to change and adapt over time, and roles have looked different as time and social issues have changed. Our goals, however, have not waned and it is still our mission to help those without a voice and those who are most vulnerable. Social work is important because those who have been disenfranchised are important and oftentimes cannot find equality due to circumstance. Using the above noted skills will help to strengthen your practice.
This skill involves the social worker using an "outside the box" mentality. The more creative a social worker can be opens to more possibilities of positive outcomes for our clients. Many times a one size fits all recipe is not the answer. Social workers must be creative and resourceful. It is important to be cognizant that our clients will all need individual and unique solutions to address their issues and concerns. By practicing this methodology you will find that it will be far more helpful for your client when a tailored plan is implemented and carried out. Do not get discouraged if you are employed at an agency that focuses on a singular intervention, this is an opportunity where we can develop our worth as a creative change agent to introduce unique interventions. Our role is to help our clients become their own change agent and to empower them in order to address future issues with confidence.
Knowledge of appropriate community resources:
It is essential that a social worker have knowledge of their surrounding community resources. This is how a social worker’s worth is measured. A very important skill is to be able to properly navigate those community resources that we utilize for client referrals. Most importantly, if you cannot effectively navigate the system you are using to help your client (school system, mental health system, health care system, etc.) than how can we expect our clients to be able to navigate this imposing and difficult maze themselves? Many times it can be advantageous to become involved with committees that work with a specific population that you are passionate about. Attend community resource fairs and get acquainted with the different programs and services offered in your area. This can give you an opportunity to learn about available services and the inner most workings of different agencies. This can benefit you as a social worker, but will also benefit your client. This also serves as an excellent opportunity to network.
This is paramount! Clients are always honing in and taking a mental inventory of how we respond to their plight and if we are listening to what is being said. This is the basis of trust that we need in order to build rapport and a strong and trusting working relationship. You are also helping to accept what the client is saying (i.e., why they have come to see you, their immediate issue or concern). It is important to be empathetic and non-judgmental. This is definitely a learned skill and an important tenant of social work practice. Experience in this area will come with more exposure to clients and addressing more unique and difficult issues.
Patience and persistence are the key ingredients, but you also must be assertive in working towards meeting your clients’ needs. As an advocate, a social worker must be fully informed about the issue at hand, and be able to provide reason and justification in support of your client and issue. Advocacy is an important skill that we can use to be the voice for those who do not have a voice, whether it is an individual, community, or an organization. We have to ensure that there is equality and justice on all fronts. This skill entails that as a social worker we must carry out our work with this mission in mind.