Social work is a dynamic field that plays an integral role in addressing the complex and multifaceted issues faced by individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Within this career field, you and your fellow professionals must be committed to enhancing the well-being of people from all walks of life.
To accomplish this mission, social workers should rely on achieving nine crucial competencies, outlined by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)*, that when put into practice, enhance every aspect of their capabilities. These competencies are the foundation of social work education and prepare students to make ethical decisions, foster diversity and cultural competence, advance human rights, and promote social, economic, and environmental justice.
The nine essential competencies of Social Work are outlined below and, as future leaders in the field, you will learn how to demonstrate:
1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior:
At the core of social work practice is the continuous commitment to ethical decision-making. Social workers must apply the standards of the NASW Code of Ethics and other relevant codes, using reflection and self-regulation to manage personal values and maintain a professional demeanor in their behavior and communication. This competency ensures that social workers maintain professional integrity and trustworthiness. More than anything else, ethical decision-making creates an environment where the client’s health is prioritized.
2. Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice:
Diversity and difference play a pivotal role in social work practice, shaping the human experience and individual identities. Diversity is multifaceted, including aspects like age, culture, ethnicity, gender and more. Social workers must present themselves as continual learners and engage with clients as experts in their own experiences. Additionally, they must apply self-awareness and self-regulation to manage the influence of personal biases and values when collaborating with diverse clients and constituencies.
3. Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice:
Social workers are advocates for human rights, social justice, and the well-being of all individuals, regardless of their position in society. They recognize the fundamental human rights that every person is entitled to, including freedom, safety, and access to basic needs. This competency ensures that social workers understand the implications of oppression and human rights violations, using their knowledge to promote social and economic justice.
4. Engage in Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice:
This competency underscores the importance of research in social work practice. Social workers are expected to understand effective research methods and their roles in advancing the science of social work. They must apply critical thinking to analyze research methods and findings, using practice experience and theory to inform scientific inquiry. They also use research evidence to improve practice, policy, and service delivery, recognizing that evidence comes from various multidisciplinary sources.
5. Engage in Policy Practice:
When it comes to shaping the future of access to services and equitable policies, social workers are seasoned professionals. They identify social policies at local, state, and federal levels impacting well-being and service delivery of treatment. In addition, social workers assess how social welfare and economic policies affect access to social services and apply critical thinking to advocate for policies that promote human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice. This involves a deep understanding of the historical, social, cultural, economic, and global influences affecting social policy.
6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities:
Engagement is an ongoing and dynamic process in social work practice, involving a variety of individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers understand human behavior and social theories, which they apply to facilitate engagement with clients and constituencies. They use empathy, reflection, and people skills to effectively engage diverse clients and constituencies. Whether collaborating with individuals or larger communities, this competency highlights the importance of building meaningful relationships and applying theoretical frameworks.
7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities:
Assessment is an integral part of social work practice. Social workers are expected to collect and organize data, apply critical thinking, and interpret information from clients and constituencies. They use their knowledge of human behavior and the social environment to analyze assessment data and develop intervention goals based on a thorough assessment of strengths, needs, and challenges. Assessment forms the foundation for practice decisions, with the recognition that personal experiences and biases may influence the assessment process.
8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities:
Intervention is an ongoing and interactive aspect of social work practice, aimed at achieving the goals of diverse clients and constituencies. Social workers critically select and implement clinical interventions, applying their knowledge of human behavior and theoretical frameworks. They engage in interprofessional collaboration as needed to achieve positive practice outcomes and may need to negotiate, mediate, and advocate on behalf of clients. Social workers value the importance of interprofessional teamwork and communication in interventions.
9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities:
Social workers are expected to continuously evaluate their practice with diverse stakeholders, including individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Evaluation involves assessing whether practice goals have been achieved, the enhancement of clients' capacities, and whether interventions have been effective. The larger practice context and interprofessional collaboration are recognized as significant factors in the evaluation process. Social workers should also take care to understand qualitative and quantitative methods for outcome evaluation and practice effectiveness.
The nine competencies of social work aren’t just educational requirements, they’re the backbone of a career you are now entering. Mastering these competencies, social workers become catalysts for positive change, empowering individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Herzing University is proud to provide pathways for those who pursue this noble career. Discover how we can help you thrive in your social work career today.
*More information about the core competencies outlined by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) can be found here.