Steven P. Segal
Social workers are increasingly working in authoritative settings—that is, settings where they have the power to mandate conformity by the client to the normative and often legal requirements of the organization. Such settings may be residential, such as jails, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities, or community-based organizations that are part of the criminal justice system, the mental health system, the health system, and the child welfare system. The exercise of power derived from the authority vested in the setting’s objectives may and often does alter the total life situation of an individual, such as when a client is compelled to move to supervised care without the client’s consent. Under an outpatient civil commitment order or mental health court supervision, the patient may be told where to live and with whom to associate as well as be required to participate in interactive treatment and to take medication. In authoritative settings, social workers are working with “involuntary” clients—clients who understand, whether or not it is explicitly stated, that the social worker possesses the power to effect unwanted change in their life circumstance. Since the early 1990s, the field has been developing new ideas and skills that are equally useful in working with voluntary and involuntary clients. In the process, social worker authority is now viewed less as a way to gain client compliance and, instead, is understood more as an opportunity to build partnerships with clients that lead to changes that are enduring and more meaningful to clients.
Ruth J. Parsons and Jean East
The concept of empowerment has deep roots in social work practice. Building upon the work of empowerment theorists of the 1980s and 1990s and applied broadly in the 2000s [Itzhaky and York (2000), Social Work Research, 24, 225–234; Travis and Deepak (2011), Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 20, 203–222], the concept of empowerment has evolved from a philosophical level to practice frameworks and methods. Substantial research confirms empowerment outcomes as personal, interpersonal, and sociopolitical. Practice interventions contain both personal and structural dimensions and are accomplished through multilevel interventions. Based on transformation ideology, empowerment is a counter to perceived and objective powerlessness. Social work relationships provide an opportunity for experiencing power and collaboration. Empowerment interventions are often useful with vulnerable populations, such as women and members of stigmatized groups.
Michael A. Dover
Human need and related concepts such as basic needs have long been part of the implicit conceptual foundation for social work theory, practice, and research. However, while the published literature in social work has long stressed social justice, and has incorporated discussion of human rights, human need has long been both a neglected and contested concept. In recent years, the explicit use of human needs theory has begun to have a significant influence on the literature in social work.
H. Stephen Cooper and Freddie L. Avant
Rural social work, the history of which stretches back more than a century, has been revitalized since the mid-1970s. The renewed interest in rural social work has led to an increase in scholarship on rural social work practice, much of which is a direct result of the efforts of the Rural Social Work Caucus and its annual National Institute on Social Work and Human Services in Rural Areas. Recent research endeavors have moved our understanding of the differences between rural and urban communities beyond the common definitions, which are limited to population and population density. We have also come to realize that there are many different types of rural communities, all of which have different characteristics, needs, etc. Specifically, the concept of rural is not monolithic. Rural practitioners and researchers have also reached a better understanding of the following: rural culture and lifestyles, the importance of approaching rural communities from a strengths perspective rather than a deficit or problem focus, and the challenges to rural practice presented by the characteristics that are common across rural communities (e.g., lack of anonymity, dual relationships).
Not surprisingly, the increase in research on rural social work practice has been accompanied by an interest in preparing social workers for rural practice and growth in the number of graduate programs focused on such. The importance of these programs lies in the unique nature of the challenges faced by rural communities. For example, many rural communities are experiencing sharp population declines while at the same time seeing substantial increases in adults who are 65 years of age and older. Other common trends include: economic decline and subsequent increase in social issues; substantial issues with substance abuse, especially methamphetamine and opioids; lack of technology infrastructure; concerns related to the environment and/or conversation of natural resources; and lack of services for veterans. The key to successfully addressing these issues in rural communities is involvement from social workers who are prepared to practice in the rural context.
William J. Hall
Sexual orientation is a multidimensional phenomenon involving a person’s sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation identity. Sexual orientation patterns may remain consistent or fluctuate over time. Although heterosexual attractions, behaviors, and identities appear to be the dominant manifestations of sexual orientation, other sexual expressions exist. The causes of sexual orientation are still not completely understood; however, evidence suggests that biological factors play a strong role. Sexual development is an important part of human development, and there are parallel and differing developmental tasks and trajectories for those who are heterosexual and those who are queer. Non-heterosexual sexualities are often stigmatized, which contributes to homophobia and heterosexism. There is a continuing history in the mental health professions of efforts to change the sexual orientation of people who are queer, despite evidence of harm and ethical mandates. Researchers and service providers should assess sexual orientation because it is one of many important characteristics in the lives of individuals.
To help their clients and to further the goal of “challeng[ing] social injustice,” all social work practitioners must be aware of students’ rights. Though school law is largely regulated by states, there are some overarching federal laws and Constitutional provisions that provide rights to all students. This article includes a review of the major federal laws and cases that affect students’ rights.
Supervision of students and practitioners has been important to social work since its earliest evolution as a recognized profession. Central to the process is the idea of one professional with more knowledge, skill, and experience guiding the practice and development of another with less. The four content areas of supervision usually include direct practice, professional impact, job management, and continued learning. There are a number of supervision models, and most emphasize a positive supervisor–supervisee working relationship, a parallel process, and the importance of cultural competency. The emergence of Evidence-Based Practices and Trauma-Informed Practices has also influenced supervision. The contemporary context of social work supervision offers both opportunities and challenges to clinical supervision.