Abolitionist social work is a theoretical framework and political project within the field of social work and an extension of the project of carceral abolitionism more broadly. Abolitionists seek to abolish punishment, prisons, police, and other carceral systems because they view these as being inherently destructive systems. Abolitionists argue that these carceral systems cause physiological, cognitive, economic, and political harms for incarcerated people, their families, and their communities; reinforce White supremacy; disproportionately burden the poor and marginalized; and fail to produce justice and healing after social harms have occurred. In their place, abolitionists want to create material conditions, institutions, and forms of community that facilitate emancipation and human flourishing and consequently render prisons, police, and other carceral systems obsolete. Abolitionist social workers advance this project in multiple ways, including critiquing the ways that social work and social workers are complicit in supporting or reinforcing carceral systems, challenging the expansion of carceral systems and carceral logics into social service domains, dismantling punitive and carceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, implementing nonpunitive and noncarceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, and strengthening the ability of communities to design and implement their own responses to social conflict and harm in the place of carceral institutions. As a theoretical framework, abolitionist social work draws from and extends the work of other critical frameworks and discourses, including anticarceral social work, feminist social work, dis/ability critical race studies, and transformative justice.
Abolitionist Social Work
Noor Toraif and Justin C. Mueller
Adult Protective Services
Patricia Brownell and Joanne Marlatt Otto
Adult Protective Services (APS) are empowered by states and local communities to respond to reports and cases of vulnerable adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect. While incorporating legal, medical, and mental health services, APS programs are part of the social services delivery system and incorporate principles and practices of the social work profession.
Advance Care Planning
Meredith Stensland, Sara Sanders, and Marla Berg-Weger
Advance care planning (ACP) is the process of determining and documenting desired wishes for the end of one’s life. Referred to by such terms as end-of-life planning, advance (health) directives, and living wills, ACP is a relatively new concept within our society, having emerged as a social, political, and ethical issue in the United States only since the 1960s. Researchers and legislators have been challenged in their efforts to examine healthcare decision-making and design appropriate policy to guide practice. This article will define ACP, provide an overview of the history and evolution of the process and the associated legal and ethical issues, and describe the process with three specific populations. In addition, it examines the role of the social work profession in working with individuals and families on planning for the end of one’s life.
Diane R. Bessel and Erin Carman
Social work is different from other helping professions in that its mission and ethical standards require members to not only serve persons in need, but to support their empowerment and work for the amelioration of harmful social conditions and inequities through advocacy. Social work advocacy has taken many historic and contemporary forms, reflecting the broad spectrum of social work practice and related knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes. Given increasing diversity and complexity in the world today and the continuing need to advance human rights, as well as social, economic, and environment justice, ongoing commitment and attention to social work advocacy is needed, especially as it pertains to social work education, practice, and operational approaches.
Affordable Care Act
Stephen H. Gorin, Julie S. Darnell, and Heidi L. Allen
This entry describes the development and key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which instituted a major overhaul of the U.S. health system, much of which took effect in 2014. The key provisions of the ACA included an individual mandate to purchase insurance, an employer mandate to offer coverage to most workers, an expansion of Medicaid to all persons below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), minimum benefit standards, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, and reforms to improve health-care quality and lower costs. This historic legislation has deep roots in U.S. history and represents the culmination of a century-long effort to expand health care and mental health coverage to all citizens.
African American Social Welfare History
This article discusses the African American social welfare system that began to develop during the early 20th century. This social welfare system, designed by African Americans to serve African Americans, addressed needs that were not being met by any other formal social services while the nascent social work profession was emerging. The myriad programs included settlement houses, boys and girls programs, training schools, and day nurseries. The women’s club movement played a critical role in the development of this social welfare system and provided much of the impetus for change and inclusion. Through formal organizations, including the National Urban League (NUL) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and an array of clubs and social groups, social services were extended to urban and rural communities throughout the United States.
African Americans Overview
Larry E. Davis, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and John M. Wallace Jr.
Since their arrival 400 years ago, African Americans have endured 246 years of chattel slavery and 100 years of apartheid followed by decades of systematic racial discrimination and injustice. Nevertheless, Africans and their descendants have contributed significantly to the building of the United States and have greatly influenced every sector of society. To document this tenuous position, we summarize key demographic, economic, and social trends as well as the potential role of macro social work to improve outcomes. Present-day racism in the United States is persistent and frequently underestimated, so combatting anti-Blackness and White supremacy at structural and societal levels is essential.
Ageism in the Workplace
Older workers make important contributions to the workplace, its productivity, and its culture. Work remains important for older adults for financial security, to give meaning to later life, to maintain social networks, and to promote lifelong learning. However, ageist beliefs about the capacity of older adults to remain productive and contributing workers in the workforce can create barriers for older workers. Understanding how older workers experience ageist behavior in the workplace can help employers, policy makers, and social workers learn more about how to address this social problem. Organizations can become more age friendly through enabling workplace programs, supportive management, and proactive human resource managers. Social workers serving older adults in employee assistance programs and in private practice can help them to challenge ageism in the workplace. Finally, legislation such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects the rights of older workers; however, more legislation is needed to address bullying and harassment of older adults in the workplace.
Steve Burghardt, Joseph Dibenedetto, and Bobbie Sackman
As baby boomers enter their later years, it has become apparent that ageism is a primary cause of much of the social marginalization and economic inequity experienced by older people. It is thus important to understand that ageism has both structural as well as cultural causes that require collective mobilization to correct. As such, anti-ageism and the fight for age justice fit within the intersectional movements of the 21st century seeking systemic change. This attention to systemic issues of ageism and the call for collective forms of action and organizing have become the foundation for an age justice movement. Therefore, an age justice organizing approach to the problems of older Americans is necessary and its solutions to aging-related problems are similar to solutions in other social justice movements. The historical context of aging and ageism informs present models of age justice organizing and issues addressed in age activism. For example, older workers have experienced workplace discrimination, and in the early COVID-19 pandemic, older people were marginalized. Looking to the future, an age justice framework that consistently addresses ageism as the systemic issue it is can be developed in micro, mezzo, and macro settings for all social workers and the older people with whom they work.
Agencies and Organizations in Nonprofit Settings
Jennifer E. Mosley, Jade Wong, and Jan Ivery
Nonprofit organizations play a dominant role in providing social services in the United States. This entry begins by exploring the roles and origins of the nonprofit sector, reporting on its current scope and scale, and reviewing federal regulations governing nonprofit organizations. Special attention is then given to understanding human service organizations and their financing, including the implications of changing government–nonprofit relationships. Also discussed are four additional issues facing the sector—accountability, marketization, political participation, and nonprofit growth around the world—as well as recommendations for meeting future challenges.
Aging: Public Policy
Jeanette C. Takamura
Public policy advances in the field of aging in the United States have lagged compared to the growth of the older adult population. Policy adjustments have been driven by ideological perspectives and have been largely incremental. In recent years, conservative policy makers have sought through various legislative vehicles to eliminate or curb entitlement programs, proposing private sector solutions and touting the importance of an “ownership society” in which individual citizens assume personal responsibility for their economic and health security. The election of a Democratic majority in the U.S. House and the slim margin of votes held by Democrats in the U.S. Senate may mean a shift in aging policy directions that strengthens Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, if the newly elected members are able to maintain their seats over time. The results of the 2008 presidential election will also determine how the social, economic, and other policy concerns will be addressed as the baby boomers join the ranks of older Americans.
Sarah (Hicks) Kastelic
Alaska Natives represent less than 1% of the U.S. population but reside in more than 229 Native villages and account for 40% of federally recognized tribes. Most Alaska Native communities shared common Euro-American contact experiences: exposure to western religions, education, and disease. Historical trauma contributes to many of the social welfare problems Natives experience today: low educational attainment, unemployment, inadequate health care, substance abuse, and violence. Service delivery mechanisms, lack of cultural appropriateness, and isolation compound these pressing issues. Locally delivered social welfare services that take into account traditional Native worldviews, values, languages, and intergenerational relationships are effective in addressing many of these issues.
Alcohol and Drug Problems: Law Enforcement and Legal Policy
Anna Celeste Burke
Historically, U.S. policy has been characterized by long-standing ambivalence evident in the changing emphasis placed on prohibition as the aim of drug policy, and in debate about the relative merits of various approaches to drug control. Often characterized as supply reduction versus demand reduction efforts, significant changes have occurred over time in these efforts, and in the emphasis placed on them. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, U.S. drug policy adopted a more prohibitionist stance, with increased reliance on a variety of law enforcement, and even military actions, to control the supply and use of drugs, even in the face of evidence for the effectiveness of prevention and treatment, and high costs associated with the burgeoning incarceration rates.
United States Social Security System
Eric R. Kingson and Nancy J. Altman
Social Security—the American people’s most important insurance—does more to maintain living standards and prevent poverty than any other social welfare policy or program, public or private. This entry discusses why our nation’s Social Security system was built, what it does, how it evolved and how it continues to do so. Contemporary challenges and related policy options are identified regarding program financing and the public’s need for expanded protections—retirement, disability, survivorship, paid family leave, and paid sick leave, among other protections. The analysis highlights messaging and political strategies used by those seeking to diminish the role of Social Security and those seeking to expand its protections. The entry suggests that the values and objectives of the American Social Security system comport well with social-work; and that both opportunity and need exist for social workers to shape Social Security’s future through application of policy analysis, advocacy, organizing and administrative skills.
Reducing "Extreme Economic Inequality": A Social Work Grand Challenge
Laura Lein, Jennifer Romich, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and Dominique Crump
The Social Work Grand Challenge to reduce economic inequality is one of 13 Grand Challenges guiding future practice, research, and education. This article on the Grand Challenge to reduce extreme economic inequality documents the problem, probes the mechanisms by which inequality continues and deepens, and proposes approaches for addressing this problem so interwoven into our economy and society. This article describes economic inequality in the U.S. context as well as social work–oriented responses. It briefly compares the inequality level of the U.S. with that of other countries. It explores the distinctions between poverty and economic inequality and the particular ways in which economic inequality is maintained and grows in the U.S. It also explores the kinds of policy and program initiatives addressing this grand challenge, the barriers to and potential benefits of such ideas, and the roles for social workers and the social work profession in reducing extreme economic inequality in our society.
Asset Building: Toward Inclusive Policy
Michael Sherraden, Lissa Johnson, Margaret M. Clancy, Sondra G. Beverly, Margaret Sherrard Sherraden, Mark Schreiner, William Elliott, Trina R. Williams Shanks, Deborah Adams, Jami Curley, Jin Huang, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Yunju Nam, Min Zhan, and Chang-Keun Han
Since 1991, a new policy discussion has arisen in the United States and other countries, focusing on building assets as a complement to traditional social policy based on income. In fact, asset-based policy with large public subsidies already existed (and still exists) in the United States. But the policy is regressive, benefiting the rich far more than the poor. The goal should be a universal, progressive, and lifelong asset-based policy. One promising pathway may be child development accounts (CDAs) beginning at birth, with greater public deposits for the poorest children. If all children had an account, then eventually this could grow into a universal public policy across the life course.
Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Immigrants in the United States
Miriam Potocky and Mitra Naseh
This article presents introductory information on asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants in the United States, including distinctions among them, major regions of origin, demographic, and socioeconomic characteristics, challenges in social, economic, and cultural adaptation, and best practices for social work with these populations.
Larry W. Foster
Bioethics and biomedical ethics are defined. Common bioethical concepts, exemplary moral values, fundamental ethical principles, general ethical theories, and approaches to moral reasoning are reviewed. The scope of topics and issues, the nature of practice situations in bioethics, and social work roles on organizational bodies that monitor and respond to bioethical issues are summarized, as are trends in bioethics. Practice contexts, from beginning to end of life, are highlighted with biopsychosocial facts, ethical questions and issues, and implications for social work—a profession uniquely positioned in giving bioethics a social context.
Black Lives Matter
Mildred Delozia and Charles M. S. Birore
Black Lives Matter (BLM), which led to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLMM), has been described as a movement with a global following. The movement is aligned with the social work profession’s purpose and values. The social work profession is a human rights profession and has a history of involvement with movements, beginning with the settlement house movement in the late 19th century. The BLMM frames its narrative based on human rights and espouses an agenda that calls out injustice in all facets of social justice. Therefore, a central aim is to understand the BLMM from multiple perspectives. Definitions, theoretical perspectives, and types of social movements are presented, and then the framework of social movements is used to understand the BLMM. Finally, the BLMM is examined in relation to historical social movements, advocacy organizations, and criminal justice reform.
Sondra J. Fogel, M. Dwayne Smith, and Beth Bjerregaard
Capital punishment, the administration of death as a legal sanction, is a criminal-justice response to a restricted class of criminal activities that involve the killing of another human being. As a legal process, capital punishment has been modified by several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Yet, it remains a controversial penalty with factors of race, gender, socio-economic status, mental health status of the defendant, and other extra-legal factors often attributed to the sentencing decision. Social workers are increasingly used as mitigation experts or in similar types of roles for the defense team. As a profession, social work opposes the use of capital punishment. The purpose of this entry is to provide an overview of the death penalty as it is currently practiced in the United States and to review current issues and controversies surrounding its administration.