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
D. Lynn Jackson
Until the 19th century, abortion law was nonexistent and abortion was not seen as a moral issue. However, by the turn of the 20th century, abortion was legally defined and controlled in most states. The landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade (1973), marked the legalization of abortion but did not end the controversy that existed. Legislation at both the federal and state levels has added restrictions on abortion, making it difficult for women to exercise their reproductive rights. Social work's commitment to promote the human rights of women compels social workers to be aware of and involved in this issue.
Safeguarding is an area of social work activity concerned with the care and protection of children or adults who have care and support needs and who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. This is a major concern for social workers who usually have prime responsibility for ensuring as far as possible that the vulnerable clients they work with are protected. People’s ability to keep themselves safe is partly determined by their individual circumstances, and this may change at different stages in their life, so it is important that safeguarding is always considered in relation to the wishes of the person concerned. Effective safeguarding depends on a careful consideration of the factors involved and will almost always involve a multi-agency partnership approach. This article will primarily examine the situation regarding safeguarding vulnerable adults in the United Kingdom.
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 Housing: An International Perspective
Bonnie Young Laing
This entry explores key definitions, causes, and characteristics of slums in the global arena, along with the types of social work practice and general community development approaches being used to catalyze action to decrease the prevalence of slums. Core strategies include using planning efforts that prioritize input from people who live in slums, creating affordable housing, and otherwise transitioning urban slums into vibrant communities. Concluding thoughts and further considerations for social work practice are offered.
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.
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.
Lisa A. Ferretti and Philip McCallion
Growth in the aging population and increasing concerns in terms of health issues and financial and caregiving challenges among older adults are well established. Historically, the Older Americans Act has provided the delivery structure and services for older adults in need. Agencies within these structures have also engaged with housing and health care providers and funders. The structures and relationships are not adequate to support the desires of older adults for self-determination and aging in place and remain too treatment oriented rather than preventative and supportive in focus. Macro social work must engage in building aging structures, services, communities, and resources more fit for changing purposes.
Ally Model of Social Justice in Social Work
The ally model of social justice is a philosophical approach that is congruent with social work’s values and emphasis on social justice and human rights. Using concepts from multiple identities and social justice, it directs those with privilege to act on behalf of those without privilege who belong to a different social group. It is developmental in nature and contains an extensive list of specific ally characteristics that inform social workers at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and system levels. Despites its limitations, the ally model of social justice is instructive for all social workers regardless of setting as they continue the profession’s mission to eliminate social injustice.
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.
The Association of Social Work Boards
M. Jenise Comer and Joyce A. Bell
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the regulation of social work practice. The Association was created to protect clients and client systems from harm caused by incompetent, unethical, or unlicensed social work practice. The primary and most important responsibility of ASWB is to develop and maintain a national exam that is valid, reliable, and legally defensible. The Association contracts with a test vendor to administer the exam in an identical, secure environment to social work candidates for licensure in the United States, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Island, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia. Accomplishing the task of providing a reliable and valid exam involves a complex process of recruiting and training. The volunteers and staff are competent to complete the arduous task of constructing and reviewing different forms of the exam for each level of licensure. The test vendor and a consulting psychometrician provide supervision and analysis of test data to confirm the test performs at or above industry standards for a high stakes exam, which determines entry to practice based on a passing score. ASWB staff members also engage in several activities that support state and provincial boards to advance regulation and safe practice. The purpose, mission, and history of ASWB will be presented in detail, along with focused attention on the exam and additional services provided to the regulatory community. Future issues will identify the Board of Director’s 2019 Strategic plan. Opportunities, challenges, and threats to professional regulation include attention to international social work practice regulation, license mobility, and deregulation.
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.
Attaining Sustainable Development Goals
At its 2015 General Assembly, the United Nations formulated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to emergize its Member nations and social workers practicing in these countries to engage in environmentally sustainable social and economic development leaving no one behind. At the core of SDGs is the conviction that protecting planet Earth is possible by working collectively and ensuring that all human beings are able to realize their full potentials. The charges include solving a wide range of environmental, economic, and social problems including poverty, hunger, violence, and discrimination by 2030. The SDGs are inclusive of all people; they have galvanized all Member countries and their policy makers and practitioners, including social workers, to strive toward the common goals. Progress has been made from previous initiatives, but there are still challenges ahead. The first five SDGs are particularly relevant to social workers, who have an important role to play in alleviating poverty, promoting health and education, and empowering women and girls.
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.
Usha Nayar, Priya Nayar, and Nidhi Mishra
The paper presents a global scenario of child labor by placing the issue in a historical context as well as comparing current work in the field. It specifically explains the psychosocial, political, and economic determinants of child labor and the prevalence of different forms as well as its magnitude in the different regions of the world. It features innovative programs and actions taken against child labor by local governments, civil societies, and United Nations bodies—mainly the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The paper also highlights multilateral collaborations among the UN and other international agencies that stand against child labor in general and the employment of children in hazardous conditions. It illustrates the cooperation among local governments, civic organizations, and child-rights movements that have brought gradual changes over the decades toward ending child labor. Further, it suggests that social work, relevant professional schools, and associations working in various disciplines should be engaged in research-based advocacy and find innovative solutions to control child labor.
Children and Armed Conflict
The United Nations has defined six grave violations that occur in war that impact children: killing or maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction of children. These violations have a myriad of negative impacts on children, including biological, psychological, and social effects. Culturally appropriate support and care provided at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels can help alleviate these impacts and help children recover from these experiences.