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Article

Abolitionist Social Work  

Noor Toraif and Justin C. Mueller

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.

Article

Abortion  

D. Lynn Jackson

Until the 19th century, abortion law in the United States 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 of the United States. The landmark U.S. 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 between 1989 and 2022, added restrictions on abortion, making it difficult for women to exercise their reproductive rights. In June 2022, the Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), which had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. Social work’s commitment to promoting the human rights of women compels social workers to be aware of and involved in this issue.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Civil Society  

Kristin M. Ferguson

Considerable definitional vagueness exists regarding civil society, in part due to the concept's long history and multiple underlying schools of thought. Issues of multiculturalism and social justice are central to the term. Civil society is also a global concept, referring to the supranational sphere. The social work profession can benefit from collaborative action with local civil society associations in working to dismantle structural inequality and enhance opportunities for disadvantaged populations.

Article

Community: Practice Interventions  

Anne Williford and Marie Villescas Zamzow

This article offers an introduction to macro social work practice interventions. Specifically, it seeks to: (a) identify the difference between direct service (micro) and macro practice; (b) describe historical and contemporary foundations for macro practice; (c) establish a connection between macro practice and core social work values; (d) describe specific examples of macro social work practice using 21st-century social justice issues as exemplars; and (e) identify roles needed for macro social work practice. This article emphasizes the need for macro social work practice to create much needed change in the areas of social, environmental, and economic justice. It will examine the trend in social work that has increasingly placed emphasis and value on micro practice, which has marginalized macro-level social work as a result. Society continues to confront seemingly intractable social justice issues and is, in the early 21st century, experiencing a critical reckoning of how systems of oppression continue to exact violence against vulnerable populations. This article uses examples of social, environmental, and economic justice issues with specific recommendations on how to adopt an anti-oppressive macro practice framework.

Article

Consumer Rights  

Donald M. Linhorst

Consumers of health and mental health services are afforded numerous legal rights. Broad categories of rights include self-determination, access to health information, protections for mental health consumers who are hospitalized, and a right to community integration. Two areas of consumer rights are emerging: a greater emphasis on human rights, and the right of consumers to participate in developing and implementing programs and services within the organizations from which they receive services. Various means for enforcing rights exist in both the private and the public sectors. Social workers play critical roles in ensuring that consumer rights become a reality.

Article

Criminal Justice: Overview  

Michael C. Gearhart

The American criminal justice system is comprised of four main components: law enforcement, the judiciary, corrections, and legislature. These components work together to investigate crimes, arrest individuals, weigh evidence of guilt, monitor individuals who are found guilty, and make laws. Though the criminal justice system is meant to administer justice in an equitable manner, a number of controversial policies and practices exist within the criminal justice system. These practices are typically rooted in historical biases that continue to create disparities today. Social work has a long history of reforming the criminal justice system. However, modern disparities illustrate that there is still work to be done. The skills of macro social workers are foundational to present-day advocacy efforts and emerging criminal justice practice, highlighting the enduring significance of macro social work practice in criminal justice reform.

Article

Critical Pedagogy in Community Practice  

Laurie A. Walker

Contemporary community engagement pedagogies require critical frameworks that facilitate diverse groups working collaboratively toward socially just outcomes. Critical frameworks acknowledge different ways of knowing and experiencing the world, as well as many means to achieve the desired outcomes. Indigenous values focused on relationship, respect, reciprocity, responsiveness, relevance, and responsibility inform key community engagement principles that are often applicable across many groups. Instructors who center Indigenous and other perspectives of groups that experience marginalization and oppression in social work curriculum are able to create community-engaged and socially just outcomes via institutional change and knowledge production efforts. Contemporary community engagement work embedded in social work values requires frameworks that are strengths based, center historically underrepresented groups working toward social justice on their own terms, and include an analysis of power, positionality, systemic causes of disparities, needed institutional changes, and critiques inclusion assumptions.

Article

Cultural Competence  

Terry L. Cross

Cultural competence emerged as a concept in the 1980s; took form as a set of organizational, educational, advocacy, policy, and practice constructs in the 1990s; and has since matured into a broad rubric that addresses social justice and service delivery quality, equity, access, and efficacy for people and groups of diverse backgrounds. Cultural competence, sometimes referred to as cultural competency, ethnic competence, cross-cultural competence, or multicultural competence, has become an essential element of social work at every level of the field, from direct practice to social policy. The history, literature, policy developments, controversies, and implications of cultural competence are discussed. The evolution of cultural competence and its role in social work is examined and summarized in this entry.

Article

Culturally Competent Practice  

Doman Lum

This article defines cultural competence and culturally competent practice and focuses on cultural awareness, knowledge acquisition, and skill development as key components. It traces the historical development of cultural competence in the disciplines of psychology and social work, pointing out how cultural competence has become a professional standard. Cultural competence has also been recognized on the federal and state health and human services levels. Cultural competence is viewed on the practitioner, agency, and community levels as well as the micro, mezzo, and macro dimensions. Among the implications for practice are the issues of cultural competence and cultural competencies, the ethics of cultural competence, social context, and biculturation and multiculturalization. Cultural competence research is briefly surveyed, as is the relationship between cultural competence and critical race theory.

Article

Disability Rights  

Patricia Findley

The role of disability rights has developed and evolved over the course of the United States’ history. The definition of disability has broadened as well as the pursuit for equal treatment, inclusion, and more accessible environments. Key pieces of legislation such as the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act demonstrate a course of steps toward these more empowering themes of independence for those with disabilities. Disability advocates are strong in their message of “nothing about us, without us.” The disability rights movement helped to propel culture shifts and has promoted inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Despite the intention of disability policy to move the nation to more accessible, inclusive, and less discriminatory environments, more work is still needed to support the rights of those with disabilities.

Article

Empowerment Practices  

Debora Ortega and Jessica Rodriguez-JenKins

Empowerment practices are rooted in empowerment theory and fundamentally focus on power as a source of equity and inequity. Based on transformation ideology, empowerment is a counter to perceived and objective powerlessness. Amelioration of client problems contain both personal and structural dimensions and are accomplished through multilevel interventions. In this approach to practice, the professional is not the central power figure who assesses, designs, implements, and intervenes on behalf of the client. Rather, historically marginalized people, families, and communities are considered experts in their experience of problems. Empowerment practices are rooted in an understanding of power (personal, social, and structural), consciousness transformation, interactive systems, importance of relationships, and the long history of societal dehumanization of marginalized communities. In this model, social work research is characterized as a form of practice that is influenced by larger social inequities and can be used to reproduce inequity or create partnerships for change with marginalized communities.

Article

Environmental Justice  

Christina L. Erickson

Environmental justice in social work is the study and practice of assuring all people are protected from environmental burdens and are able to live, work, learn, and play in safe and healthy communities. Reducing the burdens and increasing the benefits of nature and human-made infrastructures are important social work efforts toward environmental justice. Awareness of environmental injustices followed the social movements of Civil Rights, recognition of environmental degradations, and efforts to save large swaths of land and endangered species in the Wilderness Act. Environmental justice is intertwined with social and economic justice, and the pursuit engages social workers in local to international struggles for access to nature’s benefits, and freedom from hazards that are shielded from people who are economically wealthy. Moreover, environmental justice calls wealthy individuals and communities to realign resource consumption to reduce environmental degradation and increase environmental sustainability.

Article

Ethics for Macro Social Work  

Cecilia Aguayo and Magdalena Calderón-Orellana

The concept of ethics in social work is the practical knowledge based on professional experience. To understand ethics in macro social work, first, ethics and morals will be described broadly as well their relevance to social work identity. Then, codes of ethics, standards, and ethics committees are presented as components of integrity systems. In the same way, professional principles and values together with their relation to macro–social work definitions are reviewed. These account for procedures that display autonomy, reciprocity, reflexivity, and conflict acceptance to arrive at prudent and fair decisions. As an applied ethics, social work ethics is concerned with the systematic analysis of ethical issues in practical contexts. In this sense, the work is focused on decision-making in macro social work, bringing out the challenges that professionals face and how they address these challenges. This analysis will be done considering the moral dilemmas that might arise for social workers in practice with/in communities, organizations, and the public policy arena. Finally, to argue decisions and actions in professional practice, some philosophical approaches are presented, which are selected according to their relevance to macro social work. Summarizing, communicative ethics, the ethics of conflict, the ethics of recognition and moral offense, and intercultural ethics are reviewed in order to avoid all kinds of fundamentalism and relativity in professional action.

Article

Genocide  

Jacquelyn C.A. Meshelemiah and Raven E. Lynch

Genocides have persisted around the world for centuries, yet the debate persists about what intentions and subsequent actions constitute an actual genocide. As a result, some crimes against humanity, targeted rape campaigns, and widespread displacement of marginalized groups of people around the globe have not been formally recognized as a genocide by world powers while others have. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide set out to provide clarity about what constituted a genocide and the corresponding expected behaviors of nations that bear witness to it. Still, even with this United Nations document in place, there remains some debate about genocides. The United States, a superpower on the world stage, did not sign on to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide until 1988 due to a belief that its participation was not necessary as a civilized world leader that had its own checks and balances. More genocides have taken place since the enactment of this 1948 legislation. Genocides that have taken place pre- and post-1948 affirm the need for nations around the world to agree to a set of behaviors that protect targeted groups of people from mass destruction and prescribe punishment for those who perpetrate such atrocities. Although it may seem that identifying genocidal behaviors toward a group of people would be clear and convincing based on witnesses and/or deaths of targeted members, history has shown this not to be the case time and time again. Perpetrators tend to deny such behaviors or claim innocence in the name of self-defense. Regardless of any acknowledgment of wrongdoing, genocides are the world’s greatest crime against humanity.

Article

Historiography  

Leslie Leighninger

This entry discusses some topics in social work and social welfare history. It covers different approaches to that history, such as an emphasis on social control functions of social welfare; a stress on the “ordinary people” involved in historical events; or particular attention to the stories of women, people of color, and other groups who have often been excluded from formal sources of power. It notes the importance of using original sources in writing history, and explains the various steps involved in researching and interpreting these sources.

Article

Human Needs: Overview  

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, although 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.

Article

Human Rights Overview  

Joseph M. Wronka

At the heart of social work, human rights is a set of interdependent and indivisible guiding principles with implications for meta-macro (global), macro (whole population), mezzo (at risk), micro (clinical), meta-micro (everyday life), and research interventions to eradicate social malaise and promote well-being. Human rights can be best understood vis-à-vis the UN Human Rights Triptych. This consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, increasingly referred to as customary international law; the guiding principles, declarations, and conventions following it, such as the Guiding Principles to Eradicate Extreme Poverty, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and implementation mechanisms, such as the filing of country reports on compliance to conventions, the Universal Periodic Review, thematic and country reports by special rapporteurs, and world conferences. This powerful idea, which emerged from the ashes of World War II, emphasizes five crucial notions: human dignity; nondiscrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and solidarity rights. The hope is that every person, everywhere, will have their human rights realized. Only chosen values endure. The challenge is the creation of a human rights culture, which is a lived awareness of these principles in one’s mind, spirit, and body, integrated into our everyday lives. Doing so will require vision, courage, hope, humility, and everlasting love, as the Indigenous spiritual leader Crazy Horse reminded us.

Article

Immigrant Communities in the United States and Macro Practice  

Laura Folkwein

Macro social work practice with immigrant organizations and communities in the United States requires a basic understanding of the underlying values and history of U.S. immigration laws and policy. U.S. immigration policy frequently reflects multiple and conflicting interests and values in labor needs, global politics, family unification, and national security, and policies often shift in response to political leadership, ideology, and public opinion. Some areas of the history of U.S. immigration laws and various macro social work approaches to U.S. immigration policy include (a) advocacy at local, state, and federal levels; (b) anti-immigrant legislation proposed at the state level; and (c) collaboration between grassroots organizations and local leaders to build policies and practices that support immigrants.