The 10 functions of social workers

Social work is a discipline responsible for fostering development, cohesion and social transformation; including individual empowerment of those who are part of a community.

From a brief description of social work itself, in the following lines we will see what are the functions of social workers, what they do as professionals and how their performance impacts vulnerable groups.

    What is social work? A brief description

    The history of social work is linked to different processes that took place in the middle of the 19th century. On the one hand, it emerges from needs detected by different vulnerable groups: Drug addicts, dysfunctional families, elderly people in a situation of abandonment, etc.

    More precisely, these needs were generated by the massive migratory processes and increasing urbanization, which made family and socio-health intervention essential. On the other hand, the origins of social work as an academic discipline are linked to gender and the sexual division of professions, especially that which has taken place in research and intervention in sociology.

    In this sense, social work is a field of study and action linked to various tasks and branches of social sciences, humanities and community intervention. Likewise, it is an area that functions around concepts such as social justice, human rights, diversity, respect and fairness, among others.

    From the above, social work professionals have recognized different areas of action, as well as different functions, understood as the role played and recognized for those who exercise a particular discipline. Below we will look at some of the functions of social workers.

      10 functions of social workers

      Ballester, A, Viscarret, JJ and Úriz, MJ (2013), conducted a national study in Spain. They took the White Paper on Social Work as a benchmark and after conducting surveys of social work professionals, they summarized the functions of social workers in the following 10 points:

      1. Prevent

      This is anticipate the possible causes of both individual and collective conflicts. This can be done through intervention projects that make it possible to know the context of the population and the situations of social risk that appear, as well as the deficiencies and needs of the same context.

      2. Pay direct attention

      Acting with individuals or groups, whether they are at risk or already have a particular problem, is their social characteristic. The goal of direct care is to improve individual abilities that these are the same people who face and respond to everyday social conflicts.

      3. Plan

      In order to carry out the interventions, it is necessary to develop an action plan that has specific objectives and makes the analysis process explicit, as well as the possibilities of support and evaluation.

      According to the authors, this can be done at the microsocial and also macrosocial level. The first is the design of interventions and projects, while the second is the design of programs and the organization of social services.

        4. Education

        As social work consists of different theoretical and practical courses, which are taught in a specialized manner in university centers, it is important training academics for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in social work and related fields.

        5. Promote promotion and social inclusion

        It is about taking the necessary measures to restore or preserve self-determination and functioning both individually and collectively. This can involve the design and implementation of social policies that readjust access to different services.

        6. Supervise

        Social work professionals can carry out supervision which enables them to support those responsible for carrying out a specific program, social policy or service. This is put into practice different knowledge and skills that accompany professional practice those responsible for the provision of various social services.

        7. Perform evaluations

        This involves consulting and evaluating the results of interventions, as well as verifying whether the programmed objectives have been achieved, and what remains to be satisfied. In the same way, it is a question of evaluating the methodologies used and detecting the relevant modifications.

        8. Management role

        Social workers can perform management tasks, which have to do with responsibility for planning and organizing both social centers and specific programs and the services they provide.

        9. Investigation

        It consists in implementing methodological techniques that allow evaluate and intervene with scientific rigor in the specific problems of a particular social group. It is largely a question of analyzing, describing and explaining a specific reality, as well as establishing hypotheses allowing an appropriate intervention.

        10. Coordinate

        When it comes to social change, many organizations in which an intervention takes place are organized into large groups. In this sense, it is a question of concretizing means, techniques and resources which make it possible to carry out a line of intervention with common objectives and adapted to the needs of each group.

        What professionals in this field say

        The results of the study carried out by Ballestero, Viscarret and Úriz (2013), show different trends in the daily tasks occupied by the social workers interviewed. Professionals say its main function is to help improve people’s lives, Since social work is a discipline focused on the attention of the other.

        However, the study detected the prevalence of functions increasingly oriented towards management, management and social administration; that are associated with direct intervention. Professionals also describe a low involvement in research activities. All the above has led, according to the authors, to prioritize the operational aspects focused on immediacy; and less focused on the thought process for the intervention.

        In this study, they performed multivariate analysis and it was detected that in daily practice the functions of social workers they correspond to four different professional profiles:

        • The profile of management-planning, With logistics functions at the macro level (where 26% of participants are located).
        • The profile of intervention for change, With functions of direct attention and social diagnosis (corresponds to 24%).
        • The profile of care intervention, With direct care tasks combined with administrative and bureaucratic functions (41.1% of respondents).
        • the academic profile, With teaching and research (groups 9.4% of participants).

        The latter speaks of important transformations in the functions of social workers and in the profession itself. Social work has recently been aimed at preventing or overcoming systemic dysfunctions. the management and planning of the program have a significant weight. The initial objective, focused on the needs of the individual, participation and the community; it sometimes loses its relevance. Likewise, the results speak of an increasing specialization of the discipline where the functions begin to vary according to the space of development and concrete application.

        Finally, the research invites further reflection on these aspects, which are relevant for the future of the profession and its important application in different social contexts.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Ballester, A., Viscarret, JJ and Úriz, MJ (2013). Professional functions of social workers in Spain. Social Work Notebooks, 26 (1): 127-138.
        • García Dauder, S. (2009). Jessie Taft. Symbolic interactionism, feminist theory and clinical social work. Social Work Today, 56: 145-156.

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