Social Worker's Responsibility for Contributing to a Just Society: Opinion Essay

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For my senior capstone paper, I will be discussing several key items. First I will be discussing my vision; my view on a social worker's responsibility to contribute to a just society, my strengths related to those views, any knowledge or skills I need to develop to meet that responsibility, and the mechanisms I will use for self-evaluation in my future career. Following that, I will discuss my understanding of generalist social work practice and the ways in which my curriculum has contributed to that understanding. Finally, I will apply my understanding and interpretation of generalist social work practice to a specific issue: the misdiagnosis of trauma and mental illness as it pertains to Social Service intervention.

As social workers, we are taught to hold steadfast to six core values—one being social justice. Social workers strive to promote equal opportunity and social change on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals (National Association of Social Workers, 1990). So if social workers are told that (as a whole) they must exist within these parameters, it begs the question: What makes a society “just”? This is where I think it is important to define what it actually means for a society to be “just”. According to Robert Waelder, it has been known since ancient times that justice is the “foundation of any kingdom” (1966). Furthermore, it is important to note that—societally—the term justice is one that people have similar definitions of equity, fairness, and something that can be deemed morally right. There are three basic principles that seem to sum up exactly what makes a just society; the Positive Law, the Social Good, and the Natural Right (Rawls, 2013). Positive law is a law that is created by the people (government authority), not principles that are universal in society—for example, those written in the constitution. The Social Good means promoting the “social good’ or justice within the society. The Natural rights are individuals within a society’s “moral obligation” to judge human actions and uphold the law (Rawls, 2013). As a social worker, I am able to contribute to the ideal “just” society by following all three of the aforementioned basic principles. In regards to Positive Law, social workers are advocates for all people, especially those vulnerable and oppressed. For example, from a human rights perspective, when dealing with housing deprivation, food inequality, or access to health care for people experiencing homelessness, social workers need to be able to communicate with and advocate for clients at all levels—including local government (Dibbets & Eijkman 2018). This speaks to the idea that, as a collective, we as social workers are able to promote social good in many ways. The Future Families case study, which was conducted in 2010 in South Africa was put into place in order to see the role of social workers in promoting socio-economic equality. Future Families offered care to families and children affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. Social workers in the community provided support groups for the families and provided information about immunizations, tuberculosis, financial planning, vocational planning (addressing child protection), economic strengthening, HIV education and prevention, and health education. These support groups and the information they possess is “passed on to families to equip them to create their own future in more effective ways” (Lombard & Twikirize 2014), hence promoting the social good. The Natural Right, for social workers, is our moral obligation/mandate to report. When we are not on the job, we are no longer mandated reporters by law, yet we all maintain a moral obligation inside of ourselves to do what is right and report anything against the law.

Turning the focus now to me, I would like to touch on the strengths I possess that can contribute to the “just society” I’ve described. These include patience, creativity, and honesty. My incredible level of patience will prove useful when working with local government officials and legislation. Especially when I am working toward dismantling laws that are racially or socioeconomically biased. Laws do not change overnight. The process is time-consuming and arduous. Throughout this program, I have learned that rushing anything turns out poorly for all parties involved, especially when working with clients and trying to advocate on their behalf without seeming short-fused or negative. Creativity is equally as important because when it comes to promoting social good, being able to think on my toes and maintain multiple approaches or solutions will ensure best practice. There are so many ways social workers can promote social justice and I think it is crucial to adapt to our clients and communities—being creative allows me to do just that. Possibly the most important piece of the puzzle, though, is practicing honesty. People experiencing trauma are eager to find people who they can trust. However, they are the quickest to pick up on who is telling them the truth versus who is cushioning their trauma with white lies. Lying never works.

Although I do have some strengths that can contribute to a just society, there are a few skills—and a wealth of knowledge—that I admit I need to gain in order to fully meet this responsibility. Unfortunately, I do not have a vast knowledge of the specific legislation that affects my future clientele. I regularly read the news to gain more insight, but it is something I will need to learn more about on a client-to-client basis before I am able to fully fulfill the responsibility to contribute to a just society. Another skill that I need to develop more is setting boundaries. Throughout my years in the program—even as early as my first field placement—my boundaries have greatly increased; but, it is still something I struggle with and I will definitely need to work on. Luckily, I will be attending graduate school immediately following graduation, so my knowledge will continue to expand and I will continue to work with clients and become accustomed to the short-term yet deeply personal relationships that I will create with my clients. I believe that in this specific skill area, practice makes perfect.

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According to Harry Ferguson, with the Social Work Department at the University of Birmingham, self-awareness assisted social workers in their mission to be ethical and helpful. Through self-awareness, they were often able to remain more composed in certain moments, compared to their counterparts (2017). It is evident that self-awareness and reflection are very important to being a competent and overall good social worker. However, the only self-reflection I have done thus far in school has been discussing situations with my field supervisor or professors and reflecting on them to determine what I can do next time. Due to this lack of practice, I wanted to find a tool that I might use in my future schooling, internships, and career in order to make my self-reflection more rewarding. One tool I found is Gibbs’s reflective cycle. His cycle consists of 6 stages that lead an individual through self-reflection. It starts with a description: What happened? Next, describe your feelings: What were you thinking and feeling? Following that, you must evaluate yourself: What was good and bad about the experience? Then you analyze the situation: What sense can you make from this? Finally: What else could you have done, is there an action plan if this arose again/what would you do? (Sicora, 2010). This process can be done individually or in supervision, but the article does recommend to do self-reflection with others because, “the less alone the practioner is, the less he is exposed to frustration from failures that occasionally occur and could lead to burnout” (Sicora, 2010). This cycle covers all areas of reflection and helps an individual plan for the next steps. I believe it is a vital part of promoting social justice by the first start with oneself.

Generalist social work allows individuals to achieve the goals of social work, through a multileveled approach. According to the text, Generalist Social Work Practice: an

Empowering Approach, “generalist practitioners acknowledge the interplay of personal and collective issues, promoting them to work with a variety of human systems-societies, communities, neighborhoods, complex organizations, formal groups, families, and individuals to create changes that maximize human system functioning” (Miley, OMelia & DuBois, 2017). This quote discusses how generalist practitioners work at the micro, mezzo, and macro level to ensure the well-being of their clients. The micro-level intervention focuses on working with clients individually, in families, or in small groups. For example, some social workers may work on changes to improve parenting skills or improve an individual’s social and physical surroundings to promote a family’s overall functioning (Miley, OMelia & DuBois, 2017). Mezzo-level intervention promotes change in task groups, teams, and organizations. For example, workers can work directly with schools to address policies that may be affecting their clients negatively (Miley, OMelia & DuBois, 2017). The macro-level intervention addresses issues within the community, institutions, and society. At this level, generalist practitioners work to achieve change through organizing and planning within the community, community education, and even policy change and social action. For example, a worker may lobby for increasing the city's budget for police protection (Miley, OMelia & DuBois, 2017).

Social workers need to be competent in both individual and community problems (micro and macro) to be able to best serve their clients. Because generalist practice practitioners are able to integrate both levels of intervention, social workers who are knowledgeable in generalist practice are able to address all problems, individual or societal (Mullin & Roy, 2016). In a study done by Julie Welch on Is Imagery Rehearsal Treatment an Effective Intervention for Anna’s Nightmares? she was able to show how the integration of micro and macro level knowledge were used to address and solve the issue of Anna’s nightmares and anxiety. Anna is a 5-year-old female who was placed in foster care after her infant brother was found unresponsive in his crib, and was later found dead from suffocation. Anna was placed in foster care and was eventually placed for open adoption. At the time of the report, Anna was experiencing nightmares that disrupted her sleep and caused anxiety during the day, following supervised visits with her birth mother. Anna was diagnosed with PTSD and was to complete a 10-week grief and loss group for children and was enrolled in cognitive behavioral therapy. Both interventions were put in place to decrease her nightmares and anxiety. The results showed that over time, Anna did have more restful sleep and had a decrease in daytime stress. In conclusion, Julie determined that it is important to know and acknowledge that children who have gone through something traumatic, may have distressing nightmares and anxiety. Julie, with her knowledge in generalist practice and knowing the effects of trauma on children, knew that a single system study would not work in Anna’s case. With her background knowledge, she was able to determine the best intervention strategy for Anna, a combination of individually focused therapy and a grief group for children, which eventually led to a reduction in both of Anna’s symptoms (Welch, 2016).

To me, being competent in generalist social work practice is a must for all social workers. To fully understand our clients and their situations, we have to view our clients within their environments. The generalist approach does just that, they take not only the individual client into account but all of the clients surrounding systems. We are affected daily by what goes on in our systems, so why shouldn’t we be considering all of our client’s systems and how they play a role in their daily functioning? “The view of generalist social work is like the view through a wide-angle lens of a camera. It takes in the whole, even when focusing on an individual part” (Miley, OMelia & DuBois, 2017).

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Social Worker’s Responsibility for Contributing to a Just Society: Opinion Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
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