Social Justice

Social work is a practical profession aimed at helping people address their problems and matching them with the resources they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

Beneath this practicality lies a strong value system that can be summarized in two words: social justice. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.

A brief glance at the many roles of social workers shows how this value system underscores everything they do. With homeless clients, for example, social workers make sure their clients have access to food stamps and health care. The same is true for elderly clients: Social workers may work to protect them from financial abuse or to ensure that they are receiving the health and financial benefits that are rightfully theirs.

Social workers also apply social-justice principles to structural problems in
the social service agencies in which they work. Armed with the long-term goal of empowering their clients, they use knowledge of existing legal principles and organizational structure to suggest changes to protect their clients, who are often powerless and underserved. For example, social workers may learn organizational ethics to ensure that clients are treated respectfully by staff or they may examine the organization’s policies on personal client information to make sure it is held in confidence.

Often, social workers bring social justice concepts into the wider social and political arena. Following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington an international group of social workers issued statements condemning terrorism but calling for examination of possible underlying causes. In particular, the statements suggested that terrorism may be fueled in part by global practices that led to poverty and rage among millions of Middle Eastern citizens.

Indeed, from the beginning of their profession, social workers have been involved in “connecting the dots” between peace and social justice. According to social work philosophy … Peace is not possible where there are gross inequalities of money and power, whether between workers and managers, nations and nations or men and women.

Flynn, J.P. (1995). Social Justice in Social Agencies. In R.L. Edwards
(Ed-in-Chief), Encyclopedia of Social Work
(19th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 95-100). Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.
Gibelman, M. (1995). What Social Workers Do (4th ed.).
Washington, DC. NASW Press.
Van Soest, D. (1995). Peace and Social Justice. In R.L. Edwards
(Ed.-in-Chief), Encyclopedia of social work
(19th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 95-100). Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.
The world crisis: poverty, terror and war. (2001, March).
IFSW News, p. 3.
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