The Image of Social Work

22 Oct

By Leslie Scott and Lucia Sizemore
NASW Ohio Chapter Interns

Research since the 1970s has shown two constants about the perception of the social work profession: there is little public consensus regarding the role of social work and most survey participants report a negative view of the profession. A review of American movies from 1938 to 1998 that feature a “social work” character revealed that over half of the movies focused on child welfare and most of the social workers were shown to be white, middle-class, female and incompetent. This is troubling news for our profession. When we are seen as doing more harm than good, we are unable to do our jobs.

How do we show our clients that we are in fact a diverse group of people who are well-trained and well-qualified to meet their needs?

#1 Call Yourself a Social Worker

It’s difficult to recognize social workers when we have a variety of job titles: case manager, community organizer, and program director being just a few. By referring to yourself primarily as a social worker, you will begin to develop a social work community network and, over time, create a positive view of social work.

#2 Be Competent

As social workers, we are often the first line of defense for our clients. That means we need to stay up to date on our professional knowledge and skills. The ability to advocate is just half passion, the other half is knowledge.

#3 Promote the Profession

Social workers have not traditionally promoted or discussed their work with media professionals, and it shows in the public’s negative view of the profession. Social workers need to start viewing public relations as part of their jobs. We should always be on our best behavior and promote our profession’s contributions to everyone we know. People won’t know what we do unless we tell them.

#4 Advocate for the Profession

As social workers, we are called to be advocates. In the scramble to meet the needs of clients, we often overlook the needs of our profession. But, changing the profession’s image begins with us. We are responsible for how our clients and our communities see us. We can’t serve our clients if they don’t trust us. Collaborating with NASW and other allies to support social work professionals is a great way to strengthen our profession.

Changing the image of social work begins with you. Don’t hide who you are and don’t hide what you do.
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Please post comments, questions, or suggestions below. Be sure to check back for next month’s post about Professional Self-Image.

NASW Ohio Chapter’s website offers opportunities to get involved in promoting and advocating for the social work profession in Ohio.

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