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Social work

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A social worker is a person employed in the administration of charity, social service[?], welfare, and poverty agencies, or religious outreach programs. Social workers may also work with community health agencies. In developed countries a large number of social workers are employed by the government.

Other social workers work as psychotherapists, performing individual counselling, frequently working in coordination with psychiatrists, psychologists, or other physicians.

At the time of massive immigrant influx, and consequent social and economic upheaval, the church was the only organized force with a mandate to provide services to the needy. Religious organizations, consequently stepped into the void, creating work forces and legal guidelines (such as the Elizabethan Poor Laws, in England). In some countries, Social Work has emerged as a recognized non-secular and professional endeavor to serve these needs. Governmental support for non-secular and non-political fulfilment of certain societal needs has promoted the field of social work. In many countries religious organizations continue to be prevalent in addressing these needs of society. The National Federation of Social Work (NFSW) provides its own definition at: http://sozialarbeit.at/def.htm.

Typical social work involves

  • administering government welfare programs
  • food bank programs
  • needle exchanges, and drug addiction
  • support for street people - shelters, medical support, help getting off the street
  • family crisis intervention
  • child abuse
  • adoptions
  • women's shelters
  • helping the poor organize for better conditions - both economically (food banks, buying clubs) and politically - voting blocks during election campaigns, running canidates, organizing demonstrations
  • providing assistance to work through government red tape, including other social work agencies
  • tenant's rights
  • worker compensation for on-the-job injuries (there are usually additional social workers who have as their specific job to deal with the beaucracy of worker compensation problems)
  • police officers (some people say that they may engage in social work, but they are not real social workers)
  • refugee assistance (refugee camps, re-location, political asylum help)
  • AIDS awareness
  • birth control and family planning

The difference between social work and social activism is sometimes impossible to differentiate. Similary the difference between government beaucracy and social work is sometimes impossible to differentiate.

Certain types of social workers are more likely to suffer criticism than most other workers because they often work in scenarios which are highly emotionally charged. Examples include:

  • taking a child away from parents who are regarded as unfit (this is even more controversial when it involves religious beliefs)
  • failure to remove children from parents who subsequently hurt or kill them
  • organizing demonstrations that turn into riots
  • supporting activities that are highly controversial - abortion, needle exchanges


Criticism often centers around social workers acting unprofessionally. This would include methodological errors, bias with or against those whom they work with, failure to perform their jobs, or even witch hunts.

Social Workers would respond that often problems with social workers can be traced to poor pay, inadequate training, excessive case loads, inadequate funding, and bad government policies. The reason social workers are singled out is because they are the ones who directly face and deal with the public.

Criticisms range from methodological errors to human rights abuses[?]. When social workers do not remove children from homes in which children are abused by their parents, there is often public outcry about child welfare agencies not doing their job.

Sample Documented Abuses and Highly Controvercial Behaviour

  • Child welfare agency successfully sued. "Ontario Court of Appeal unequivocally found the Durham Children's Aid Society [Ontario, Canada] and its social workers guilty of the grossest negligence, gross incompetence and malicious prosecution." Rev. Dorian A. Baxter (http://www.canadacourtwatch.com/welcome.htm)

  • Ontario Coalition Against Poverty involved in rioting. "On June 15 [2000] , we sought to move forward in a fashion that would, even if we were denied entry to the [Ontario] Legislature [Toronto, Canada], show that passivity in the face of attack was over." OCAP (http://www.ocap.ca/dispatch.cgi/legal/provocation)

Also, there have been several scandals involving false testimony about alleged child sexual abuse. In these cases, often referred to as modern witchhunts, it is generally acknowledged that some social workers, not sufficiently trained and often overzealous, created false memories through suggestive questioning. Internationally, many courts are now rejecting this type of testimony.

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