When we talk about social justice, we are referring to the idea of a fair society for everyone. In practice, this means people should expect a decent education, a good standard of healthcare, somewhere to live and gainful employment.
As these and other forms of equality inevitably improve the lives of those they are helping, all social workers in the US have an ethical requirement to promote social justice.
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How is social work different from social justice?
Social justice is something that people who are employed as social workers try to achieve for their clients. However, it can also be pursued by many other community-minded individuals, from elected officials to non-profits, event organizers and activists. Social work as a profession has to identify various forms of persistent social injustice, then train its professionals to understand these problems and work toward solutions.
A blended solution to injustice
To promote a fairer, more just society, social workers use a combination of practical solutions. They focus on ensuring that their clients’ rights are not denied and that their best interests are always considered.
Here is a closer look at each stage of the process.
Driving change through policy practice
Primarily, social workers use policy practice to work with clients who may be experiencing multiple issues. The social worker will educate a person on their rights and then encourage them to overcome the situation independently. In addition to tackling any immediate problems, they ensure people feel empowered and can advocate for themselves.
Social workers follow programs that have been created to help specific members of society, so the support they provide is highly specialized. Courses such as the Spalding advanced MSW program prepare students who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work for using policy practice techniques. It’s an online course that can be taken on a full or part-time basis, with accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.
How does policy practice work?
When a social worker meets a client, they work with them to manage any medical problems that need to be addressed before moving on to social or other issues. For example, if a client is asking for assistance with a landlord who refuses to carry out repairs, the social worker would provide information and guidance rather than taking on the landlord personally. This means the client will speak with the landlord to solve their own problem right now while also giving them the confidence to do so in the future.
As a result, the individual is less likely to become a victim of social injustice, because they are experienced in advocating for themselves. Furthermore, they are less likely to need help from a government agency, so pressure is relieved from the service.
Speaking up for clients with policy advocacy
The second technique that practitioners use is policy advocacy. This involves various activities designed to spur positive change. Like policy practice, it is a route to social justice for the vulnerable, albeit one that uses a slightly different approach.
Depending on where they are based, social workers may act as an individual, work with community members or join an association of local people to achieve their aims. Social workers are often found lobbying elected officials as this ensures they can represent the views of their clients and push for legislative change. They may also work with agencies to support changes to a community or build a coalition themselves to campaign for safer streets, more housing or better education.
An active role in the community
Although social workers can be catalysts for change in a community, they also carry out some tasks themselves. These activities can vary greatly depending on whether the campaign is focused on safety, health, or education. They could organize meetings at which people will gather to speak, find information, and distribute it to a group; write letters to local newspapers; or design online petitions. Furthermore, when it is difficult to get in touch with an official organization, they can use their skills and knowledge to open the lines of communication.
Bringing each concept together
Social workers remain constantly engaged with social justice because this helps them to help others. The more they learn about the social and environmental factors that prohibit social justice, the more they can do to help individuals and transform entire communities.