Social work is often misinterpreted in mainstream society as a job that one can simply walk into, knowing the ins and outs. Social workers have a job to better communities and families, and to do so appears to be a matter of common sense. Many are surprised to find out an individual may need a University level degree in order to get a job as a social worker. Stranger still, many are surprised you need a degree at all. While it is true that much of what social workers do does involve common sense, they still have laws to abide by. There are still ethical codes and standards that they must learn. When assisting with families and communities, it pays to know how to counsel groups as well as individuals, which is why social work is built on a solid foundation of common sense and education.
The shared understanding of the idea of common sense can be misleading when it comes to social work. Social workers spend their hours bettering the community and helping families, which can make the line between “just common sense” and “a job that requires education” relatively blurry. If a child is being abused, it is common sense that they be removed from that environment. If there is a homeless epidemic in a city, it is common sense that something is done to get those people off of the streets, working, and back to being contributing members of society. When most people are struggling or in need of help, the solution will involve common sense. It is because of this that most people seem to think that social work only requires common sense. According to A. Schutz’s report, “Common Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action”, common sense is often based around assumption. People assume there is nothing more to social work than being aware . They fail to recognize that more goes into the job than simply walking into a home where a child is being abused and removing them. There are rules to follow and procedures to learn. While we are on the topic of common sense, one would think it would be common sense to assume that there are laws prohibiting a random public official from coming into any home where abuse is suspected in order to take a person’s child away. The entire procedure for removing a child from an abusive home is outline in “Social Work Practice: A Critical Thinker’s Guide” by Eileen Gambril. The process described is 14 pages long, none of which mention common sense While the public has no problem looking down on social workers, assuming the entire job revolves around common sense, they ironically forget to apply that reasoning to a circumstance that, without any education of the law, would involve them. For example, if a social worker with no working knowledge of the law barged in on an unsuspecting family in order to take their children because abuse was suspected, the first complaint would be that common sense was not used (2012). The parents would cry that common sense would have said to investigate before removing the children from the home. Luckily, social workers realize this and educate future employees on this protocol to avoid these situations.
Social work is actually very professional. While many social workers do find themselves out in the community, working in less than conventional ways, they are still required to follow procedure and adhere to the law. Those who are not formally educated on social work or those who do not bother to give it more thought may not realize that social work is handled with the utmost professionalism. The occupation of a social worker holds all of the traditional mainstays of any other professional job. Social workers are required to abide by privacy policies, they must learn and adhere to specific laws in their states when it comes to follow procedure, and they must learn the procedures. Donald T. Dickson’s book “Confidentiality and Privacy in Social Work: A Guide to the Law for Practitioners and Students” outlines 17 different forms of criteria concerning privacy and confidentiality. They include things that may under fall under common sense such as not discussing clients outside of work or with anybody not authorized by the client, but also things one would have to learn, such as how to handle privacy when counseling minors . Paperwork must be filed on all clients as well. Keeping track of clients is common sense, but how to file paperwork falls under the category of formal education. Though social workers may be less respected than other professionals, and may be forced to act in less conventional ways than other professionals, nothing about their job makes them less professional or less educated than anybody else. Furthermore, nothing about being a social worker gives anybody significant cause to think they are uneducated.
The base of knowledge to be a social worker is actually surprisingly wide. This is because social workers are considered a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to helping the community and thus must possess knowledge on a variety of subjects. Isadora Hare’s article “Defining Social Work for the 21st Century: The International Federation of Social Workers' Revised Definition of Social Work”, published in International Social Work explains that social workers in the 21st century can seek job placement in upwards of 120 areas of the community Classes can range anywhere from knowing how to help the physically disabled, to how to counsel family members impacted by substance abuse. They are taught about cultural and racial differences, as well as how these differences may impact an individual’s ability to seek help. Social workers also learn about socioeconomic factors that may impact an individual’s status and need for help. All of this information is supplemented with information on how the social worker can help counsel the client, as well as better the community for future generations. Social workers are taught skills in intervention, as well as human relations. It pays, not only to be able to relate to your clients, but also to be able to connect with fellow social workers. Many agencies experience spillover; if one social worker knows of an agency with vacancies, they can help a client by association just by giving them the number of an available agency. In business terms, this is called a “referral”, meaning that social workers are also taught a semi-working knowledge of the business world as well as how to network, according to D. Saleeby in “The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice”. To say that social workers’ actions are based solely on common sense is an injustice, at best.
It is in my opinion that all of this knowledge is needed to be a social worker. Because they handle problems in nearly every troubled area of society they must possess at least some useful knowledge to base their decisions on. Expecting a person to walk into a home where a child may have been abused and just know what to do is unrealistic. Without actually being in the situation it is easy for many to assume that they would act heroic, snatching the child from his or her violent parents, and whisking them away to a safe haven. But what if the parents react? How should you handle it? What if the child does not want to go? How do you explain that they must? And where is this safe haven you speak of? These are all questions that are answered while the social worker is educated and trained. Only the idea of removing the child from a violent situation is common sense while everything that follows has been learned. The same can be said for virtually every situation a social worker finds themselves in, making all education accumulated intrinsically important to the job they are trying to perform. If they do not learn the procedures, rules, and laws, they will be doing a disservice to themselves, as well as their clients.
How all of this knowledge was chose to be a part of social work is plain to see. Over time many policies were installed to protect client’s confidentiality and rights to privacy. Also over time, the role of the social worker evolved from just a mere public servant, to a mediator. This happened gradually through the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, according to Allen Rubin and Earl Babbie in “Research Methods for Social Work” . Counseling and a working knowledge of child abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, discrimination, prejudice, and other factors that may put a person at a disadvantage were needed. Today they are considered one of the primary pillars of social work, as postulated in Jane F. Gilgun’s article, “The Four Cornerstones of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work” As people began to abuse the system, procedures to check the legitimacy of claims were installed in order to ensure that the small budget afforded to the branch was not wasted, and innocent people were not prosecuted. This was also to ensure that time was not squandered. Essentially, as social work grew, so did the base of knowledge needed to be one. As the profession changed, the knowledge needed to successfully make it work also changed. And while common sense still plays a role in what a social worker does, it is the primary thing a social worker relies on.
In sum, common sense is a viable part of being a social worker but it is hardly all they need to be successful at their job. Many would find that they need a lot of education when faced with any one of the situations social workers meet on a daily basis. Because they have the potential to be such a versatile part of human services, they required to know a variety of things about many subjects. From the recovery cycles of substance abuse victims to how to politely conduct a business referral and everything in between, social workers have common sense, but they also have
Dickson, D. T. (1998). Confidentiality and Privacy in Social Work: A Guide to the Law for Practitioners and Students. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gambrill, E. (2012). Social Work Practice: A Critical Thinker's Guide. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Gilgun, J. F. (2005). The Four Cornerstones of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work. Research on Social Work Practice, 52-61.
Hare, I. (2004). Defining Social Work for the 21st Century: The International Federation of Social Workers' Revised Definition of Social Work. International Social Work, 407-424.
Reamer, F. G. (2013). Social Work Values and Ethics. Columbia: Columbia University Press.
Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. (2013). Brooks/Cole Empowerment Series: Research Methods for Social Work. Cengage Learning.
Saleeby, D. (2012). The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice. Pearson.
Schutz, A. (1962). Common Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.