Social Work

March 27, 1998

Social Work Profession Celebrates 100 Years

By Robin Droegenmueller
UW-RF News Bureau

Many of the benefits some Americans take for granted-child labor laws, the minimum wage, health care, unemployment insurance, social security-came about because social workers saw injustice in these areas and fought for change.

March is social work month, and this year marks the celebration of the 100th anniversary of social work as a profession in the United States.

The profession of social work has changed over time, especially in the educational requirements and legal regulation for social workers that is now required in all 50 states, according to Ruth Kalms, associate professor of the UW-River Falls social work program.

These and other changes have been made to more adequately address the needs of people and groups, says Kalms. Additionally, a code of ethics has been developed as the cornerstone of the profession. The code describes what workers must and must not do, from values to implementation of programs and service.

According to the UW-RF social work program, social work is planned, purposeful intervention, based on professional knowledge, values, and skill that is aimed at both individual and social change.

Social workers seek to strengthen and improve the ability of people and systems to cope with the problems they face while promoting improvements in the social environment that will enable human needs to be more adequately met.

Social workers are involved in wide-ranging tasks in many different public and private areas. They deal with troubled children and families, organize communities for change, conduct research, and administer social programs.

According to Kalms, social workers can be found almost any place where people and organizations come together: from family counseling to mental health centers, from nursing homes to prisons, from corporations to community organizations.

Students from UW-RF's accredited social work program graduate with a Bachelor of Social Work degree and the training to prepare them to become beginning level social workers in all types of agencies, says Kalms.

To prepare for the challenges of social work, UW-RF students spend their senior year participating in a two-semester fieldwork experience and a research project in addition to classes.

Kalms says many seniors have social work jobs lined up before they finish school, as did one third of the students last year.

Jonathan Platson, a UW-River Falls junior social work major from Roberts and co-president of the UW-RF Social Work Association, will begin his field work next fall.

Typical of major, Platson is already well on his way to a successful social work career. He began volunteering in 1996 at the River Falls Turning Point, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. He now facilitates a support group for children while their mothers attend a self-esteem session.

He also works with a program involving families and schools in River Falls that helps children who have problems in school.

His most recent job adds work experience with the Pierce County Family Community Partnership, a pioneer program designed to reduce the time children spend in out-of-home placements such as foster care.

As part of the in-home services committee, Platson participates as a mentor for a child. This has given him a valuable behind-the-scenes look at the social work profession in action, including interviews with the family and case discussion meetings.

Platson says he enjoys the job variety social work offers and the challenge of helping people. "Everyone is different," he says. "You need to start at different places with each person."

As a basic framework, says Kalms, social workers learn to view issues, concerns, and problems by looking at all systems involved, rather than by isolating one person.

After making an assessment of a family, group, or individual's situation, the social worker meets with the client to develop a contract and make a plan in which goals and objectives are to be accomplished to meet the client's needs.

There is never a typical day for social workers, according to Kalms, and, as Platson says, it's not a nine-to-five job. A worker's focus is always on the client's needs. Workers attempt to keep schedules, but often situations arise that require immediate response or work beyond typical hours.

According to Kalms, professional social workers need to understand the interrelationships between systems and have a realistic view of their job. They must maintain a balance between their personal expectations and occupational limits and be willing to seek outside help from supervisors and colleagues.

While professional workers recognize their limits, they also work within those limits to push for needed changes in laws, systems, and groups, in order to make a difference in the lives of others, Kalms says.

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