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An introduction to social work in Wales
An introduction to social work in Wales

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Each of the four nations of the UK has its own regulator for the social work profession. In Wales, this is the Care Council for Wales (CCW). The practice of registered social workers in Wales is governed by the Code of Practice for Social Care Workers [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] which provides regulatory standards for social care workers in their day-to-day work while the National Occupational Standards (NOS, CCW 2011), sets out agreed standards of competence for the profession. A further document, ‘The Social Worker’ (CCW, 2014 provides practical guidance for registered social workers – the UK’s first such guide. This includes an international definition of social work, and ‘puts the flesh on the bones’ of the Code of Practice, but it also has a regulatory purpose in that registered social workers who fail to use it will put their registration at risk.

These documents reflect the ideology and values of the Welsh Government with regard to how social work should be practised in Wales. However, the function of social work is not only defined by the philosophies and beliefs of individual nations’ governments or assemblies; organisations representing social workers also promote views about the professional role. The following definition of social work was issued jointly by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in 2001. It is also the definition of social work used by CCW in their practice guidance above:

The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.

(IFSW, 2001)

A review of the this definition has been completed and a revised version presented to the Annual General Meeting of the IFSW/IASSW in July 2014:

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social workengages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.

The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels”.

IFSW 2014

The revision builds on the former definition’s concern for social justice and human rights. However, it also moves on to recognise the complexity of the social work task on a global level. Social work is concerned not only with helping individuals but also co-working with communities to challenge social structures that create disadvantage and threaten wellbeing. This is a powerful statement of the wider ‘social’ part of social work’s remit in the face of frequently changing expectations of the profession.

Figure 3 Word cloud to describe the social work context

Activity 4: The social worker – practice guidance

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Go to the Care Council for Wales’ page ‘Launch of the UK’s first practical guide for social workers in Wales’. You could watch the whole video, but, in particular, watch from 6 minutes 11 seconds into the video by sliding the small disc at the bottom of the screen just over half way along to the right

Note how the consultant social worker talks about social work being ‘citizen-based’, and about ‘the individual in the community’. She asks the question: ‘Why else are we in social work if it’s not to improve the situation or lives of the individuals we work with?’

What benefits does this social worker identify from having such guidance?

How well do you think this reflects the former and revised international definitions of social work?

How well do you think this reflects the ‘Welsh Way’?

Activity 5: National and international codes of ethics

Timing: Allow 15 minutes

Visit the website of the International Federation of Social Workers.

Hover over the ‘Resources’ tab, then click on ‘Policies’, scroll down and then look briefly at the ‘Statement of ethical principles’. Make notes on what you see as the key points in this statement.

At the bottom of the screen, go to the ‘National codes of ethics’ section and find the UK code of ethics for social work, which was developed by the British Association of Social Workers. Focus on the introduction (p. 4), and in particular the statement that social workers ‘are constrained by the availability of resources and institutional policies in society’. This particularly links with social policy considerations.

This is a long document, suggesting 17 principles that social workers should follow, and setting out how practitioners should adhere to core values in practice. At this stage, you should just skim read this document,

Try to find an example from your own work or life experience that illustrates the challenge of promoting empowerment and wellbeing when resources are limited.

How might a social worker use the Care Council for Wales’ Code of Practice to guide their practice when faced with such dilemmas?


A social work practitioner gave a good example of this dilemma when describing an attempt to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who were being held in detention and who were suffering from profound trauma. He said he felt professionally compromised by agreeing to see children who were being detained. Another social worker told us she was very unhappy with the policy of her local authority of rehousing homeless families hundreds of miles from where they lived in London, especially when this meant children would be uprooted from school, friends and family. She believed this policy to be completely opposed to everything she knew about what children and families need, but was expected to work with parents to find new schools in communities they knew nothing about. She saw this as one example of how social policy impacts on social work.