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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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6 Thinking like a social worker

This is a photograph of a young woman interacting with a boy who is in a wheelchair.
Figure 17

Social workers have a perspective on society that values human potential and human rights, alongside a belief that all people deserve to have, and are likely to benefit from having equal opportunities. However, social workers know from their daily engagement with what can usefully be referred to as, ‘the real world’, that rights and opportunities can be won and lost, and that social work staff are first-hand witnesses to the multiple and complex factors determining the capacity of people to cope and to flourish.

To think like a social worker is to have a rugged and continuing passion to help people, to promote fairness, and to address injustice. Social workers appreciate that people in distress value helpers who have a compassionate and practical understanding of some of the explanations for how and why unfairness and impaired capacities to cope can emerge and be sustained. To think like a social worker means being fully prepared to work alongside people in distress. This will include knowing how to provide insights and support, to be able to identify options and find solutions, and always being willing to build on people’s innate strengths and potential. Social workers anticipate and embrace working to develop user-friendly systems, and welcome being creatively engaged in informing organisations and agencies with structural power about the needs of service users, and about the impact of social policy.

Individual and social progress is organic and evolutionary. Social workers join service users for parts of their journey, knowing that for many people life can often be unfair, and can almost always be difficult. But social workers, using their knowledge and experience of how people think and of how society works, strive hard to not become embroiled in endless cycles of inappropriate blame for the simple fact of being human. They recognise that balancing individual need against what may at times be the ‘greater good’ of society, requires maturity, humility, and lots and lots of stamina. Sometimes the job-satisfaction of social work can be found in helping people to ‘beat the system’. But at a deeper level, social work can and often does contribute in many meaningful ways, to developing systems and communities that are more responsive, inclusive, and humane.

Finally, thinking like a social worker requires being alert to the ever-changing time and tides of social and political history. Remembering, of course, that while many sincerely held values will hold fast, many other things for people and for society can change, and almost certainly will.