The 9 Competencies of Social Work | In Practice

Throughout my undergraduate education, the CSWE Competencies were HIGHLY emphasized. Perhaps this was to ensure these standards would infiltrate our every step as social work students and future practitioners. It is safe to say from this intensive experience, I will continue to think about these competencies and the standards with which social work students learn.

These will be broken down into more tangible and practical experiences, so hopefully, one may better understand how to grasp a concept or ensure a standard is being met.

1 – Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior

Competency 1 can be completed as you implement the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics into your everyday professional life, as well as contact the Ethics Committee when faced with a dilemma. This can also look like signing a Confidentiality Agreement at one’s agency, and have policies in place that promote best practice.

2 – Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice

Engaging diversity and difference can occur ALL THE TIME in practice! This could look like a social worker learning a language, or some beneficial phrases, in order to better communicate with a client. This also means taking into account one’s race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status and how that influences treatment and resources available. Displaying cultural competence, and being open to learning from clients of various backgrounds. Another example is having an environment available for clients with sensory stimulation concerns, so that remain comfortable and calm.

3 – Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice

Competency 3 is something we must engage in every day, all day, every single day of the year! We cannot effectively assist clients in overcoming barriers, accessing services, or receiving treatment, if they are a vulnerable or discriminated-against group. This competency, like all of them, can occur at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Advancing rights and justice can take the form of advocacy, applying for funding so a victim of abuse does not have to pay out of pocket for counseling, or becoming a person in government to propose new legislation that would benefit populations and groups in need.

4 – Engage in Practice-Informed Research and Research-Informed Practice

As social workers, we pride ourselves on being a science, and using best practice with evidence-based skill. This cannot be accomplished with research. It is necessary to continue to stay up-to-date with current treatments, approaches, theories, etc. that would impact how we practice with clients. It’s also necessary that we look at the populations we serve and continue to ask questions and form hypotheses that would guide further research. A therapist may become certified in an evidence-based treatment that is more effective than their current way of practice. An agency may educate law enforcement on how to engage juvenile delinquents upon confrontation or arrest. A prison may take initiative and offer trauma counseling, because as research shows, the majority of incarcerated individuals have a history of trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

5 – Engage in Policy Practice

Policy is what guides many social workers and agencies in what we are able and unable to do in practice. Changing or advocating for new policy or legislation is a continual cycle, as we must always evaluate how we are practicing as individuals and as a collective. Policy practice can include creating the foundation for a new non-profit organization, amending a law on incarcerated people and visitation rights, or raising minimum wage so that people can live off of it.

6 – Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

We cannot be social workers if we do not ENGAGE our client base. In a direct practice level, this happens at the intake stage, and then continues during the entirety of the client’s stay with you. It’s also necessary that we engage families, especially when they are a competent in a clients’ life and could greatly influence what occurs. Furthermore, if we do not have engaged organizations and communities, then we have nothing to work with. Organizations provide the majority of services, and without the engagement of these agencies, clients are forgotten or neglected.

7 – Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

While assessing a situation, client, environment, what have you, it is important to be thorough and use accurate and helpful tools. As part of a previous field placement, the child advocacy center I interned at screened every child for trafficking. A rapid indicator tool was used in order to best determine if next steps were necessary. As clinicians, counselors, etc. there are many boxes to check for diagnoses, what treatment to provide, and if a client is progressing. Continuing to monitor clients can be done through an array of questionnaires, the DSM-5 for diagnostic necessities, and collaboration with other professionals. It’s also necessary to assess social service agencies and if they are effective, and what resources or a services a community would most benefit from. These greater scale assessments can be completed through research and analysis.

8 – Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

After gathering all of your information and building rapport with the client or population, it’s time to collaboratively intervene! This can be SO MANY different things in social work. As a case manager, a social worker may refer a client to a housing program for single mothers. Policy may be implemented that changes the way treatment is given, or the availability of resources. Community groups, such a youth sports coaches, may be educated on the signs of child abuse and maltreatment. Whatever it is, this is the time social workers DO something that, based on evidence/research/collaboration with clients, may assist the client or population in reaching a goal!

9 – Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

Finally, it’s time to evaluate! Did the intervention work? How was it effective or absolutely terrible? Where is the client at now? After months of trauma therapy, you can assess a child to see if the display more or less signs of trauma. Statewide research could be conducted to see if a change in policy actually made a difference, and if so, what was that difference and who benefited or lost from it? Here, though the focus is on assessing those we intervened with, it is also beneficial to evaluate ourselves and get feedback on our practice. Were your methods for research within standard? Could you adequately display empathy during counseling sessions? Were groups engaged at community meetings? Not only do we need to always evaluate effectiveness, results, etc., but we need to continue to ensure that the social workers living these competencies are doing so in an educated manner.

I hope this inspired you to continue to grow as a social worker, and perhaps to work on an area that needs strengthening. It is with these competencies that social work students blossom and gain a better understanding of what being a social worker truly means, and how great our collective impact can be.


Laura Swanson, BSW

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