John G. McNutt
Social work is a profession that began its life as a call to help the poor, the destitute and the disenfranchised of a rapidly changing social order. It continues today still pursuing that quest, perhaps with some occasional deviations of direction from the original spirit.
Social work practice is the primary means of achieving the profession's ends. It is impossible to overstate the centrality or the importance of social work practice to the profession of social work. Much of what is important about the history of the profession is the history of social work practice.
We must consider both social work practice per se (the knowledge base, practice theories and techniques) and the context for social work practice. The context of practice includes the agency setting, the policy framework and the large social system in which practice takes place.
Social work practice is created within a political, social, cultural and economic matrix that shapes the assumptions of practice, the problems that practice must deal with and the preferred outcomes of practice. Over time, the base forces that create practice and create the context for practice, change. Midgley (1981) correctly notes that practice created in one social order is often inappropriate for work in another social order. Since the social order changes over time, practice created at one point in time may no longer be appropriate in the future.
John A. Yankey and Vera Vogelsang-Coombs
Strategic planning is a key management process in nonprofit organizations and a collaborative methodology for addressing complex community needs. This entry presents an overview of strategic planning, with dual emphasis on the content and format of the final product. It highlights phases and steps in the planning process, along with trends and directions for such planning in the future. Despite its increased use, however, confusion and skepticism about the value of strategic planning remain. Therefore, we describe specific approaches that have yielded good results.
Dorothy N. Gamble
This entry describes how the viability of long-term human social systems is inextricably linked to human behavior, environmental resources, the health of the biosphere, and human relationships with all living species. New ways of thinking and acting in our engagement with the biosphere are explored, with attention to new ways of measuring well-being to understand the global relationships among human settlements, food security, human population growth, and especially alternative economic efforts based on prosperity rather than on growth. The challenge of social work is to engage in socioecological activities that will prevent and slow additional damage to the biosphere while at the same time helping human populations to develop the cultural adaptation and resilience required to confront increasing weather disasters; displacement resulting from rising seas; drought conditions that severely affect food supplies; the loss of biodiversity, soils, forests, fisheries, and clean air; and other challenges to human social organizations.
Michael S. Kelly
Task-centered practice is a social work technology designed to help clients and practitioners collaborate on specific, measurable, and achievable goals. It is designed to be brief (typically 8–12 sessions), and can be used with individuals, couples, families, and groups in a wide variety of social work practice contexts. With nearly 40 years of practice and research arguing for its effectiveness, task-centered practice can rightfully claim to be one of social work's original “evidence-based practices,” though the relative paucity of research on its effectiveness in this decade suggests that the approach itself may have become increasingly integrated into other brief social work technologies.
John G. McNutt
Information technology has had a profound effect on social work practice with larger systems. These tools improve traditional practice and allow new forms of practice. This entry reviews the use of technology in macro social work practice. It examines the role of technology in social administration, community practice, and social policy practice; discusses current practice and tools and discusses the challenges faced in the use of technology in macro practice.
Catherine K. Lawrence
In 1996, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act repealed the 60-year-old national welfare program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replaced it with a new cash assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This law introduced a new generation of rules and regulations for delivering cash and other assistance to families who are poor, and it fundamentally changed the way the United States assists such families and their children. Opinions regarding the success of TANF and its impact on families vary; welfare caseloads have declined since TANF implementation, but economic self-sufficiency eludes many families.
Social work practice is best understood and practiced when taking into account the local context. The urban context of social work practice may share much with suburban and rural contexts but also brings with it unique problems and opportunities.
Frances Fox-Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite
Scholars often refer to “American exceptionalism,” meaning that unlike other rich, capitalist democracies, the United States has never had a strong working-class political movement. One form of exceptionalism often overlooked in the academic literature offers two strong explanations for this. Some scholars argue that the voting process has been encumbered by procedures that make actual voting difficult. Other scholars offer an alternative explanation that legal rights or not, the voters must be mobilized by political parties and other activist groups. This entry examines the dynamic interplay of electoral rules and political action to mobilize and demobilize the American electorate since the 1970s.
Welfare as a right has long been an objective of advocates for social and economic justice. During the 1960s, the right to welfare was championed by legal scholars as well as the activists who created the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). With the demise of NWRO in 1975 and the subsequent ascendance of conservatism in social policy, notably the 1996 welfare reform act, momentum for welfare as a right flagged. Since the 1990s, a capability approach to well-being has been proposed, and various instruments have been constructed to evaluate the welfare of populations across nations as well as subnational jurisdictions. Variables such as income, health, education, employment, and satisfaction measures of well-being have effectively replaced the idea of welfare as a right. The transition from welfare as a right to well-being varying across populations provides more information social workers can use to advocate for marginalized populations.
Alice B. Gates
This entry describes worker centers as new sites of community practice. Worker centers are community-based organizations focused on the needs of low-wage and immigrant workers. This new organizational form emerged most prominently in the United States since the mid-1990s, largely in response to concerns about workplace abuses in low-wage and informal sectors. Drawing on multiple traditions, including labor unions, settlement houses, and ethnic agencies, worker centers offer a hybrid approach to planned change: They support workers organizing for collective action, provide direct services, and advocate for policy change at state and local levels. In the last decade, worker centers have led the efforts to pass legislation protecting domestic workers and helped low-wage workers win millions of dollars in lost or stolen wages from employers. These and other notable examples of U.S. worker centers’ contributions to community practice and social justice will be discussed.