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Handbook of International Social WorkHuman Rights, Development, and the Global Profession$

Lynne M. Healy and Rosemary J. Link

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195333619

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195333619.001.0001

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(p.504) Appendix B Global Standards for the Education and Training of the Social Work Profession1

(p.504) Appendix B Global Standards for the Education and Training of the Social Work Profession1

Handbook of International Social Work
Oxford University Press

Adopted at the General Assemblies of IASSW and IFSW, Adelaide, Australia, in 2004.



Note: The full version of the global standards includes several appendices that explain the process followed by the professional organizations in developing the standards. Only the text of the actual standards is published here. For the full version, readers are referred to www.iassw-aiets.org or www.ifsw.org.

International Definition of Social Work

In July 2001, both the IASSW and the IFSW reached agreement on adopting the following international definition of social work:

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 behavior 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.2

Both the definition and the commentaries that follow are set within the parameters of broad ethical principles that cannot be refuted on an ideological level. However, the fact that social work is operationalised differently both within nation-states and regional boundaries, and across the world, with its control and status-quo maintaining functions being dominant in some contexts, cannot be disputed. Lorenz (2001) considered the ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions of the social work profession, which have to be constantly negotiated and renegotiated, rather than resolved, to constitute its success and challenge. It is, perhaps, these very tensions that lend to the richness of the local global dialectic, and provide legitimacy for the development of global standards. According to Lorenz (2001:12): “It is its paradigmatic openness that gives this profession the chance to engage with very specific (and constantly changing) historical and political contexts while at the same time striving for a degree of universality, scientific reliability, professional autonomy and moral accountability.”

Core Purposes of the Social Work Profession

Social work, in various parts of the world, is targeted at interventions for social support and for developmental, protective, preventive, and/or therapeutic purposes. Drawing on available literature, the feedback from colleagues during consultations, and the commentary on the international definition of social work, the following core purposes of social work have been identified:

  • Facilitate the inclusion of marginalised, socially excluded, dispossessed, vulnerable, and at-risk groups of people.3

  • Address and challenge barriers, inequalities, and injustices that exist in society.

  • Form short- and longer-term working relationships with and mobilise individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities to enhance their well-being and their problem-solving capacities.

  • Assist and educate people to obtain services and resources in their communities.

  • Formulate and implement policies and programmes that enhance people’s well-being, (p.505) promote development and human rights, and promote collective social harmony and social stability, insofar as such stability does not violate human rights.

  • Encourage people to engage in advocacy with regard to pertinent local, national, regional, and/or international concerns.

  • Act with and/or for people to advocate the formulation and targeted implementation of policies that are consistent with the ethical principles of the profession.

  • Act with and/or for people to advocate changes in those policies and structural conditions that maintain people in marginalised, dispossessed, and vulnerable positions, and those that infringe the collective social harmony and stability of various ethnic groups, insofar as such stability does not violate human rights.

  • Work towards the protection of people who are not in a position to do so themselves, for example children and youth in need of care and persons experiencing mental illness or mental retardation, within the parameters of accepted and ethically sound legislation.

  • Engage in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development, and to effect change by critiquing and eliminating inequalities.

  • Enhance stable, harmonious, and mutually respectful societies that do not violate people’s human rights.

  • Promote respect for traditions, cultures, ideologies, beliefs, and religions among different ethnic groups and societies, insofar as these do not conflict with the fundamental human rights of people.

  • Plan, organise, administer, and manage programs and organizations dedicated to any of the purposes delineated above.

1. Standards Regarding the School’s Core Purpose or Mission Statement

All schools should aspire toward the development of a core purpose statement or a mission statement which:

1.1 Is clearly articulated so those major stakeholders4 who have an investment in such a core purpose or mission understand it.

1.2 Reflects the values and the ethical principles of social work.

1.3 Reflects aspiration toward equity with regard to the demographic profile of the institution’s locality. The core purpose or mission statement should thus incorporate such issues as ethnic and gender representation on the faculty, as well as in recruitment and admission procedures for students.

1.4 Respects the rights and interests of service users and their participation in all aspects of delivery of programmes.

2. Standards Regarding Programme Objectives and Outcomes

In respect of programme objectives and expected outcomes, schools should endeavour to reach the following:

2.1 A specification of its programme objectives and expected higher education outcomes.

2.2 A reflection of the values and ethical principles of the profession in its programme design and implementation.

2.3 Identification of the programme’s instructional methods to ensure they support the achievement of the cognitive and affective development of social work students.

2.4 An indication of how the program reflects the core knowledge, processes, values, and skills of the social work profession, as applied in context-specific realities.

2.5 An indication of how an initial level of proficiency with regard to self-reflective5 use of social work values, knowledge, and skills is to be attained by social work students.

2.6 An indication of how the program meets the requirements of nationally and/or regionally/internationally defined professional goals, and how the program addresses local, national, and/or regional/international developmental needs and priorities.

2.7 As social work does not operate in a vacuum, the program should take account of the impact of interacting cultural, economic, communication, social, political, and psychological global factors.

2.8 Provision of an educational preparation that is relevant to beginning social work professional practice (p.506) with individuals, families, groups, and/or communities in any given context.

2.9 Self-evaluation to assess the extent to which its program objectives and expected outcomes are being achieved.

2.10 External peer evaluation as far as is reasonable and financially viable. This may be in the form of external peer moderation of assignments and/or written examinations and dissertations, and external peer review and assessment of curricula.

2.11 The conferring of a distinctive social work qualification at the certificate, diploma, first degree, or postgraduate level as approved by national and/or regional qualification authorities, where such authorities exist.

3. Standards With Regard to Programme Curricula Including Field Education

With regard to standards regarding programme curricula, schools should consistently aspire toward the following:

3.1 The curricula and methods of instruction being consistent with the school’s programme objectives, its expected outcomes, and its mission statement.

3.2 Clear plans for the organisation, implementation, and evaluation of the theory and field education components of the programme.

3.3 Involvement of service users in the planning and delivery of programmes.

3.4 Recognition and development of indigenous or locally specific social work education and practice from the traditions and cultures of different ethnic groups and societies, insofar that such traditions and cultures do not violate human rights.

3.5 Specific attention to the constant review and development of the curricula.

3.6 Ensuring that the curricula help social work students to develop skills of critical thinking and scholarly attitudes of reasoning, openness to new experiences and paradigms, and commitment to lifelong learning.

3.7 Field education should be sufficient in duration and complexity of tasks and learning opportunities to ensure that students are prepared for professional practice.

3.8 Planned coordination and links between the school and the agency/field placement setting.6

3.9 Provision of orientation for fieldwork supervisors or instructors.

3.10 Appointment of field supervisors or instructors who are qualified and experienced, as determined by the development status of the social work profession in any given country, and provision of orientation for fieldwork supervisors or instructors.

3.11 Provision for the inclusion and participation of field instructors in curriculum development.

3.12 A partnership between the educational institution and the agency (where applicable) and service users in decision-making regarding field education and the evaluation of student’s fieldwork performance.

3.13 Making available, to fieldwork instructors or supervisors, a field instruction manual that details its fieldwork standards, procedures, assessment standards/criteria, and expectations.

3.14 Ensuring that adequate and appropriate resources to meet the needs of the fieldwork component of the programme, are made available.

4. Standards With Regard to Core Curricula

In respect to core curricula, schools should aspire toward the following:

4.1 An identification of and selection for inclusion in the programme curricula, as determined by local, national, and/or regional/international needs and priorities.

4.2 Notwithstanding the provision of 4.1 there are certain core curricula that may be seen to be universally applicable. Thus the school should ensure that social work students, by the end of their first Social Work professional qualification, have had exposure to the following core curricula, which are organised into four conceptual components:

4.1.1 Domain of the Social Work Profession

  • A critical understanding of how socio structural inadequacies, discrimination, oppression, and social, political, and economic injustices impact human functioning and development at all levels, including the global.

  • Knowledge of human behaviour and development and of the social environment, with particular emphasis on the person-in-environment transaction, life-span development, and the interaction among biological, psychological, sociostructural, economic, political, cultural, and spiritual factors in shaping human development and behaviour.

  • (p.507)
  • Knowledge of how traditions, culture, beliefs, religions, and customs influence human functioning and development at all levels, including how these might constitute resources and/or obstacles to growth and development.

  • A critical understanding of social work’s origins and purposes.

  • Understanding of country-specific social work origins and development.

  • Sufficient knowledge of related occupations and professions to facilitate interprofessional collaboration and teamwork.

  • Knowledge of social welfare policies (or lack thereof), services, and laws at local, national, and/or regional/international levels, and the roles of social work in policy planning, implementation, and evaluation and in social change processes.

  • A critical understanding of how social stability, harmony, mutual respect, and collective solidarity impact human functioning and development at all levels, including the global, insofar as that stability, harmony, and solidarity are not used to maintain a status quo with regard to infringement of human rights.

4.2.2 Domain of the Social Work Professional

  • The development of the critically self-reflective practitioner, who is able to practice within the value perspective of the social work profession, and shares responsibility with the employer for their well-being and professional development, including the avoidance of “burnout.”

  • The recognition of the relationship between personal life experiences and personal value systems and social work practice.

  • The appraisal of national, regional, and/or international social work codes of ethics and their applicability to context specific realities.

  • Preparation of social workers within a holistic framework, with skills to enable practice in a range of contexts with diverse ethnic, cultural, “racial”7 and gender groups, and other forms of diversities.

  • The development of the social worker who is able to conceptualise social work wisdom derived from different cultures, traditions, and customs in various ethnic groups, insofar that culture, tradition, custom, and ethnicity are not used to violate human rights.

  • The development of the social worker who is able to deal with the complexities, subtleties, multidimensional, ethical, legal, and dialogical aspects of power.8

4.2.3 Methods of Social Work Practice

  • Sufficient practice skills in, and knowledge of, assessment, relationship building, and helping processes to achieve the identified goals of the programme for the purposes of social support, and developmental, protective, preventive, and/or therapeutic intervention—depending on the particular focus of the programme or professional practice orientation.

  • The application of social work values, ethical principles, knowledge, and skills to confront inequality, and social, political, and economic injustices.

  • Knowledge of social work research and skills in the use of research methods, including ethical use of relevant research paradigms, and critical appreciation of the use of research and different sources of knowledge9 about social work practice.

  • The application of social work values, ethical principles, knowledge, and skills to promote care, mutual respect, and mutual responsibility among members of a society.

  • Supervised fieldwork education, with due consideration to the provisions of Item 3 above.

4.2.4 Paradigm of the Social Work Profession

Of particular current salience to professional social work education, training, and practice are the following epistemological paradigms (which are not mutually exclusive) that should inform the core curricula:

  • An acknowledgement and recognition of the dignity, worth, and the uniqueness of all human beings.

  • Recognition of the interconnectedness that exists within and across all systems at micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

  • An emphasis on the importance of advocacy and changes in sociostructural, political, and economic conditions that disempower, marginalise, and exclude people.

  • A focus on capacity-building and empowerment of individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities through a human-centred developmental approach.

  • (p.508)
  • Knowledge about and respect for the rights of service users.

  • Problem-solving and anticipatory socialisation through an understanding of the normative developmental life cycle, and expected life tasks and crises in relation to age-related influences, with due consideration to sociocultural expectations.

  • The assumption, identification, and recognition of strengths and potential of all human beings.

  • An appreciation and respect for diversity in relation to “race,” culture, religion, ethnicity, linguistic origin, gender, sexual orientation, and differential abilities.

5. Standards With Regard to Professional Staff

With regard to professional staff, schools should aspire toward:

5.1 The provision of professional staff, adequate in number and range of expertise, who have appropriate qualifications as determined by the development status of the social work profession in any given country. As far as possible a master’s-level qualification in social work, or a related discipline (in countries where social work is an emerging discipline), should be required.

5.2 The provision of opportunities for staff participation in the development of its core purpose or mission, in the formulation of the objectives and expected outcomes of the programme, and in any other initiative that the school might be involved in.

5.3 Provision for the continuing professional development of its staff, particularly in areas of emerging knowledge.

5.4 A clear statement, where possible, of its equity-based policies or preferences, with regard to considerations of gender, ethnicity, “race,” or any other form of diversity in its recruitment and appointment of staff.

5.5 Sensitivity to languages relevant to the practice of social work in that context.

5.6 In its allocation of teaching, fieldwork instruction, supervision, and administrative workloads, making provision for research and publications.

5.7 Making provision for professional staff, as far as is reasonable and possible, to be involved in the formulation, analysis, and the evaluation of the impact of social policies, and in community outreach initiatives.

6. Standards With Regard to Social Work Students

In respect of social work students, schools should endeavor to reach the following:

6.1 Clear articulation of its admission criteria and procedures.

6.2 Student recruitment, admission, and retention policies that reflect the demographic profile of the locality that the institution is based in with active involvement of practitioners and service users in relevant processes. Due recognition should be given to minority groups10 that are underrepresented and/or underserved. Relevant criminal convictions, involving abuse of others or human rights violations, must be taken into account given the primary responsibility of protecting and empowering service users.

6.3 Provision for student advising that is directed toward student orientation, assessment of the student’s aptitude and motivation for a career in social work, regular evaluation of the student’s performance, and guidance in the selection of courses/modules.

6.4 Ensuring high quality of the educational programme whatever the mode of delivery. In the case of distance, mixed-mode, decentralised, and/or Internet-based teaching, mechanisms for locally based instruction and supervision should be put in place, especially with regard to the fieldwork component of the programme.

6.5 Explicit criteria for the evaluation of student’s academic and fieldwork performance.

6.6 Nondiscrimination against any student on the basis of “race,” colour, culture, ethnicity, linguistic origin, religion, political orientation, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, physical status, and socioeconomic status.

6.7 Grievance and appeals procedures that are accessible, clearly explained to all students, and operated without prejudice to the assessment of students.

7. Standards With Regard to Structure, Administration, Governance, and Resources

With regard to structure, administration, governance, and resources, the school and/or the educational institution should aspire toward the following:

7.1 Social work programmes are implemented through a distinct unit known as a Faculty, School, (p.509) Department, Centre, or Division, which has a clear identity within the educational institution.

7.2 The school has a designated Head or Director who has demonstrated administrative, scholarly, and professional competence, preferably in the profession of social work.

7.3 The Head or Director has primary responsibility for the coordination and professional leadership of the school, with sufficient time and resources to fulfill these responsibilities.

7.4 The school’s budgetary allocation is sufficient to achieve its core purpose or mission and the programme objectives.

7.5 The budgetary allocation is stable enough to ensure programme planning and sustainability.

7.6 There are adequate physical facilities, including classroom space, offices for professional and administrative staff, and space for student, faculty, and field liaison meetings, and the equipment necessary for the achievement of the school’s core purpose or mission and the programme objectives.

7.7 Library and, where possible, Internet resources, necessary to achieve the programme objectives, are made available.

7.8 The necessary clerical and administrative staff are made available for the achievement of the program objectives.

7.9 Where the school offers distance, mixed-mode, decentralised, and/or Internet-based education there is provision of adequate infrastructure, including classroom space, computers, texts, audiovisual equipment, community resources for fieldwork education, and on-site instruction and supervision to facilitate the achievement of its core purpose or mission, programme objectives, and expected outcomes.

7.10 The school plays a key role with regard to the recruitment, appointment, and promotion of staff.

7.11 The school strives toward gender equity in its recruitment, appointment, promotion, and tenure policies and practices.

7.12 In its recruitment, appointment, promotion, and tenure principles and procedures, the school reflects the diversities of the population that it interacts with and serves.

7.13 The decision-making processes of the school reflect participatory principles and procedures.

7.14 The school promotes the development of a cooperative, supportive, and productive working environment to facilitate the achievement of programme objectives.

7.15 The school develops and maintains linkages within the institution, with external organisations, and with service users relevant to its core purpose or mission and its objectives.

8. Standards With Regard to Cultural and Ethnic Diversity and Gender Inclusiveness

With regard to cultural and ethnic diversity schools should aspire toward the following:

8.1 Making concerted and continuous efforts to ensure the enrichment of the educational experience by reflecting cultural and ethnic diversity, and gender analysis in its programme.

8.2 Ensuring that the programme, either through mainstreaming into all courses/modules and/or through a separate course/module, has clearly articulated objectives in respect of cultural and ethnic diversity, and gender analysis.

8.3 Indicating that issues regarding gender analysis and cultural and ethnic diversity are represented in the fieldwork component of the programme.

8.4 Ensuring that social work students are provided with opportunities to develop self-awareness regarding their personal and cultural values, beliefs, traditions, and biases and how these might influence the ability to develop relationships with people, and to work with diverse population groups.

8.5 Promoting sensitivity to, and increasing knowledge about, cultural and ethnic diversity, and gender analysis.

8.6 Minimising group stereotypes and prejudices11 and ensuring that racist behaviours, policies, and structures are not reproduced through social work practice.

8.7 Ensuring that social work students are able to form relationships with, and treat all persons with respect and dignity irrespective of such persons’ cultural and ethnic beliefs and orientations.

8.8 Ensuring that social work students are schooled in a basic human rights approach, as reflected in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the UN Vienna Declaration (1993).12

8.9 Ensuring that the programme makes provision for social work students to know themselves both as individuals and as members of collective sociocultural groups in terms of strengths and areas for further development.

(p.510) 9. Standards With Regard to Values and Ethical Codes of Conduct of the Social Work Profession

In view of the recognition that social work values, ethics, and principles are the core components of the profession, schools should consistently aspire toward:

9.1 Focused and meticulous attention to this aspect of the programme in curricula design and implementation.

9.2 Clearly articulated objectives with regard to social work values, principles, and ethical conduct.

9.3 Registration of professional staff and social work students (insofar as social work students develop working relationships with people via fieldwork placements) with national and/or regional regulatory (whether statutory or nonstatutory) bodies, with defined codes of ethics.13 Members of such bodies are generally bound to the provisions of those codes.

9.4 Ensuring that every social work student involved in fieldwork education, and every professional staff member, is aware of the boundaries of professional practice and what might constitute unprofessional conduct in terms of the code of ethics. Where students violate the code of ethics, programme staff may take necessary and acceptable remedial and/or initial disciplinary measures, or counsel the student out of the programme.

9.5 Taking appropriate action in relation to those social work students and professional staff who fail to comply with the code of ethics, either through an established regulatory social work body, established procedures of the educational institution, and/or through legal mechanisms.

9.6 Ensuring that regulatory social work bodies are broadly representative of the social work profession, including, where applicable, social workers from both the public and private sector, and of the community that it serves, including the direct participation of service users.

9.7 Upholding, as far as is reasonable and possible, the principles of restorative rather than retributive justice14 in disciplining either social work students or professional staff who violate the code of ethics.


(1.) All reference to “social work” in this document is to read as the “social work profession,” and reference to the “social worker” is to read as the “social work professional.”

(2.) Some colleagues have criticized this definition, expressing the view that it did not adequately cover their contexts. A colleague from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University expressed concern about the lack of emphasis on responsibility and the collective within the Western paradigm. He proposed the following additions to the definition (written in bold italics): “The social work profession promotes social change as well as social stability, problem solving as well as harmony in human relationships, and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems and respecting unique traditions and culture in different ethnic groups, social work intervenes at points where people interact with their environments and where individuals go well with their significant others. Principles of human rights and social justice as well as responsibility and collective harmony are fundamental to social work in various countries.”

(3.) Such concepts lack clear definition. Persons who fall into the categories of being “marginalized,” “socially excluded,” “dispossessed,” “vulnerable,” and/or “at risk” may be so defined by individual countries and/or regions.

(4.) Stakeholders include the educational institution itself; the “profession” however organized or informal including practitioners, managers, and academics; social work agencies as potential employers and providers of fieldwork learning opportunities; users of social work services; students; the government where this funds the institution and/or sets standards; and the wider community.

(5.) Self-reflexivity at the most basic level means the ability to question: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Is it in the best interests of the people whom we are working with? Such reflexivity is necessary and desirable irrespective of the context one practices in, whether the emphasis is on, for example, liberal democracy, communitarianism, autocracy or authoritarian sociocultural systems, or democratic socialism.

(6.) Field placements take place in different settings, within formal organisations or through direct links with communities, which may be geographically defined or defined by specific interests. Some schools have established independent student units in communities, which serve as the context for fieldwork.

(7.) The concepts “racial” and “race” are in scare quotes to reflect that they are sociostructural and political constructs, wherein biological differences among people are used by some dominant groups to oppress, exclude, and marginalise groups considered to be of minority status.

(8.) Quoted from Dominelli, L. (2004). Social work: Theory and practice for a changing profession. Polity Press: Cambridge.

(9.) Pawson, R. et al (2003). Types and quality of knowledge in social care. Social Care Institute for Excellence.http://scie.org.uk/sciesproducts/knowledgereviews/KRO3summaryonlineversion071103.pdf.

(10.) “Minority groups” may be defined in terms of numerical representation and/or “minority” in terms of socioeconomic and/or political status. It remains an ambiguous and contested concept and needs to be defined and clarified within specific social contexts.

(11.) While cultural sensitivity may contribute to culturally competent practice, the school must be mindful of the possibility of reinforcing group stereotypes. The school should, therefore, try to ensure that social work students do not use knowledge of a particular group of people to generalize to every person in that group. The school should pay particular attention to both in-group and intergroup variations and similarities.

(12.) Such an approach might facilitate constructive confrontation and change where certain cultural beliefs, values, and traditions violate peoples’ basic human rights. As culture is socially constructed and dynamic, it is subject to deconstruction and change. Such constructive confrontation, deconstruction, and change may be facilitated through a tuning into, and an understanding of particular cultural values, beliefs, and traditions and via critical and reflective dialogue with members of the cultural group vis-à-vis broader human rights issues.

(13.) In many countries voluntary national professional associations play major roles in enhancing the status of social work, and in the development of Codes of Ethics. In some countries voluntary professional associations assume regulatory functions, for example disciplinary procedures in the event of professional malpractice, while in other countries statutory bodies assume such functions.

(14.) Restorative justice reflects the following: a belief that crime violates people and relationships; making the wrong right; seeking justice between victims, offenders, and communities; people are seen to be the victims; emphasis on participation, dialogue, and mutual agreement; is oriented to the future and the development of responsibility. This is opposed to retributive justice, which reflects: a belief that crime violates the State and its laws; a focus on punishment and guilt; justice sought between the State and the offender; the State as victim; authoritarian, technical, and impersonal approaches; and orientation to the past and guilt.