Social Work

The Core Competencies of Social Work Practice

The Core Competencies of Social Work Practice
Though all accredited institutions follow the core competencies, each social work school has its own interpretation. Image from Unsplash
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert May 7, 2018

These "competencies" designate areas of social work practice that define the profession, and delineate practice objectives.

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You may be considering a career in social work because of your desire to help others and make the world a better place. Or perhaps you want to engage in advocacy and social activism. If so, a degree in social work may be right for you. But as you research graduate programs, you may want to learn more about the professional requirements for becoming a licensed social worker, and what’s involved in earning a degree.

Like medicine and law, the social work profession is regulated. Most employers require that Master of Social Work (MSW) graduates be licensed to practice. To be eligible for licensure, students need to meet the graduation requirements of an accredited graduate program.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the accrediting agency providing oversight of all social work programs. To ensure a national standard of knowledge and skills, it mandates a curriculum of 10 core competencies of social work practice and behaviors. Every accredited CSWE program includes this foundational course of study, which is covered both in the classroom and in the fieldwork experience.

Although publications like US News & World Report rank MSW programs (the MSW rankings rely on sparse criteria and are of limited use), it’s important to note this universality of study. This means that a high quality education can be found at any accredited school, regardless of its spot in the rankings.

These “competencies” designate areas of social work practice that define the profession, and delineate practice objectives. You will note that these competencies relate to topics such as ethics as well as mission. For example, the third competency is that social workers have a duty to advance human rights and socio-economic justice. If you are motivated to make a difference in the world, you have found the right profession.

In addition to ensuring standards of practice across all accredited CSWE schools, these core competencies help social workers better understand their role and have a greater impact. Finally, these standards legitimize social work as a data-driven and knowledge-based profession.

The CSWE Core Competencies are listed below:

  1. Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.
  2. Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice.
  3. Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgement.
  4. Engage diversity and difference in practice.
  5. Advance human rights and socio-economic justice.
  6. Engage in research informed practice, and practice-informed research.
  7. Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment.
  8. Engage in policy practice to advance social and economic well-being, and to deliver effective social work service.
  9. Respond to contexts that shape practice.
  10. Engage, assess, intervene, and educate with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.

Though all accredited institutions follow the core competencies, each social work school has its own interpretation. You will need to do your homework and research the individual programs to which you are applying.

Many people enter the social work profession wanting to help others. But the notion of helping is vague and undefined. And there are many “helping”-related professions, such as nursing and teaching. What differentiates social workers from other helping professionals? What differentiates social worker from psychologists?

These social worker competencies draw a circle around the profession. These ten principles say, this is what social work entails.

This list is extremely important to social work study and practice. Having a mandated focus structures the idea of “help” for social workers. It allows social workers to go out in the community and have the significant, targeted impact they trained for.

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About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Social WorkSocial Work & Counseling & Psychology