Addressing Race in Social Work 

Social workers have an essential duty toward clients to ensure services are delivered free of racial bias. This means combating issues of prejudice wherever they find them—be it within agencies, institutions or even themselves.

Pursuing Racial Justice in Social Work Services

Social justice is far from a “done deal” for minorities, who continue to experience discrimination in housing, education, employment, accumulation of wealth, mental and physical health care, criminal justice, politics and media.

Diverse group of social work students Between 2014 and 2060, the population of the U.S. is expected to grow to 417 million. By 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group (any other than non-Hispanic White); by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation’s total population is projected to be foreign born, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

The National Association of Social Work (NASW) Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice reports that “Although the majority of social workers are white/Caucasian, the demographics of the client population with whom social workers work fall within the broad category of disenfranchised populations, including a disproportionate number of people of color.”

The report further notes that due to the underrepresentation of minority social workers within the profession, there is the increased likelihood that practitioners who are “motivated to work with diverse populations” will find greater employment opportunities.

The Social Workers Role and Responsibility

Addressing and combating issues of racism in the social worker environment is imperative, particularly when dealing with already marginalized individuals, groups or communities.

Social workers can utilize educational resources to help ensure their clients receive equal treatment and also to properly identify and resolve any racism in social work delivery they encounter within services or agencies.

They have a responsibility to recognize that structural racism occurs and to use this awareness to counter its influence in all aspects of social work, ranging from community organization and consultation to social and political action, research and policy development.

Ethics and Standards in Social Work

The Code of Ethics developed by the NASW stipulates social workers should seek to challenge social injustice and focus on issues of poverty, unemployment and discrimination. They need to promote sensitivity to, and knowledge about, oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity, and ensure access to needed information, services and resources for all people.

A survey of Racial Attitudes in White Social Workers found that one-third of participants fell within negative racial attitudes, which raises questions about their ability to provide culturally sensitive services.

Social workers must fight racism not only outside, but also within, social work — its services and agencies and, if need be, within themselves.

How Social Work Education Promotes Social Justice

Master of Social Work programs now emphasize the NASW’s Standards and Code of Ethics as part of their curricula, with core courses on cultural competencies addressing national and international developments.

As multiracial competence in social work [link to: Developing Multiracial Competence in Social Work article] is an essential part of being a social worker today, advanced social work education providers should likewise include courses on racism.

Study should include issues such as poverty and inequality in the U.S., and take a hard look at socioeconomic dimensions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, immigration status, disability, age and family structure. This will help students explore personal meaning in the broader context of their professional values of multiculturalism, empowerment and globalization.

Discover how an advanced education can help you become a better, more informed social worker. Explore your options today.