Can Social Workers Fight for Social Justice?

Social workers are the ultimate altruistic professionals. They work long hours for little pay with the goal of making other people’s lives better. Studies on American society have found that at least one in 10 Americans rely heavily on social workers, making their efforts essential to the success of America as a whole.

Inherently, social workers work for social justice; they are devoting their lives to improving others’. However, many social workers want to do more to change the system that disadvantages not only social workers but also their clients. In short, some social workers want to become social justice warriors.

Unfortunately, many social workers are employed by the government, and thus, they feel uncomfortable (or in some states are directly prohibited from) speaking directly about their interest in perpetuating social change.

If you are a social worker who wants to do more to fight for social justice, here are a few ways you can legally contribute to the movement:

Develop a Social Work Philosophy

For many social workers, their career is little more than a stable paycheck. Many social workers have lower-than-average job satisfaction because they don’t focus their attention on how they are improving their clients’ lives or benefiting their communities; instead, they bemoan their long hours, low pay and lower prestige. Indeed, social workers do not receive the rewards they deserve, but baked into their work responsibilities is the power to manifest real change in individuals and the greater public. This is because social workers have direct contact with communities that most benefit from social justice efforts.

To do the most good — and to feel like you are doing the most good — you should develop a philosophy to guide your social work. The tenets of your philosophy might include:

  • Dignity. You should respect the inherent dignity and worth of all people, and you should work against organizations that attempt to remove dignity through exploitation or discrimination.
  • Solidarity. Relationships are vehicles for change. Thus, by retaining strong relationships among people at all levels, you can facilitate positive change for those who need it.
  • Common good. Your ultimate goal is the well-being of all, though you might accomplish this by working with individuals.
  • Peace. Social justice works to establish peace amongst all people, so you should strive to end violence and promote peace at all levels.
  • Priority. While some social workers do assist the privileged, those interested in social justice must focus on the poor and vulnerable. Your aim should be to establish social, economic, political and cultural equity with your clients.

These are merely examples of a social work philosophy that might guide your practice toward social justice efforts. You should consider the social justice causes most important to you when you craft your philosophy, so you can be certain to incorporate tenets that will help you contribute to the issues that ignite your passion.

Gain More Power Within Social Work

Those with more authority are better equipped to effect change. Thus, you should work to enhance your position within your social work sphere. One of the best ways to do this is to return to school for a master’s in social work. This will likely rocket you into management positions, allowing you to direct other social workers to participate in social justice efforts. Social workers with advanced credentials are also qualified for clinical positions, which boast high pay, more prestige and more power within organizations.

You don’t have to hit pause on your social work practice to return to school for a master’s degree. Instead, you can enroll in an online MSW program, which is flexible to your busy schedule. Then, once you graduate, you will have the skills, knowledge and authority to be a better social justice warrior in your career field.

Pivot Into NGO Work

If you do work in a government agency that aggressively monitors social justice activity, you might need to change your environment to accomplish the good works you desire. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-profits that have no government influence. Most social justice organizations that focus on social, advocacy and human rights work are NGOs because this type of non-profit is permitted to promote social and political change.

Social workers are effective social justice warriors because their efforts inherently benefit those at risk and in need. However, social workers who want to contribute more directly to social justice causes might need to modify how they practice (and where) to make a bigger impact. You can be a social justice warrior in social work — but you should be prepared to make changes to do the most for your community.

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