Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Do Social Work Students Assess and Address Economic Barriers to Clients Implementing Agreed Tasks?

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Do Social Work Students Assess and Address Economic Barriers to Clients Implementing Agreed Tasks?

Article excerpt

SOCIAL WORK HAS HISTORICALLY defined itself as a profession that understands and addresses the role of environmental influences such as poverty on individual and group well being (Brieland, 1995). Beginning with Bartlett's (1958) working definition of social work practice, attempts to define the profession have consistently emphasized the importance of the person, the environment, and person-environment interactions. Recent definitions of social work practice also underscore the commitment of the profession to vulnerable, poor, and oppressed people (Gibelman, 1999). Given social work's historic emphasis on the importance of environmental influences such as poverty, and the claim that this emphasis is a distinguishing mark of the profession, social work educators might assume that their curricula prepare students to be sensitive to the economic circumstances of clients. The vignette research presented in this article examined that assumption. That is, were the MSW students able to determine whether economic barriers to a client's implementing an agreed-on task were adequately assessed and addressed by the social worker depicted in the vignette?

Social work's commitment to the person-environment perspective and to addressing the basic needs of the vulnerable, oppressed, and poor is reflected in the educational policy and accreditation standards of the Council on Social Work Education (2001), as well as in the code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (1999). The Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards of the Council on Social Work Education mandates that social work programs include content on populations-at-risk, social and economic justice, and strategies to ameliorate risk factors that result in populations being denied access to social resources. The CSWE accreditation standards also require schools of social work to present students with content that prepares them for practice, such as identifying client problems, needs, and resources; gathering and assessing information; and planning effective interventions.

The importance of assessing economic resources and addressing economic barriers before choosing or implementing client interventions is incorporated into various practice models frequently taught in social work courses. In behavioral approaches, for example, having sufficient economic resources is considered a prerequisite or maintaining antecedent if particular economic resources are needed to perform particular behaviors (Spiegler & Guevremont, 2003). Granvold (1994) includes social-environmental factors, such as opportunity and the limitation and availability of resources, as assessment components in cognitive practice models. When engaging clients in problem solving, D'Zurilla (1986) emphasizes that determining whether a client has the needed skills and resources to carry out the selected solution to the presenting problem is a critical step in the process.

Practice models specifically developed for social work courses also incorporate content on the importance of assessing and addressing a client's economic resources during the initial assessment and/or prior to intervention. These approaches include ecological (Germain & Gitterman, 1996), task centered (Epstein & Brown, 2002), person in environment (Kemp, Whittaker, & Tracy, 1997), ecobehavioral (Mattaini, 1997), and radical (Payne, 1997). Basic social work practice texts (e.g., Gambrill, 1997) and books on specific methods, such as case management (e.g., Frankel & Gelman, 2004) and family therapy (e.g., Franklin & Jordan, 1999), also include related content.

Despite social work's historic emphasis, educational policies, and ethical mandates to understand and address poverty and its influences, we could locate no research that examined whether social work students assess and address the economic resources of clients. Several related studies have been conducted with practicing social workers, and the findings are not encouraging. …

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