The social in social work is that part of our practice that helps individuals and families, as well as groups, organizations, and communities, address the social conditions that shape their behavior and opportunities. Attention to the interplay between the individual and the social environment is social work's great strength as a profession, and a feature that distinguishes it from other kindred helping professions. An expanded view of helping—beyond therapy— invites affirmation of social work's historic commitment to social justice: to serve and advocate for the victims of modern industrial global society and to contribute to developing supporting communities. In our view, social work's continuing legitimacy as a profession rests on its commitment to social justice and community welfare. This commitment is especially important during this age of rampart individualism, economic globalization, and slavish obedience to a market economy ideology with its concentration of income, wealth, and social power at the top. We see a mission for the profession to address the diminishing middle class, demonization of the poor, social retrenchment and welfare state devolution, restriction of civil rights and liberties in the name of patriotism, and pathologizing of diverse human behavior as reflected in an expanding Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We continue to argue that revitalization of communities and our social connectedness are critical requisites for a socially and economically healthy United States. Social work must renew its commitment to social justice and community residents. Our drift away from social justice and community has not resulted in great status, income, or well-being for social work, its clients, and the community.
Others in social service and community work hold similar sentiments. At a recent national gathering of the United Neighborhood Center Association (UNCA), board president Tony Wagner passionately shared his concerns. He stated,
[In the past, ] ideals such as grassroots democracy, fairness, justice, respect and dignity for all, especially the poor and outcast, and the belief that people from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds could work together to better themselves, their families and their neighborhoods, kept us firmly rooted in the quest for bringing about a “nation of neighbors”. … [But then, seeking funds, ] we “over-professionalized” our work, we learned to speak the language of corporate management, we categorized and specialized, and worst of all, we relegated the people we serve to the status of “client”. … We need to gear up, to articulate a clearer vision and move to new heights. Today's settlement houses and their national organization need to get a lot more edgy, a lot harder and leaner. We need to tolerate less bullshit, confront more often, and speak out with more pride and confidence. The movement needs to pay more attention to public policy and mobi-