Community practice is the core of social work and necessary for all social workers, whether generalists, specialists, therapists, or activists. Although usually associated with community organization, social action, social planning (Rothman & Tropman, 1987; Wells & Gamble, 1995), and other macropractice activities, direct service and clinical social workers engage in community practice when they make client referrals, assess community resources, develop client social support systems, and advocate to policymakers for programs to meet clients' needs. Social work claims an ecological perspective. Social ecology is about community. Whittaker, Garbarino, and associates (1983) persuasively argue that “the ecological-systems perspective … will compel us to do several things: (1) view the client and the situation—the ‘ecological unit’—as the proper focus for assessment and intervention, (2) see the teaching of environmental coping skills as the primary purpose of helping, and (3) place environmental modification and the provision of concrete services on an equal plane with direct, face-to-face interventions with clients” (p. 59). Indeed, as this text illustrates, social work practice is about using the community and using naturally occurring and socially constructed networks within the social environment to provide social support.
This chapter presents an overview of community practice, explores our conception of community practice as social work practice, reviews the importance of community practice knowledge and skill for all social workers, describes the generic social work community problemsolving strategy and its use in community practice by clinical and community development social workers, and examines the ethical constraints of community practice.
Community practice is the application of practice skills to alter the behavioral patterns of community groups, organizations, and institutions or people's relationships and interactions with these entities. Netting, Kettner, and McMurtry (1993) conceive of community practice as part of macropractice. They define macropractice as the “professional directed intervention designed to bring about planned change in organizations and communities” (p. 3). Community practice as macropractice includes the skills associated with community organization and development, social planning and social action, and social administration.
Community organization and the related strategy of community development is the practice of helping a community or part of a community, such as a neighborhood or a group of people with a common interest, to be a more effective, efficient, and supportive social environment for nurturing people and their social relationships. Ross (1967), an early sponsor of bringing community organization into the social