Domestic Violence and Social Work Education: What Do We Know, What Do We Need to Know? (Guest Editorial)

By Danis, Fran S.; Lockhart, Lettie | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence and Social Work Education: What Do We Know, What Do We Need to Know? (Guest Editorial)


Danis, Fran S., Lockhart, Lettie, Journal of Social Work Education


"THE BATTERED WOMEN'S MOVEMENT went downhill when the MSWs took over." Ouch. Why do you say that? I gingerly asked. The state domestic violence advocate stared at me as if to say, "You don't know?," and then listed off a number of complaints. "Most of the social workers I've met only see domestic violence as a mental health problem that individual counseling can solve, and they come out of school not knowing anything about the issue. We thought by now social workers would at least know why women stay and why men hit. That's what we call domestic violence 101. It's exasperating that professional social workers still ask the same victim-blaming questions as the general public. It's been almost 30 years since we began this movement. Where have y'all been?"

Indeed, where have we all been? Why did this generally knowledgeable person expect that social workers would receive information about domestic violence in their academic preparation for professional practice? Perhaps it seemed to her like a logical assumption. After all, she knew about our profession's historic mission to address the needs of vulnerable and oppressed persons. Perhaps she thought that we would recognize that the oppression and vulnerability that happens behind closed doors is just as compelling as the oppression perpetrated by societal institutions. Perhaps she thought that teaching about domestic violence would give social work educators an opportunity to address a major national and international human rights issue that has public health, economic, and criminal justice consequences? Perhaps her assumption about the fit between social work and domestic violence was correct, but was there any basis for her assertions about our collective lack of attention to this subject?

Let us explore the evidence. What indicators are available to assess our profession's overall capacity to address domestic violence both in and out of the classroom? There are published resources including journal articles, reports, standards, and textbooks. We could learn from how practitioners assess their academic preparation for addressing domestic violence and from how clients view social work assistance. We can also review the extent to which domestic violence is included in both undergraduate and graduate curricula and whether there are persons with expertise in this area on social work faculties.

What is the current capacity of the profession, and in particular social work education, to address this issue? What does the social work literature say about social work's response to domestic violence? Are there professional standards and competencies for addressing domestic violence in a number of different field settings? Do social workers feel academically prepared to address domestic violence? What articles have been published in the Journal of Social Work Education? What discussions have we had regarding how to infuse content on domestic violence into the foundation curriculum or whether this topic should be treated as an elective? Do we know how many social work programs integrate domestic violence content into their curricula? Or how many programs offer electives in this area? Are there published studies on the effectiveness of various teaching methodologies and approaches? What about our textbooks? Is the information about domestic violence in social work textbooks accurate? Do our textbooks provide enough information for students to learn the complexities of this issue? What about expertise within social work faculties? Does every school have at least one faculty member with expertise in domestic violence or violence against women? If not, do social work programs recruit faculty with this expertise like they recruit for expertise in child welfare, substance abuse, or gerontology?

What Does the Literature Say About Social Work's Response to Domestic Violence?

From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the social work profession earned a reputation as uncaring, uninformed, and unhelpful to battered women. …

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Domestic Violence and Social Work Education: What Do We Know, What Do We Need to Know? (Guest Editorial)
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