Global standards for social work education and training

Adopted at the General Assemblies of IASSW and IFSW, Adelaide, Australia in 2004.  

The process of developing global standards for the education and training of the social work  profession1  is  as  important  as  the  product;  the  actual  standards  that  have  been developed.  In undertaking such an initiative it was also vital that minority opinions were considered  and  reflected  in  the  development  of  the  document.    Thus,  Appendix  A describes  fully  the  processes  that  were  involved  in  developing  the  standards,  and  it documents the minority views that were expressed.  Given the centrality of the process-product dialectic, and the fact that the principles underscoring the standards emerged, to  a  large  extent,  out  of  the  processes,  it  is  vital  that  the  standards  are  read  in conjunction with Appendices A and B.  Appendix B provides the concluding comments and discusses the kinds of caution that must be exercised in the use of the document. Having duly considered all the concerns expressed in Appendices A and B, and having considered the need to take into account context-specific realities, and the ambiguities surrounding  the  education  and  practice  of  social  work  professionals,  this  document details  nine  sets  of  standards  in  respect  of:  the  school’s  core  purpose  or  mission statement;   programme   objectives   and   outcomes;   programme   curricula   including fieldwork;   core   curricula;   professional   staff;   social    work   students;   structure, administration,  governance  and  resources;  cultural  diversity;  and  social  work  values and  ethics.  As  a  point  of  departure,  the  international  definition  of  the  social  work profession  is  accepted,  and  the  core  purposes  and  functions  of  social  work  are summarised. 

In  July  2001,  both  the  IASSW  and  the  IFSW  reached  agreement  on  adopting  the following international definition of social work: 
The  social  work profession  promotes  social  change,  problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to  enhance  well-being. Utilising  theories  of  human  behaviour  and social  systems,  social  work  intervenes  at  the  points  where  people interact with their environments.  Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.
Both the  definition  and  the  commentaries  that follow  are set  within the parameters  of broad  ethical  principles  that  cannot  be  refuted  on  an  ideological  level. However,  the fact that social work is operationalised differently both within nation states and regional boundaries, and across the world, with its control and status-quo maintaining functions being dominant  in some contexts, cannot be disputed.  Lorenz (2001) considered the 
ambiguities, tensions and contradictions of the social work profession, which have to be constantly negotiated and re-negotiated, rather than resolved, to constitute its success and challenge.  It is, perhaps, these very tensions that lend to the richness of the local-global  dialectic,  and  provide  legitimacy  for  the  development  of  global  standards. According  to  Lorenz  (2001:12):  “It  is  its  paradigmatic  openness  that  gives  this 
profession the chance to engage with very specific (and constantly changing) historical and  political  contexts  while  at  the  same  time  striving  for  a  degree  of  universality, scientific reliability, professional autonomy and moral accountability.” 

Social work, in various parts of the world, is targeted at interventions for social support and for developmental, protective, preventive and/or therapeutic purposes. Drawing on available   literature,  the  feedback  from   colleagues   during  consultations   and  the commentary on the international definition of social work, the following core purposes of social work have been identified: 

  • Facilitate the inclusion of marginalised, socially excluded, dispossessed, vulnerable and at-risk groups of people.
  • Address and challenge barriers, inequalities and injustices that exist in society.
  • Form short and longer-term working relationships with and mobilise individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities to enhance their well-being and their problem-solving capacities.
  • Assist and educate people to obtain services and resources in their communities.
  • Formulate and implement policies and programmes that enhance people’s well-being,  promote  development  and  human  rights,  and  promote  collective  social harmony  and  social  stability,  insofar  as  such  stability  does  not  violate  human 
  • Encourage people to engage in advocacy with regard to pertinent local, national, regional and/or international concerns.
  • Act with and/or for people to advocate the formulation and targeted implementation  of  policies  that  are  consistent  with  the  ethical  principles  of  the profession.
  • Act with and/or for people to advocate changes in those policies and structural conditions  that  maintain  people  in  marginalised,  dispossessed  and  vulnerable positions,  and  those  that  infringe  the  collective  social  harmony  and  stability  of various ethnic groups, insofar as such stability does not violate human rights.
  • Work towards the protection of people who are not in a position to do so themselves,  for  example  children  and  youth  in  need  of  care  and  persons experiencing  mental  illness  or  mental  retardation,  within  the  parameters  of 
    accepted and ethically sound legislation.
  • Engage in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development, and to effect change by critiquing and eliminating inequalities.
  • Enhance stable, harmonious and mutually respectful societies that do not violate people’s human rights.
  • Promote respect for traditions, cultures, ideologies, beliefs and religions amongst different  ethnic  groups  and  societies,  insofar  as  these  do  not  conflict  with  the fundamental human rights of people. 
  • Plan, organise, administer and manage programmes and organisations dedicated to any of the purposes delineated above. 

All schools should aspire toward the development of a core purpose statement or a mission statement which: 
1.1      Is  clearly  articulated  so  those  major  stakeholders4  who  have  an  investment  in such a core purpose or mission understand it. 
1.2      Reflects the values and the ethical principles of social work. 
1.3      Reflects aspiration towards equity with regard to the demographic profile of the institution’s   locality.   The  core  purpose   or  mission  statement  should  thus incorporate such issues as  ethnic and  gender representation on the faculty,  as well as in recruitment and admission procedures for students.  
1.4      Respects  the  rights  and  interests  of  service  users  and  their  participation  in  all aspects of delivery of programmes. 

In  respect  of  programme  objectives  and  expected  outcomes,  schools  should endeavour to reach the following:  
2.1      A  specification  of  its  programme  objectives  and  expected  higher  education outcomes. 
2.2      A  reflection  of  the  values  and  ethical  principles  of  the  profession  in  its programme design and implementation. 
2.3     Identification  of  the  programme’s  instructional  methods,  to  ensure  they  support the  achievement  of  the  cognitive  and  affective  development  of  social  work students. 
2.4      An  indication  of  how  the  programme  reflects  the  core  knowledge,  processes, values  and  skills  of  the  social  work  profession,  as  applied  in  context-specific realities. 
2.5      An  indication  of  how  an  initial  level  of  proficiency  with  regard  to  self-reflective use of social work values, knowledge and skills is to be attained by social work students. 
2.6      An indication of how the programme meets the requirements of nationally and/or regionally/internationally  defined  professional  goals,  and  how  the  programme addresses local, national and/or regional/international developmental needs and priorities.   
2.7      As  social  work  does  not  operate  in  a  vacuum,  the  programme  should  take account  of  the  impact  of  interacting  cultural,  economic,  communication,  social, political and psychological global factors. 
2.8      Provision of an educational preparation that is relevant to beginning social work professional practice with individuals, families, groups and/or communities in any given context. 
2.9      Self-evaluation  to  assess  the  extent  to  which  its  programme  objectives  and expected outcomes are being achieved. 
2.10    External peer evaluation as far as is reasonable and financially viable. This may be  in  the  form  of  external  peer  moderation  of  assignments  and/or  written examinations  and  dissertations,  and  external  peer  review  and  assessment  of curricula.  
2.11    The conferring of a distinctive social work qualification at the certificate, diploma, first  degree  or  post-graduate  level  as  approved  by  national  and/or  regional qualification authorities, where such authorities exist. 

With  regard  to  standards  regarding  programme  curricula,  schools  should consistently aspire towards the following: 
3.1 The  curricula  and  methods  of  instruction  being  consistent  with  the  school’s programme objectives, its expected outcomes and its mission statement. 
3.2      Clear plans for the organisation, implementation and evaluation of the theory and field education components of the programme. 
3.3      Involvement of service users in the planning and delivery of programmes. 
3.4      Recognition  and  development  of  indigenous  or  locally  specific  social work education and practice from the traditions and cultures of different ethnic groups and  societies,  insofar  that  such  traditions  and  cultures  do  not  violate  human rights. 
3.5      Specific attention to the constant review and development of the curricula. 
3.6      Ensuring that the curricula help social work students to develop skills of critical thinking and scholarly attitudes of reasoning, openness to new experiences and paradigms, and commitment to life-long learning. 
3.7      Field  education  should  be  sufficient  in  duration  and  complexity  of  tasks  and learning  opportunities  to  ensure  that students  are  prepared  for  professional practice.  
3.8      Planned  co-ordination  and  links  between  the  school  and  the  agency/field placement setting.
3.9      Provision of orientation for fieldwork supervisors or instructors. 
3.10    Appointment   of   field   supervisors   or   instructors   who   are   qualified   and experienced,  as  determined  by  the  development  status  of  the  social  work profession  in  any  given  country,  and  provision  of  orientation  for  fieldwork supervisors or instructors. 
3.11    Provision  for  the  inclusion  and  participation  of  field  instructors  in  curriculum development. 
3.12   A  partnership  between  the  educational  institution  and  the  agency  (where applicable)  and  service  users  in  decision-making  regarding  field  education  and the evaluation of student’s fieldwork performance. 
3.13    Making  available,  to  fieldwork  instructors  or  supervisors,  a  field  instruction manual    that    details    its    fieldwork    standards,    procedures,    assessment standards/criteria and expectations. 
3.14    Ensuring  that  adequate  and  appropriate  resources,  to  meet  the  needs  of  the fieldwork component of the programme, are made available. 

In respect core curricula, schools should aspire toward the following:  
4.1      An  identification  of  and  selection  for  inclusion  in  the  programme  curricula,  as determined by local, national and/or regional/international needs and priorities. 
4.2      Notwithstanding the provision of 4.1 there are certain core curricula that may be seen to be universally applicable. Thus the school should ensure that social work students, by the end of their first Social Work professional qualification, have had exposure to the following core curricula which are organised into four conceptual components:  
4.1.1   Domain of the Social Work Profession 

  • A critical understanding of how socio-structural inadequacies, discrimination, oppression,   and   social,   political   and   economic   injustices   impact   human functioning and development at all levels, including the global.
  • Knowledge of human behaviour and development and of the social environment, with  particular  emphasis  on  the  person-in-environment  transaction,  life-span development   and   the   interaction   among   biological,   psychological,   socio-structural,  economic,  political,  cultural  and  spiritual  factors  in  shaping human development and behaviour. 
  • Knowledge of how traditions, culture, beliefs, religions and customs influence human  functioning  and  development  at  all  levels, including  how  these  might constitute resources and/or obstacles to growth and development.
  • A critical understanding of social work’s origins and purposes.
  • Understanding of country specific social work origins and development.
  • Sufficient knowledge of related occupations and professions to facilitate inter-professional collaboration and teamwork.
  • Knowledge of social welfare policies (or lack thereof), services and laws at local, national and/or regional/international levels, and the roles of social work in policy planning, implementation, evaluation and in social change processes. 
  • A critical understanding of how social stability, harmony, mutual respect and collective  solidarity  impact  human  functioning  and  development  at  all  levels, including the global, insofar as that stability, harmony and solidarity are not used to maintain a status quo with regard to infringement of human rights. 
    4.2.2   Domain of the Social Work Professional:   
  • The development of the critically self-reflective practitioner, who is able to practice  within  the  value  perspective  of  the  social  work  profession,  and  shares responsibility   with   the   employer   for   their   well   being   and   professional development, including the avoidance of ‘burn-out’.
  • The recognition of the relationship between personal life experiences and personal value systems and social work practice.
  • The appraisal of national, regional and/or international social work codes of ethics and their applicability to context specific realities.
  • Preparation of social workers within a holistic framework, with skills to enable practice in a range of contexts with diverse ethnic, cultural, ‘racial’7 and gender groups, and other forms of diversities. 
  • The development of the social worker who is able to conceptualise social work wisdom derived from different cultures, traditions and customs in various ethnic groups, insofar that culture, tradition, custom and ethnicity are not used to violate human rights.
  • The development of the social worker who is able to deal with the complexities, subtleties, multi-dimensional, ethical, legal and dialogical aspects of power. 
    4.2.3   Methods of Social Work Practice: 
  • Sufficient practice skills in, and knowledge of, assessment, relationship building and helping processes to achieve the identified goals of the programme for the purposes  of  social  support,  and  developmental,  protective,  preventive  and/or therapeutic intervention – depending on the particular focus of the programme or professional practice orientation.
  • The application of social work values, ethical principles, knowledge and skills to confront inequality, and social, political and economic injustices.
  • Knowledge of social work research and skills in the use of research methods, including ethical use of relevant research paradigms, and critical appreciation of the  use  of  research  and  different  sources  of  knowledge9  about  social  work practice.
  • The application of social work values, ethical principles, knowledge and skills to promote care, mutual  respect and mutual responsibility amongst members of a society.

*  Supervised fieldwork education, with due consideration to the provisions of Item 3 above.  
4.2.4   Paradigm of the Social Work Profession: 
Of particular current salience to professional social work education, training and practice  are  the  following  epistemological  paradigms  (which  are  not  mutually exclusive), that should inform the core curricula: 

  • An acknowledgement and recognition of the dignity, worth and the uniqueness of all human beings. 
  • Recognition of the interconnectedness that exists within and across all systems at micro, mezzo and macro levels. 
  • An emphasis on the importance of advocacy and changes in socio-structural, political  and  economic  conditions  that  disempower,  marginalise  and  exclude people. 
  • A focus on capacity-building and empowerment of individuals, families, groups, organisations   and   communities   through   a   human-centred   developmental approach. 
  • Knowledge about and respect for the rights of service users.
  • Problem-solving and anticipatory socialisation through an understanding of the normative developmental life cycle, and expected life tasks and crises in relation to age-related influences, with due consideration to socio-cultural expectations.
  • The assumption, identification and recognition of strengths and potential of all human beings.
  • An appreciation and respect for diversity in relation to ‘race’, culture, religion, ethnicity, linguistic origin, gender, sexual orientation and differential abilities. 

With regard to professional staff, schools should aspire towards: 
5.1     The provision of professional staff, adequate in number and range of expertise, who have appropriate qualifications as determined by the development status of the  social  work  profession  in  any  given  country.    As  far  as  possible  a  Masters level qualification in social work, or a related discipline (in countries where social work is an emerging discipline), should be required.  
5.2     The provision of opportunities for staff participation in the development of its core purpose or mission, in the formulation of the objectives and expected outcomes of the programme, and in any other initiative that the school might be involved in. 
5.3     Provision for  the continuing professional  development  of  its staff, particularly  in areas of emerging knowledge.  
5.4     A  clear  statement,  where  possible,  of  its  equity-based  policies  or  preferences, with  regard  to  considerations  of  gender,  ethnicity,  ‘race’  or  any  other  form  of diversity in its recruitment and appointment of staff. 
5.5     Sensitivity to languages relevant to the practice of social work in that context. 
5.6     In its allocation of teaching, fieldwork instruction, supervision and administrative workloads, making provision for research and publications. 
5.7     Making provision for professional staff, as far as is reasonable and possible, to be involved in the formulation, analysis and the evaluation of the impact of social policies, and in community outreach initiatives.  

In  respect  of  social  work  students,  schools  should  endeavor  to  reach  the following:  
6.1      Clear articulation of its admission criteria and procedures.  
6.2     Student   recruitment,   admission   and   retention   policies   that   reflect   the demographic  profile  of  the  locality  that  the  institution  is  based  in  with  active involvement  of  practitioners  and  service  users  in  relevant  processes.    Due recognition  should  be  given  to  minority  groups10  that  are  under-represented and/or under-served. Relevant criminal convictions, involving abuse of others or 
human   rights   violations,   must   be   taken   into   account   given   the   primary responsibility of protecting and empowering service users. 
6.3     Provision  for  student  advising  that  is  directed  toward  student  orientation, assessment of the student’s aptitude and motivation for a career in social work, regular evaluation of the student’s performance and guidance in the selection of courses/modules. 
6.4     Ensuring  high  quality  of  the educational  programme  whatever  the  mode  of delivery.  In  the  case  of  distance,  mixed-mode,  decentralised  and/or  internet-based teaching, mechanisms for locally-based instruction and supervision should be  put  in  place,  especially  with  regard  to  the  fieldwork  component  of  the programme.  
6.5     Explicit   criteria   for   the   evaluation   of   student’s   academic   and   fieldwork performance. 
6.6     Non-discrimination  against  any  student  on  the  basis  of  ‘race’,  colour,  culture, ethnicity, linguistic origin, religion, political orientation, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, physical status and socio-economic status. 
6.7     Grievance and appeals procedures which are accessible, clearly explained to all students and operated without prejudice to the assessment of students. 

With  regard  to  structure,  administration,  governance  and  resources,  the  school and/or the educational institution should aspire towards the following: 
7.1      Social  work  programmes  are  implemented  through  a  distinct  unit  known  as  a Faculty, School, Department, Centre or Division, which has a clear identity within the educational institution. 
7.2      The   school   has   a   designated   Head   or   Director   who   has   demonstrated administrative,   scholarly   and   professional   competence,   preferably   in   the profession of social work. 
7.3      The  Head  or  Director  has  primary  responsibility  for  the  co-ordination  and professional leadership of the school, with sufficient time and resources to fulfil these responsibilities. 
7.4      The  school’s  budgetary  allocation  is  sufficient  to  achieve  its  core  purpose  or mission and the programme objectives. 
7.5      The  budgetary  allocation  is  stable  enough  to  ensure  programme  planning  and sustainability. 
7.6      There  are  adequate  physical  facilities,  including  classroom  space,  offices  for professional  and  administrative  staff  and  space  for  student,  faculty  and  field-liaison  meetings,  and  the  equipment  necessary  for  the  achievement  of  the 
school’s core purpose or mission and the programme objectives.  
7.7      Library  and,  where  possible,  internet  resources,  necessary  to  achieve  the programme objectives, are made available. 
7.8      The  necessary  clerical  and  administrative  staff  are  made  available  for  the achievement of the programme objectives. 
7.9      Where  the  school  offers  distance,  mixed-mode,  decentralised  and/or  internet-based   education   there   is   provision   of   adequate   infrastructure,   including classroom   space,   computers,   texts,   audio-visual   equipment,   community resources  for  fieldwork  education,  and  on-site  instruction  and  supervision  to facilitate the achievement of its core purpose or mission, programme objectives and expected outcomes. 
7.10    The  school  plays  a  key  role  with  regard  to  the  recruitment,  appointment  and promotion of staff. 
7.11    The  school  strives  toward  gender   equity  in  its   recruitment,  appointment, promotion and tenure policies and practices. 
7.12    In its recruitment, appointment, promotion and tenure principles and procedures, the  school  reflects  the  diversities  of  the  population  that  it  interacts  with  and serves. 
7.13    The decision-making processes of the school reflect participatory principles and procedures. 
7.14    The  school   promotes   the   development   of  a  cooperative,  supportive   and productive  working  environment  to  facilitate  the  achievement  of  programme objectives. 
7.15    The school develops and maintains linkages within the institution, with external organisations, and with service users relevant to its core purpose or mission and its objectives. 

With  regard  to  cultural  and  ethnic  diversity  schools  should  aspire  towards  the following: 
8.1      Making  concerted  and  continuous  efforts  to  ensure  the  enrichment  of  the educational  experience  by  reflecting  cultural  and  ethnic  diversity,  and  gender analysis in its programme. 
8.2      Ensuring    that    the    programme,    either    through    mainstreaming    into    all courses/modules   and/or   through   a separate   course/module,   has   clearly articulated  objectives  in  respect  of  cultural  and  ethnic  diversity,  and  gender analysis. 
8.3      Indicating that issues regarding gender analysis and cultural and ethnic diversity, are represented in the fieldwork component of the programme.  
8.4      Ensuring  that  social  work  students  are  provided  with  opportunities  to  develop self-awareness  regarding  their  personal  and  cultural  values,  beliefs,  traditions and  biases  and  how  these  might  influence  the  ability  to  develop  relationships with people, and to work with diverse population groups. 
8.5      Promoting  sensitivity  to,  and  increasing  knowledge  about,  cultural  and  ethnic diversity, and gender analysis.    
8.6      Minimising   group   stereotypes   and   prejudices11   and   ensuring   that   racist behaviours,  policies  and  structures  are  not  reproduced  through  social  work practice. 
8.7      Ensuring that social work students are able to form relationships with, and treat all  persons  with  respect  and  dignity  irrespective  of  such  persons’  cultural  and ethnic beliefs and orientations. 
8.8      Ensuring  that  social  work  students  are  schooled  in  a  basic  human  rights approach,  as  reflected  in  international  instruments  such  as  the  Universal Declaration  on  Human  Rights,  the  United  Nations  Convention  on  the  Rights  of 
the Child (1989) and the UN Vienna Declaration (1993).12 
8.9     Ensuring that the programme makes provision for social work students to know themselves  both  as  individuals  and  as  members  of  collective  socio-cultural groups in terms of strengths and areas for further development. 

In view of the recognition that social  work values, ethics and  principles are the core components of the profession, schools should consistently aspire towards: 
9.1        Focused  and  meticulous  attention  to  this  aspect  of  the  programme  in  curricula design and implementation.  
9.2      Clearly  articulated  objectives  with  regard  to  social  work  values,  principles  and ethical conduct.  
9.3      Registration of professional staff and social work students (insofar as social work students  develop  working  relationships  with  people  via  fieldwork  placements) with  national  and/or  regional  regulatory  (whether  statutory  or  non-statutory) bodies,  with  defined  codes  of  ethics.13    Members  of  such  bodies  are  generally bound to the provisions of those codes. 
9.4      Ensuring  that  every  social  work  student  involved  in  fieldwork  education,  and every  professional  staff  member,  is  aware  of  the  boundaries  of  professional practice and what might constitute unprofessional conduct in terms of the code of ethics.    Where  students  violate  the  code  of  ethics,  programme  staff  may  take necessary  and  acceptable  remedial  and/or  initial  disciplinary  measures,  or 
counsel the student out of the programme. 
9.5     Taking   appropriate   action   in   relation   to   those   social   work   students   and professional  staff  who  fail  to  comply  with  the  code  of  ethics,  either  through  an established   regulatory   social   work   body,   established   procedures   of   the 
educational institution, and/or through legal mechanisms.  
9.6      Ensuring  that  regulatory  social  work  bodies  are  broadly  representative  of  the social work profession, including, where applicable, social workers from both the public and private sector, and of the community that it serves, including the direct participation of service users. 
9.7     Upholding,  as  far  as  is  reasonable  and  possible,  the  principles  of  restorative rather  than  retributive  justice14  in  disciplining  either  social  work  students  or professional staff who violate the code of ethics.  

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1 All reference to “social work” in this document is to read as the “social work profession”, and reference to the “social worker” is to read as the “social work professional” , Vol 23, No. 5: 555-565