Our School of Social Work frequently partners with organizations in the community as part of our work to educate students, develop knowledge, and enhance the wellbeing of society. There are times when some of our partners or potential partners operate from a value stance that differs from that of the social work profession. In order to guide thoughtful decisions about our partnerships, a group of faculty and staff members were charged with developing a set of principles for decision-making around community partnerships. The following statement was subsequently passed unanimously by the Faculty Council on November 14, 2019.
Principles for Partnering with Community Organizations
Social workers often practice in host settings where values do not align with our professional norms. Our professional values are often different from those of the society that surrounds us. Learning to navigate a system that does not align with social work values is an important skill, indeed a competency, that is a vital part of social work education.
UBSSW recognizes our responsibility to educate students on handling instances and organizational stances that conflict with core social work values and ethics. The ways in which UBSSW faculty and staff negotiate relationships with community partners reflect our values and serve as models for our students.
Working with community partners has many nuances. Social workers can make particularly important contributions in organizations that do not share our value system. Organizations may have values that conflict with our Code of Ethics. These dilemmas can occur when potential community partners operate under discriminatory policies and procedures, yet still provide social services that potentially enhance the greater good. It is possible to weigh the costs and benefits of partnering with an organization rather than automatically ruling out working with a value system different than our own.
As social workers, we must be mindful of the importance of quality service provision and our responsibility to influence and shape policy (NASW, 2018) within organizations, perhaps especially within those that may hold some values that are inconsistent with social work principles. We must be present in these spaces in order to influence service provision and policy in a way that is consistent with our own values and ethics. The benefits of our presence include providing high quality services that align with social work principles regardless of agency values, providing advocacy to address any disparities created by agency policy, and having the ability to influence agency policies and procedures from within to be more in line with social work principles.
The NASW Code of Ethics, as well as Codes and practice standards from other national and international organizations, insist that social workers make efforts to ensure that their working environments are consistent with social work values and ethics (International Federation of Social Workers, 2018; NASW, 2018; The British Association of Social Workers, 2014). Moreover, social work administrators have the added responsibility to “take reasonable steps” (NASW, 2018, p. 23) to eliminate policies, procedures, or other conditions that violate or interfere with the profession’s values and ethics.
It is important to note that as social workers our values go with us; we do not necessarily conform to the spaces that surround us and indeed may be able to help bring about positive change. Working with a community partner does not necessarily mean that we endorse their values. We can weigh the likelihood of making a difference against the likelihood of compromising our professional integrity. We do not want to enter into partnerships where we or our students are subject to coercion that is likely to compromise fundamental social work values.
We recognize that while social workers can be empowered change agents, partnerships that are central to students’ education, such as field placements, may contain a different level of vulnerability for students, thus, they should be advised to reach out to the field team when they are faced with values challenges. It is us, the faculty and staff of UBSSW, that need to bear primary responsibility for being change agents in these partnerships. We as a school have a collective strength that goes beyond what any of us as individuals can do. This strength, shaped by our professional identities, values, ethics, and commitments, help buffer any vulnerability.
These are the kinds of factors we need to consider in making decisions about potential community partners:
It is also important to consider different levels of partnership. For example, some may be time-limited and not require an on-going commitment such as participating in one event, while others, such as field placements, require a deeper, longer involvement. If UBSSW determines it is not appropriate to commit to a substantial partnership at a particular time, it can be helpful to keep avenues of communication open. There can be a benefit in being at the table with others who see things differently.
Consultation on how this statement may apply to specific situations with UBSSW’s partners is available through the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
British Association of Social Workers. (2014). The Code of Ethics for Social Work. Retrieved from https://www.basw.co.uk/about-basw/code-ethics
International Federation of Social Workers. (2018). A global social work statement of ethical principles. Dublin, Ireland: Approved by the International Association of Schools of Social Work. Retrieved from https://www.ifsw.org/ru/global-social-work-statement-of-ethical-principles/
National Association of Social Workers. (2018). Code of Ethics. Washington, DC: Author.
National Association of Social Workers (2018). Social Work Speaks: The National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements 2018-2020. Washington DC: Author.