Social Work Resources


From the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics (2008):

Value: Social Justice

Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.”

1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity

(a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.

(b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.

(c) Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.

Retrieved from

From the NASW Standards of Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice:

Retrieved from

Cultural Competence
Cultural competence refers to the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each.

6.04 Social and Political Action (p.13)
Social workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups. Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social
workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people. Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability.

From The Internationsl Federation of Social Workers (IFSW): Statement of Ethical Principles:

Retrieved from

4. Principles

4.1. Human Rights and Human Dignity

Social work is based on respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and the rights that follow from this. Social workers should uphold and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being. This means:

  1. Respecting the right to self-determination – Social workers should respect and promote people’s right to make their own choices and decisions, irrespective of their values and life choices, provided this does not threaten the rights and legitimate interests of others.
  2. Promoting the right to participation – Social workers should promote the full involvement and participation of people using their services in ways that enable them to be empowered in all aspects of decisions and actions affecting their lives.
  3. Treating each person as a whole – Social workers should be concerned with the whole person, within the family, community, societal and natural environments, and should seek to recognise all aspects of a person’s life.
  4. Identifying and developing strengths – Social workers should focus on the strengths of all individuals, groups and communities and thus promote their empowerment.

4.2. Social Justice

Social workers have a responsibility to promote social justice, in relation to society generally, and in relation to the people with whom they work. This means:

  1. Challenging negative discrimination* – Social workers have a responsibility to challenge negative discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as ability, age, culture, gender or sex, marital status, socio-economic status, political opinions, skin colour, racial or other physical characteristics, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs.*In some countries the term “discrimination” would be used instead of “negative discrimination”. The word negative is used here because in some countries the term “positive discrimination” is also used. Positive discrimination is also known as “affirmative action”. Positive discrimination or affirmative action means positive steps taken to redress the effects of historical discrimination against the groups named in clause 4.2.1 above.
  2. Recognising diversity – Social workers should recognise and respect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the societies in which they practise, taking account of individual, family, group and community differences.
  3. Distributing resources equitably – Social workers should ensure that resources at their disposal are distributed fairly, according to need.
  4. Challenging unjust policies and practices – Social workers have a duty to bring to the attention of their employers, policy makers, politicians and the general public situations where resources are inadequate or where distribution of resources, policies and practices are oppressive, unfair or harmful.
  5. Working in solidarity – Social workers have an obligation to challenge social conditions that contribute to social exclusion, stigmatisation or subjugation, and to work towards an inclusive society.


From Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment for Victims of Human Trafficking (April 2010)

US Department of Health and Human Services


Publications from the International Federation of Social Workers

IFSW has produced a number of documents in its lifetime to help anyone looking to gain an accurate and deeper understanding of social work. Below is a list of these documents:

  • Human rights manual (2010)
  • Human Rights and Social Work – A Manual for Schools of Social Work and the Social Work Profession (1994)
  • Standards in social work practice meeting human rights (2010)
  • Social Work and the Rights of the Child (2002)


Social Work Policy Institute: Resources on Child Trauma


From the International Federation of Social Workers:

A Professional Training Manual on the UN Convention

(p. 8-9) Building children’s human rights
There are five building blocks to working from a children’s rights perspective.

First, the acceptance that children are people now, not people-in-the-making. It is critical that social workers respect and value children as complete human beings from the moment they are born. This does not deny that children will change and develop over the years. However, it does accord them full human status from birth.

The second building block follows on from the first and is the acceptance that childhood is valuable in its own right and is not simply a stage towards adulthood. This has major implications
for social programmes and services, shifting the emphasis of work with children to the hereand- now of their experience. If this perspective were universally accepted education systems, for example, would be founded on children’s self-fulfilment and happiness as people today in addition to the need for them to acquire skills and qualifications for their future adult lives.

Third, working from a children’s human rights perspective acknowledges that children are active agents of their own lives. Every person can only live one life. Social workers must not under-estimate children’s accumulated knowledge and insights into their own needs and life history. Although they may have access to information not shared with children, social workers must never assume they know more about a child’s life than the child.

Fourth, age discrimination needs to be identified and tackled, recognising that children across the globe are treated less seriously than adults simply because of their age.

Finally, a commitment to working from a children’s human rights perspective requires social workers to address the special vulnerability of infants and children, arising from their smaller size and physical strength and from their low status and dependency on adults. Children are vulnerable because they do not have the physical strength, experience or psychological capacity to withstand pressure from adults. This can easily lead to situations of exploitation and abuse.

Employment Law (p.17-19)

The duty of states to ensure free and compulsory primary education is set out in Article 28 of IFSW Manual: Social Work and the Rights of the Child the Convention. There is no similar requirement for secondary education. There is a clear link with the age limits set for formal education and those for employment. Child labour summons up images of sweatshops or mines or children stitching footballs, but children work in many settings including unpaid work within the family.

Hazardous and exploitative forms of employment should be eradicated. But in many countries poverty is the root cause of child labour. Any changes have therefore to balance the economic and social context of child work. Many organisations concerned with children’s rights are now initiating projects that provide better protection, for example, restaurants run by street children and special units to protect child workers. Further, steps have been taken to integrate education with children’s working lives, with classes being provided near to their work and fitting around their daily responsibilities.

Children’s rights in focus
Anand lived on the outskirts of an Asian city. He wanted to study but his parents wanted him to work. At 15, he ran away from home. He wandered the streets for a couple of months. He lived on railway platforms, working salvaging rags from rubbish tips. He shared part of his wages with his seniors who guided and protected him from other groups. He was helped to contact a shelter for street children by a social worker. After some counselling and the recognition of his desire to study, staff at the shelter made arrangements for him to continue his education. Anand has now moved from his tenth to eleventh standard of education and is back in contact with his family who are pleased to see him.

• Where are children working in your country?
• How is child labour regulated?
• How can social workers improve the quality of life of children in work?

In June 1999 174 members of the International Labour Organization (ILO) unanimously adopted the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. States now need to ratify the Convention in the process by which the Convention is translated into national law and practice. The ILO estimates that some 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 years work in developing countries; about half that number work full-time. Nearly 70% of these children are involved in hazardous work. In Article 3 of this Convention the worst forms of child labour are defined as:

a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom, and forced or compulsory labour;

b) forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

c) the use of a child for prostitution, production of pornography or pornographic performances;

d) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs;

e) work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999 requires states ratifying the Convention to design and implement programs of action, to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a priority and establish or designate appropriate mechanisms for monitoring implementation of the Convention, in consultation with employers and workers’ organisations. It also says ratifying states should provide support for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labour and their rehabilitation; ensure access to free basic education or vocational training for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour; identify children at special risk: and take into account the special situation of girls’.

An accompanying recommendation defines ‘hazardous work’ as work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery or tools, or which involves heavy loads; work in unhealthy environments which may expose children to hazardous substances, temperatures, noise or vibrations; and work under particularly difficult conditions such as long hours, during the night or where a child is confined to the premises of the employers’.


The following is excerpted from:

Human Rights and International Affairs Practice Update (November 2006) of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)


By Elizabeth Pathy Salett, LICSW

Retrieved from

Issues for Social Workers

Human trafficking is a devastating human rights violation and a human tragedy, but social workers can help in at least three ways:

    1. identify victims of slavery and trafficking and assist them to get help,
    2. serve in the organizations that specialize in assisting trafficking victims and improving upon the current ‘promising practices’ of rehabilitation and reintegration, and
    3. educate vulnerable populations about the dangers of human trafficking as a form of prevention. All of these roles need to be filled in every community where human trafficking exists in order to locate victims, help them rebuild their lives, prevent others from being trafficked and enslaved, and end this horrific crime once and for all.

What Human Trafficking & Slavery May Look Like?

      • A young girl in Russia is promised a good job in France as a child care worker, ends up in Germany as a brothel worker.
      • A child in India is abducted from his parents’ home and taken to work in a carpet factory hundreds of miles away.
      • A young girl in Thailand is sold by her parents to work in the big city, is forced into prostitution, and trafficked to Tokyo.
      • A young 7 year old boy in the Sudan is captured by marauders and made to live with herd animals for 10 years in servitude to a local family.
      • A young Mexican man is captured at the U.S. border and forced to work in agriculture in Florida or in construction in Iowa, or in prostitution in Los Angeles.
      • A Moldovan woman is promised restaurant work and is trafficked via Ukraine to Turkey for prostitution.
      • A West African woman asked by her aunt to come to the U.S. on a domestic worker visa, is on call 24 hours a day, abused and never allowed to leave


From La Strada International


La Strada integrates a human rights approach into its work, based on the recognition that trafficking in persons is both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations. A human rights based approach allows the root causes of trafficking, such as gender and ethnic discrimination to be addressed by empowering potential victims. This is more effective than purely repressive strategies, as it makes high risk groups less vulnerable to trafficking. It addresses the consequences of trafficking by promoting respect for and protection of the human rights of trafficked persons and by opposing the use of trafficked persons solely as instruments for the prosecution. Assistance and support of trafficked persons allows them to regain control over their lives and reduces the risk of re-trafficking. It also contributes to an effective prosecution of traffickers. The absence of adequate assistance and support may prevent trafficked persons from reporting to the authorities and may subject them to further trauma and re-victimisation. Both recognition and protection of the rights of trafficked persons, on the other hand, act as an important incentive to report to the authorities and give testimony. Finally, a human rights-based approach opposes anti-trafficking measures which adversely affect or infringe upon the human rights of trafficked persons or other affected groups. This approach requires that human rights are at the core of any anti trafficking strategy. It integrates the norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into legislation, policies, programs and processes.


      • Respect for individual decisions
      • The rights, interests and needs of trafficked persons are central
      • Empowerment and participation
      • Education in human rights and women’s rights
      • Confidentiality, safety, non-victimization and non-discrimination
      • Lobby for the implementation of human rights standards for treatment of trafficked persons
      • Direct contact with trafficked persons is the basis for all campaigns and advocacy work

La Strada commitment

La Strada is aware that due to the enormous complexity of the phenomenon of trafficking, sometimes well intentioned anti- trafficking initiatives do not benefit or even harm or violate the human rights of trafficked persons or vulnerable groups, such as female migrant workers. La Strada is therefore committed to critically assess its own way of working to ensure that the elements of the human rights based approach are always at the core of the programs. La Strada is committed to develop strategies and methods to further anchor these elements in our work. La Strada will continuously discuss and promote the human rights based approach with its partners in the field of NGO’s, IGO and governments. La Strada will also critically assess the policies, legislation and programs of governmental organisations, states and NGO’s to investigate whether these in one way or another undermine or adversely affect the human rights of trafficked persons or other affected groups. La Strada will continue to urge governments to address the roots causes in order as the most just and effective way to prevent trafficking in persons. La Strada advocates the development of an instrument to assess the human rights impact of anti-trafficking measures.


Excerpted from the Freedom Fund:

The Treatment of Mental Trauma

The Problem

The mental health needs of people coming out of slavery are wide-ranging and often severe.

Many suffer from trauma, especially because most people in slavery experienced violence, were threatened with violence and saw violence against others. The Helen Bamber Foundation, which provides comprehensive assistance including in-depth psychological support to trafficking survivors in the UK, links these experiences with experiences of torture, and the consequences include loss of trust in others, loss of hope, disturbed sleep and violent nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, the destruction of identity and sexuality and the constant presence of fear. In addition, some survivors find themselves suffering from depression, uncontrollable anger, dissociation, hyper-vigilance, and what they have suffered physically may trigger or make worse other psychological illnesses.

The emotional and mental health needs of former slaves differ from one person to another. Free the Slaves’ research highlights many factors that affect their needs for psychosocial care: The age and gender of clients, the form of slavery and how long it went on, their relations with slaveholders, their experience of violence, how they got out of slavery and many other things.”

See the whole article at


Social Justice and Social Work (University of New England Social Work):

A Useful Book:
Social Work and Human Rights: A Foundation for Policy and Practice
by Elisabeth Reichert

Image (World Colourful Represents Colours Globalise And Multicolored) by Stuart Miles at


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