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The 10 functions of social workers

The 10 functions of social workers

May 29, 2024

Social work is a discipline that is responsible for promoting development, cohesion and social transformation; including the individual strengthening of those who are part of a community.

Starting from a brief description of the social work itself, in the next lines We will see what are the functions of social workers, what they do as professionals and how their performance has an impact on vulnerable groups.

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What is social work? A short description

The history of social work is related to different processes that occurred in the mid-nineteenth century. On the one hand, it emerges from needs detected by different vulnerable groups : drug addicts, dysfunctional families, elderly people in situations of abandonment, etc.


Specifically, these needs were generated by the massive migration processes and the growing urbanization, a fact that made family and socio-health intervention indispensable. On the other hand, the origins of social work as an academic discipline are related to the gender and sexual division of the professions, specifically the one that took place in research and intervention in sociology.

In that sense, social work is a field of study and action linked to various tasks and branches of social sciences, humanities and community intervention . Therefore, it is an area that operates around concepts such as social justice, human rights, diversity, respect and equity, among others.


Based on the above, social work professionals have recognized different fields of action, as well as different functions, understood as the role played and recognized for those who exercise a particular discipline . Next we will see what are some of the functions of social workers.

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10 functions of social workers

Ballestero, A, Viscarret, J.J. and Úriz, M. J. (2013), conducted a national study in Spain. They took as reference the White Paper on Social Work and after doing surveys with Social Work professionals, they have summarized the functions of social workers in the following 10 points:

1. Prevent

Is about anticipate the possible causes of both individual and collective conflicts . This can be done through intervention projects that allow knowing the population context and the situations of social risk that are presented, as well as the shortcomings and needs of the same context.


2. Provide direct attention

Act with individuals or groups, whether they are at risk or already have a particular problem whose characteristic is social. The goal of direct attention is to enhance individual capacities for that are the same people who face and give answer to the daily social conflicts .

3. Plan

To carry out the interventions, it is necessary to draw up an action plan that has specific objectives and makes the analysis process explicit, as well as the possibilities of accompaniment and evaluation .

According to the authors, this can be done through the microsocial and also the macrosocial level. The first is the design of interventions and projects, while the second is the design of programs and the organization of social services.

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4. Perform teaching

While social work is made up of different theoretical and practical teachings, which are taught in specialized manner in university centers, it is important the training of academics for both degrees and postgraduate in social work, and related areas.

5. Promote social promotion and insertion

It is about carrying out the necessary actions to restore or preserve self-determination and functioning both individually and collectively . This can be through the design and implementation of social policies that readjust access to different services.

6. Supervise

Social work professionals can carry out supervisions that allow them to accompany the people responsible for executing a program, a social policy or a specific service. Is about implement different knowledge and skills that accompany professional performance of those in charge of providing the different social services.

7. Conduct evaluations

It is about consulting and evaluating the results of the interventions, as well as verifying if the programmed objectives have been fulfilled, and what needs are left to satisfy . In the same way, it is about evaluating the methodologies used and detecting the modifications that are pertinent.

8. Managerial role

Social workers can perform managerial tasks, which have to do with the responsibility to plan and organize both social centers and specific programs and the services they provide.

9. Investigate

It consists in putting into practice methodological techniques that allow evaluate and intervene with scientific rigor in the specific problems of a particular social group. It is a matter of analyzing, describing and explaining a specific reality, as well as establishing hypotheses that allow for an adequate intervention.

10. Coordinate

While it is about favoring social change, many of the organizations where an intervention is carried out are organized in large groups. In this sense, it is about specifying means, techniques and resources that allow us to carry out an intervention line with common objectives and adapted to the needs of each group.

What professionals in this field say

The results of the study carried out by Ballestero, Viscarret and Úriz (2013), show different tendencies in the daily tasks performed by the social workers surveyed. The professionals say that their main function is to help improve the lives of people , since social work is a discipline focused on the attention of the other.

However, the study has detected the prevalence of functions increasingly oriented to management, planning and social administration; which are combined with direct intervention. Likewise, the professionals describe a low involvement in research activities. All of the above has led, according to the authors, to the prioritization of operational aspects centered on immediacy; and less focused on the reflection process for the intervention.

In this study they have performed a multivariate analysis and have detected that, in daily practice, the functions of social workers they correspond with four different professional profiles :

  • The profile of management-planning , with logistics functions at the macro level (where 26% of the participants are located).
  • The profile of intervention for change , with functions of direct attention and social diagnosis (corresponds to 24%).
  • The profile of healthcare intervention , with direct care tasks combined with administrative-bureaucratic functions (41.1% of respondents).
  • The academic profile , with teaching and research (groups 9.4% of the participants).

The latter speaks of important transformations in the functions of social workers, and in the same profession. Social work has recently been directed at avoiding or overcoming dysfunctions that are systemic, with which, the management and planning of programs have an important weight . The initial objective, focused on the needs of the individual, participation and the community; sometimes loses relevance. Likewise, the results speak of a growing specialization of the discipline where functions begin to vary according to the space of development and concrete application.

The research invites, finally, to continue the reflection on these aspects, which are of relevance for the future of the profession and its important application in different social contexts.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ballestero, A., Viscarret, J. J., and Úriz, M. J. (2013). Professional functions of social workers in Spain. Notebooks of Social Work, 26 (1): 127-138.
  • García Dauder, S. (2009). Jessie Taft. Symbolic interactionism, feminist theory and clinical social work. Social Work Today, 56: 145-156.

Roles of Social Workers (May 2024).


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