Methods: A qualitative study using the phenomenological approach was conducted. Purposive sampling was used, which is in accordance with the selected approach. Twelve participants, consisting of three clinicians, three academicians, three students, and three social policy experts, were interviewed. The comprehensive interviews were semi-structured with broad, open-ended questions. IRB approval was obtained, and informed consent was provided by all participants. Interviews were audio-taped with participant permission. All data was transcribed and analyzed by the research team. Themes were identified through descriptive and in-vivo coding. Trustworthiness and rigor was enhanced through epoche (bracketing), triangulation, and audit trail.
Results: Two major themes emerged from the study: 1) Professional accountability and 2) social workers' unique roles and values. Professional accountability referred to the role of existing professional safeguards such as licensure, state licensing boards, and the NASW Code of Ethics. These entities ensure the standards of social work for clients, other professionals inside and outside of the field, and the general public. Participants stated that continued adherence to high levels of professional accountability is imperative to profession's sustainability. Social workers' unique roles and values referred to the perception of social workers as change agents, the profession's inherent sense of social justice, and service as a core professional value. Participants voiced agreement that the professional values of social workers set them apart from other professions and place them in an ideal place to provide care and encouragement to those in need.
Implications: The contention regarding the role of social work has continued into the 21st Century. While some researchers suggest the need for a critical reflection of the field, others have found little need for such reflection. We believe that it is important for the social work profession to engage in its own periodic self assessment, to explore from the inside the challenges and opportunities that it encounters. Understanding the current perception of the profession by those who practice it can uncover areas of weakness and strength and, in doing so, can foster the profession to grow in accordance to its values.