Over the years, barriers to crafting a common definition have included: the breadth of the professional work spanning micro to macro approaches, dependence on the fields of medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology for knowledge resources, the use of basic science and evidence-informed standards for principles of practice, and the sociopolitical context of the daily work (Gibelman, 1999; Gitterman, 2014).
Yet, many in the social work community feel that a common, shared definition of social work is important for socializing people to the field, building a strong professional identity, cultivating esteem and respect among members of the public, and crafting mission statements of social work programs (Lightfoot, Nienow, Moua, Colburn, & Petri, 2016; Holosko, Winkel, Crandall, & Briggs, 2015). Conversely, not having a clear and consistent definition of the profession impedes workforce recruitment and growth, promotes de-professionalization, and weakens the professions' ability to respond to its core mission (Randall & Kindiask, 2008; Whitaker, Weismiller, & Clark, 2006). Despite these arguments, the search for consensus around a standard definition of the profession remains elusive.
In the absence of a unifying definition of social work, 51 different statutory definitions of social work have been created by each state and the District of Columbia. Researchers conducted a content analysis of these various definitions (Hill, Fogel, Donaldson, & Erickson, 2017) to determine the extent to which these definitions included macro social work.They found that only 13 states had the full breadth of macro represented in their state definitions, 16 included macro to a moderate degree, and seven states included a limited amount of macro into their definitions. Alarmingly, 16 states excluded any mention of macro practice as part of their state definitions.
To help remedy this, the Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice formed a working group to address the impact of regulatory factors on macro social work. Among the tasks of this group was to craft a definition of social work that reflected the full breadth of social work. A guiding belief of this work group is that the profession must maintain its historical commitment to micro, mezzo, and macro practice so current and future generations of social workers are able to address complex social problems that will only be eradicated through macro social change efforts.
In this roundtable, we are interested in exploring:
- The draft definition of social work crafted by the Special Commission. - The experiences of other social workers regarding regulatory impact on macro social work. - The unintended policy and practice consequences of crafting a definition that is more expansive.