Social Workfor Social Justice: Ten Principles

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Social Work for Social Justice: Ten Principles
Human Dignity
Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Dignity of the human person is the ethical foundation of a moral society.
In a marketplace where profit often takes precedence over the dignity and
The measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the
rights of workers, it is important to recognize that the economy must
life and dignity of the human person. Social workers respect the inherent
serve the people, not the other way around. If the dignity of work is to be
dignity and worth of all individuals. Social workers treat each person
protected, the basic rights of workers must be respected  the right to
in a caring, respectful manner mindful of individual differences and
productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions,
cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers seek to promote the
to private property and to economic initiative. Social workers challenge
responsiveness of organizations, communities and social institutions to
injustice related to unemployment, workers’ rights and inhumane
individuals’ needs and social problems. Social workers act to prevent
labor practices. Social workers engage in organized action, including
and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination
the formation of and participation in labor unions, to improve
against any person or group on any basis.
services to clients and working conditions.
Community and the Common Good
All individuals by virtue of their human nature have social needs.
We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. We are one human family, whatever
Human relationships enable people to meet their needs and provide
our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. An
an important vehicle for change. The family, in all its diverse
ethic of care acknowledging our interdependence belongs in every
forms, is the central social institution that must be supported and
aspect of human experience including the family, community,
strengthened. The way in which society is organized – in education,
society and global dimensions. Social workers understand that
economics, politics, government – directly affects human dignity and
relationships between and among people are an important vehicle
the common good. Social workers promote the general welfare and
for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping
development of individuals, families and communities. Social
process and seek to strengthen relationships among people to
workers seek to strengthen relationships among people at all levels
promote well being at all levels.
to promote the well being of all.
Rights and Responsibilities
People have a right and a responsibility to participate in society
It is incumbent upon us to recognize and protect the value of all people
and to work together toward the common good. Human dignity is
and all resources on our planet. While rights to personal property are
protected and healthy community can be achieved only if human rights
recognized, these rights are not unconditional and are secondary to
are protected and responsibilities are met. Accordingly, every person
the best interest of the common good especially in relation to the right
has a fundamental right to things necessary for human decency.
of all individuals to meet their basic needs. Stewardship of resources
Corresponding to these rights are responsibilities to family, community
is important at all levels/settings: family, community, agency,
and society. Social workers, mindful of individual differences and
community and society. Social workers strive to ensure access to
diversity, respect and promote the right of all individuals to self-
needed information, services and resources; equality of opportunity;
determination and personal growth and development. Social
and meaningful participation for all people. Social workers promote
workers provide education and advocacy to protect human rights
the general welfare of people and their environments.
and end oppression. Social workers empower individuals/groups to
function as effectively as possible.
Priority for the Poor and Vulnerable
Governance/Principle of Subsidiarity
A basic moral test of any community or society is the way in which
Governance structures in all levels/settings have an imperative to
the most vulnerable members are faring. In a society characterized by
promote human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common
deepening divisions between rich and poor, the needs of those most at
good. While the principle of subsidiarity calls for the functions of
risk should be considered a priority. Social workers advocate for living
government to be performed at the lowest level possible in order to
conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and
insure for self-determination and empowerment, higher levels of
to promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and
government have the responsibility to provide leadership and set
institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.
policy in the best interest of the common good. Social workers
Social workers pursue change with and on behalf of vulnerable and
engage in social and political action in order to promote equality,
oppressed individuals and groups to: address poverty, unemployment,
challenge injustice, expand opportunity and empower individuals,
discrimination and other forms of social injustice; expand choice
families and groups to participate in governance structures at
and opportunity; and promote social justice.
all levels.
Promotion of Peace
All people have a right to participate in the economic, political and
In light of the human dignity and worth of all and the ethical
cultural life of society. Social justice and human dignity require that all
imperatives of solidarity and stewardship, we are called to promote
people be assured a minimum level of participation in the community.
peace and non-violence at all levels – within families, communities,
It is the ultimate injustice for a person or a group to be excluded
society and globally. Peace is the fruit of justice and is dependent
unfairly. Social workers strive to ensure access to equal opportunity
upon the respect and cooperation between peoples and nations. Social
and meaningful participation for all. Social workers empower
workers promote peace and the general welfare of society from
individuals and groups to influence social policies and institutions
local to global levels.
and promote social justice. Social workers advocate for change to
ensure that all people have equal access to the resources and
opportunities required to meet basic needs and develop fully.
Copyright © July 2006. Adapted from: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Social Justice - Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Other: NASW Code of Ethics, 1999.
School of Social Work

Social Work for Social Justice
“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet
the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of
people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of
social work is the profession's focus on individual well-being in a social context and the
well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces
that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.
Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is
used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social
workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression,
poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice,
community organizing, supervision, consultation, administration, advocacy, social and political
action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation.
Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers
also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other
social institutions to individuals’ “needs and social problems.”
(Preamble, NASW Code of Ethics, 1999)
Social work practice at all levels strives towards social justice.
Social work practice:
direct service
community organizing
social and political action
policy development and implementation
research and evaluation
At all levels:
with individuals, families and groups -- at the micro level
organizations and communities -- at the meso level
society and the global community -- at the macro level
Strives toward social justice through these principles which are articulated by numerous
faith traditions:

Human dignity
Dignity of work and the rights of workers
Community and the common good
Rights and responsibilities
Priority for the poor and vulnerable
Promotion of peace
School of Social Work
Copyright © July 2006

Social Work for Social Justice
Social justice means loving people so much that
I work to change structures that violate their dignity.
Peter Henriot S.J.
Philosophy Statement
The NASW Code of Ethics identifies the profession’s core values as service, social justice,
dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. The
Code goes on to discuss numerous specific ethical principles and standards in the context of the service
function. It provides, however, far less detail related to the justice function. The Code states that
“social workers challenge social injustice” as follows:
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, service and resources;
equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision-making for all people.
(Ethical Principles, NASW Code of Ethics, 1999)
Out of its firm commitment to social justice and by virtue of the Catholic mission of our sponsors, the College of
St. Catherine and the University of St. Thomas, the School of Social Work recognizes Catholic Social Teaching as a
rich resource to inform and further specify social justice goals of social work education and practice. Catholic Social
Teaching (CST) represents a tradition of social ethics which has derived from multiple sources, including scripture,
papal encyclicals, episcopal statements and writings of theologians. Catholic Social Teaching, which addresses the
challenges of economic and political life and global harmony, defines standards that universally apply to all human
beings and provide guidance as to how people should interact and treat one another within the economic and
political spheres of our communities and world. As such, these social teachings provide direction on how to live
out the Judeo Christian mandate ‘love one another.’ Thus, Catholic Social Teaching is relevant to all people, not
just Catholics. While all faith traditions make a contribution to social justice, the words of Brian Rusche, Executive
Director of Minnesota’s Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC) articulate the gift rendered by Catholic
Social Teaching:
Catholic Social Teaching is the most systematic and thorough attempt by a religious faith to
articulate its positions on social policy. For JRLC's interfaith work, it provides a first lens to
look at nearly every social justice issue and seriously influences all our position statements.
Catholic Social Teaching is a gift to the world and people of all faiths.

Through careful analysis and extensive discussion, the social work faculty has examined the convergence between
the NASW Code of Ethics and Catholic Social Teaching. This exercise has led to the development of Social Work
for Social Justice: Ten Principles
. The integration of these principles into the curriculum recognizes and acknowledges the
universality of these principles across numerous other faith traditions. As social work educators, we are bound by
the NASW Code of Ethics and therefore responsible to teach our students to become professionals dedicated to
service and justice. Social Work for Social Justice: Ten Principles provides a framework for strengthening the way in
which we educate for justice and prepare students for competent and ethical social work practice dedicated to both
service and justice.
School of Social Work
Copyright © July 2006

Social Work for Social Justice
Finding Common Ground…
as we work together to build a program and a profession
which more strongly articulate a commitment to
social justice ...

1. We will recognize that no single voice/view has a monopoly on the truth.
We will remind ourselves that solutions to our challenges will emerge
from dialogue that embraces diverse perspectives.
2. We will not envision ourselves or anyone as ‘having all the answers.’ No
one person/group will judge itself alone to be possessed of enlightenment
or spurn others as wrong or misguided.
3. We will test all ideas/proposals for their truth, value and potential impact
on our program, on our students and on the clients they will serve. This is
our responsibility as ethical social work educators.
4. We will presume that those with whom we disagree are acting with good
intentions. We will extend civility, courtesy and genuine effort to
understand their concerns. We will not diminish nor trivialize their ideas
or concerns with labels, abstractions or blanket terms (such as she/he ‘just
doesn’t get it’, ‘is a sellout’, ‘has been led astray’, ‘is misguided’, etc). Instead,
we will embrace the complexity of the realities we face and examine their
various and multiple dimensions.
5. We will put the best possible construction on differing positions, addressing
their strongest points rather than seizing upon the most vulnerable aspect in
order to discredit them. We will detect the valid insights and legitimate
worries that may underlie even questionable arguments.
6. We will be cautious in ascribing motives. We will not impugn another’s
motives, loyalties, opinions or comprehension. We will not rush to interpret
disagreements as conflicts of starkly opposing principles rather than as
differences in degree or in prudential judgment about the relevant facts.
7. We will embrace the realities of our institutional cultures, not by simple
defiance nor by naïve acquiescence, but acknowledging both their valid
achievement and real dangers.
Adapted from Called to be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril. Published by the National Pastoral Life Center, New York, NY.
School of Social Work
Copyright © July 2006