20 July 2012

Effective and ethical working environments for social work – The responsibilities of employers of social workers

Press release – for immediate release

Berne, 20.07.2012

 The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) approved new global guidance on the working environment for social work at its General Meeting in Stockholm, Sweden on 8 July 2012.

‘The new policy provides much needed guidance to social workers and managers around the world on the essential elements of their respective roles and how they should work together to serve local people and communities’, said IFSW President Gary Bailey.

‘Social work makes a real difference in the lives of people and communities  and has a significant impact on the lives of thousands of people’, Bailey continues.  ‘Social workers take action: they engage in the securing of human rights for individuals and communities, they work alongside people facing major crises and, when necessary, they take action to protect those who are most at risk. Maintaining and promoting quality social work practice, within an accountable and ethical framework, is part of the process of earning and strengthening the public’s trust in the profession, which is needed to ensure funding and continued support for the contribution of and role of social workers.’

Most professional social work practice takes place as paid employment in organisations that can be in the public sector (government), non-governmental/not-for-profit sector or private sector. These organisations are usually accountable to elected politicians, governing bodies of public representatives or owners of private companies. They employ managers to supervise operations, who may not be social workers. In some countries social workers can be self-employed but often undertake work under contract with one of these agencies.

“The ability of social workers to practice effectively and ethically is significantly influenced by the working environment created by employers and managers in the agencies where they practice”, said IFSW President Gary Bailey.  ‘That is why this groundbreaking guidance is so significant for service users (consumers, users, clients) and social workers alike.’

Social workers are frequently called on to balance the potentially conflicting needs and rights of service users, family members and the wider community alongside a range of other tensions in the social environment. In recognition of this complex role, and in order to protect the interests of service users, the wider community, agencies and social workers themselves, there is a need for agencies which provide social work services to have clear policies and statements which, among other things, acknowledge the tensions between service user needs and rights, professionalism and management considerations and political, economic and societal factors and to inform services users about what they have a right to expect of social work.

The guidance makes clear that it is essential that policies respect the respective roles and accountabilities of managers and professionals.  In many situations, this dual accountability must be reflected in parallel governance arrangements.

Respect for recipients of services is at the heart of ethical and effective social work practice. The involvement of service users is essential in creating effective and ethical working environments for social work.

This policy provides guidelines regarding the working environment required for:

  • supporting effective and ethical practice;
  • managing work load and case management;
  • providing continuous professional development and an organisational environment of learning.

The working environment policy is the latest in a series of global statements which define and shape social work practice around the world, including the IFSW/IASSW joint statements on ‘the definition of social work’, ‘ethical principles for the practice of social work’ and ‘global standards for qualifications for the social work profession’ and the IFSW ‘statement on human rights’.


For additional information contact IFSW Policy and Communications Officer:  René Schegg rene.schegg@ifsw.org

Tel. +41 22 548 36 25