Social Work for Social Justice
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 issue 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. (NASW Code of Ethics, 1999)
Out of its firm commitment to social justice and by virtue of the Catholic mission of our sponsors, St. Catherine University 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.