The Generalist Social Work Model

The generalist social work model at Wichita State University educates students for practice in a metropolitan environment. It is practice oriented, and strives to instill specific values and skills within the new practitioner, drawing upon knowledge gained in the liberal arts and in their social work courses. As such, the model is more outcome oriented than conceptual, and serves as the blueprint for the type of generalist practitioner we seek to graduate. In this way, the program can be accountable to students, the university, and to the community in educating students in such a way that they meet our criteria for an entry level generalist practitioner.

The generalist practitioner has developed the following skills and capacities:

  • First and foremost, the generalist practitioner possesses a deep and abiding commitment to the values of social work, to include respect for the individual and for client self determination.

Two critical social work values are respect for the dignity and worth of each individual and client self determination. Since these values are repeated so frequently, it can be easy to take them for granted. Regardless of the task or setting, social workers are not doing social work if these values are not incorporated into their daily practice.

To respect the dignity and worth of each individual means that social workers recognize the humanity within each person regardless of how that person may be judged by others. Social workers are reminded that there are times and circumstances when one individual, or a group of individuals have been judged to be less than fully human. Social workers must resist accepting such judgments, and must insist that individual clients be treated with dignity and respect in recognition of our common humanity.

Client self determination means that clients have the right to make their own decisions. Social workers are responsible for assuring that clients' decisions are voluntary, that they have the knowledge needed to make a decision, and that they have the capacity to make sound decisions. Social workers do not manipulate clients into making decisions that would be more reflective of the worker's ideas of the client's best interests than what the client might think. How social workers implement client self determination in practice becomes a part of their ethical framework.

  • Is committed to ethical practice

The primary responsibility of all social workers is to practice ethically. While the NASW Code of Ethics outlines the criteria for ethical practice, it is the responsibility of all social workers to incorporate this code into their personal code of ethics to develop their won ethical framework. This ethical framework serves as the yardstick by which social workers evaluate all professional and perhaps even personal behaviors.

Social workers have a responsibility to communicate their ethical framework to clients, supervisors, and other individuals who could be affected by the social workers' professional judgments. In addition, social workers are responsible for an ongoing evaluating their ethical framework. Such factors as maturity, new life circumstances, and a changing practice environment can have an impact on social workers' ethical framework. Therefore, each social worker is responsible for examining their ethical framework in light of personal and professional development and for recreating their ethical framework to reflect their own development.

Finally, social workers are charged with assuring that professional ethics, as outlined in the NASW Code of Ethics, are maintained. It is the NASW Code of Ethics, and not our personal ethical framework, to which all social workers are accountable. Social workers who are concerned about a colleague's possible violation of the NASW Code of Ethics should report this concern to the colleague's supervisor or to another appropriate authority.

  • Upholds the integrity of the social work profession

Just as with ethics, social workers must constantly assess what it means to uphold the integrity of the profession within the context of their own practice. In general, all social workers contribute to maintaining the integrity of the profession by clearly stating what they can and cannot do based upon their professional degree, credentials, and state license.

For example, no social worker can make independent recommendations to clients regarding prescription medication. While this example is straight forward, social workers can feel pressured to perform other tasks that are beyond the scope of their professional credentials. This is more likely to occur within agencies that are downsizing, declassifying, and otherwise feeling pressured to cut costs. As the entry level professional, the BSW social worker is most vulnerable to these pressures. It is therefore the responsibility of all social workers to clearly state that the entry level practitioner is to work under the supervision of an advanced practitioner.

On the other hand, social workers can feel pressured to understate their professional competencies. For example, this can occur in an environment where individuals with different degrees and/or credentials seek to downplay the value of professional social work. In such an environment, social workers are challenged to collaborate with colleagues while clarifying the unique contribution social work makes to the helping process.

  • Advances social justice through planned change, particularly on behalf of underserved and oppressed groups within the community

Social justice takes many forms. The generalist model at WSU focuses on issues of poverty and the needs of the poor and working poor within our community. The poor, and the working poor, deserve special attention, as poverty cuts across all boundaries and defies any attempt we may make to categorize the poor. People are poor because they lack the economic resources needed to meet their basic human needs, and they are invisible to many citizens. Advancing social justice means being involved at a variety of levels to create avenues for individuals to move out of poverty and to increase their access to needed economic resources. Since it can be agreed that an underlying bias against the poor exists within our society, advancing social justice also means advocating for the poor in each arena of social work practice.

  • Develops the capacities of individuals, groups, families, and communities

All individuals, by virtue of being human, have capacities, many of whom have capacities beyond what they themselves imagine. Most individuals who seek assistance from social workers have a diminished sense of their own capacity, due in part to life experiences, limited opportunities, and their own sense of who they are in relationship to their world. It is through engaging the client in a helping relationship that the generalist social worker creates a context for clients to first discover their own capacities and then explores avenues for further growth and change.

  • Engages the client in a helping process that empowers them to find creative solutions to their own seemingly difficult situations

Within the helping process, the generalist social worker can assume the roles of co-creator, coach, and role model, amongst other roles. Generalist social workers do not 'give over' their own power or authority to clients; rather, they encourage clients to discover their own power and authority, and then work with clients to strengthen their own sense of power and recognize the extent of their own authority. Authority is legitimate power, which, when translated into everyday living, means that it is the power clients have to make decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. The generalist social worker empowers clients by helping them to exercise their own authority. If needed, the social worker and client together can work to broaden the scope of clients' authority when clients' control over their own lives is insufficient.

For example, a woman may feel disempowered if she senses she has no authority to participate in household decisions. Parents may feel disempowered when schools exclude them from the decision making process that will directly impact their children's education. Persons with disabilities may feel disempowered when agencies ignore legal requirements to meet their needs. New immigrants may feel disempowered when agencies do not make translators available. A homosexual couple may feel disempowered when faced with housing discrimination or discrimination in the work setting.

These are some examples where individuals have the sense that they lack the authority to participate in processes that can have a direct impact on their quality of life. In order to find creative solutions, the social worker first helps clients to discover their own sense of power, and then assesses whether they need more authority to make decisions that impact their life.

Creative solutions are often found by engaging others within the clients' social environment to expand the scope of the clients' authority and increase clients' access to needed resources.

  • Is an advocate for clients when their needs are not being met, and takes advantage of opportunities within and outside the work setting to advocate on behalf of those who are most vulnerable

Vulnerable groups with whom generalist practitioners are concerned include the poor, persons of color and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, persons with disabilities, the elderly, children, and even families themselves. In an era of multidisciplinary practice, increasing specialization, privatization, and managed care, the skills of the generalist social worker are needed more than ever. Generalist social workers who take a holistic view of clients and assess them within the unique context of their social environment are perhaps in the best situation to see 'both the forest and the trees'. As such, generalist practitioners are compelled to advocate for their clients within their own practice setting and with other organizations as well.

  • Uses the problem solving model to assess a client's situation, plan for change, intervene, and evaluate the outcomes of the planned intervention

In assessment, the generalist practitioner uses an ecological framework to assess the fit between the client and the social environment. The end product of the assessment process is the identification of clients' goals, which serve as the framework for developing an intervention plan. Once goals are agreed on, the practitioner brings people together to develop a workable plan that specifies who will perform what tasks to achieve the clients' stated goals. The plan includes resources needed to complete the identified tasks. The generalist practitioner monitors the overall intervention process, particularly when more than one individual and/or organization is responsible for completing assigned tasks. Upon completion of the intervention, the generalist practitioner evaluates the effectiveness of intervention in meeting the clients' needs. Feedback from the evaluative process is later used to improve services for subsequent clients with similar situations.

  • Incorporates the role of the research practitioner into their generalist practice model

Research is the process of developing new knowledge and gaining deeper understandings of human behavior. Knowledge and understanding, gained from the research process, provides the needed feedback to improve the quality and effectiveness of services provided to social work clients. Ethical practice is a practice that is accountable to clients, the agency, the profession, and the community, and generalist social workers demonstrate accountability by engaging in the ongoing process of evaluating their own practice. The generalist social worker understands that the research process and the problem solving process are quite similar, and that incorporating research into the helping process is good practice. At a minimum, generalist social workers are consumers of research, drawing upon knowledge gained from research to make assessments and develop appropriate plans for intervention. As a research practitioner, generalist social workers evaluate the outcomes of their intervention and use this feedback to enhance their own practice effectiveness. At the program level, generalist social workers participate in needs assessments and process and outcome evaluations that can improve services.

This model is reflective of the common agreement that all faculty have in teaching social work practice across the curriculum. It is available to field instructors and is part of the field instructor training sessions offered by the program. It provides the policy guidelines for the selection of field learning activities by the field instructor and allows the faculty to develop agency placements that support learning experiences in appropriate generalist field settings.