About Social Work

Definition of Social Work

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) defines the social work profession as follows:

The social work profession promotes

  • social change,
  • problem solving in human relationships and
  • empowerment and liberation of people
  • to enhance well-being.

Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.

Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an inter-related system of values, theory and practice.


Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the profession's national and international codes of ethics.


Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidenced-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognises the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organisational, social and cultural changes.


Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crisis and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilises a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counselling, clinical social social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organisation and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions.

The Many Faces of a Social Worker ...

Social workers take on specialised roles in the following settings:

  • Addiction / Substance Abuse
  • Child Welfare
  • Clinical / Mental Health
  • Community Work
  • Correctional Institutions / Prisons
  • Family Courts
  • Elderly Care
  • Family Service
  • Industrial Social Work
  • Medical Social Work
  • School Social Work
  • Social Policy
  • Social Work Education
  • Youth Work

(This is a non-exhaustive list of the many work areas opened to social workers, dependent on the extent of specialised training received)

You may read the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) Ethical Document “Ethics in Social Work, Statement of Principles” here.

Who are Social Workers?

Social Workers are professionals who care about people and the social conditions in which they live in. They are primarily dedicated to:

  • assisting people to manage their problems more effectively
  • improving social conditions
  • advocating for change when change is necessary to better human lives

As professionals, they provide developmental, preventive and remedial intervention utilising social work principles, knowledge, skills and ethics in discharging their responsibilities. This requires that the social worker attains a Degree in Social Work or a Graduate Diploma in Social Work or other accredited Social Work degree qualifications.

Click here to listen to a Social Worker share about her life as a Social Worker (Video courtesy of Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports)

The Makings of a Social Worker?

A social worker would have ...

  • A genuine interest in helping / working with others; A sense of sensitiveness to other people's needs
  • A belief in the inherent worth of the human being; Respect for others
  • Commitment
  • Self-respect & self-responsibility

What a social worker is not ...

  • A social worker is not a super-hero who can solve everyone's problems
  • A social worker is not a perfect human being
  • A volunteer though there are social workers who volunteer professionally

What a social worker is ...

  • A social worker should be idealistic but he / she is equally pragmatic in approach to human concerns and problems
  • A social worker responses rather than reacts
  • A social worker is bounded by a body of knowledge and a code of ethics

Keen on a Career in Social Work?

We welcome members of the public, student social workers and current social workers who are either contemplating taking up social work as a career option, who wish to have a change in social work practice area or who have questions about the profession to contact us through electronic mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You may also call us at the Association at Tel: 6775 4776.

You may also wish to visit the National Council of Social Services to learn more about a Career in Social Service: https://www.ncss.gov.sg/social_service_jobs/index.asp