Relational social work

Authored by: Karen Winter

The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Theory

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415793438
eBook ISBN: 9781315211053
Adobe ISBN:


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Taking as the start point the internationally accepted definition of social work, most recently ratified by the International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW] (2014), social work is defined as ‘a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing’. Based on this definition, it is evident that relationships are core to social work practice, and relational social work is key to achieving its aims and objectives. There is a growing literature to support this view. That relationships are central is ‘common sense’ at one level, and yet, at another level, it is apparent that there are differences in definitions, conceptual and theoretical underpinnings and hoped-for outcomes.

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