Since its earliest days social work has been defined not only in terms of the knowledge and skills that it brings to social issues and problems but also in relation to the values that are regarded as core to its identity. Indeed, for some social workers it is the values of the profession that are its defining feature (e.g., Reamer, 1999). However, such a position runs the risk of overstating the place of values in understanding social work, in that without being able to identify the knowledge and skills that social workers bring to their role(s) we are unable to say what it is that we do. Furthermore, all professions make claims to particular values. This can be seen both in the codes of ethics that are espoused by professions in health, education, law, science and so on, as well as in the wider notion that professions ‘pursue values’ (Koehn, 1994). By this, Koehn is referring to the idea each profession is formed around a goal that can understood as a ‘nonmoral value’ (that which is valued, but is good in itself and not as a moral issue). For example, in the case of medicine, nursing and the allied health professions it is the value of ‘health’ that is sought, or for teachers the value sought is that of ‘education’. In this sense we may say that the value pursued by social workers is that of ‘social well-being’, and indeed this notion is contained explicitly in the international definition of social work (IFSW/IASSW, 2000/2001). The ‘values’ of social work that are stated in the IFSW/IASSW definition to include ‘human rights’ and ‘social justice’ can therefore be seen as ideas that help us to understand what might constitute ‘social well-being’. Indeed, many social work scholars identify these, especially human rights, as the foundational, if not absolute, values of social work (Ife, 2001; Reichert, 2003; Mapp, 2008).
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