The oldest of its kind in the South, Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work was established in 1917 as the Richmond School of Social Economy. Later renamed the School of Social Work and Public Health, it became the first unit of Richmond Professional Institute. The school was created initially in response to community needs in working with World War I veterans and their social and health problems. Subsequent development of the school has expanded activity into all areas of human service.
With the creation of VCU in 1968, the School of Social Work became a unit of what is now the university’s Monroe Park Campus. The school offers baccalaureate-, master’s- and doctoral-level programs in Richmond, and the capital provides educational opportunities in many state government agencies. Through 2012 VCU’s School of Social Work also offers an off-campus M.S.W. program in Northern Virginia. Located in Alexandria, its proximity to Washington, D.C. allows additional field opportunities with federal agencies and national organizations.
Social work education at VCU is highly individualized and is characterized by a close relationship between faculty and students. Faculty members help students learn the form and method of social work practice, and students are encouraged to discover their own unique style of helping others. The school’s educational programs are designed to prepare students for practice in many different kinds of social agencies. A combination of classroom courses and concurrent fieldwork experiences facilitates integration of knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for professional practice. The integrated class and fieldwork curriculum offers students the opportunity to acquire a substantial base in social work practice, patterns of human behavior and development, organization and operation of social welfare programs and policies, the methods of scientific inquiry in social work, and the needs of special populations.
The profession of social work
The goals of the profession of social work are to provide services to persons who are vulnerable due to a lack of personal, social and/or institutional resources to meet their emotional, health and economic needs. Social work practice is the application of professional knowledge, skills and values across a range of settings and populations. The focus of practice is on individuals, couples, families, groups and communities. In addition to direct clinical social work practice, social workers are involved in the administration of human service programs, social planning, the development of social policies, research and evaluation, and teaching.
In order to achieve the goals of promoting social justice and enhancing well-being for individuals, families, groups and communities, social workers provide a variety of services primarily in public and nonprofit organizational contexts. Examples of the range of settings in which social workers practice include community centers, public social services, child welfare, residential treatment facilities, schools, community mental health agencies, family and children’s service agencies, psychiatric and acute care hospitals, substance abuse treatment facilities, services for the elderly, court services and adult and juvenile rehabilitation facilities.
Professional education for social work practice dates to the early 1900s. The contributions of the profession are evidenced in health and mental health care, the well-being of children and families, the development and implementation of social policies, the planning, delivery and evaluation of human services, and a broad base of research on the human condition. The knowledge base of the profession and the integration of related social, behavioral and biological sciences acquired through professional education facilitates the contributions of social workers in multidisciplinary contexts.
Social work practice is designed to enrich quality of life by enabling individuals, groups, communities and organizations to achieve their greatest potential development. The goal of the School of Social Work at VCU is to provide professional education in response to these needs.