Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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The State of COPA (Community Organizing Planning and Administration) in Social Work: Credentialing Community Social Work

By DeMecia Wooten-Irizarry
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Social work has traditionally been a profession that espoused the tenets of social justice, social action, and equality; they were people functioning as change agents who diminished oppression and inequality.  These include social workers such as Jane Addams, Whitney Young , Congressmen Ron Dellums, Congressmen Ed Towns and Senator Barbara A. Mikulski.  Psycho-therapeutic treatments deal with how an individual can developmentally, cognitively, or behaviorally manage oppression, poverty, and/or inequality.  One model commits to making social change, the other to managing social change.  Nevertheless, they are not mutually exclusive.

Credentialing of Community Social Work
Leighninger & Midgley (1997) suggest that American social work has an eclectic capacity that  licenses several different disciplines.  They suggest that social work individualist perspective continues to dominate as demonstrated by its predilection toward clinical practice , the scholarly language of psychotherapy, and other forms of social treatment options that permeate articles.  This tradition traces back to the Charity Organization Societies and the systematic formulation of the casework method by Mary Richmond in 1917.  During the 1920’s there were attempts to define generic social casework, since then there was a powerful appeal toward psychoanalysis, and its variations, in the middle decades of this century.  Subsequently, there has been a growing trend toward private practice through the 1980’s and 1990’s  that is largely reflective  of individualist thinking in the profession (Leighninger & Midgley, 1997, p. 11).

As Leighninger & Midgley (1997) have astutely pointed out, the notion that psychological constructs can decide the basis for social work processes like community organization, planning, and administration, is impractical.  This assertion leaves a void in community social work practice models.  As such, many community practitioners use paradigms from other disciplines such as Public Administration and Urban Planning. For example using community mapping, adapted from the field of geography and urban planning.  Community “organizers can use GIS to link data to the target group’s environment, and examine different behavior patterns (McNutt, 2000 as cited in Hardcastle, Powers & Wenocour, 2004, p. 164)

For instance, Donna Hardina (2002) reviewed literature on teaching community organization practice and determined that there were a number of analytic or technical skills students should acquire to stay competent.  These included: budgeting, grant writing, information gathering and processing, legislative research, needs assessment, participatory action research, political analysis, population forecasting and social indicator analysis, power analysis, program development and planning , and resource development” (Austin, 1986; Fisher, 1995; Halseth, 1993; Karger as cited by Hardina, 2002, pp. 2, 3).

Hardina also found that these topics provided “analytical methods that help the practitioner identify community problems, plan interventions, and conduct evaluations.”  (Hardina, 2002, p. 3)  Each skill set had its own collection of requisite principles, practices, and functions that a prospective community social worker should comprehend and become proficient in.  However, Hardina reviewed the literature more that 10 years ago.  Does higher education curriculum in community organization still offer the requisite skills necessary to develop effective intervention strategies in a community setting?

This author works in the constituent office a New York State Representative.  As the former Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor, the author was responsible for directing, managing, and overseeing all district-wide policy development, daily operations, and staff activities for the Legislator.  Moreover, the author had overall responsibility for evaluating the political outcome of various legislative proposals and constituent requests.  In this role, the author needed skills in the areas of:
•       Information gathering and processing;
•       Legislative research;
•       needs assessment;
•       Participatory action research;
•       Political analysis;
•       Population forecasting and social indicator analysis;
•       Power analysis; and
•       Resource development

In 1997, the Network of Social Work Managers established the Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) credential for social workers practicing as managers.  The Board of Directors of the Network established standards that defined best practices for social workers in management and leadership positions.  As such, the standards declare the competencies a worker must demonstrate to receive the CSWM.

Competency-based training began in the United States with pilot projects in teacher education.  Consequently, these advances in training policy were published in a series of White Papers by the US Department of Education and Department of Economic Security.  These innovative approaches were designed as a “unified and coherent national framework for vocational certification across a whole range of occupations”—clearly specifying what employers could expect from holding certain qualifications and licenses (DOE 1981, 1984; DOE and DES 1985, 1986 as cited by Yelloly & Henkel, 1995).

The author believes that this might be a matter to explore.  The prospects of establishing credentialing for Community Social Work practitioners could be used to establish the skills set one needs in order to be competent in the community practice field.


Hardcastle, D. A., Powers, P. R., & Wenocur, S. (2004).  Community Practice:  Theories and Skills for Social Workers.  New York: Oxford University Press.  Retrieved April 18, 2009, from Questia database:

Hardina, D. (2002).  Analytical Skills for Community Organization Practice.  New York: Columbia University Press.  Retrieved April 18, 2009, from Questia database:

Hardina, D. (2004).  Guidelines for Ethical Practice in Community Organization.  Social Work, 49(4), 595+.  Retrieved April 18, 2009, from Questia database:

(1997). International Handbook on Social Work Theory and Practice (N. S. Mayadas, T. D. Watts, & D. Elliott, Ed.).  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.  Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Questia database:

Leighninger, L., & Midgley, J. (1997).  2 United States of America.  In International Handbook on Social Work Theory and Practice, Mayadas, N. S., Watts, T. D., & Elliott, D. (Eds.) (pp. 9-28).  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.  Retrieved April 18, 2009, from Questia database:


Thanks to DeMecia for this detailed writeup

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