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Philosophy & Theoretical Framework

The Social Work Program is committed to educating students to be culturally responsive generalist social work practitioners who understand the historical and contemporary importance of the broader context in terms of the political economy and the many faceted dimensions of a democracy on the lives of all citizens and residents.

Social Work Code of Ethics:

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics (Appendix A) along with the Minnesota Board of Social Work Code of Ethics (Appendix B) are reviewed continually throughout the Social Work curriculum as the standards within which all social workers are accountable.

Theoretical Framework:

Originally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education in 1974 and most recently reaccredited in 2000, the undergraduate Social Work program at Bemidji State University offers a 71 credit major.  The major requires core courses in social work as well as in psychology, biology, sociology and political science.

Focused on generalist practice, the Social Work curriculum utilizes an ecosystems approach with a strengths perspective.  Understanding and employing the human diversity framework and developing cultural competence knowledge, values and skills are integral outcomes of the curriculum.

Generalist Practice:

The curriculum prepares graduates to be generalist social work practitioners, concentrating on the development of social work values, knowledge, and skills that can be applied across populations and agencies as assessment and intervention strategies for various size systems - individuals, families, groups, and communities are developed and employed.

According to the Baccalaureate Program Directors (BPD), generalist social work practitioners work with individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations in a variety of social work settings. Generalist practitioners view clients and client systems from a strengths perspective in order to recognize, support, and build upon the innate capabilities of all human beings. They use a professional problem solving process to engage, assess, broker services, advocate, counsel, educate, and organize with and on behalf of client and client systems. Generalist practitioners also engage in community and organizational development and evaluate service outcomes are part of improving the service-delivery system to be client focused. [BPD Social Work Continuum Committee and Board of Directors, 2006.]

Human Diversity framework:

The human diversity framework focuses on the many facets that are integral to life span development:  aesthetic, biological, psychological, cognitive, social-structural, and cultural, at the same time considering the importance of gender, sexual preference, and spirituality on the person's experience within his / her social environment.


An ecosystems approach with a human diversity framework provides the theoretical orientation in all course work. Using this approach, social workers understand that human systems, individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities are in ongoing interaction and transaction among and between each other.  There is ongoing exchange and sharing of resources.  "As we discover the desires, talents, and interest of each person…we hone our skills in recognizing, appreciating, valuing, and utilizing that which is already there. In a sense, we co-create with individuals and various social settings a mutually enriching partnership and exchange" (Saleeby, 2006, p. 180).

Cultural Competence:

Throughout the curriculum and in programming, students receive training in cultural competence.  Terry Cross' cultural competence continuum provides the foundation for this training.

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency or professional to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.  The word culture is used because it implies the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious or social group.  The word competence is used because it implies have the capacity to function effectively.  A culturally competent system of care acknowledges and incorporates—at all levels—the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs. [Cross et al (1989) Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care, Washington D.C.:  CASSP Technical Assistance Center, p. 13].

Strengths Perspective:

The strengths perspective focuses on service users' assets-talents, abilities, and competencies; an appreciation of and respect for the assets of individuals, families, and communities. According to Saleeby (2006, p. 10), the core values of strengths-based social work practice can be found in a few core words or concepts utilizing the "CPR" model below. 

C stands for competence, capacities, courage

P stands for promise, possibility, positive expectations

R stands for resilience, reserves, resources

Saleeby further promotes six principles or assumptions when practicing strengths- based social work practice:

  • Every individual, group, family, and community has strengths
  • Trauma and abuse, illness and struggle may be injurious but they may also be sources of challenge and opportunity
  • Assume that you do not know the upper limits of the capacity to grow and change and take individual, group, and community aspiration seriously.
  • We best serve clients by collaborating with them.
  • Every environment is full of resources.
  • Caring, caretaking, and context.

 [Saleeby, D. (2006). The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice (4th ed.). New York: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.]