SAU established the first MSW program with an empowerment specialization in the U.S.
The empowerment method focuses on the achievement of goals and change of systems by utilizing available strengths, resilience, and resources. By focusing on competence rather than deficits in individual or social functioning, the empowerment model supports resourcefulness and the development of skills to remove social barriers for individuals and communities.
Framed by a generalist foundation, empowerment practice directs social workers to address challenges at all levels, including those of individuals, families, groups, organizations, neighborhoods, communities, and society. Empowerment is achieved through synchronized efforts that work with – not on – people, their relationships, and the impinging social and political environment. These simultaneous and coordinated efforts create a spiral of influences that initiate, sustain, and amplify empowered functioning.
Empowerment-based practice actuates a strengths perspective, centering the social work process toward competence promotion and away from the stigmatizing notion of deficit reduction. An empowering approach reveals the worker's unwavering commitment to social justice. This approach operates on the axiom that we all benefit when we acknowledge every person's rights and responsibilities to contribute to and receive from community participation in a reciprocal relationship.
Being empowered is not a static condition but rather a dynamic and cyclical one. Human individual and social systems are in perpetual motion, either "getting better" or "getting worse" at any given moment. Empowerment indicates a simpatico state in which one's perception of self-efficacy and essential value is mirrored in and accentuated by social relationships and the larger environment. Empowerment is a confluence of the individual, the interpersonal, and the sociopolitical where the experience of power in each sphere continually replenishes the others.
The empowered individual enters each interaction assuming success, respect, and influence; and when these expectations are rewarded, carries back a sense of personal control and esteem. This realization of interpersonal success builds confidence for interactions at the institutional level-feelings that drive empowered people forward to assert their rights, develop their privilege, and fashion just environments. In return, a just and ethical society offers equal access to power which is reflected in the lives of each individual citizen.
Empowering initiatives at the individual level are supported and sustained only by opening pathways to power sources in social, economic, and institutional structures. Empowering initiatives at the societal level only have benefits when those individuals and groups previously disenfranchised rise up to meet them.
To facilitate empowerment, practitioners integrate a continuum of strategies ranging from individual development to relationship improvement to resource acquisition and reallocation through social and institutional change. Collaborating as partners, clients and social workers can coordinate these efforts simultaneously or sequentially, but no part of the ecosystemic transaction can be ignored.
Empowerment efforts at the personal level provide only brief respite if they are not supported by complementary changes within interpersonal and sociopolitical realms. Likewise, even broad-based social improvements wane if not protected by the continuing influence of empowered individuals, families, and groups.
Katherine Van Blair, PhD, Director and Professor
Master of Social Work
North Davenport Education Center
1950 E. 54th St.
Davenport, IA 52807