Social work and law: a holistic approach to helping those in need

Limestone College Social Work

In the world of social work, helping those in need is not always a matter of just providing social services. Sometimes, a case may involve legal issues such as evictions or domestic abuse requiring the help of legal professionals.

Recognizing the need for a multi-dimensional approach to helping the most disadvantaged members of our society has led to nonprofit organizations like Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA). NLSA is a non-profit, public interest law firm that provides civil legal assistance to poor and vulnerable residents in addition to providing access to social services.

How does this work?

Take for example, a low-income mother of two, facing domestic abuse from her partner, who needs to escape from her home. In such domestic violence cases, NLSA legal professionals can help this woman to obtain a Civil Protection Order, which prohibits the abuser from harassing the victim. However, the help doesn’t stop there. Through their Law & Social Work Partnership Program, NLSA also pairs their clients with social workers who can assist in multiple ways. In this example, the social worker could help the domestic abuse victim obtain Section 8 housing, employment, and referral services for a divorce lawyer.

Similar organizations to NLSA are present across the country, including South Carolina. For example, South Carolina Legal Services is a statewide law firm that provides civil legal services to protect the rights and represent the interests of low income South Carolinians.

Supporting the need for a more comprehensive approach to helping people has also led to the rise of dual degree programs. These programs combine social work and law, and give students an opportunity to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Limestone students earning a Bachelor of Social Work who may be interested in pursuing a career in executive, legislative or judicial areas of government may consider advanced degrees as one of the ways to further their career and strengthen their impact.

Similarly, legal experts have also long recognized the absence of social work training in the legal profession, particularly for those working in the areas of child welfare, family law or social justice. Jane H. Aiken, Professor of Law at Georgetown University and Stephen Wizner, Professor of Law and Yale, published a joint paper, “Law as Social Work” in which they wrote:

“There is much in social work education, ethics, and practice that can and should be adopted by lawyers. These qualities are especially important for those who represent, and those who teach others to represent, both low income and disadvantaged clients.”

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