As a budding social worker, when I tell people that my interest is in the policy and procedure side of social work, they often question me with puzzled faces. ‘if you’re studying social work, doesn’t that mean you want to work with and help kids, women and poor people?’. My answer to that is yes! Positively impacting marginalised and vulnerable people and communities is at the core of what I do. However, my social work is not limited to just direct practice.

Unlike direct, face-to-face therapeutic work with clients, indirect social work operates with a wider political arena, with bureaucracies, businesses and the client’s environment, so social networking, advocacy and collaboration with others all assist in alleviating client’s difficulties (Johnson, 1991). This indirect work can take many forms like administration, supervision, research, publication, advocacy, policy development and education (O, 2014).

My experience thus far has led me to the conclusion that social work is a spectrum; from direct to indirect work. Social workers move along this spectrum depending on the focus. A community center can advocate for new local park equipment thus operating in the indirect work space. Similarly, a Regional Peak body can participate in therapeutic group work, training and consultations thus having direct interactions with individuals and operating in a direct social work space. Both approaches are valuable and are needed if an equitable society is to ever exist.

As we celebrate Social Worker day, let us not overlook the importance of indirect work. Through big picture thinking, addressing systematic inadequacies, working with governments, bureaucracies and businesses via networking and collaborative means, indirect work aims to bring about and sustain a more humane and just social order. Both practices go hand in hand. So, let us recognise and celebrate the breadth and depth of social work today.


– Catherine Madziva


Image: Promoting the Importance of Human Relationships campaign poster, portrait artwork created by Martha Rothblum

Johnson, Y. (1991). Indirect Work: Social Work’s Uncelebrated Strength. Social Work, [online] 44(4), pp.323–334.