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Defining Professional Suitability for Social Work Practice. Prepare by: Drs. Dora Tam and Siu Ming Kwok, Associate Professors, School of Social Work, King's University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada . For correspondence, please email Dr. Dora Tam at

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Defining Professional Suitability for Social Work Practice

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    1. Defining Professional Suitability for Social Work Practice Prepare by: Drs. Dora Tam and SiuMing Kwok, Associate Professors, School of Social Work, King's University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada For correspondence, please email Dr. Dora Tam at

    2. Definition of Professional Suitability • The possession of a comprehensive understanding of SW knowledge, skills, and values, combined with the performance of appropriate professional behaviors in specific practice situations (Kimberly & Osmond, 2009; Lyons, 1999) • “professional competence” and “professional suitability” have been used interchangeably in the literature • “professional suitability” is the preferred construct because “incompetence” imposes negative connotations (Brear, Dorrian, & Luscri, 2008)

    3. Theoretical Framework • Competence-based education and training is rooted the functionalist perspective (Durkheim, trans. 1984; Hager, 2004; Horder, 1998) • Professions are entrusted with providing regulatory functions for modern society and are expected to fulfill the rising demand for professional accountability (MacDonald, 1995; McCauley, 2010) • The question is whether or not the profession has well defined criteria to measure its members’ professional suitability.

    4. Purpose and Methodology • Overarching purpose was to develop reliable and valid instruments for measuring one’s professional suitability • Built upon previous provincial study in Alberta (Tam & Coleman, 2009), to better identify core contents on the construct of professional suitability • Data were collected from a province-wide mail-out questionnaire surveying 341 (69%) participants from a random sample of registered social workers in Ontario • 245 out of the 341 answered the open-end question asking criteria of professional suitability for social work practice

    5. Demographics • 79% of the participants were female • 73% held a master’s degree, 24% had a bachelor, and the remaining were others; • Mean years of experience as a social worker was 16 years (SD=10); • 55% of them has experience as a field supervisor, and the mean years of field supervision experience was 6 years (SD=5.7) • 66% worked in urban areas, 19% in sub-urban, 13% in rural or remote areas, and the remaining were others

    6. Data Analysis • Quantitative content analysis was used to analyze the text-based data in this study (Krippendorff, 2004) • The rationale was to build foundation on reliability and validity of the construct • Units of analysis encompassed point-form answers such as words or short phrases • The coding included both manifest and latent coding • Built upon previous study (Tam& Coleman, 2009), four themes were used for coding: Personal, Practical/Interpersonal, Ethical, and Social Consciousness Suitability

    7. Findings • 22 criteria were identified under the four themes • Practice Suitability got the most responses (1204 out of 1862 codes or 64.7%), followed by Ethical Suitability 15.7%), the next was Personal Suitability 11.0%), and Social Consciousness Suitability got 8.6% of the codes

    8. Identified Criteria under Each Themes (1) • Practical Suitability • Is client-centered • Is knowledgeable on different theories • Is competent on clinical skills (i.e. listening, assessment, problem solving...) • Upholds professional boundary • Has good interpersonal skills • Has good communication skills • Is supportive (both practical & emotional)

    9. Identified Criteria under Each Themes (2) • Ethical Suitability • Is respectful on one’s dignity, worth, • Maintains integrity (i.e. honesty) • Is non-judgmental • Embraces diversity • Upholds confidentiality

    10. Identified Criteria under Each Themes (3) • Personal Suitability • Is open-minded (i.e. receptive to feedback) • Is caring (i.e. patience, friendly…) • Is empathetic • Has good self-awareness (i.e. be aware of personal biases or limitations) • Is mature (i.e. manage personal problems) • Commits to professional development

    11. Identified Criteria under Each Themes (4) • Social Consciousness Suitability • Commits to social change (i.e. advocacy, empowerment…) • Is sensitivity to structural or systematic issues • Commits to social justice (i.e. equality, discrimination issues…) • Has critical thinking

    12. Discussion (1) • Caveat • Some identified criteria could be grouped under more than one theme. For example: • ‘Is client-centered,’ ‘Upholds professional boundary’ could be under either Ethical or Practical Suitability • ‘Is empathetic’ could be under Ethical or Personal Suitability • ‘Is non-judgemental’ could be Ethical or Practical Suitability • Inter-coder reliability of Krippendorff’s was .78, which was slightly lower than the expected .80 • The data is based on a provincial surveyrather than a national data • Nevertheless, results of this study built upon the Alberta study (Tam & Coleman, 2009) to better understand core criteria/contents on the construct of Professional Suitability • Random sampling enhanced the generalizability of the results

    13. Discussion (2) • Compare with the Alberta study, ‘Commits to social change’ is the criteria most frequently and explicitly covered under the “Social Consciousness Suitability” in this study, but not in the Alberta study • Moreover, “life experience or work experience” were identified themes that were not covered in the Alberta study • Another different finding is the criteria of ‘Observes agency’s policy’ that was covered in the “Practice Suitability” in the Alberta study, but was not mention even once in this study • Other than these differences discussed above and differences on the frequencies of various criteria appeared in the Ontario and Alberta studies, 21 core criteria on Professional Suitability were shared in both studies • This is an important finidings for content validity, which will help building a reliable and valid measurement on Professional Suitability • Recommendation for future research, a national study using stratified random sampling to recruit research participants who represent the richness of diverse practice orientations and practice contexts in Canada • To recruit both practising social workers and social work educators including field supervisors in the national study to identify comprehensive list of criteria on professional suitability

    14. Select References Brear, P., Dorrian, J., & Luscri, G. (2008). Preparing our future counseling professionals: Gatekeeping and the implications for research. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 8(2), 93–101. Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW). (2005). Social work code of ethics. Ottawa: The Author. Carpenter, J. (2011). Evaluating social work education: A review of outcomes, measures, research designs, and practicalities. Social Work Education, 30(2), 122-140. Gibbs, P., & Blakely, E.H. (2000). Academic standards for admission and retention. In P. Gibbs & E.H. Blakely (Eds.), Gatekeeping in BSW programs (pp. 259-278). New York: Columbia University Press. Hager, P. (2004). The competence affair: Or, why vocational education and training urgently need a new understanding of learning. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 56(3), 409–433. Horder, W. (1998). Comptence(s) without tears? Social Work Education, 17(1), 117–120. Kimberly, D., & Osmond, L. (2009). Social workers. In J.C. Turner & F.J. Turner (Eds.), Canadian social welfare, (6th ed.) (pp. 353–374). Toronto: Pearson Education Canada. Lyons, K. (1999). Social work in higher education: Demise or development. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing. McCauley, T.P. (2005). Theoretical foundations for the study of work and professions. In M. Jacobs & S.E. Bosanac (Eds.), The professionalization of work (pp. 64 – 89). Whitby, ON: de Sitter Publications. National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2008). Code of Ethics. Washington, DC: NASW. Tam, D.M.Y., & Coleman, H. (2009). Defining criteria on professional suitability for social work practice.Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 14(2), 105-121. Thank You!