Structural competence, cultural competence, social work education, structural social work, social policy


Social work seeks to address social problems through interventions that span micro and macro systems. As such, all social workers are obligated to understand the interplay between individual realities and structural forces. Yet prior models of structural social work play a marginal role in social work education, leaving social work educators without the means to meet these obligations. This structural gap in social work classrooms risks deemphasizing macro practice and failing to prepare micro practitioners to account for structural forces that impact client wellbeing and client-social worker interactions. This paper examines the framework of structural competence as a potential solution to this challenge. It focuses on the use of structural competence as a pedagogical tool, describing its integration into a social welfare policy course and an evaluation of this effort. We find that structural competence can provide a unifying framework through which structural social work may be articulated and anchored. Though it helped students conceptualize the interaction between micro realities and macro forces, it requires further operationalization to provide a clear vision as to what structurally competent social work practice looks like in action.

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