Social Work Policy

Social Policy Definition

Social Policy- "Chosen courses of action within unique contexts with goals of preventing and addressing social problems ." (O'Connor & Netting, 2011)

Lawa binding custom or practice of a community a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority (Merriam-Webster, 2012)

Statute- a law enacted by the legislative branch of a government. (Merriam-Webster, 2012)

Regulation- rule or order issued by an executive authority or agency of a government and having the force of law (Merriam-Webster, 2012)

O'Connor, M. K., & Netting, F. E. (2011). Analyzing social policy: Multiple perspectives for critically understanding and evaluating policy. John Wiley & Sons.

Further Explantation

Policy can be the outcome of a law, legislation, regulations.

The policy process is affected by rules and regulations, budget concerns, court rulings, and standards. (O'Connor & Netting, 2011)

Policies assist with the creation of social programs like TANF and help legislators decide when a new bill should be amended/introduced to Congress.

Policies tend to be created as the result or after-effect of a social problem; they are often a reactionary approach rather than preventative.

When policy is challenged it may be brought into the court system. For example, if a person claims a policy is unconstitional the challenge of the policy may eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

Laws say what need to be done - think in terms out outcomes. Regulations specify how the laws get carried out.

Social Programs

There are a vast range of Social Welfare Programs that exist in the United States.

A few examples are:

Wokers' Compensation Programs

National School Lunch Program

Making Home Affordable Program

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program (SNAP)

Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)

Child and Adult Care Food Program

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)


To learn more about these programs review the information in the Encyclopedia of Social Work and the Social Work Dictionary (print reference)

Also check out USA.GOV to search for specific government-related sites.

Examples of Laws Governing Social Policy


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Sarah Maximiek
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Court Decisions

Legal Cases can also affect policy. 

For example the case United States v. Windsor (2013) helped overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (1996)

Brown v Board of Education (1954) helped change unconstituonal "seperate but equal" policies put in place by  the case Plessy v Ferguson (1896)

To find out more about Supreme Court cases use these databases: