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Empowerment through Collaboration

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Program Description

Collaborative Approach

From its very inception the Greater Rochester Collaborative MSW Program was conceived as a true collaborative. Organizational components which facilitate the collaborative design of the program include an organizational structure with a jointly appointed Coordinating Advisory Committee with administrative representatives from both parent institutions, as well as the social work department chairs from both institutions, and the program director. Members from both faculties teaching in the program; pooling of joint financial resources and sharing of income by the sponsoring institutions; a central downtown location for the MSW program; and the joint sharing of administrative resources for the day to day operation of the program (e.g. registration and records, financial aid, bursar and billing matters, financial aid, public relations, etc.).

By its very organizational design, the MSW program is geared to support, sustain, and facilitate its collaborative origins. Most significantly, the administrators and faculties of both institutions are deeply committed to the concept of community based collaboration on which the program is built.

Curriculum Design

The curriculum as a whole is designed around an integrated practice model delivered within the framework of collaborative community-based practice and an empowerment perspective. This framework builds on the generalist perspective introduced in the foundation curriculum. The foundation curriculum introduces students to the generalist framework of multi-system, multi-level intervention. Students explore the generalist perspective as it relates to human behavior, policy, practice and research with individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations. The theoretical underpinning of the curriculum is knowledge and skill development from the systems and ecological perspectives. The core first-year courses and field practicum integrate the problem-solving process through a strengths-based empowerment model as the main theme of the generalist perspective.

Generalist Practice

The foundation year prepares students to deliver services from a generalist perspective. The GRC MSW definition of the generalist perspective views problems holistically, utilizing multi-method and multilevel approaches, based on an eclectic choice of theory incorporating the dual vision of the profession on private issues and social justice concerns (Landon, 1995). The GRC MSW specifically focuses on the social worker and client system partnering together to address the identified challenges. Client systems range from micro systems (individuals, couples, families, and groups) to macro systems (organizations, institutions, communities, regions, and nations) (Hepworth & Larson, 1993). The generalist perspective employs a problem-solving model that assists the social worker in making ethical decisions, practicing culturally competent interventions including advocacy, brokering, case management and recording (Hepworth & Larson, 1993). At the completion of the foundation year, MSW students are prepared to work across fields using multiple methods across different system levels.

The concentration year allows students to gain more autonomy and advanced knowledge and skill within the specialization of Interdisciplinary Health Care Practice or Family and Community Practice. Either specialization remains organized around the integrated practice community collaborative framework. Students in the concentration year enhance their ability to contribute to collaborative community teams seeking solutions to complex social problems. They develop their ability to provide leadership at multiple points in the process including, policy analysis, needs assessment, program design, program implementation, clinical work, group leadership, program evaluation, community building, and multiple other points.

In addition to the core content areas required by the CSWE CPS there are several key concepts that express themselves throughout the curriculum. These core concepts are:

  1. Community-based Collaboration
  2. Interdisciplinary Teamwork
  3. Empowerment
  4. Strengths-based Perspective

Integrated Practice Perspective

The concentration year builds on the generalist framework by applying the integrated practice perspective, an enhancement of the generalist perspective. Students successfully master the generalist perspective during the foundation year and deepen their intervention skills during the concentration year by implementing the Integrated Practice approach (Briar-Lawson 1998; Parsons, Hernandez, & Jorgenson, 1988) to develop advanced intervention skills in working five client systems: the client, family, group, institutions, and communities. The integrated practice approach is well suited for the GRC MSW orientation to community-based collaborative practice strategies. Integrated practice knowledge and skills enhance and refine the basic practice intervention skills of working at the micro-, mezzo-, and organizational-systems levels. Students develop the ability to intervene within multiple systems and at different system levels. Collaborative and empowerment skills that prepare students to work within an interdisciplinary and interagency community-based practice are emphasized. Throughout the curriculum, students participate in a variety of groups while learning about group process. These skills are essential in collaborative community-based practice. Graduates of the program will provide leadership across multiple systems and at different levels within the systems. This perspective is brought to bear on specific target systems/populations within the concentrations of Interdisciplinary Health Care, and Family and Community Practice. Expected competencies are: an ability to synthesize and apply a broad range of knowledge; an ability to practice with a high degree of autonomy and skill; and an ability to refine and advance the quality of professional practice and that of the larger social work profession. The outcome objectives of preparing practitioners who can analyze, intervene, and evaluate in ways that are highly differentiated, discriminating and self-critical assure coherence between the foundation year and the concentration year.

This practice perspective emphasizes a collaborative approach by the client and worker to address the issues identified by the application of a habilitation perspective incorporating increasing the client's competency through empowerment from a democratic paradigm. The habilitation perspective is a marked departure from the rehabilitation perspective with its deficit orientation that houses the problem within the client system and labels the client as deviant. By comparison, the habilitation perspective fosters growth promotion by fostering competency, normalization, and empowerment (Briar-Lawson, 1998). It is important to note that this approach builds on the work of social work leaders including Pincus & Minahan (1973), Anderson & Carter (1981), Germain & Gitterman (1980), and Maluccio (1984).

In integrated practice, the identified problem is conceptualized as occurring between the client system and the environment versus exclusively occurring within the client system (McKnight, 1977). In Integrated Practice, social workers engage in a partnership with the client system to provide interventions that mobilize the client system to higher levels of competency. Solomon (1976) and Gutierrez (1999) advocate for a partnership between client system and social worker where the partnership is egalitarian and that facilitate improved interface between social systems and the client system. The client is the expert on what s/he needs and the worker facilitates the aqcuisition of what is needed. By facilitating access to necessary resources, the social worker enhances the ability of the client system to continue to access needed resoureces in the future.

A cornerstone of this approach is the active engagement of students in assessing and intervening in emerging community issues to enhance the community's ability to respond more effectively to the needs of consumers of public welfare. Faculty and students collaborate with community members in a variety of forms. Course assignments are embedded in community or global issues that require students to apply critical thinking in order to integrate the theoretical course content with the community realities. The cumulative experience of this throughout the curriculum results in the students experiencing the link or the disconnect between theory and practice. This provides the student with an opportunity to learn firsthand about the adequacies and inadequacies of our current approaches in solving the most pressing issues.

The faculty coordinate efforts to create assignments that capitalize on these rich community-based learning opportunities while not being redundant. This approach culminates in the capstone, integrative experience, the Master's Project, begun in spring 2002. Community service providers, coupled with faculty, evaluated the Master's Projects at the first annual community presentation. This team approach embodies the program's primary emphasis on understanding and developing collaborative relationships in addressing the emergent community needs, resulting in students experiencing the process of developing and applying this unique program component to life.

Community-based Collaboration

For purposes of the MSW program, the term "collaboration" connotes a durable and pervasive relationship among individuals, groups, and organizations. We are committed to a definition that suggests that collaborations bring previously separated organizations into new structures with full commitment to a common mission. Such relationships require comprehensive planning and well-defined channels operating on many levels. Authority is determined by the collaborative structure. Resources are pooled or jointly secured and the products are shared. Most significantly, the term "collaboration" includes a commitment to a definition of mutual relationships and goals and mutual authority and accountability for success (Mattessich & Monsey, 1992). The MSW program is specifically focused on developing collaborations that are based in the community. They draw upon building, using, and enhancing community resources that involve the actual client groups being targeted. A major goal of the program is enhancing the capacity of local communities to serve as key players in solving the social problems that face the communities.


Within the context of the MSW program, empowerment is both an end state and a process that can be directed at multiple levels. The critical elements of empowerment are: an increased level of power within a system (self-efficacy, intrasystem power); improved interaction at a given system level (group cohesion and interaction); increased ability to make demands between system levels (political awareness and action); and the ability to critically analyze the interaction between systems (critical thinking) aimed at increasing social justice within a democratic process (Itin, unpublished manuscript). Within the program, students are encouraged to view empowerment as requiring action on both the intrasystemic (e.g. within individuals, families, groups, or communities) and intersystemic (e.g. between and among individuals, families and groups, agencies and organizations) levels. For someone to feel true efficacy, s/he must feel that s/he can take action. In this way, empowerment links to both the integrated practice perspective and the program's focus on community-based collaboration. This view of empowerment supports interventions including individual interventions (e.g., case management, short-term interventions, psychotherapy), family therapy, community development, organizational change and advocacy.

Interdisciplinary Teamwork

For the purposes of the MSW program, interdisciplinary teamwork is a process that promotes partnership with service users through networking in multi-professional settings, whether in health or human services (Payne, 2000). The coordination of services and responsibilities is essential and in this way, interdisciplinary teamwork links to integrated practice, community-based collaboration and empowerment. Consumers are full and active members of the team. The approach places the consumer as an equal partner with care providers. This definition of collaborative work means rethinking the role of "expert." The expert becomes a team member contributing to systems problem-solving. The MSW program incorporates the client, group, or organization as a team member who has equal power within the interdisciplinary team.

Strengths-based approach

Within the MSW program, a strengths-based approach is a collaborative effort between the service user and the social worker that avoids hierarchy with the intent to empower, not disempower, the client, group, or organization (Ligon, 2002). We are committed to the client, group, or organization acting on their own behalf. This approach is the antithesis of the approach used by many human services systems that operate from a deficit-oriented perspective (Saleebey, 1997). The role of the social worker is to facilitate the client's utilization of his/her strengths while bridging this process to enable the client to mobilize his/her solutions.

Foundation Curriculum

In the first year, the eight curricula areas of values & ethics, diversity, populations at risk and social and economic justice, social work practice, social welfare policy and services, research, human behavior and the social environment, and the field education provide the professional foundation in social practice. Program outcome objectives for knowledge and practice skills within these content areas include a basis in values and ethics, populations-at-risk, social and economic justice, and diversity. Knowledge and practice skills are developed in a collaborative approach to service delivery that is emphasized and integrated throughout the core foundation year and in the advanced second-year curriculum. By the end of the foundation curriculum, all students should be able to apply and integrate the generalist framework.

We embrace and promote Miley, O'Meila and DuBois' (2004) definition of generalist social work which states:

Generalist social work provides an integrated and multileveled approach for meeting the purposes of social work. Generalist practitioners acknowledge the interplay of personal and collective issues, promoting skills to work with a variety of human systems - societies, communities, neighborhoods, complex organizations, formal groups, families, and individuals - to create changes which maximize human functioning. This means that generalist social workers work directly with client systems of all levels, connect clients to available resources, intervene with irganizations to enhance the responsiveness of resource systems, advocate just social policies to ensure the equitable distribution of resources, and research all aspects of social work practice. (p.10).

Concentration Curriculum

The GRC MSW Feasibility Study (1993) clearly documented the need for two concentrations: Family and Community Practice, and Interdisciplinary Health Practice in the Rochester Metropolitan area . The program's curriculum was designed to address the community need for advanced practitioners who are prepared to provide interdisciplinary teamwork in the delivery of strengths oriented, collaborative community-based practice in these two fields of practice.

Family and Community Concentration

The Family and Community Practice concentration prepares students to plan, develop, and implement family-focused services from a collaborative, community-based perspective. The concentration is based on a strength and empowerment philosophy with primary focus on agency-based work to vulnerable and at-risk populations. Students will become familiar with federal, state and local trends, policies and programs in community-based intervention, and prevention services related to families. Students will explore theories of family practice including traditional family therapy, family preservation, empowerment strategies for families, and working with multi-needs families. Students will also explore theories of community development, including traditional models of community organizing, theories of local social development, and models of community enhancement. The goal of this concentration is to prepare students for leadership roles and practice in agencies serving high risk and high need families from a community perspective. The concentration provides students with the requisite knowledge and skills to work with children, families, communities and organizations to promote and preserve family wellbeing in the context of promoting, developing, and maintaining healthy community life. Emphasis is placed on developing advanced practice intervention strategies that foster collaboration and partnerships between various community agencies and organizations in the design, implementation, and evaluation of family support services.

Interdisciplinary Health Curriculum

The interdisciplinary healthcare concentration prepares independent practitioners who are skilled in promoting health and wellness. The traditional medical model's deficit orientation is challenged and the graduate students are trained in a family systems model of care that incorporates Kerson's (1997) problem-solving approach that integrates policy, technology, and practice. Family-centered care recognizes the family as the expert in the needs of the affected family member and positions team members as collaborators in this care. From the family-centered knowledge base, students are then pushed to understand community interventions from a public health perspective that enfolds the community's role in promoting well being. The contemporary managed care environment has radically influenced the healthcare delivery system at all levels of care. This increasing level of sophistication was evidenced in the students' master's projects.


Briar-Lawson, K. (1998). Capacity building for integrated family-centered practice. Social Work, 43, 539–549.

Germain, C.B., & Gitterman, A. (1980). The life model of social work practice. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gutierrez, L. M. & Lewis, E. A. (1999). Empowering women of color. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hepworth, D. and Larsen, J. (1993). Direct social work practice: Theory and Skills(4th edition). Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press.

Kerson, T.S. (1997). Social work in health settings: Practice in Context (2nd ed.). New York: The Haworth Press.

Landon, P.S. (1995). Generalist and advanced generalist practice. In Encyclopedia of social work (pp 1101-1108). Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Ligon, J. (2002). Fundamentals of brief treatment: principles and practices. In Robert, A. & G. Greene. (2002). Social workers’ desk reference (pp 96-100). NY: Oxford
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Maluccio, A.N. 1981, Competence-oriented social work practice: an ecological approach. In A.N. Maluccio (Ed.), Promoting competence in clients: A new/old approach to social work practice (pp. 1-24). New York: The free Press.

Mattessich, P., & Monsey, B. (1992). Collaboration: What makes it work. St. Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

McKnight, J. (1977). Professionalized service and disabling help. In I. Illich (ed.) Disabling Professions (pp. 69-91). London: M. Boyars.

Miley, K., O’Melia, M. & DuBois, B. (2007). Generalist social work practice: An empowerment approach,( 5thed). Boston: Allyn & Bacon Publishers.

Parsons, R., Hernandez, S., & Jorgensen, J. (1988). Integrated Practice: A framework for problem solving, Social Work, 1998, 417-421.

Payne, M. (2000) Teamwork in multidisciplinary care. Chicago, Il., Lyceum Books.

Pincus, A., & Minahan, A. (1973). Social work practice: Model and method. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock.

Poulin, J. and contributors,(2005). Strengths -based generalist practice: A collaborative approach (2nd edition). Belmont, CA: Brooks-Cole.

Saleeby, D. (1997). The strengths perspective in social work practice (2nd ed.). NY: Longman Press.

Solomon, B. (1976). Black empowerment: Social Work in oppressed communities. New York: Columbia University


General Program Requirements and Curriculum