Baylor > Social Work > Information For... > Current Students > Mission, Goals, and Philosophy

Mission, Goals, and Philosophy


Social work has been a part of the University’s curriculum since the first course was taught in the Department of Sociology in 1936. The first full-time faculty member with an MSW was hired in 1962. In 1969, the Department launched a complete baccalaureate social work program to prepare students for the beginning level of social work practice. A feasibility study conducted during academic year 1997-98 documented the significant needs which Baylor University could address in its graduate social work program. Based on that study, the Baylor Board of Regents approved a Master's of Social Work degree and the School of Social Work was established in January 1999. The program was moved from within the department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work and Gerontology to become a separate department in the College of Arts and Sciences. In September 2004, the School of Social Work was granted independent status, effective June 2005.

The School of Social Work at Baylor University gives shape and direction to the faith-based social services not only of Baptists but, more broadly, of other denominations and religious organizations. Through its baccalaureate and graduate programs, the School of Social Work prepares professional social workers for building healthy communities, and provides effective leadership in social service, social action, and advocacy for social justice in many settings, including religious organizations and faith communities.


The mission of the Baylor University School of Social Work is to advance social work knowledge, values and skills in a Christian context.


The goals of the Baylor Univeristy School of Social Work are:

1.  To produce Alumni who are:

·          Influencing (through service and leadership) the social welfare of people, families, and communities globally.

·          Ethically integrating religious faith with social work practice.

·          Culturally responsive and competent.

·          Effective in creating healthy organizations.

2.  To produce Research by the School and its alumni that:

·          Provides resources and models for excellence in professional social work practice that contribute to social justice and the wellbeing of persons, families, and communities.

·          Provides resources and models that are respectful, faithful, and effective for communities of faith and religiously-affiliated organizations.

Statement of Philosophy and Program Rationale

Three interrelated concepts inform the development of the curriculum of the School of Social Work at Baylor and make the program distinctive: (1) the integration of faith and practice, (2) the building of communities as the primary focus of practice, and (3) a perspective that emphasizes strengths rather than problems.

  1. Ethical Integration of Christian Faith and Practice

    Regardless of the setting of social work practice — public or private, religious or nonsectarian — social workers need to understand and be able to work effectively and professionally with the religious, faith, and spirituality dimensions of persons and of communities. They also need to have examined their own religious frameworks and spirituality in order to know how these personal aspects inform, conflict with, and can be used in their service as social work professionals.

    In addition to the need for all social workers to be able to integrate knowledge about faith, spirituality, and religion with professional practice, many social workers practice in organizational contexts that have religious missions and faith orientations. These social work practice contexts include staff positions in congregations, gerontological and medical services in denominational agencies, child welfare services provided by denominations through their children’s homes and family services, community service and development organizations sponsored in part or totally by religious constituencies, and national and international missions with diverse ethnic and cultural groups. The vast network of faith-related social service institutions needs leadership by professional social workers who are knowledgeable of, value, and can work effectively with faith communities and organizations. For example, in the child welfare sector alone, more than two-thirds of private child welfare agencies are sponsored at least partially by churches and other religious entities. The most effective professional social workers for these practice contexts are those who have social work education that includes knowledge, values, and skills needed for working with churches and denominations as voluntary associations and mission-driven institutions (Garland, 1994).

    The baccalaureate and graduate programs prepare social workers to work with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities in a wide range of settings including congregations of faith and faith-based organizations. The baccalaureate program prepares social workers for generalist practice and the graduate program prepares for advanced levels of practice in areas such as counseling, advanced case management, administration, research, community development and social ministries.

    As a church-related institution, Baylor University derives its understanding of God, humanity, and nature from scholarly activity and artistic creativity, as well as from the biblical record and from Christian history and tradition. The social work program embraces and reflects this worldview, building on the convictions that life is more than accidental in origin, and that humankind is answerable in its aspirations to more than itself alone. Baylor University and the social work program affirm that human dignity, fundamental human rights, and moral responsibility derive their objective validity from a personal God whose spirit is universal. Striving for Christian scholarship rather than for sectarian indoctrination, Baylor University and the social work program are concerned with the moral welfare as well as the intellectual development of those who come within its sphere of influence.

    Although not all students may personally be Christian in their faith orientation, the program operates with a Christian worldview, as reflected in the following foundational program principles:

    • A personal loving God exists who cares for all persons, whom God created with freedom of choice.
    • Every person is sacred and unique, and therefore worthy of love, respect, self-determination, and dignity, regardless of race, age, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural or regional origin, religious or non-religious orientation, health status, physical or cognitive challenges, or life choices. The life of Jesus Christ, the model for Christians, exemplified compassionate care for persons, particularly those marginalized by society, as well as passionate work for social justice.
    • The goal of Christians who are social workers is to build on the strengths of persons, families, and communities in order to develop and enhance healthy relationships of persons with their families, groups, communities, the larger world, and God.
    • Although some religious organizations have caused suffering and alienation, religious organizations are called to model their work on the life of Christ, demonstrating compassionate care for persons and a commitment to social justice.
    • All individuals, families, and groups need health-supporting, socially just communities, and the goal of social service and religious organizations should be the development of such communities.
    • Social workers have the knowledge, values, and skills to help religious organizations serve persons, build healthy communities, and work toward social justice, and thus need to serve in positions of leadership in religious organizations with these purposes.
    • Neither social work values nor Christian beliefs (the soul-freedom and sacredness of individuals) support attempts to impose values or beliefs on others, or to treat them as less worthy because of their beliefs, choices, or actions.
    • Social workers serve best when they empower others through a participatory model of leadership and service, building on strengths of persons, social systems, and communities.

  2. Building Communities as the Focus of Practice

    Community is a fragile and fundamental resource, particularly for vulnerable families and population groups. Brueggeman (1996) has defined community as the “natural human associations based on ties of kinship, relationship, and/or shared experiences in which individuals voluntarily attempt to provide meaning in their lives, meet needs, and accomplish personal goals” (p. 110). Building on this definition, the Baylor program defines community as the set of personal contacts through which persons and families receive and give emotional and interpersonal support and nurture, material aid and services, information, and new social contacts.

    The development, strengthening, and empowerment of communities are critical for individuals and families in an age of managed care, mobility, devolution of public social welfare programs, and increasing social fragmentation. Within the classroom and in internship settings, Baylor social work students learn to build on the strengths of persons, families, and communities, and to contribute to the development of communities that are healthy, safe, socially and spiritually nurturing, and opportunity-enriched.

    The community-building focus of the program derives from an ecosystem approach to practice. It defines families and other primary groups as social systems embedded in an ecological context and draws upon both systems theory and the ecological sciences for understanding human social systems. Individuals, groups, and families cannot be understood without looking beyond them to the social and physical environment that nurtures, shapes, and is influenced by them. The ecosystem perspective uses ecology as a metaphor for human systems and their relationship with their physical and social environments. Thus, the ecosystem approach looks at systems within systems within systems, each system nested in the next larger system, and how this complexity of interacting layers of factors creates the internal and external environment in which persons, families, groups, and communities function (Garland, 1989; Garland & Pancoast, 1990; Hartman & Laird, 1983; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

  3. Strengths Perspective

    The program operates from a strengths, or “asset-based,” perspective. The program’s premises are that:

    • All individuals, families, groups, and communities have God-given strengths that are particular to their culture, beliefs, interpersonal relationships, and natural resources.
    • The best professional practice with human systems focuses and builds on their strengths, capacities, and resources rather than emphasizing their limitations.
    • Building on the assets and resources of human systems recognizes that significant change only takes place when persons and social systems are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).


1 These principles were derived in part from the Andrews University self-study process (1997), in which Diana Garland served as consultant. They have been revised and expanded, however, to fit the particular mission and cultural context of Baylor University’s Social Work program.

Brueggemann, W.G. (1996). The practice of macro social work. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

Garland, D. (1994). Church agencies: Caring for children and families in crisis. Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America.

Garland, D.R. (1989). An ecosystemic perspective for family ministry. Review and Expositor, 86(2), 195-207.

Garland, D.S.R., & Pancoast, D.L. (Eds.). (1990). Churches ministering with families: A practical guide. Irving, TX: Word. Hartman, A., & Laird, J. (1983). Family-centered social work practice. NY: Free Press.

Kretzmann, J.P., & McKnight, J.L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out. Evanston, IL: Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research.