About The Penn Approach
The Penn Approach is a continually evolving document that articulates the philosophy Penn’s MSW program uses to shape its curricula, research, and leadership within the profession. This formal articulation of the program’s social philosophy has been a tradition since the school’s founding in 1908. It is not static or dogmatic; rather, it describes a perspective of critical and constructive inquiry. At its foundation are several central values: clear understanding and respect of the past; analysis of current professional issues; vision of the future that reflects commitment to social change; and appreciation and generation of knowledge on local, national, and global issues.
The Program’s philosophical approach evolved from the functional principles of social work as they have been refined, expanded, and placed within a complex, ever-changing society. This modern version means that the process of helping a client is considered incomplete unless the practitioner simultaneously works to improve the delivery of services and is engaged in an ongoing process designed to effect long-term change in support of distributive justice.
The Penn Approach identifies nine principles deemed vital to effective practice: Client Empowerment, Mutual Respect between Practitioner and Client, Challenge to Group-Based Social Inequalities, Structured Solution-focused Process, Agency Purpose and Function, Planned Social Change, Monitoring Change, Advocating for the Redistribution of Social Resources, and Fostering a Climate of Inquiry. Nearly every principle reiterates the importance of the practitioner participating in organized efforts to effect long-term social change. We invite you to read the Penn Approach and the significance of Penn in the history of social work.