Social work is a broad field that appeals to those interested in helping others and making a difference in their lives. Social workers help ordinary people and their families to live safe and fulfilled lives in what are often difficult circumstances. Through intervention, support and advice, they enable individuals facing a range of challenging issues to live as independently as possible, with the best possible outcome and the highest quality of life they can access.
Social workers are employed in a variety of settings to protect vulnerable people, especially children, from harm and abuse. They may work with people who have physical or mental disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, or problems with substance and alcohol misuse. They may also advocate for those struggling in society due to low income, poor housing, old age or other reasons.
Local authorities, private enterprises, schools, prisons, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers are just some of the institutions where social workers are employed. A social worker will often have a caseload of families and individuals they are helping and supporting at any given time. Their regular routine may involve visiting service users, making assessments, organizing support, and making referrals to other services.
It is common for social workers to collaborate with or work alongside professionals in other areas, including healthcare, law enforcement and education. They may work with children in care or adults who have mental health problems. They may also engage in research and program development.
Although they are supported by a strong academic grounding in best practice, social workers know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any given problem. They work with their clients to improve outcomes, listening to and assessing their needs instead of imposing a decision from above. Social work is about helping people to help themselves.
Entering the field
To become a social worker, you’ll need to be educated to at least a degree level in the appropriate subject. However, you can study for a qualification while working, such as by pursuing an online Bachelor of Social Work at a CSWE-accredited institution like Spring Arbor University. They offer degree programs online, which means that you can qualify while earning a living or gaining experience in a related social care field. Once you’ve qualified as a social worker, you can start to look at the employment possibilities that are open to you. There are many kinds of social workers, and they are usually defined by the type of client they look after or the setting in which they work. Outlined below are some of the key areas in which social workers may choose to concentrate.
Healthcare social worker
A healthcare social worker may operate out of a hospital or a community health center to provide support and advice on wellness, managing health conditions and accessing appropriate healthcare services. They may also work with individuals and families in a domestic setting.
Patients who are facing chronic or terminal medical conditions or who have suffered life-changing injuries are under significant amounts of stress. Often there are financial and practical issues to be addressed as well as treatment and recuperation. A healthcare social worker can help patients get their affairs in order and manage their finances, work and home life.
Social workers often work with vulnerable children and families facing social and psychological issues at home. They will look at how the child interacts at home, at school and in the wider community, and they will assess the home environment to determine whether it is physically and psychologically safe for the child.
A child welfare social worker’s primary role is to work with parents or primary caregivers to improve relationships with children and address any problems. On rare occasions, however, a social worker may have to intervene to provide a safer space for the child.
Social workers also work with senior citizens and the elderly to help them maintain or improve their quality of life. They will advocate for their clients and help them connect with social services to access the support they need. Social workers help the elderly stay involved in their community and manage their financial affairs.
Some older people may have physical and mental health issues that require additional support. A social worker will assess these issues and advise their clients on the best way to manage their conditions. Ideally, an elderly client will be helped to maintain their independence and manage their own health, but if it is agreed that they should require full- or part-time care, the social worker will help make the necessary arrangements.
Mental health and substance abuse
People with a wide range of mental health conditions, mental illnesses, emotional or behavioral disorders and other psychiatric issues that could make them a danger to themselves or others can all benefit from access to a social worker. Advocacy, support and arranging access to therapy, counseling and other forms of treatment are among the services a social worker can offer.
Substance and alcohol misuse are also huge issues that affect not only the individual but also the community around them. Social workers help users to enter rehabilitation or other types of treatment and offer support to family members throughout the process. They may initiate crisis intervention and work alongside mental health professionals such as counselors, nurses and physicians.
In all cases, a social worker will be expected to keep thorough patient records, monitor progress and explain treatment plans to family members. They are able to make referrals and may also help clients return to their regular life after treatment.
Justice and correction
Social workers can work in the criminal justice system advocating for inmates, former prisoners and those on probation, as well as taking a role in rehabilitation and conflict mediation. They make sure that prisoners are properly treated and help those who are about to be released make a smooth transition back into society.
Justice and corrections social workers might be found working in correctional facilities, police departments, law courts and rape crisis centers. They will need an in-depth knowledge of federal and state law as well as human rights, and they must combine empathy with resilience and an understanding of human nature and behavior.
Advocacy and community organization
Advocacy is a big part of social work regardless of the area on which you choose to focus, but some social workers specialize in helping their clients understand and stand up for their rights and represent them in official hearings. Clients may struggle to understand the nature of a situation, and an advocacy social worker can represent their best interests.
A social worker will stand up for their client in assessments and participate in planning care and support packages, as well as safeguarding reviews. They may also advocate on behalf of whole communities or causes, standing up for social justice or fighting political issues on behalf of the disadvantaged. They may help community groups to organize and effectively oppose the interests of a powerful minority.
Administration and management
Social workers can also act as proactive leaders and managers, overseeing or contributing to government programs and private initiatives and advocating for groups or policies. They may focus on research work into social policy or the needs of particular communities. This role involves many of the same skills and tasks as administrators in other fields but is informed by a broader vision and an understanding of human behavior, sociology and psychology.
Parents or caregivers of children with developmental disabilities may need help and support in understanding their legal rights or accessing the care that is available. In this role, social workers can advocate, build connections, make referrals and offer support and guidance. They may be required to make assessments and will help those with developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible.
School social work
Many schools employ social workers to help children with special emotional, behavioral, developmental and educational needs. They are often the point of connection between the family, the school and community services. A social worker in a residential treatment center for emotionally troubled children may fill a similar role.
Social workers may also work overseas or enter politics, sometimes seeking election on school boards, local government positions or the state legislature. Social workers have gone on to sit in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where they can continue campaigning to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Although it can be challenging and involves hard work, social work is extremely rewarding. It’s a great career if you love working with people. You get to have a positive and tangible impact on the lives of individuals, families, and communities, helping them to access the services to which they are entitled.
Social workers can be found in schools, hospitals, clinics, senior centers, private practices, prisons, the military, large corporations and public agencies. Their job is varied and far-reaching, tackling major social problems such as housing, poverty, unemployment and abuse at a human level. By becoming a social worker, you can really make a difference in the world, one person or family at a time.