Social Work Careers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.

What they do

Social workers typically do the following

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

Some social workers—referred to as bachelor’s social workers (BSW)—work with groups, community organizations, and policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions. This focus of work is referred to as macro social work.

Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary, based on their client’s progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master’s social workers (MSW).

The following are examples of types of social workers

Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.

School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.

Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health. Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.

 

Work Environment

Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend time visiting clients. School social workers may be assigned to multiple schools and travel around the school district to see students. Understaffing and large caseloads may cause the work to be stressful.

Social workers may work remotely through distance counseling, using videoconferencing or mobile technology to meet with clients and organize support and advocacy groups.

 

How to become a Social Worker

Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they’ve completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.

There are multiple educational pathways to becoming a social worker, depending on the specialty.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

Clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master’s degree program in social work. Although a bachelor’s degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in 1 year.

In 2017, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Two years of supervised training and experience after obtaining an MA degree is typically required for clinical social workers.

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state licensure board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, visit the Association of Social Work Boards.

 

Pay

The median annual wage for social workers was $50,470 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,790, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,540.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialization.

Employment of child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Child and family social workers will be needed to work with families to strengthen parenting skills, prevent child abuse, and identify alternative homes for children who are unable to live with their biological families. In schools, more social workers will be needed as student enrollments rise. However, employment growth of child, family, and school social workers may be limited by federal, state, and local budget constraints.

Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Healthcare social workers will continue to be needed to help aging populations and their families adjust to new treatments, medications, and lifestyles.

Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment will grow as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. In addition, drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, which are staffed by these social workers, rather than being sent to jail.

 

Similar Job Titles

Child, family and school social worker:

Adoption Social Worker, Case Manager, Case Worker, Child Protective Services Social Worker (CPS Social Worker), Family Protection Specialist, Family Resource Coordinator, Family Service Worker, Foster Care Social Worker, School Social Worker, Youth Services Specialist

Healthcare social worker:

Clinical Social Worker, Dialysis Social Worker, Hospice Social Worker, Medical Social Worker, Nephrology Social Worker, Oncology Social Worker, Renal Social Worker, Social Work Case Manager, Social Worker

Mental health and substance abuse social worker:

Case Manager, Clinical Social Worker, Clinical Therapist, Clinician, Counselor, Mental Health Therapist, Psychotherapist, Social Worker, Substance Abuse Counselor, Therapist

 

Related Occupations

Child, family and school social worker:

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor, Mental Health Counselor, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker, Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist, Social and Human Service Assistant

Healthcare social worker:

Clinical and Counseling Psychologist, Educational/Guidance/Career Counselor and Advisor, Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health and substance abuse social worker:

Educational/Guidance/Career Counselor and Advisor, Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Child/Family/School Social Worker, Healthcare Social Worker

 

More Information

The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field.  Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas.  As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.

 

Magazines and Publications

Social Work Today

The New Social Worker

Social Work Advocates (NASW)

R.E.A.L. Social Workers Online

 

Video embed source code:

Child, Family and School social worker:

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Healthcare, mental health and substance abuse social worker:

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Video Transcript

Child, Family and School social worker:

In an ideal world, every family would be stable and supportive, and every child’s needs would be met. But in reality, families who live in poverty, with mental illness, chemical abuse, or other issues, may need the help of child, family, and school social workers to find their way. An important role of these social workers is to help clients understand the range of services available to them, connect them to organizations and programs that will help them, and teach them how to advocate for themselves in the future. Good record keeping of conversations and activity is critical. Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families function more effectively. They often connect families with housing, child care, and welfare assistance. They may promote better parenting skills, coordinate adoptions, and find foster homes for abandoned or abused children. School social workers deal with problems like bullying, truancy, and teenage pregnancy, and they may also advise teachers. Some travel to multiple schools in a school district. Child, family, and school social workers work for government agencies, non-profits, school systems, and in residential facilities. A bachelor’s degree in social work is the most common requirement to enter the field, though many also earn a master’s in social work. While the work can be emotionally taxing, child, family, and school social workers help lighten the load for struggling children and families, and give them hope for a brighter future.

Healthcare, mental health and substance abuse social worker:

When battling serious illness, patients need more than prescriptions; they need help handling stress and the complications of managing treatments. Healthcare social workers are a lifeline keeping patients and their families afloat, making it possible to cope with getting treatment. Patients leaving the hospital may need home care, meal delivery, and special equipment. Healthcare social workers help arrange those services, and connect patients to financial assistance as well. They may also arrange for legal aid, housing, and help with job or education services. As important as looking after physical needs, these social workers provide psychological and emotional support. They counsel patients as they recover from illness and adjust to changes in their lives. When child abuse or neglect is suspected, these social workers investigate and take protective action when needed. Critical thinking, patience, and emotional strength are all important qualities for this career. Healthcare social workers work collaboratively with other care professionals, in hospitals, nursing care, and mental health settings, as well as in doctors’ offices and public health clinics. A social work master’s degree and state licensure are required for most jobs in this field. Healthcare social workers make it possible to trust – that at a time when people may feel their most vulnerable— they have an advocate to give them hope and direction.

 

 

 

Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH https://www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop https://www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online https://www.onetonline.org