Social Worker Job Description

Social workers dedicate their careers to improving the quality of life of a group, individual, or community. They help many different types of clients, including elderly people who need care, children who need to be placed in foster homes, and the unemployed. They also help people apply for government benefits, and often play a critical role in domestic legal cases like child or spousal abuse.

There are two primary types of social care workers: direct-service social workers and clinical care social workers. Direct-service workers help their clients cope with problems that impact their everyday lives, while clinical care social workers provide mental health services to clients.

When a social worker starts working with a client, they use interviewing techniques to understand the client’s situations, needs, and strengths. As they develop an understanding of the problem, they are able to begin creating a plan to improve their client’s health or well-being.

Each situation requires a unique approach. Sometimes (as in abuse or neglect cases), social workers need to involve local law enforcement agencies to help solve a problem. Other times, they provide assistance by helping clients apply for benefits from government agencies, or referring them to organizations that provide resources like child care, healthcare, or food stamps.

Because social work is such a broad field, many social workers choose to specialize in helping people solve one particular type of problem, or helping a specific segment of the population. Here are a few of the most common specialties:

Healthcare social workers help sick clients get better by recommending adjustments to their healthcare, lifestyle, or housing. The exact approach that these social workers take depends on the illness or disease that their clients have. Sometimes they simply provide information (such as how to apply for Medicare), and other times they recommend support groups or home health care services that can help their clients cope. In some instances, these social workers communicate with their clients’ doctors and healthcare providers to help them understand the impact that the diagnosis is having on them.

Family social workers help families in need of assistance. Depending on the needs of the family, they may help parents find childcare services, or help them apply for government benefits like food stamps, welfare, or healthcare. These social workers also provide adoption assistance, and get law enforcement involved when children or spouses are neglected or abused. Clinical social workers also provide counseling services designed to help their clients cope with problems in their life like divorce or unemployment.

School social workers work in school systems, where they help parents, teachers, and administrators improve the development and academic performance of students. They also look for signs of abuse or neglect in children, and take the necessary steps to investigate and correct the situation. These social workers often deal with problems related to bullying, aggression, and excessive absences.

Substance abuse and mental health social workers work with clients who suffer from addictions or mental illness. Direct-service workers don’t provide these services directly, but instead provide information about support groups, rehabilitation facilities, and other programs that can help them cope with their illness.

Work Environment and Schedule

The work that social workers do can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely demanding. Working with people who are going through hard times in their lives can be emotionally draining, making it difficult for many social workers to leave work at work. If you want an occupation that allows you to forget about work when you leave the office, this probably wouldn’t be a great choice for you.

Social workers spend a lot of their time working in an office, but it isn’t uncommon for them to spend a lot of their time in the field visiting clients. School social workers often serve many different schools within a district, which can require a lot of travel and a heavy work load.

The majority of social workers work full time. They frequently need to work on evenings and weekends to meet with clients, respond to emergency situations, and attend meetings. In many cases, under-staffing issues can require social workers to handle large case loads, which can lead to large demands on their time.

How to Become a Social Worker

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required for most social worker positions. Most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in social work, but some will also consider candidates who have a bachelor’s in psychology, sociology, or a related field.

Bachelor’s degree programs in social work directly prepare students for a career in the field. They include courses in community outreach, crisis intervention, community organizing, interviewing, assessments, and advocacy. Most programs also require students to complete an internship or supervised fieldwork before graduation. The internship and fieldwork requirements ensure that students have the hands on experience they will need to get a job and perform their work effectively and professionally.

Clinical social workers need to have a master’s degree in social work. These programs accept students from all academic backgrounds, and take about two years to complete. If you’re interested in pursuing a master’s degree in social work, taking undergraduate courses in economics, sociology, and psychology can help prepare you.

All states required clinical social workers to be licensed. The licensing requirements vary from state to state, but normally include a master’s degree, two years (or 3,000 hours) of clinical work experience, and passing an exam.

Nonclinical social workers can also choose to get a license, but they are normally optional. However, earning a license can help demonstrate proficiency in the field and improve employment and promotion opportunities.

Employment Outlook

There are currently 76,000 social workers in the United States, with 3,030 new social worker job openings created each year.

Social Worker jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.

Overall Salaries

Social Worker salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most social workers make between $39,200 – $68,000 per year, or $18.85 – $32.69 per hour.

Updated: 01/06/2011

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