The Many Career Opportunities in Social Work
No matter what the political climate or the nature of personal and social problems, there will always be jobs for social workers because there will always be people in need of assistance. Only a sampling of the wide variety of career opportunities are listed here.
Social workers in child welfare strive to improve the physical and emotional well-being of deprived or troubled children in homes or in institutions. They also advise parents on child care and arrange for educational, medical or day care services.
A main thrust of social work today is in the area of child abuse and neglect. The social worker investigates physical, sexual or emotional abuse of children, intervenes to provide for the child's protection and sometimes initiates legal action. When parents and children must be separated, the social worker arranges temporary foster care or more permanent adoption.
Developing sound public policies and implementing programs and services for those who need support are traditional and critical areas of social work employment. These professionals work in local, state or federal agencies and their jobs range from client assistance to top administrative posts. Social workers in many settings help to develop legislative strategies, organize communities and lobby in the hope of influencing and improving the public welfare.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Industry, hospitals, community group homes, clinics and prisons are just a few settings where social workers help those with drug or alcohol addictions. Through individual and group counseling and community education, social workers provide the necessary support and assistance.
Half of all mental health treatment in the U.S. is given by professional social workers. They are found in psychiatric hospitals and mental health centers and clinics, helping patients and their families get the needed assistance and then planning for their speedy return to the community.
Social workers also give direct mental health counseling services to individuals, families and groups in private settings, and serve as administrators of large mental health agencies, both public and non-profit.
Social workers frequently help people who are undergoing stressful situations but who are not in any way mentally ill.
Social workers are a vital part of the health care team, along with doctors and nurses, as it becomes increasingly recognized that patient problems go beyond physical ailments.
Hospital social workers advocate for patients' rights and plan for discharge and re-entry into the community. The social worker can also arrange for home care for patients and continued access to services as needed. Social workers in public health - in rural health departments, on Indian reservations, in public health agencies and inner-city clinics - work with the entire community to prevent disease and avoid health risks.
Health care offers social workers a rapidly expanding area for practice. Approximately one third of all social workers are employed in health settings.
Social workers are unique among the helping professionals in the way they regard the individual and his problem in the context of the total family and the social environment.
By counseling individuals, families and groups and by linking the family with critical community resources, social workers in community service agencies as well as in private practice help families cope with marital problems, unemployment, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness or emotional stress.
Physically or mentally disabled persons are increasingly finding their place in the mainstream of society, and social workers help them do this by providing counseling, referral and education in daily living skills. The social worker plays a critical role in helping families with disabled children locate educational and other special services. The social workers also works closely with people suddenly disabled by accidents or critical illness to help them adjust to their disability and live as independently as possible.
Industry, Business and Labor
Occupational social work is a growing area for professional social workers as their worth is realized in assisting employees with individual problems that affect their work performance.
Many social workers in occupational settings work directly with employees and their families to solve such problems as alcoholism, marital discord or work-related stress. Social work skills are also increasingly recognized as valuable in assisting a corporation with its social and community responsibility.
In addition, major international trade unions employ social workers to deliver services to their members and their families as well as to develop educational, recreational and service programs for their active and retired members.
Schools and Youth
Many schools employ social workers to detect problems among children and to investigate and, if possible, resolve difficulties in the children's families.
School social workers often teach child-rearing techniques to families, work with teachers on behavior management problems and counsel children in groups and individually. One of the major challenges faced by school social workers is encouraging parents to become more involved in their children's education.
Social workers interested in teenagers also work in runaway houses, recreational centers, storefront clinics and correctional institutions.
Catching and assisting with problems early in life helps turn a troubled young person into a contributing member of adult society.
Services to the Aged
The fastest growing segment of the population are the elderly, and here social workers can find some of the greatest job opportunities of all.
Social workers have vast new opportunities in helping the aged and their families obtain vital services, find meaningful activities and relationships and adapt to the aging process.
Social workers are also involved in developing innovative projects for older persons such as shared housing and job placements.
What Does It Take?
Social work is a challenging and fulfilling profession that attracts those with the spark of idealism, a belief in social justice and a natural love of working with people.
Social workers have the humanity to reach out to others, the vitality to unearth or create needed resources, the intellect and compassion to perceive how critical issues affect human lives and the imagination and initiative to devise new responses as new needs arise.
Social workers are intricately involved in the community, knowing the people, the services and how things get done. Yet at the same time, social workers are keenly aware of the pain of those not in the mainstream, and sensitive to the discrepancy between the reality they see and the dream of an ideal society.
As the world becomes increasingly automated and people deal more and more with computers, social work still offers a person a career with the chance to work intimately with and for people.
Source: The Many Career Opportunities in Social Work, Silver Springs, MD; National Association of Social Workers, 1983.