In an ideal world, everyone would have enough money to ensure adequate food, shelter, and healthcare. While not every community may currently have these resources, there are individuals that are diligently working towards accessibility for them. These individuals, social workers, are dedicated to locating resources for their communities and for some constituents their work often can mean the difference between staying warm and safe at night or remaining in a shelter or, even worse, on the street. This article will explore what social workers do, how they advocate for the people in their communities, and how they find resources to improve their clients’ wellbeing.
What do social workers do?
The responsibilities of social workers vary widely from one workplace to the next. Some social workers are equipped to diagnose and treat mental health, emotional, and behavioral issues, for example, while others focus on the welfare of children. Here are some of the different areas in which social workers help people.
Child welfare social workers
Child welfare social workers focus on the wellbeing of children. They ensure that children have access to clean water, food, shelter, and a loving family that does not abuse them or otherwise harm them. They use various methods but typically connect families with services and resources to help strengthen their ties and improve their access to basic needs. Sometimes social workers will remove children from unsafe environments, but their ultimate goal is always to reunite families and create a safe home environment where children can thrive.
School social workers
School social workers are also interested in child welfare, but they tackle different problems. School can be a difficult experience for some children, especially those with mental health or behavioral issues as well as those that are neurodivergent. Children can be tough on other children who don’t conform to their idea of normal. Social workers work not just with individual children, but also the broader student body to raise awareness of certain issues and develop empathy. This ensures that children struggling with social interaction have a bit of grace.
School social workers also work with families and teachers to make sure that students are receiving the help they need to thrive. If they sense that one of their students has an unsafe home situation, they reach out to their families and attempt to fix the problem as best they can. If they are unable to do so, they might also have the authority to remove the child in question (after a thorough investigation of the issue). This is a last resort, however, and many social workers will go to great lengths to keep families together.
Healthcare social workers
Healthcare social workers understand a particular health issue and the impact it might have on their clients. They work with patients transitioning from the hospital to their homes and help adapt the home to meet any new needs, for example, such as widening doorways or installing safety rails. Other healthcare social workers work specifically with the families of patients in hospice care. These families are in hard situations as they face the loss of a loved one, and they might not know where to turn. Healthcare social workers are there to support them and connect them with resources like counseling to help them cope and recover.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
Another notable field for social workers is mental health and substance abuse. Social workers in this area work directly with people who are living with a substance abuse problem or a mental health condition. They also work with their families to ensure that they understand how to interact with their loved ones. This includes providing family members with counseling (or connecting them to other professionals) as well as providing clients with appropriate care. The latter will look different from case to case. Sometimes, all clients need is a little help to get back on track. Other times, more rigorous treatment is necessary to make lasting changes in their clients’ lives.
Clinical Social Work:
Clinical social workers provide therapy, counseling, and support to individuals, couples, and families dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, and emotional challenges. They are trained to diagnose and treat various psychological disorders and provide ongoing therapeutic services.
Clinical social workers are licensed professionals specializing in providing therapy, counseling, and support to individuals, couples, and families dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, and emotional challenges. They assess, diagnose, and treat various psychological disorders, employing evidence-based therapeutic interventions and personalized treatment plans. Additionally, they advocate for clients within the healthcare system, ensuring access to appropriate mental health care and community resources. Clinical social workers adhere to ethical guidelines, maintain confidentiality, and pursue ongoing professional development to provide high-quality care and improve clients’ mental and emotional well-being.
Community Organization and Development:
Social workers specializing in community organization and development work to improve the overall well-being of communities. They collaborate with community members, organizations, and government agencies to address social issues such as poverty, homelessness, and access to healthcare. They often lead initiatives, facilitate community programs, and advocate for positive change.
How do social workers advocate for their community?
Advocacy is sometimes defined as the act of arguing in favor of a particular person, idea, or issue. Social workers advocate for their clients and communities in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most important is through policy change. Policies govern the way the country runs and can make it easier or harder for people to secure the resources they need. Social workers want to ensure policies make it easier for clients and communities to improve their overall wellbeing.
Social workers often seek changes to some of the frameworks that influence how people seek resources and live their lives. More specifically, they tend to advocate for groups that are marginalized, traditionally overlooked, and underrepresented to ensure they are not forgotten when policies are created. If an existing policy negatively impacts these groups, social workers advocate for the policy to be repealed and rewritten to better suit the needs of their communities. They also speak out against policies that eliminate or reduce their funding and resources or impede access to the programs their communities rely on.
Some of the most common advocacy areas in social work include affordable housing, behavioral health resources (such as mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling), and even the amount of force and extent to which the police can impact homeless people. Not all of this is visible at the systemic level. Sometimes they also advocate for something as simple as changing the time a support group meets, which improves access to the meeting and allows more people to attend. This isn’t a policy change the public is likely hear about on the news, but it is an important policy change that serves communities and clients all the same.
What is community social work?
Community social workers direct their communities in certain areas, while some social workers focus directly on individuals. In this capacity, they assess needs and make individual referrals to much-needed resources. Meanwhile, community social workers at a higher-level focus on broader community needs. This often results in the creation and administration of programs designed to vast numbers of people. Someone in need of substance abuse counseling, for example, might receive an individual referral to programs from a social worker. A community in need of warm clothes and food, on the other hand, will benefit from a broader program designed and implemented by social workers.
Not all social workers operate only within communities. Some social workers have other areas of specialization entirely but spend their free time working in their communities to improve the wellbeing of their members. Regardless of their chosen niche, social workers play a critical role in securing resources for large communities. They help not only individual people who might be helped by a single program, but also implement changes in the community that ensure others in the same situation have easy access to the resources they need.
Why does advocacy matter?
According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), social work has always been rooted in social change. From day one, social workers have been committed to providing their clients with the resources they need to not only survive but live healthy and happy lives. In a perfect world, these rights would be so common that they wouldn’t even need to be spoken of. Until society reaches that point, social workers remain an important part of communities. They fight for their clients to ensure that they have the resources they need to provide for themselves and their families. The benefits of advocacy can include-
Empowerment: Social workers advocate for clients, empowering them to voice their needs and concerns, which can help individuals regain a sense of control over their lives.
Access to Resources: Through advocacy, social workers connect clients with essential resources such as healthcare, housing, employment assistance, and legal services, improving their overall well-being.
Systemic Change: Advocacy efforts often lead to systemic changes in policies and practices, addressing the root causes of social issues and benefiting entire communities.
Enhanced Quality of Life: By addressing social determinants of health and advocating for better living conditions, social workers contribute to an improved quality of life for vulnerable populations.
Legal Protections: Social worker advocacy can help clients understand and exercise their legal rights, ensuring fair treatment and protection from discrimination or abuse.
From physical healthcare to mental healthcare along with securing a clean, safe place to live, enough nutritious food to be healthy, and enough money to take care of basic needs, social workers have long been crucial in communities at every level. It is no surprise that the NASW considers advocacy to be one of the most important elements of social work.
How do social workers find resources to improve client wellbeing?
One of the big questions people have about social workers is how they find resources they can leverage to help their clients and communities. There are a few answers to this. First, social workers spend a lot of time in education specifically to learn about the programs and services that exist so they can refer clients even if their needs are obscure. People struggling with certain physical disorders, for example, might be referred to rehabilitation programs as well as services that help them adjust to life with a serious or permanent injury.
Another way that social workers find resources that improve their clients’ wellbeing is by building connections. Social work is not an isolated profession. The broader social worker community is welcoming and strives to help new and experienced professionals alike. It also presents social workers with a web of connections through which they can seek advanced or specialized programs for their clients.
General, unspecialized social workers have knowledge of and access to general programs that can help a large number of people, such as affordable housing and healthcare initiatives, but they are less likely to be familiar with specialized issues. Someone in rather unique circumstances whose case doesn’t fit with broader programs might need the help of more obscure programs and services. In these situations, social workers can use their connections to find someone familiar with the case or underlying issue. Those social workers will likely know about specialized programs that can help. Conversely, specialized social workers might not be familiar with all of the more general programs as their patients usually won’t need them. When they run into a case that requires the use of more general programs, specialized social workers might reach out to general social workers to inquire about available resources.
In this way, social workers can research available programs and services to refer clients as needed. This, in turn, strengthens not only the health and wellbeing of the individual in question but also the broader community.
How can individuals help?
Those with an interest in social work, or those who have a great deal of empathy for disadvantaged individuals, might wonder how they can help. The answer here is straightforward. They can become a social worker and add their voice to the chorus of advocacy and change. The first step to getting there is to attain a bachelor’s degree. Often known as an undergraduate degree, bachelor’s degrees are designed to provide students with the basic foundational knowledge needed to excel in their field of choice – in this case, social work.
Once students have obtained an undergraduate degree, they move on to graduate work. A graduate degree builds on the foundational knowledge learned in an undergraduate degree. This includes instruction in specific niches, for students interested in using social work in a specific field or with a particular segment of the population.
Students can earn a graduate degree in a few different ways, but an MSW advanced standing online program is perhaps the best option. When looking into this kind of degree program, students should ensure they are studying at a well-established university to ensure that their efforts pay off. Cleveland State University, for example, is a known name in the industry and has a history of educating effective social workers with a passion for changing their clients’ lives for the better. Their advanced MSW course is incredibly flexible and even allows students to study online for the entire degree, with no campus residency required. The curriculum covers essential topics such as psychopathology, trauma and recovery, and advanced generalist group work practice. It is designed to give students all the tools they need to be effective and successful social workers after graduation.
For social workers, the journey doesn’t end with the degree. Continuous learning is an important part of the career path they set off on. Using their ever-growing knowledge, they can effectively advocate for clients and communities even as society shifts and changes. To become a licensed social worker and begin this journey, individuals will likely need to complete a certain amount of time working under the supervision of an established professional in the field. The specifics of this requirement vary a bit from state to state but around two years is the most common length of time.
The important of social workers for individuals and communities
Social workers are incredibly important to many people around the country, both as individuals and as communities. They can make real change by directing resources, aiding individuals, and advocating for policies on a national level. Anyone interested in becoming a social worker can apply for a degree program today, from a reputable educational institute like Cleveland State University.