A social worker helps individuals overcome difficult life circumstances, such as developmental disabilities, drug abuse problems, homelessness, bankruptcy, or domestic abuse. There are many different types of social worker jobs, including specializations in children and family services, mental health treatment, drug abuse counseling, or public health. Other social worker jobs may involve administrative work, research, and policy-making. Social workers in all settings are typically compassionate listeners, good communicators, and knowledgeable about laws and ethics.
Family Services Jobs
Family services social workers provide counseling and resources to people who are struggling to maintain healthy relationships. They may help single parents find financial assistance, initiate marriage or family counseling, or work with abused children or spouses. Many social workers specialize in helping children with their social, behavioral, and school problems.
Most children and family services social worker jobs are found in government agencies, particularly health and human services departments. The US and other countries often have government agencies called Child Protective Services, Department of Children and Family Services, or similar names. These social workers work to protect children by investigating abuse or neglect, and support families through counseling and/or helping them get access to social services programs like food or housing assistance. Some jobs also involve helping to place children in foster care and arrange adoptions.
Other professionals work for private counseling practices, schools, or nonprofit groups. Some jobs involve working with disabled children or those who struggle with learning or conduct disorders. In addition, some jobs overlap with those performed by government agencies; a social worker with a nonprofit may help clients apply for various social services, for example, or work to arrange adoptions. A social worker's job is often performed in an office, but he or she may be required to travel regularly to attend meetings or go to visit clients.
Many social worker jobs can be found in healthcare, including in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. These professionals work to help people deal with the often very traumatic changes that can accompany a serious illness or other health condition. A person who becomes disabled, for example, may need assistance finding housing, employment, and healthcare services.
Social workers who work with senior citizens may help to make sure they are receiving meals and adequate healthcare, or work with families to plan for how to look after members who can no longer care for themselves. Hospice and palliative social worker jobs involve helping people who are facing serious illnesses and end of life decisions. In some cases, these social worker jobs may cover similar situations; a person who works in a hospital may be called on to help a family deal with a loved one's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, for example.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Jobs
Professionals who hold mental health or substance abuse social worker jobs help people come to terms with their conditions and work towards positive solutions. These jobs are often found in mental health facilities, veterans' hospitals, and prisons. Often, mental health and substance abuse are co-occurring disorders, meaning that a person who is dealing with one of these conditions often struggles with the other as well.
Social workers may provide counseling and access to support groups, act as representatives to help clients get social or legal services, and work with family members so that they understand the conditions and treatment options available to clients. A mental health worker usually communicates with health professionals and caregivers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the client and his or her problems. He or she might help such a person find suitable housing, employment, or financial resources. Substance abuse social workers may counsel individuals who are trying to control their addictions and help them create healthy life plans.
Public Health, Policy and Planning Jobs
A social worker may also specialize in public health, awareness, or outreach programs. He or she might counsel patients on their options for obtaining insurance or medical assistance, or organize follow-up doctor visits and home care. Many professionals research and organize community awareness programs to inform people about certain public health concerns and what can be done if they are affected. Social workers often act as political advisers and community representatives when new public policies are needed.
Some social worker jobs are focused on working with legislators and government agencies to improve people's lives on a larger scale. These jobs often involve analyzing social work programs and policies to see how well they are working and how they can be improved. Professionals in this area are also often called on to identify social problems and come up with new methods of addressing them. They may testify during public hearings, write position papers, and lobby legislators in an effort to improve social conditions.
A bachelor's degree or higher in social work, psychology, or sociology is necessary to obtain social worker jobs in most settings. A new social worker may be required to spend up to two years working as an intern under the supervision of another professional so that he or she can gain firsthand knowledge of the job. Upon successful completion of an internship, an individual becomes eligible to obtain social worker certification.