Social Worker Job Description

Welcome! Here you’ll find info about the social worker job description, the tools that social workers use, how to become a social worker, and the most important thing to remember about the field of social work:

Social workers change lives.

In every community there are people who suffer. Some have mental health issues; others live in an abusive environment and are victimized by people who should be protecting them; others may have substance abuse problems and feel like their lives are spinning out of control. The details of those problems may very from person to person, but the same issues exist in every town and city in the country.

A social worker assists people in the community who strive to make their lives better by helping them solve the problems that are causing them pain and getting in the way of their happiness.

So, what does a social worker do? In essence, a social worker is someone who spends his or her career helping people lead happier, healthier, more productive lives.

Social Worker Job Descriptions

Social worker job descriptions vary across different fields of social work. Social workers usually focus on a “population,” which is a group of people who have a specific problem. If there is a group of people in a community who are all suffering from the same problem, you’ll probably find a social worker assisting them! Social workers tackle all kinds of problems and help people fight all types of injustice:

  • A CPS social worker protects children from abuse, and teaches parents skills to create healthier families.
  • A school social worker counsels students and makes sure they are emotionally healthy and performing well academically.
  • A domestic violence social worker protects men and women who suffer from physical and emotional abuse, and provides them with options and a chance to start a new life in a safe place.
  • A sexual trauma social worker provides comfort and assistance for people who are victims of sexual crimes, and guides them through the healing process.
  • A military social worker provides counseling and services for the men and women of the armed forces when they experience traumatic events.
  • A prison social worker helps people in correctional facilities, and provides job training, life skills education, and counseling to the men and women serving sentences;a social worker for immigrants and refugees assists those who are new to the country by helping them find housing, jobs, and healthcare.
  • A mental health social worker serves people in the community who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • A substance abuse social worker assists people who seek to handle their addictions to drugs and alcohol.
  • A gerontological social worker provides support for senior citizens with difficulties related to aging, the health care system, and relationships.
  • A healthcare social worker aids people who have medical issues, and provides emotional support and education for patients during a hospital stay.
  • A social worker for the homeless aids people who have nowhere to live, and assists them with any issues that may accompany homelessness, such as mental illness, substance abuse, or medical issues.
  • A foster care social worker provides a temporary shelter for children living in abusive environments, and helps the child’s family figure out a way to live peacefully.
  • An adoption social worker helps parents and children find each and form families;a social worker for at-risk youth provides guidance, activities, and life skills for young people who grow up without support from their families or their communities. And finally….
  • A clinical social worker provides counseling and therapy for people who have emotional issues and relationship problems that need to be solved.

A social worker job description of each field is provided on the site. If you’d like to learn more about a particular field, click on the links above, or see the menu on the right side of the page for a more detailed social worker job description.

Social Worker Job Guide tip: There are dozens of different ways a social worker can help the community, and many social workers decide mid-career to work with new populations. Meaning, a social worker may spend a few years helping at-risk youth, and then explore an interest in working with people with mental health issues.

How Do Social Workers Aid People in their Communities?

Social workers use many tools to help people, but some of the most common tools are community resources, counseling techniques, and evidence-based practice. Those terms may sound a little mysterious, so here are some details:

Community Resources

Every town and every city has agencies that are set up to help people with a specific problem. Some agencies may help people who are homeless, others might provide counseling for children who are having a hard time in school, and others could arrange daytime activities for retirees in the town. If there is a problem that many people face, there is any agency to help, and one of the primary jobs of a social worker is to know about the agencies (the “community resources”) that are available, and to connect people with the agency that will help them solve their problem. Social Worker Job Guide tip: for a listing on the agencies that your town or city offers, check your town’s webpage.

Counseling Techniques

Social workers are trained to help people understand the issues that effect their lives, and they use therapy techniques to people help solve those issues. Social workers who provide counseling are called “clinical social workers,” and they can help someone overcome emotional trauma, repair relationship issues, or replace negative patterns of behavior that make someone’s life difficult.

Social Worker Job Guide tip: Only social workers with a master’s in social work (MSW) are allowed to conduct counseling sessions. However, basic counseling and support are an important part of every social worker’s job. In Southern California, for example, a Therapist Orange County who counsels individuals, couples, and families is typically either a social worker or a psychologist. Marriage Counseling Orange County therapists are usually licensed social workers.

Evidence-Based Practice

Social workers use research to find the best way to help fix the problems that people have. For example, a researcher may conduct a study and find that people who suffer from depression feel a lot better when they exercise three times a week. A social worker would then use the evidence from that research study to help depressed people in the community feel better about themselves. Conducting research to find the best ways of solving a problem is actually an entirely distinct field of social work, and provides a huge benefit to people in every community.

Social Worker Job Guide tip: Social workers develop their skills over many years of practice. Every day presents new opportunities to learn, and new social workers gain skills at a very fast rate.

Degrees and Skills Needed to Become a Social Worker

For entry-level social work jobs, a bachelor’s degree is required to become a social worker. Employers like to see a bachelor’s in social work (BSW), but most will accept a bachelor’s degree from a related field such as psychology, sociology, or political science. In reality, many employers advertising an entry-level social work job will hire an applicant who has any type of bachelor’s degree, if the applicant conveys a sincere willingness to work and and a desire to assist those in the community.

Social Worker Job Guide tip: if you’d like to get a feel for social work, but don’t have a degree, contact an agency in your town that focuses on a problem you think is important. Most likely, they’ll be glad to have you as a volunteer for a few hours a week.

Some social work positions require a master’s in social work. For the most part, the jobs that have a strong clinical component or are located in a hospital or school will require a master’s. So a mental health counselor, or a school social worker, or a therapist in a private practice will all have to earn a master’s degree (as well as certain licenses, according to the state they live in).

As far as skills are concerned, there a few abilities that every social worker should have:

  1. organizational skills, in order to assist the many different people who in a community
  2. an ability to interact with people from all walks of life
  3. writing skills, in order to document interactions with different people and measure the progress they’ve made
  4. the capacity to listen and…
  5. creativity and problem-solving skills, to effectively partner with people who are in a rough spot

Social Worker Job Guide tip: A social worker will need to call on all of those skills to be effective. But the most important capability, more important than all the rest, is the desire to assist people who need help. If you have that desire, or see the need to help, you will be a huge success.

Where Social Workers are Employed and Their Work Schedules:

Social workers are employed in a wide variety of places, including:

  • child welfare organizations and family services agencies
  • adoption and foster care agencies
  • grammar schools, middle schools, and high schools
  • universities and community colleges
  • hospitals and community clinics
  • mental health facilities
  • homeless shelters
  • boarding homes
  • prisons and correctional facilities
  • governmental departments
  • social welfare agencies
  • vocational centers and job training centers
  • military bases and military hospitals
  • veteran affairs organizations
  • hospices
  • retirement centers and nursing homes…
  • and private practices.

Most social workers are on the clock from 9 to 5, but hours may vary according to the job: a social worker in a hospital setting might work the night shift, and a school social worker might only work during the hours when students in are in class, and so on.

Social Worker Job Guide tip: Many social workers work part-time, and keep other jobs as well. The flexibility that many social workers enjoy is an important benefit.

Social Worker Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for social workers was:

$38,600 for social workers in the field of mental health and substance abuse;
$40,210 for social workers who served child and family agencies and school systems;
$47,230 for social workers in the field of healthcare; and
$51,500 for social workers in all other fields.
(Note that “median” means that half of the social workers in that field earned more than the salary listed, and half of the social workers in that field earned more than the salary listed).

Social Worker Job Guide tip: Social worker salaries vary by field, but many social workers supplement their incomes by working “per diem” at an agency other their the one that they work in (meaning, they work one-day shifts at agencies when they have the time).

Is Social Work for You?

There are many reasons why people are fascinated with social work. Some work in mental health, and explore the human psyche; others are curious about the social factors that contribute to ongoing problems like homelessness and poverty and substance abuse, and learn how communities contribute to—and solve—these problems. Many simply want to do right by their community, because they love the area the grew up in and the people who live there.

But for most social workers, the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better is the thrill that keeps them interested. The joy that comes from helping someone in their time of need, and the gratification that arises from assisting someone as they build a life they want to live—those are the rewards make social work an incredible profession.

Booker T. Washington said that “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” Social workers get paid to give to others, and that is a rare opportunity, and a beautiful way to spend a career.

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