Social problems exist in every society. They make it difficult for some individuals to thrive, succeed and reach their potential. Issues like hunger, education, civil rights and crime have been part of the fabric of America since it was founded, and many of our fellow citizens face daily struggles with these and other problems.
Social issues affect everyone. For example, the problem of unemployment detracts from a community’s fiscal health, while child abuse can lead to long-term problems for victims and a continuing cycle.
Prevalent Social Welfare Problems in America
Most people don’t have to go far to see how an issue like poverty affects their fellow citizens. Homelessness and lines at food banks are particularly poignant examples of how it manifests itself in our society. But some of America’s social problems aren’t as obvious:
- Education: Getting a good education is a primary concern for parents and adult students alike. School districts across the country struggle with declining budgets and increasing expectations, while dealing with higher percentages of students who live with poverty and hunger.
- Gender Equality: After more than 70 years of effort by suffragists, women got the vote in 1920; but the fight for gender equality continues. Women face higher levels of violence; they see lower wages and many raise children single-handedly. On the other end of the spectrum, men who choose less-traditional lifestyles often experience backlash and have little support.
- Environment and Climate Change: Changes in the earth’s climate can lead to big social problems, particularly severe weather, storms or drought.
- Discrimination and Racism: Discrimination and racism can occur everywhere, every day from landlords refusing to rent to tenants based on religion or race, profiling by law enforcement to exclusion of people based on gender or sexual preference.
- Healthcare: In America, healthcare has become a major social issue, with plenty of debate over who should pay for it. Poor healthcare has long been associated with poverty and myriad other social issues.
What is Social Work?
Just as kind-hearted people offer help when they see others suffering, the field of social work developed to help people improve their surroundings. It deals with internal and external aspects of society, from the values people share to the neighborhoods they live in, to the political systems that affect their daily lives.
Social work has a long history in the U.S., starting in the 19th century with charitable organizations that sought to bring relief to children, workers and the sick.
Whether arranging relief for a hungry family, finding affordable housing for a homeless veteran or helping end child labor, social workers have taken on the task of trying to fix social problems that have long existed. They make our communities stronger and provide hope to people who previously had none.
The Core Values of Social Workers
Social workers aspire to certain ethical principles and values:
- Service – A social worker’s primary goal is to help people in need. They put others’ needs before their own.
- Social Justice – Social workers challenge injustice and work to make changes in society on behalf of its vulnerable members.
- The Dignity and Worth of the Person – Every person’s dignity and worth is respected. Social workers are cognizant of cultural differences and promote their clients’ self-determination.
- The Importance of Human Relationships – Social workers recognize the importance of relationships in a society. They work to strengthen, restore and enhance connections between individuals, families and communities.
- Integrity – Social workers must earn their clients’ trust by acting professionally, and with a high degree of honesty, ethics and integrity.
- Competence – Social workers continually hone their skills and contribute to the profession’s knowledge base.
How Social Workers Can Help
Social workers address social welfare issues through one or more specialties. For example, some work in schools to help children and families get the most out of their educational experience.
Others focus on neglected and abused children, removing them from dangerous situations or providing counseling. Family social workers may help adults who care for elderly parents, while substance abuse social workers assess and treat individuals with addictions.
In addition to those on the front lines who help clients directly, social workers are instrumental in setting policy and developing programs to address societal issues, such as homelessness, poverty, underemployment and housing discrimination. They research problems and suggest solutions, and work with legislative representatives to secure changes in laws that can bring long-term improvements.
On a larger scale, social workers combine their efforts to affect nationwide change. One goal of the National Association of Social Workers is to maximize everyone’s ability to contribute to society.
To that end, the organization’s priorities include improving assistance to individuals with multiple barriers to self-sufficiency, increasing access to education and training and eliminating disparate treatment of minorities throughout the welfare system.