When people need help with issues like hunger, homelessness, or illness, or simply with adjusting to life’s changes and challenges, they often turn to social workers who are trained to help people cope with obstacles and access resources. Social workers advocate for parents, children, teens, military veterans and individuals from all walks of life, and seek to improve their clients’ well-being.
Social workers may specialize in various fields, including:
- Child and family where they protect vulnerable children, assist parents and intervene when children are in danger. They may place children in foster care, advocate for juvenile offenders or facilitate adoptions.
- Clinical which involves diagnosing and treating mental and behavioral disorders. They offer individual or family counseling and help people through challenging circumstances.
- School social work where they are tasked with helping students achieve their academic potential and improve behavior.
- Mental health and substance abuse which focuses on clients with addictions to drugs or alcohol, or with mental illnesses.
- Healthcare where they work with hospital patients to help them understand their diagnoses, adjust to related life changes and transition from the hospital to home.
Additional specialties exist in each field; for example, healthcare social workers might focus on geriatrics or hospice and palliative care.
A social worker’s daily job duties typically include identifying who needs help, and then assessing the person’s needs, strengths and support networks.
The social worker works with the client to develop a plan to meet his or her goals. They determine eligibility for social services and help with related paperwork.
Child and family social workers at times respond to crises, such as abuse situations, or intervene when children are in danger. After services are provided, social workers follow up with clients to evaluate their effectiveness.
Career Outlook for Social Workers
The job outlook for social workers is positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment for social workers is expected to grow by 12% through 2024, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.
Some specialized areas of social work are predicted to grow at different rates, the BLS said.
Due to a need for professionals to work with families, employment for child and family social workers is expected to grow by 6%.
The aging of the Baby Boomer generation will increase the need for healthcare social workers, and these jobs are projected to grow by 19%.
An increase in the number of people seeking treatment for mental illness, plus a focus on treatment rather than jail for drug offenses, will help grow mental health and substance abuse social work jobs by 19% through 2024.
Salary Range and Career Considerations
The BLS reported the median annual wage for all social workers $46,890 in May 2016, with the top 10% earning more than $78,510.
Like employment prospects, wages for some specialties vary, based on BLS calculations in May 2016.
The median wage for healthcare social workers was $53,760. For mental health and substance abuse social workers the median salary was $42,700. The median salary for child, family and school social workers was $43,250.
Social work is a challenging field that can bring a great deal of personal satisfaction. Social workers typically work full time and may be required to travel. Some work evenings, weekends or holidays, while others have flexible and self-directed work schedules.
Salaries and employment opportunities vary according to local market conditions, industry, and an applicant’s education and experience.
Education and Training for Social Workers
Most aspiring social workers will earn a bachelor’s degree in human services, social work or a related field. Certain positions, such as clinical social worker, require a master’s degree along with post-master experience in a supervised setting and state licensing.
A curriculum that includes a broad liberal arts education, as well as sociology, statistics, and instruction in research and interviewing skills is ideal for prospective social workers. Combining these courses with internships or fieldwork will provide a strong educational foundation.
Military Occupational Specializations
Servicemembers who are transitioning out of the military and are considering a career in social work can leverage their skills and experience to excel in this field. Military roles that provide applicable skills include:
- Caseworkers and Counselors interview personnel who need help, identify their needs and provide resources that address those needs.
- Social Workers in the military provide counseling to servicemembers and their families, identify problems, plan solutions and conduct research on social issues and programs.
- Religious Program Specialists assist chaplains in meeting the spiritual needs of servicemembers. They prepare educational materials and organize volunteer programs, as well.