Qualities of a great social worker
Social workers provide a supportive role for individuals and families. To do this, they fill many roles and responsibilities depending on the individual needs of each case they are assigned. Duties and roles may vary depending on what type of agency or business a social worker is employed by.
Social workers assess clients’ needs and work to help them based on those needs
Gathering a lot of information about individuals and families can take some time. Social workers must ask questions that allow them to see what needs are not being met. Determining the causes and circumstances that have led to a person or family needing help is very important.
Prioritizing some needs over others is necessary for situations where a lot of help is needed. For example, a family may need help with safe housing and food before meeting other needs. Medical care and financial resources may come next. It is up to the social worker to decide the first steps, but at the same time, the client needs to be well informed about what is being done regarding their case.
Social workers must be good listeners and empathize while upholding rules or laws that apply to a client’s case
Social workers need to be great at listening to others and connecting with them meaningfully, encouraging clients to open up, and giving them many details that allow them to do a better job.
At the same time, there are situations where social workers must act in a more authoritative role than anyone would like. For example, if a social worker is involved in a case where the custody of children is involved, emotions are likely to be very high.
If a client sees you as an obstacle to their seeing or having custody of their children, interactions may be more intense. Social workers must be able to keep a calm demeanor and explain complicated situations. Clients need to see that you want to help them, but some things are beyond your control.
Social workers should provide a feeling of hope when possible and provide examples of others overcoming obstacles
Those experiencing hardship or intense emotional situations often experience feelings of hopelessness and depression. The social worker’s role is to provide a plan that can help a person or family overcome the obstacles that are plaguing them and holding them back from a good life.
A good social worker can increase morale by explaining the plan to them and showing them how your proposed steps will help them. Feelings of hope also encourage clients to do what they can to help themselves.
Providing examples of others that have overcome similar obstacles is also helpful. Of course, this must be done in a way that protects people’s privacy, but that is not too difficult to do. There are plenty of books and literature out there that can provide helpful examples too.
Social workers may travel to clients’ homes and inspect their living situations and reassess their needs
If a government agency or non-profit employs a social worker, they may regularly conduct home visits. This is very common in cases where elderly people live independently, someone is recovering from substance abuse, or children are involved.
Going to client homes can feel a bit strange at first because people can be hesitant and worried about opening their home up for inspection by someone who has influence and authority. A social worker must be good at setting clients at ease and maintaining a friendly and non-threatening demeanor. If a problem is found, then it must be handled delicately. In some cases, social workers may work in pairs to help ensure safety.
Ideally, social workers can make clients feel that visits are just to ensure they have what they need to keep on a positive life path. Visits seen as someone trying to help rather than someone trying to find something wrong are the goal.
Suggestions for improvement should be handled tactfully. There may be circumstances that are beyond the clients’ control, so making them feel guilty or bad about them is the last thing you want.
Social workers are responsible for making referrals to counseling and treatment services
Two of the biggest challenges faced by social workers today are the battles against poor mental health and substance abuse in the communities they are assigned to. Mental health problems and substance abuse are often found in the same person, but each case is different.
While a lot of steps have been taken to ensure that more people than ever have access to medical care, many people do not use these resources, nor do they even know how to apply for them. Those living in unhealthy situations often just use emergency room services when they need care. In far too many cases, they wait until health issues are much more serious and harder to treat.
Finding counseling and support services helps those in need to take the first steps toward healing and treating mental health issues. Getting a formal diagnosis is important because some mental health issues are the result of a physical problem, such as a chemical imbalance. Medications can correct imbalances, but meds can also temporarily help those struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse withdrawal.
Recovery and treatment services can be very hard to find and access. In-patient private treatment programs are far too expensive for many people to afford. Social workers must work hard to find resources to help people overcome substance abuse.
Social workers act as advocates for disadvantaged people
In many cases, social workers act as advocates for those who are at a disadvantage. This can mean someone who is elderly, has children, or who is from a specific ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Some social workers are advocates for abused people and victims of crimes. The backgrounds of abused people and crime victims can range from the most disadvantaged to those considered quite privileged. No one is entirely safe from crime and abuse. While someone may seem to have it all from the outside, they could be hiding a very abusive private life or may be the victim of a violent crime.
There are many social workers who spend a lot of time being an advocate due to where they work. For example, suppose you work at a non-profit that helps victims of violent or sexual crimes. In that case, you will be dealing with very sensitive cases and spend a lot of time providing emotional support and checking in with victims to ensure they are doing as well as expected.
Advocating means making sure that clients know their rights and what they are entitled to according to the laws in the area, the crime, or the abuse that occurred.
Social workers often work with law enforcement and court systems to work through complex cases. Social workers may spend some time testifying in court cases. The time spent in these situations highly depends on the work environment.
Social workers must have good control over their emotions
While everyone has their days that are emotionally hard, it is important that social workers have good emotional health. While social work is an incredibly rewarding occupation to have, it does mean that you are dealing with some hard issues on a daily basis. Ideally, you will become good at leaving work at work. At first, it may be hard to do this, but it will get easier as you gain experience and learn to balance your work and home life more.
Due to client confidentiality, you will not be allowed to talk about some of your work life with friends and family.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, clients do not stay on a good path or take the help you have worked hard to find them. You must realize that there is only so much you can do to help people. Some circumstances and choices are beyond your control.
Some clients may lash out verbally or even physically. Either one of these situations can be traumatizing, but it is a necessary risk when you are a social worker and in a role of authority with suffering people.
Is social work the right career choice for you?
If you are interested in finding a career that is rewarding and allows you to help others every day, then consider social work. Whether you are just finishing high school or are a working adult, social work has a lot to offer. The good news is that entering the social work field is more accessible than in the past. If you want to become a licensed social worker, institutions such as Florida State University offer online degree programs. This makes learning more accessible and affords students flexibility to learn alongside other commitments. Fieldwork placement occurs during the last term of your online degree and requires you to put your skills into action by working alongside a licensed social worker in your area of placement.
Social workers are in high demand now, but demand is expected to skyrocket over the next decade
Many countries, including the US and Canada, have a large aging adult population. This means that there is an increasing demand for social workers and advocates to help aging adults lead healthy and active lifestyles. With people living longer than in the past, more people are living with chronic health conditions that can impact their ability to live independently, especially if they do not have access to services and modifications that can help them stay safely independent for longer.
The high rate of mental health and substance abuse issues is another contributing factor to the high demand for social workers in communities throughout the country.
High immigration rates and increasing diversity in areas mean social workers are needed to help people learn how to live and work together despite their differences.
Social work allows you to help and be involved with causes you are passionate about
Some social work degree programs offer specialization, meaning your courses and field placement are tailored to a specific practice area. This could be community outreach or helping those that are aging. That doesn’t mean you are stuck only working in that niche of social work, but it does help you gain placement and employment in a niche of particular interest to you.
Even if no specialization appeals to you within your degree program, there are things you can do to help increase the odds of working with a specific agency or cause. Volunteering within your community or with specific non-profits is a good thing to do, for example. It will help round out your resume when applying for jobs after you graduate and become licensed.
Do you believe in justice and equality for everyone?
Social workers are expected to have a strong code of ethics. This means they are fully dedicated to helping people get the help they need to live productive and healthy lives no matter what background they come from.
Social work allows you to work in many different areas throughout your career
If you are open to relocating, then there are even more job opportunities in social work. Since you will have qualifications that are in high demand, that means there are jobs just about anywhere you might want to live. Of course, there are licensing requirements that vary by state that you will have to satisfy, but that is typically not a problem.
Relocating can make it easier to get the exact type of position you want to have and can lead to a better salary. The cost of living varies significantly by city and region, so these are important factors to consider when debating what positions to apply for or take.
How long does it take to get a degree in social work?
Degree programs vary. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in various subjects, you may be able to complete a master’s degree in social work in just three years as a part-time online student. A master’s degree may be achieved in as little as two years part-time if you already have a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited institution.
The advantage of gaining a master’s degree is that it helps you gain more skills and qualify for advanced positions. Some jobs may require a master’s degree simply to apply.
Social workers may work in many different locations, from schools to government agencies
While it is true that government agencies employ a lot of social workers, many are also working at private businesses and nonprofit agencies. A few examples are listed below.
Hospitals and assisted living facilities
Working in a facility that provides medical treatment or care means helping advocate for those that have disabilities or medical problems. While this typically means working to advocate for older adults, it can involve younger patients who have found themselves facing chronic illness or disability due to accidents. You may help people find resources to pay for medical care or necessary modifications to their homes, for example.
There are many non-profit groups that have been established to help those facing specific types of hardships. Applying for these types of positions is a great way to dedicate your skills and time to a cause that you feel strongly about. Some nonprofit positions may be a bit harder to get than positions at government agencies or care facilities.
The goal of rehabilitating convicted criminals back into society is far better than the alternative of just releasing them when time is served and expecting them to lead productive lives. Social workers within the criminal justice system help connect people that are convicted of a crime to resources such as jobs, housing, and support groups that increase the odds that they will not re-offend.
Public schools, in particular, often have social workers that are employed by the district to help advocate for students that may be experiencing hardship at home or at school. These positions involve working with students, parents, and teachers to help students deal with emotional and academic problems. School social workers may become involved if abuse or neglect of a student is suspected.
The Department of Social Services in a given area provides a lot of different outreach services that require social workers. Being employed by DSS could mean investigating suspected elder or child abuse and neglect, for example, and figuring out solutions for the victims and their families.
Social service workers often help clients gain access to programs like food stamps or SNAP benefits, affordable housing, healthcare, and other necessities.
Social work is a great career choice for those who enjoy helping people from different backgrounds. The strong demand for social workers in the coming decades means that social workers will enjoy great job security, competitive salaries, and benefits.
While social workers face many challenges while trying to solve complex social problems and alleviate suffering, there are many resources they can benefit from.