Social workers make a real difference to people and society at large. In the role, you’ll meet people with few resources who are going through really tough times. You may work directly with the economically disadvantaged and neglected children or help those mentally or physically challenged and aging seniors who don’t have other options for help. Your role as a social worker typically falls under one of two broad categories: Clinical or direct-service.
A clinical social worker diagnoses and treats those with mental or emotional issues and often gets referrals through community programs that serve the poor. You need to have a master’s degree and a state license to work as a clinical social worker and provide counseling services to clients. As a therapist, you can work with a variety of issues such as alcohol and drug abuse and anger management and family therapy; issues that clients must deal with as they move out work to move out of impoverished situations to independence. You may be involved in intake, assessment and treatment plan development in addition to direct therapy if you work for an agency. Many clinical social workers work independently and rely on program referrals to round out their clientele.
In direct-service social work, you’ll work with clients who have economic and social disadvantages and need guidance and direction. Direct service social workers with bachelor’s degrees also provide guidance for clients in difficult economic situations. You advise clients on available community resources, how to access those resources and then follow up to confirm the client is safe and on the way to self-sufficiency. Common practical guidance can include helping clients find housing, apply for financial aid, get appropriate health care and find a job. You can work with families and individuals during a crisis such as job loss or a natural disaster or work on long-term relationships as children age out of foster care or work to get out of a lifetime of government assistance.
In your specific field of social work, whether it’s AIDS prevention, employment or child services, you’ll be involved in outreach efforts to whole communities. You may help citizens organize a neighborhood watch program or attend local city council meetings on behalf of your constituency. Your goal is to help develop programs to strengthen the community and find ways to build a sense of unity among the residents.
Children are often the victims of economic hardship and poverty. They suffer the most sometimes from lack of food, adequate housing or from parents who are too stressed to care properly for them. Your role in family service is to be an advocate on the behalf of the children. You might need to initiate steps involving child protective services or bring in support services for family preservation. You might need to testify in court sessions involving your clients. Your opinion will be valuable on questions regarding custody of the child while parents are getting back on their feet economically.
2016 Salary Information for Social Workers
Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers
- National Association of Social Workers: Poverty
- The New Social Worker: Duty to Warn
- National Association of Social Workers: From Poverty to Child Welfare Involvement
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers
- Career Trend: Social Workers
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."